In response to Indiana’s new law protecting religious bigotry, Salesforce.com has been the first company to announce that it will be curtailing its Indiana operations. More are coming.
Here’s what their CEO stated: “Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination. We are forced to dramatically reduce our investment in IN based on our employee’s & customer’s outrage over the Religious Freedom Bill.”
Salesforce is only a $4bn company, but it is an up-and-coming heavyweight in the tech industry. Having such a high-profile announcement from such a powerful player so quickly was a big surprise. Even if no one else openly joins them, their absence from trade shows, user groups and other activities is going to reverberate, creating pressure on other companies and hurting Indiana businesses.
Flanked by powerhouse Chicago on one side and the booming tech center of Columbus on the other, Indiana is a state that already struggles to compete in this lucrative, well-paid field. It is difficult to develop and retain technical talent and well-paid jobs there in the wake of a collapsed manufacturing base. Becoming a pioneer in discrimination is unlikely to help.
There seems to be a fundamental disconnect in Republican circles over the political value of gay-baiting. The environment changed very fast, and Republicans are not known for their speed of adaptation. Picking on gay people is no longer a winning political tactic. Even Jan Brewer recognizes this. Can we just accept this and move on?
As for the “religious exemptions,” you can’t possibly be serious. We’ve been here before. If the ability to persecute gay people is a central tenet of your religious faith, then your religious faith sucks. We all bear a Constitutional duty to preserve the basic rights of religions that suck, but only up to the point that your religion starts ruining other people’s lives. If you want to hold a job that serves the general public you will be expected not to act like an asshole, even if you think your religion commands it. Be an asshole in private where your right to be an asshole remains sacred.
How bold is Salesforce’s decision? Not nearly as bold as you might think. That’s the other piece of this scenario that GOP figures seem unable to grasp. The supposedly “business-friendly” states like Indiana and Kansas and Alabama and so on are economic pygmies. Skipping out on direct business in Indiana would have less impact on Salesforce.com than if they lost the ability to sell to Malaysia or South Africa. It doesn’t matter. They can skip and Indiana and the only impact will be some savings on travel.
A comparison might be helpful here. Hyper-regulated California, where Salesforce.com and nearly every other major tech player is based has a GDP approximately seven times the size of Indiana while maintaining exactly the same economic growth rate. California’s economic output is almost a third higher than the second ranked state, Texas. Yes, Texas has been growing a lot lately, thanks to the energy business. We’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, California and New York together account for more of the country’s economic production than the bottom 28 states combined. The San Francisco metro area generates more than one and a half times the output of the whole state of Indiana. Salesforce is not likely to lose any money on this move. In fact, it will probably swell the company’s bottom line and especially aid in recruiting.
Those who want to enshrine a right to discriminate into public policy are overplaying a very weak hand. It is getting weaker by the day. Fortunately for those who cannot reconcile their religious convictions with the rights of my gay friends to live their lives in peace, there is an option. There’s lots of cheap land in Amish Country, where you won’t be bothered. Bring solar panels, unless the mysterious witchcraft that makes them work violates your religion.