Cross posted in the San Jose Mercury News
Why should business leaders and innovators care about civics education? After all, consumers don’t need to be voters to engage in the economy. A worker’s aptitude for the job won’t be measured by knowledge of the Constitution.
Entrepreneurs and innovators, however, are principal beneficiaries of our form of democracy and will suffer dramatically if the core values of democracy are not promoted, understood and embraced by our future generations. Risk takers in our economy are intensely reliant on a judiciary independent of politics and enforcers of a stable rule of law.
It is no coincidence that technology and innovation thrive in California rather than in countries that do not have three truly independent branches of government. We need no better example than intellectual property to understand the protections that democracy provides to capitalism. Often it is a firm’s most valuable asset. The ability to have certainty in the law and enforcement by a transparent judiciary provides protection for innovation and incentives for business investors.
The chief justice of California, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, recently has been highlighting the lack of basic knowledge of civics and the principles of democracy by our K-12 student population.
As leaders work to change this unacceptable situation, it is crucial to understand what will be sacrificed if we don’t support the fundamentals of democracy and the significance of the three independent branches of government unique to America and vital to California.
Our form of democracy — which far too many people take for granted — is essential to an economy built on innovation and entrepreneurship. Democracy promotes innovation because it promotes freedom to succeed, freedom to fail and freedom to realize one’s dreams. By securing property rights and enforcing contracts, our system of justice guarantees that future returns to private investments are accepted, and promises of future payments are fulfilled.
Whether it is a software developer or a manufacturer, without a robust judiciary independent of the executive and legislative branches — unlike many other countries — risk taking and its economic benefits will be stifled.
Businesses are more willing to expand their sphere of contracts if they know a fully funded, robust judiciary is there to enforce the contracts. Investors are willing to finance growth and job creation if they have rules developed by a transparent Legislature, implemented fairly by an executive branch that is held accountable by both the voters and a trustworthy judiciary.
American entrepreneurs are secure in trying out their ideas on the world — knowing that for the most part they will succeed based on the marketplace, and not because the deck is stacked against them politically.
American democracy is sustained only to the extent it is renewed by citizens who are convinced of, and invested in, its success. The best exposure, especially for young people, is the example set by the family — informing themselves about and discussing current events, participating in civic activities and voting.
Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye has pointed out that California doesn’t teach civics until the end of the 12th grade. She strongly believes that civics education deserves greater attention in our schools.
Last year, the chief justice and State Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson established a Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning to address this issue head on. The task force is developing recommendations to bolster civic education in California: strengthening academic standards and curriculum, improving accountability, better educating teachers themselves on civics and generating support from institutions and businesses outside of education.
With your help we can enhance the understanding of democracy. Visit www.powerofdemocracy.org to find out how.
Allan Zaremberg is president and CEO of CalChamber. He wrote this for the San Jose Mercury News.