The withdrawn Nike shoes that included a ‘Betsy Ross flag.’ Photo: /Associated Press

Editor’s note: This Future View asks why so many corporations are taking left-wing stances in the culture war. Next time we’ll discuss privacy. In light of Facebook ’s $5 billion fine for compromising user information, do big tech companies have too much knowledge about us? Or does that make our lives easier? Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before Aug. 6. The best responses will be published that night.

The Conservatism of ‘Woke’ Capital

After Pride Month in June, it’s obvious that many large companies enjoy the appearance of progressive advocacy. A variety of firms temporarily changed their logos, shifted their advertising campaigns, and prominently displayed their support for gay rights. But when we try to explain this behavior, let’s not forget what most of these companies are seeking—profit.

While it may appear that corporations have gone out of their way to take a stance on contentious issues in the culture war, the reality is that many of them weren’t substantially involved with the gay-rights movement until it was already mainstream, on its way to victory in the years leading up to Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. Many more didn’t take a position until after the court case was already decided.

Many ordinary Americans have discovered the social benefits of talking up progressive activism without actually doing it. Is it any surprise that large companies have woken up to the advantage of virtue signaling, too?

The new wave of corporate activism is merely a safe response to a longstanding trend: political stances doubling as consumer identities. As progressive political positions enter the mainstream, from gay rights to racial justice and gender equality—however they’re defined—they become easier to commodify. Many ordinary Americans have discovered the social benefits of talking up progressive activism without actually doing it. Is it any surprise that large companies have woken up to the advantage of virtue signaling, too?

—Evan Zhao, University of Chicago, sociology

Progress vs. Progressive

Pulling the Betsy Ross shoe may have moved Nike back into the social graces of the left. If it did, then it was a great success. Not so long ago, liberals were furious with the company over the conditions in its Asian workshops. Luckily for Nike, people have short memories. Run enough Colin Kaepernick ads and the rest is forgotten.

—Sam Kropp, Indiana University, finance

West Coast Culture Creep

Morgan Stanley will no longer provide banking services to the private prison industry. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon is a part-time DJ, and his company recently relaxed its dress code. Other big financial institutions are promising shorter workweeks and becoming active on social media. What’s going on at America’s biggest investment banks?

A lot, no doubt, but as a college student, one thing comes to mind: The banks are now competing with ultraliberal tech companies for talent. Goldman Sachs knows it has to fight off not only Morgan Stanley, but also Google, Amazon, Apple and so many others. These West Coast companies are forcing banks to adapt or risk appearing outdated to talented college students.

Who knows if most executives of corporations that sponsor Pride parades really care about LGBTQ+ issues? Either way, if the change comes with more inclusive company policies and culture, it’s for the good. The workforce is changing, and big companies cannot afford to lose out on top talent because they’re out of touch.

—Jacob Levy, Cornell University, computer science and economics

Customer Service

Nike and other big companies are increasingly pushing the line—the bottom line. For instance, Nike knows that the people who buy its shoes weren’t likely to be offended when it pulled a design that included the Betsy Ross flag. Younger people tend to be more politically progressive and economically aggressive. They identify with companies that share their views, and they’re willing to punish those that don’t. Accordingly, businesses have learned not to step out of line. It’s not worth the headache. If they’re even insufficiently vocal about the liberal cause of the day, they risk negative press and social-media wrath. In response, the corporations are feckless, bending to pressure and chasing trends. But we don’t have to.

—Lindsey Lance, Vanderbilt University, M.B.A.

Our Addiction to Conflict

Corporations aren’t doing anything spectacular, then, by entering the political fray. They’re simply marketing to a conflict-addicted country.

Today America is supersaturated in opinion. Divisive issues are everywhere, and both sides are always ready to fight and die on their respective hills. At one time, it was considered impolite to talk politics at the dinner table or at work. Even these places are no longer safe. The culture war has become so demanding that many people feel as if they’re expected to publicly declare a stance on every issue. Corporations aren’t doing anything spectacular, then, by entering the political fray. They’re simply marketing to a conflict-addicted country.

—Lauren Eggleton, Miami University, public health

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The remarkable thing about Colin Kaepernick’s banning of Nike’s Betsy Ross sneaker to commemorate the Fourth of July isn’t that it happened but how easily it happened. Image: Getty/Hulton Archive

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