While some people have used words like “fascism” and “gay gestapo” to describe what happened with former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, and say that intolerance forced Eich to resign, these people are mostly mistaken. However, a form of intolerance did pressure Eich to leave his position. It was the intolerance the free market has to any ideas that will threaten commerce.
Some of the same people who say they support the free market fail to see that the resignation of Eich was the free market at work.
The issues of gay rights, the morality of homosexuality, and the definition of marriage offer the biggest examples of why the free market is dependent on the market of ideas:
During the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said the now infamous SB 1062 in Arizona, which would have protected businesses from legal challenges for denying goods and services based on strong religious convictions, failed because the gay community “have so bullied the American people.”
There was certainly vocal opposition to the bill from gay rights activists, because while the LGBT community was not explicitly mentioned in the legislation, as Bachmann pointed out, it was certainly not created to protect a Muslim or Jewish deli owner who refuses to sell pork products. The timing of the bill didn’t help disguise the true motives of some lawmakers, either.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) likely wasn’t concerned about the vocal opposition of gay rights activists as much as she was concerned about pressure coming from local, national, and international businesses. Companies threatened to move their operation(s) out of the state or threatened to not bring their business into Arizona. The state’s tourism industry was in jeopardy. The NFL could have very well moved the 2015 Super Bowl if SB 1062 was signed into law.
The gay community didn’t “bully” Brewer — the free market did.
It is a mistake to say that the free market of ideas and the free market of commerce are separate and cannot be conflated. Of course they can, because both often influence each other. The market responds to mainstream ideas and as societal attitudes shift, so will the priorities of the commercial market. It will embrace new ideas to meet consumer demand while rejecting old ideas that have also been rejected by the public. It is just good business.
In an article I published on IVN on April 17, I used a few examples of how the commercial market has responded to mainstream public opinion and shifted its business practices accordingly.
The first example was the mid-90s sitcom, Ellen. The show, which premiered in 1994, got consistently high ratings until one episode changed everything in 1997. In an episode called the “Puppy Episode,” Ellen DeGeneres’ character came out as gay in the middle of an airport. DeGeneres also came out in real life concurrent with the episode on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The controversy that erupted from it pressured ABC to put a parental advisory before a show that had never needed it before.
As the show focused more on gay rights issues, the ratings declined and ABC was forced to pull the plug in May 1998.
This was the 90s, though. An overwhelming majority of Americans not only believed same-sex marriage should not be legal, but that homosexuality was immoral.
Mainstream public opinion pressured the market to act a certain way. If a show gets too low of ratings it is just good business to cancel it, but could you imagine ABC putting a parental advisory before each episode of Modern Family? No, they wouldn’t. But times have changed; society has changed.
As the market of ideas has evolved, so has the commercial market.
Today, we see major corporations representing a broad spectrum of industries — from Oreo to Amazon — creating pro-gay rights marketing campaigns because unlike the mid- to late 90s, a majority of Americans now believe gay marriage should be legal and an even larger majority believe there is nothing immoral about homosexuality.
In 2012, not only did voter-approved ballot initiatives to legalize gay marriage pass for the first time in U.S. history, but marriage equality went 4-for-4 with voters. This represents a dramatic shift in public opinion as gay marriage didn’t have a single victory at the ballot box in the previous decade.
Someone cue Bob Dylan’s “Times They are a-Changin.”
Evolution teaches us that it is not the strongest who survive, nor the smartest, but the most adaptable. The commercial market is no different. In order to survive, the market has to evolve to meet consumer demand, and naturally it will seek out and eliminate ideas it perceives as backward and a threat to commerce. If a business does not adapt, it risks extinction by market forces or just naturally through time.
The biggest pressure to veto SB 1062 in Arizona was not from the gay community or from gay rights activists. Likely, Governor Jan Brewer could have cared less what the majority of the general public thought. She was done with campaigning and elections. The biggest pressure was coming from businesses and large corporations telling her to veto the bill because there were many businesses that did not want to operate in Arizona if they felt a law would tarnish their own reputation or threaten their business in any way.
The bill was a threat to the market and so the market responded.
Now, back to Brendan Eich.
While there were likely some gay rights activists who would have liked him to step down from his position as CEO of Mozilla, there was not as much pressure coming from the LGBT community or gay rights groups as there was from within the Mozilla community. There were employees who were uncomfortable working for him and businesses that threatened to cut ties with Mozilla after it was revealed that Eich donated to an anti-gay marriage campaign in 2008.
Despite what some people mistakenly say, Eich was not fired. He was pressured by forces within the market — within the industry — to resign. Eich was a CEO in an industry that is all about the mainstream and being ahead of the curve. It is an industry that focuses on looking forward and any notion of backward thinking is considered a threat in Silicon Valley. There are several industries where this would not have played out the same way, but the tech industry is a progressive market.
This is the free market at work.
Some of the same people who say a “gay gestapo” is forcing people out of their jobs just because they have different opinions also support lawmakers who vote against bills to ban discrimination against workers based on race, gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, etc. at the workplace, because the free market must be able to work without big government interfering. Yet, when the market acts on its own to do what it perceives as best for business, these people cry foul.
In this way of thinking, Eich is the victim, and that is ultimately what it comes down to. Modern American politics has become as much about who can claim victim status as it is about pointing fingers.