17 Jan 2021

Note on January 6 Events at U.S. Capitol


by Srikant Datar

On January 6th, American democracy was put to the test. The sight of a mob storming the Capitol—attacking police, threatening members of Congress and their staffs, and vandalizing property—is not one we can, or should, soon forget. Freedom of expression and peaceful protest are rights we must always respect. Violence such as unfolded on Thursday can never be condoned.

Beyond the dismay and outrage we may feel as citizens, as business leaders and management educators we also should be deeply concerned. The rule of law, the separation of powers, and trust in institutions are the foundations on which thriving societies are built. They also are a bedrock of business. As my colleague Rebecca Henderson notes,

Free markets cannot survive without the support of the kind of capable, accountable government that can set the rules of the game that keep markets genuinely free and fair. And only democracy can ensure that governments are held accountable, that they are viewed as legitimate, and that they don't devolve into the rule of the many by the few and the kind of crony capitalism that we see emerging in so many parts of the world.

Members of our community are sharing reflections, speaking out, and recommending actions that may be taken. It is the start of an important discussion. Recent examples include:

George W. Bush, "Statement… on Insurrection at the Capitol," George W. Bush Presidential Center.

John Garamendi, "Statement on Insurrection at U.S. Capitol and Vote to Certify the 2020 Presidential Election," press release.

Rebecca Henderson, "Business Can't Take Democracy for Granted" (Harvard Business Review, 1/8/21).

The Leadership Now Project, incubated by a group of HBS alumni and led by Daniella Ballou-Aares, has put out 5 actions companies can consider (and have pursued) in standing up for democracy.

Youngme Moon, Felix Oberholzer-Gee, Mihir Desai, and Rebecca Henderson, "Reflections on the Tumult in Washington D.C.," a bonus episode of their After Hours podcast.

Mitt Romney, "Romney Condemns Insurrection at U.S. Capitol," press release.

Sandra Sucher and Shalene Gupta, "The Breach of the U.S. Capitol Was a Breach of Trust," in Harvard Business Review.

Some of this work is not new, of course; concerns about capitalism and democracy have been prevalent for a number of years. Yet the issues have taken on new urgency. Today, we must recommit ourselves to enhancing the role business plays in serving society—by increasing the prosperity of its people and the strength of its institutions, and by addressing its most pressing challenges.

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