Social Policy

Glenn Carroll: What Role Do Local Businesses Play in Shaping Social Policy?

New research explores the impact of gay-owned businesses on anti-discrimination laws.

New research explores the impact of gay-owned businesses on anti-discrimination laws.

Many types of organizations can influence social policy change. Lobbying efforts by an association can have an impact, protests and rallies can sway public opinion, and nonprofits and interest groups can use litigation to change laws.

Indeed, social scientists have devoted decades to studying these types of "social movement organizations" and how they impact social-legal policy.

But there's one sector that has been largely overlooked by social scientists until recently: commercial businesses and the role they play in shaping policy.

Research coauthored by Glenn Carroll, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, suggests that businesses, which have previously been regarded as "politically mundane" since they don't deliberately try to shape laws or policies, can have a real and measurable impact on getting social policy laws implemented, particularly at the local level.

Carroll started examining business as a social movement after conducting research that discovered that the origins of many established industries looked more like social movements rather than commerce. New types of businesses, he says, often start out looking for a way to change the world — or a piece of it — with the profit motive coming into play much later. Microbrewers, for example, were essentially rebelling against mass-produced beer brewing giants when they started out, Carroll and another researcher noted in 2000.

In his most recent research Carroll finds that gay and lesbian owned businesses had an impact on the promulgation of local ordinances banning discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation.

Mary Ellen Egan
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Jeremy Sokulsky (MBA '04)

Jeremy Sokulsky is working with government land managers, environmental regulators and private conservation investors to restore Lake Tahoe clarity.

Lake Tahoe, Environmental Restoration, Government Performance

Management consulting to government land managers, environmental regulators and private conservation investors. I developed an environmental accounting structure that is the basis for water quality management to restore Lake Tahoe clarity. The Lake Clarity Crediting Program motivates effective action to restore lake clarity by defining environmental benefits from restoration projects and reporting those results annually. Lake Clarity Credits are being used to prioritize the investment of public funds and to define flexible performance targets for regulations.

Applying performance measures and incentives in the public sector works to make bureaucrats act like investors with public funds. It is possible to shift environmental policy to incentivize environmental improvement in ways that create economic and community benefits, as opposed to the current set of policies that only prevent degradation and restrict economic activity.

Foundations of Success, Ecosystem Commons

This approach to quantifying and reporting environmental benefits is equally applicable to community and social sustainability. We are actively working on expanding the performance measures and accounting structure to support sustainability planning and implementation efforts in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Work-Life Balance: Men Want It, Too

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The pay gap is narrowing between men and women in the workplace as is the percent of time men and women spend on family duties, but workplace policies have not caught up with these new realities, Professor Myra Strober says in an essay in U.S. Banker.

The past 40 years have seen extraordinary changes in our workplaces and families. Women have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers and improved their earnings relative to men. At the same time, men have begun to share women's traditional family roles, and men and women have both increased the time they spend with children. Also, as life expectancy has increased and women are employed outside of the home, it has become necessary for both women and men to balance employment with time to care for their elderly parents.

Our workplace policies have not caught up with these new realities. We still behave as though it is the primary job of men to be breadwinners, and the primary job of women to be homemakers and caretakers of children and the elderly. Companies and other organizations that want to continue to attract and retain superior talent-men as well as women-need to develop policies that allow their employees to be successful both at home and at work.

The first phase of the workplace revolution focused on women, and it is still unfinished. But a new development is that talented men have also become stakeholders in this revolution. I know-I have taught a course on work and family for many years and my students used to be all women. Now about 40 percent are men, and like their female classmates, they want to work for organizations that allow them to make use of their intellectual and managerial skills but still leave them time and energy to be successful husbands and fathers.

In 1970, less than half of adult women were in the labor force. Today that figure is almost 60 percent. For mothers of children under 18, it is even higher, 71 percent. And for women with a college education, it is 80 percent.

Myra H. Strober, Professor Emerita of Education and of Economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

Climate Soldiers

Fall 2010

THE CLIMATE WAR: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth by Eric Pooley

We are honored to bring you the last article written by one of the world’s most prominent climatologists, Stephen H. Schneider, who died of an apparent heart attack while flying from Sweden to London on July 19. The article is a review of the new book, The Climate War, by business journalist Eric Pooley.

