Business Power and Democracy: How Employers Engage Workers in Politics


Friday, April 10, 2015, 12:00pm to 1:00pm


Ash Center Foyer - 124 Mt. Auburn St., Suite 200-North, Cambridge

Ash Center Student Speaker Series 

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, PhD Student, Harvard University Department of Government
Belén Fernandez Milmanda, PhD Candidate, Harvard University Department of Government
Tomer Perry (moderator), PhD Candidate, Stanford University Department of Political Science

About the Event
Political observers have long worried about the threat that powerful economic interests present to democracy. But how much power do businesses actually possess in the policymaking process, and what are the specific ways in which firms exercise that power? This panel will present research on important -- but previously under-appreciated mechanisms -- for business influence in both developed and developing democracies.

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, a doctoral student in government and social policy, will discuss his research on employer mobilization of workers, or when employers seek to change the political behavior and preferences of their employees. He will present results of national surveys of workers and managers, as well as in-depth interviews with top corporate leaders, that together describe how employers mobilize workers in American politics, and how mobilization is an important form of corporate political power. The American workplace, Hertel-Fernandez concludes, has become an important site where managers can channel their employees into politics.

Bélen Fernandez Milmanda, a doctoral candidate in government, will then discuss her research on business influence in Latin America. Drawing on archival and interview research on agricultural producers in Brazil and Argentina, she will discuss how businesses can shape policy by actually fielding their own corporate leaders as political candidates. Fernandez Milmanda will describe how specific economic and political features of Brazil make this strategy much more successful than in Argentina.

Together, this research sheds new light on old questions in politics, while also drawing out the similarities and contrasts in corporate political engagement in Latin America and the United States.

The event will be moderated by Tomer Perry, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University, working on international relations and political institutions. Perry is a  visiting fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at the Harvard Kennedy School, as well as an Ash Center Democratic Governance Program Fellow.

About the Series
The Ash Center Student Speaker Series highlights and explores the implications and lessons learned from the research projects or applied learning experiences of Harvard University students supported by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Each week, we invite two students to offer brief remarks on their work, or a response to one another’s work, and then open the table for discussion. The series will take place each Friday at noon in the Ash Center foyer, 124 Mount Auburn Street, Suite 200-North.

Lunch will be provided.