Niki Kelly, writing for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, has an interesting article on the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s tackling of issues that might seem tangential to business interests. In particular, Micah Clark – a vocal social conservative – seems to take umbrage at the Chamber’s support for the General Assembly adopting a hate crime law.
“A lot of business owners – especially small-business owners – would prefer they stick to business and economic issues. It has given the impression to some they are for big government,” said Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana. “Many people are scratching their heads as to why they are going off course so much.”
But Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar bristles at the idea his organization has strayed outside its lane.
“All of these things we get involved in is because it has an economic impact and jobs connection,” he said. “The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has indeed been a driving force in making Indiana one of the best places to grow jobs and raise families and one of the best business climates in the country.”
Mission creep is certainly a thing, and when you focus on everything, you tend to focus on nothing. That said, the Chamber is correct that the social environment is intertwined with the business environment. We do ourselves a disservice when we try to pretend our economic lives are somehow distinct from other parts of our lives. And – if it comes to a conflict between Brinegar’s Chamber and Clark’s “American Family Association,” I’m going to side with Brinegar. I probably watch too much “Survivor,” but the conflict between the two conservative groups puts me in mind of the Survivor end-game when one tribe has mostly voted out the other tribe and members of the dominant tribe have to square off against one another. If unions and social progressives were more powerful forces in Indiana, we’d probably see the Chamber and AFA more inclined to make common cause with one another. But, without unions and social progressives to unite against, you might see erstwhile allies engage in more open conflict.
As an aside, I really don’t like this description of students: “Brinegar said businesses pay more than half of the funds that go to K-12 education, and ultimately are the end users of the product – students – so their interest in a solid education system makes sense.” I suspect this was more of a quick metaphor than anything like a sincerely held belief that students are some kind of widget produced by schools, so I won’t hold it against Mr. Brinegar, but it gets at something unfortunately common enough that it seems worth addressing: employment isn’t the end-all be-all of education. Schools are more than vocational. We need them to produce more than workers – we need them to produce citizens, to help produce fully realized human beings who can make decisions for themselves on how to live happy, worthwhile lives. A productive work life is only a piece of that equation.