Business beat correspondent and editor Eric Pooley parlayed his inside-the-tent contacts in Eastern U.S. power establishment circles to be a fly on the wall for many of these Beltway insiders, and he observed and reported on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the climate debate in those circles. That alone gives important insight to the machinations of spin, message control, and dirty politics—as well as the bright side: those working tirelessly for honest messages and policies to right our sinking ecological ship. From that perspective there could hardly be a better reporter than Pooley, and indeed he witnessed a climate war and reported it quite accurately.

Here is what his publisher’s own blurb says to frame his book, which (despite the obvious self-hype) describes his objectives well: “Pooley [deputy editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek], the former managing editor of Fortune and chief political correspondent for Time, spent three years embedded with an extraordinary cast of characters: from the flamboyant head of one of the nation’s largest coal-burning energy companies to the driven environmental leader who made common cause with him; from leading scientists warning of impending catastrophe to professional skeptics disputing almost every aspect of climate science; from radical activists chaining themselves to bulldozers to powerful lobbyists, media gurus, and advisors in Obama’s West Wing. He also gained unprecedented access to former Vice President Al Gore and his Alliance for Climate Protection. Read more...

Put the People to Work

Fall 2010

SERVING COUNTRY AND COMMUNITY: Who Benefits from National Service? by Peter Frumkin & Joann Jastrzab

American society has long benefited from the work of volunteers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even institutionalized the opportunity to serve in 1933, when he created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), part of his New Deal, to combat the Great Depression. This public work relief program enlisted men age 18 to 24 and paid them a small wage along with food, shelter, and clothing. Through the program, Roosevelt was able to help 250,000 destitute men while achieving historic strides for environmentalism: CCC volunteers developed more than 800 parks and planted 3 billion trees.

Although the program was discontinued in 1942 when the United States entered World War II, America had enjoyed her first taste of national service. President Clinton revived the form in 1993 when he established AmeriCorps. This program requires volunteers to commit 20 to 40 hours a week, typically in local programs that provide services such as building, tutoring, and cleanup of public areas. Some volunteers receive modest living stipends, and most are eligible for grants to help pay for college or student loans. President George W. Bush expanded AmeriCorps, and the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed last year, promises to mushroom its size. Already AmeriCorps has provided volunteer opportunities for more than 500,000 citizens.

Given this legislation, write Peter Frumkin and Joann Jastrzab in Serving Country and Community, one might assume that “the slated expansion of national service is grounded in a deep and penetrating understanding of how service works and how it shapes the lives of young people.” But no such understanding exists, they say. Read more...


Beyond the Poverty Line

Fall 2010

The way the United States determines who is poor and who is not—a measure based solely on the cost of food—is broken. A new approach is needed, one that measures poverty through multiple factors such as housing, transportation, and regional economic differences.

AdvertisementOn July 13, 2008, New York City’s poverty rate was 18 percent. Twenty-four hours later it had ballooned to 23 percent. How did more than 400,000 New Yorkers become impoverished overnight? The answer is that Mayor Michael Bloomberg adopted a new and more complex—and, he argued, more accurate—measure of poverty than the one the federal government uses. His action reignited a debate in Washington, D.C., and beyond about how America determines who is poor—a debate that many hope will be settled by the U.S. Congress this year.

Most people who care about measuring poverty—academics, policymakers, nonprofit leaders, and the like—agree that the way the federal government currently determines who is poor and who is not doesn’t work. The so-called “poverty line” was determined in the mid-1960s by calculating the amount of money it costs to buy a basic basket of food and then multiplying that amount by three. Each year the line is updated to account for inflation. (The current poverty line is $10,830 for a single person and $22,050 for a family of four.) If a person lives in a household whose income is less than that amount, he is considered poor. If the household’s income is that amount or more (even by one dollar), he is not poor. The measure does not consider other living costs besides food, and the federal poverty line is the same whether a person lives in New York City or McAlester, Okla. Read more...


Research: House Divided

Summer 2010

From warring political parties comes broad-based policymaking.

Some state legislation makes for game-changing, visionary public policy—developing highway systems, organizing state parks, establishing statewide systems of public assistance. Some is more modest in scope—say, building a trailside museum in the Jamaica Plain district of Boston, or temporarily protecting the raccoons and mink of Red River County, Texas.

