In this course we will explore the role of business in formulating, influencing and implementing public policy. Many Kennedy School courses put students in the position of public sector officials when exploring public policy issues and analysis. This course offers a different perspective – putting students in the position of institutional investors, boards of directors, and CEOs and senior officers of major global corporations whose use of public policy advances their private interests and may – or may not – advance the public interest.
The course will illuminate these fundamental issues of corporate public policy making and engagement in implementing public policy by first examining the context: the purpose of the corporation, the key elements of governance, and concepts of corporate performance, integrity and risk. The core of the course will be a series of consequential matters which present hard questions about the tension between public and private interests.
Individual classes will focus on public policy controversies (cases and readings) in three areas where business has a central role:
1. Globalization of industries and global governance, including the corporate role in: anti-corruption initiatives to advance fair competition by combatting bribery of public officials in both developed and developing markets; addressing problems of climate change at the firm, local, national and global levels; setting worker standards in global supply chains and protecting workers who lose jobs due to trade in global labor markets; and trying to advance free trade and reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers against the current tide of protectionist and nativist movements which are shaping policy and politics across the globe.
2. Managing the tensions arising from innovation and technology developments, including assessing corporate positions when there is a conflict between a company’s ethical standards and national law (e.g., Google operating in China); the relationship between the large technology platform companies’ efforts to be competitive and the government’s enforcement of antitrust laws and market regulations (e.g., Uber; Google in Europe); the corporation’s role in protecting customer privacy in the face of government requests for information while ensuring cybersecurity (e.g., Apple and the FBI).
3. The role of shareholders/institutional investors to secure public goods by influencing the behavior of investee corporations (e.g., Blackrock and environmental sustainability), and the relationship between corporations and the government in the legislative and regulatory response to the financial crisis in 2008-2009 and in current attempts to deregulate the structure of law created during the Great Recession.
In order to be more effective public sector leaders, the course invites students to put themselves in the position of business leaders and to explore the tension between private interest and public interest – and to consider different meanings of, and approaches to, the concept of corporate citizenship.