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Ben Carson
Ben Carson
16 Jul 2014
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The Perils of Mixing Politics and Business


When I was a small child, one of the most dramatic and effective business boycotts in the history of America occurred. This, of course, was the Montgomery bus boycott. By refusing to ride the bus, blacks who were being discriminated against were able to terminate many discriminatory practices not only in Alabama, but throughout the South. The white-owned businesses were clearly being unfair, and the public transportation system was no better. The actions taken were appropriate and in many cases heroic.

The power of the purse, particularly in a capitalistic society, is mighty, and business boycotts are a potent tool in the hands of the masses to enforce economic and social fairness. Through the use of the ballot and the wallet, we the people have life-or-death power over virtually every aspect of our nation.

Astute business people generally do not make their political views widely known, because they realize that about half of their customers agree with them and half do not. There is no need to unnecessarily create animosity, especially when you are trying to sell products. In the case of Costco, a company highly respected for wise business practices, Jim Sinegal, the co-founder and former CEO, has made no secret of his profound admiration for President Obama and his policies.

For the sake of disclosure, I should reveal that I have been a member of the Costco board of directors for 15 years. There are people on the board of several political persuasions, and we are all friendly and work well together because politics plays no role in business decisions. In the years that I have had the privilege of serving on the board, I have never witnessed a single incident where politics influenced a business decision. Not only would that be unwise, but it would lead to mass resignations and membership cancellations, including yours truly.

Because of Sinegal's public support of Obama, the recent withdrawal of Dinesh D'Souza's book "America: Imagine a World Without Her" from Costco warehouses nationwide, just before the release of the movie by the same title, was widely interpreted as a political move — the movie is very critical of the president. I spoke to current Costco CEO Craig Jelinek, who was so absorbed in the business of the company that he had been unaware of the movie prior to the resultant backlash. He readily admitted that those responsible for managing the limited book space in Costco warehouses should have been aware of the imminent release of the movie and retained the book in anticipation of a brisk stimulation of book sales, which had been sluggish.

Costco, once everybody's favorite place, suffered a major black eye, not because of an inappropriate injection of politics into the business world, but rather owing to an uncharacteristic lack of attention to what was going on in a small segment of the sales portfolio.

Through my budget-management experiences as a division director at Johns Hopkins for many years, and through many tough financial experiences as the president and co-founder of the Carson Scholars Fund, which is active in all 50 states, I gained enormous knowledge of business practices, but that pales in significance to what I have learned as a board member of both Costco and the Kellogg Co.

during the past 17 years.

Managing and growing large multinational corporations requires wisdom and experience, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with and learn from both politically liberal and conservative business executives. I can honestly say that wise business practices transcend political ideology, and those who intentionally inject their politics into their business do so at their own peril. Their actions will be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, based on their political views.

In the case of Costco and the D'Souza book, lack of awareness was interpreted by many conservative customers as political misconduct because of Sinegal's views. Although he and I differ politically, he continues to be a huge financial supporter of the Carson Scholars Fund and many other educational endeavors. When he was CEO, he could not sleep at night if someone else offered a better value on a product. He cared deeply about how employees were treated, and he refused to accept a salary comparable to other CEOs in the industry. He also has nothing to do with Costco book sales, nor would he wish to at this point. We have much common ground and are friends, even though we often discuss political issues.

There is no need for political differences to precipitate hostility in personal relationships. We can build a strong, prosperous nation together if we are willing to talk and use our collective strengths to accomplish common goals. We must maintain open channels of communication, and as a society, we must learn to vote wisely with both the ballot and the wallet.

Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book "One Nation: What We Can All Do To Save America's Future" (Sentinel). To find out more about Ben Carson and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit




1 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... I am sure you misunderstand politics, as if politics were this abstraction limited to office holding, parties, press and elections... Nothing could be further from the truth...
Politics, like economics plays a role in every form of relationships; and it is often impossible to slip a blade between the two... In the form of relationship called marriage, if a wife says to her husband: I will cook supper if you wash the dishes, you are seeing politics and economics at work... Every economic option has the potential of being a political option, and so with every action, and these forces, loosely defined, are always present...
If I were to use an obvious example in gross, it would be in the slave labor and death camps of the nazis... The greatest possible wealth was exploited from these inmates even past the point of death... While alive the inmates provided the labor involved even to the point of crowding victims into gas chambers and emptying them of bodies... To expedite the suffering and death of humanity with no more reward than the life to do so again was both a political and economic decision... I have one book by some monster who helped with the process of death, and I would ask why he thought he was worth more alive than dead when dead he would not have assisted in the murders of thousands... These camps would not have run without the inmates, but again, that individual decision to rate ones life as more valuable than anothers which is behind all individual crime was both political and economic...To say that a corporation has a soul is far fetched, but those who participate in them, and give them a face also play at politics and economics in the larger sense without escaping politics and economics in micro...
Here is the problem as I see it... As these forms grow old; they get brittle, and the give and take of them does not work when people who have taken too much think they have nothing to allow... When this happens across the reach and breadth of the whole society the doom of the society is certain...If a corporation is seen to be liberal or reactionary may mean nothing if the temper of the people turns towards revolution... Some forms like law, and perhaps marriage will recover if judging from the past; but some times old forms are swept away and never seen again... I think the corporation will be one of those forms that could not possibly survive democracy or revolution...To admit you are part of a corporation might be a death warrant... Many of us are part of corporations whether we know it or not, but democracy would sweep that form of relationship away regardless... You may want to consider how heavily invested you will become in that ancient form, and back off a bit...
Sir;... I would like to note our one rare point of agreement... You say: Wise business practices transcend political ideology... Sir; all wisdom transcends ideology... Ideology gives the sense to stupid people that they know, and can know... Used correctly, an idea, a form, a concept, a notion is like a theory of reality that helps us to think about it without being at all certain of it... All those people who think their ideology or their principals are as good as proved have hit the high point of ignorance... We have known in the last century the tyranny of the idea, and in this country in relation to free market capitalism we are not far from it... All those who say the principal is right and the people who suffer it are wrong are very wrong indeed...
Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Jul 23, 2014 1:40 PM
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