What is it that leads lawmakers sometimes to craft policies with a broad impact and sometimes to focus on narrow, district legislation tailored to the interests of a specific village, city, or county? According to a new study, the first answer is fierce party politics. It may be hard to believe as one watches Republicans and Democrats rip one another to shreds and log-jam budgets, but political scientist Gerald Gamm of the University of Rochester finds that “in the absence of competitive party politics, you don’t see broad-based policymaking at the state level.” Read More...


Research: Fermenting Innovation

Summer 2010

A huge leap in the exportation of Argentinean wines can be attributed to new public-private institutions that encourage partnerships between government agencies and local industry.

All through the 1980s, Argentina’s wine industry produced vast quantities of (mostly bad) wine and sold it only to Argentineans. By the end of the 1990s, Argentina was an innovation success story—a pioneer in new methods of viticulture and a trailblazer for new varietals and blends. Exports grew from a few million dollars in 1990 to $480 million in 2004. Critics raved.

The transformation happened in only one of two neighboring winemaking provinces, however. Although San Juan received more investment, “Mendoza begins to take off,” says Gerald McDermott, a professor of international business and politics at the University of South Carolina. “They’re the pioneer, and by 2001 they’re 90 percent of exports of wines.” The two provinces sit side by side; their provincial capitals are an hour or two apart by car. They have the same climate, the same number of civic associations per capita, the same political parties, says McDermott. The usual explanations about socioeconomic endowments—“you either have it or you don’t”—don’t hold.

What, then, fostered innovative capacity in Mendoza but not in San Juan? Read More...


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Research: Lucrative but Deadly

Summer 2010

Studies have shown a correlation in the price of coffee and the health of children in coffee-growing regions. As parents spend more time raising their profitable crop, they neglect their children’s needs.

For a rural coffee grower in Colombia, rising global coffee prices should be nothing but good news. Grow more beans, make more money. So Grant Miller, a health economist at Stanford University, was surprised to discover what else higher prices herald: Sicker kids. It turns out that “child mortality rates go up when prices go up,” says Miller. The opposite is also true: Child mortality decreases—fewer infants and children die—when prices slump.

Miller and his coauthor examined average annual coffee prices from 1970 to 2006. Three events during that time led to huge price shocks: Brazil’s crop-devastating frost in 1975 and drought in 1985 increased the price of coffee dramatically; the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989-90 decreased it. They compared these sudden price changes to indicators of child health and mortality such as immunization records, prenatal care, population size, and acute disease to come up with their counterintuitive conclusion that a better economy can be hazardous to children’s health.

“Things that are important for your health are often not expensive, but take a lot of time,” Miller explains. Competition for time is much stronger when coffee prices are high, as the value of tending to the household coffee plot goes up. Read More...


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Doing Good by Being Bad

Summer 2010

MOVING POLITICS: Emotions and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS by Deborah B. Gould

Groups promoting social change face a dilemma. Should they play by the rules, using legal means to promote their cause? Or should they shake things up, by disrupting traffic, production, or politics as usual? The first strategy will win them friends among authorities; the latter will get attention. But which will get them what they want? Should they be naughty or nice?

ACT UP was born in early 1987 when gay and lesbian activists in the United States decided that their efforts to portray themselves as normal, respectable, and no different from straights had simply not worked. They had been stunned the year before, when the Supreme Court had decided, in Bowers v. Hardwick, that American states had the right to outlaw sodomy between partners of the same sex, even in the privacy of their own bedrooms. The message: Gays and lesbians were not full citizens.

The background to gays and lesbians’ understandable indignation was that, for several years, they had watched accelerating numbers of their friends die of AIDS and related maladies. Energetic partygoers had turned into patient nurses, as they helped lovers, friends, and acquaintances endure the indignities of the final months and days of wretched symptoms, and then commemorated them with beautiful patches on the moving AIDS Memorial Quilt. Many of the activists were themselves HIV-positive, facing what at the time seemed certain death. They had formed an exemplary, caring community, only to be ignored or even dismissed by the Reagan administration. What did they have to lose by turning from nice to naughty tactics? Read More...


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