The contemporary approach to politics and the economy largely ignores the history and philosophy that underpin our culture and drive current events. There has never been a greater need for deeper understanding and informed discussion of the interconnection of capital markets, government, and culture in society. This lack of intellectual footing is reinforced by the 24-hour news cycle, which exacerbates the decline of thoughtful analysis and discussion. Additionally, the increasing power of government and the concentration of control in the hands of a very few large institutions at a time of major political turmoil, social unrest, and economic volatility means Main Street and individual freedoms are being disregarded or sacrificed.
Through the gathering, analysis, and dissemination of information from a unique perspective, The Political Forum Institute (TPF Institute) seeks to build a powerful and enduring community dedicated to the values and beliefs of the American founding: free peoples, free minds, and free markets. To establish the infrastructure and develop programs of TPF Institute, we are seeking philanthropic support totaling $500,000 to $700,000 over the next two years.
Building on the combined 80-year careers as thinkers, researchers, and writers, Mark Melcher and Steve Soukup of The Political Forum founded The Political Forum Institute. TPF Institute will expand upon the weekly, 700 subscriber-base Political Forum newsletter with its founders’ unique and informed perspective on the economy, politics, culture, and social phenomena. The initial and principal day-to-day function of TPF Institute will be to publish short essays weekly; longer essays and reports on occasion; curricula intended to provide foundational readings on specific subjects for college and graduate school studies as well as continuing education for financial industry professionals; and, over time, books.
Expanding on this base of print and digital publications, TPF Institute programs will grow using multiple channels, including podcasts and blogs, online and in-person discussions—between principals and others in relevant arenas—gatherings, lectures, and eventually conferences. Through these channels, TPF Institute will address issues, foster discussion, provide substantive analysis, offer insights and forecasts about political, geopolitical, and social events and trends at the nexus of the political and economic, exploring the risks that lurk in the existing murky zone between the government and capital markets.
In creating TPF Institute, the founders are specifically interested in affirming the culture, changing that which can be changed, and “thinking small” rather than trying to appeal to the masses or looking for grand solutions. The design of TPF Institute is based on the belief that the problems that truly affect the nation are beyond politics, which means not just that they cannot be solved by federal legislation but that they cannot be solved at the federal level at all. They must be addressed and solved, if possible, in community, in the small groups of men and women who align themselves and associate with one another voluntarily.
TPF Institute will create a community not tied to the constraints of investment banking and other large institutional interests. The aims will be to converse with, to teach, and to learn from those in the financial services business – our business as well as those in the political and policy arenas– in order to preserve and enhance shared values, the values that are crucial to business and our nation. Current readers of The Political Forum number just over 700. Some 45% engage daily and the share rate is significant. The goal is to grow this community to double at minimum 1,500 over the next two to three years, with a longer-term goal of growing to 10,000.
As we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, several players in the worlds of business and financial markets have positioned themselves to take unfair advantage of a confluence of circumstances that have produced a unique concentration of power within the financial services industry. This concentration of power, in conjunction with the adoption of a righteous-sounding yet pernicious moral code, threatens irreparable harm to capital markets, corporate behavior, and, by extension, the American experiment.
Over the last few years – and over the next several years as well, if the activists have their way – the focus in corporate management, asset management, and business ethics has been on “stakeholders,” which are seen as distinct from and often in conflict with shareholders. The idea is that traditional corporate and asset management have focused too heavily on shareholders alone and should, instead, focus more on stakeholders – i.e. employees, customers, labor representatives, neighbors, friends, local governments, the environment, and so on.
There are two obvious problems with this noble sounding ideal. First it represents a distinction without a difference. Shareholders are stakeholders too, and corporate managers or owners who are not already focused on the well-being of customers, employees, and others will not be managers or business-owners for long. Effective and successful business management has been “stakeholder-focused” for as long as private enterprise has existed.
The second problem – which derives from the first – is that “stakeholder” theory as it is being applied to business and markets today is a far cry from what stakeholder theory was originally and even from what it purports to be today. What was once an effective and valuable business-planning tool has become “normative” behavioral tool, which is to say an ethical framework intended to supersede both traditional ethics and the traditional logic of capital and markets for the express purpose of producing political impacts that are often in direct conflict with the policies that have been sanctioned by voters.
This push for a new ethical foundation for business and capital markets is, at its heart, well-meaning but will, nevertheless, ultimately undermine all that has been most admired and most productive in American society since its founding.
In his book The Dictatorship of Woke Capital, due out from Encounter Books in Winter 2020-21, Steve Soukup, a co-Director of The Political Forum Institute, examines the historical roots of and the contemporary battles in the effort to politicize American corporate culture. Through his research and quarter-century of experience as an analyst of social and political trends for the capital markets, he has arrived at several conclusions about the future of business. Among other things, he believes that traditional ethics – and the competent instruction therein – are the keys to fighting back against the effort to politicize and undermine American business.
The Political Forum Institute has been established as a non-profit endeavor, initially as a program of The American Principles Project Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) organization. As such, we are seeking philanthropic investment in these efforts to build programs and infrastructure. Specific funding needs over the next two years total approximately $500,000 to $700,000. Where possible, we will seek to develop earned revenue streams from programmatic initiatives over time. Funding opportunities, many of which will also include naming rights for those who wish to be recognized in this way for their contributions, include:
Produce and publish weekly essays, analyzing and commenting on matters of importance in social, political, economic, and market contexts, offering commentary and forecasting derived from and related to the TPF Institute mission, i.e. advancing knowledge and understanding of the issues and concepts affecting free and fair capital markets in the 21st century – $2,000 per week/$100,000 per year
Create book-length projects building on the themes first touched upon in The Dictatorship of Woke Capital (Fall/Winter 2020-21, Encounter Books). – $25,000 each/up to two per year
Compose and refine essays dealing with the lesser-known but critically important aspects of the politicization of business and, by extension, of capital markets; both for publication directly by the institute and for publication (or republication) at larger, better-known sites/magazines/etc. Chief among the issues to be addressed will be the matter of “ethics,” and the ways in which ideology-driven agendas are engaging in and fostering the manipulation of business ethics to politicize business and markets – @ $10,000 per project/up to four per year
Concomitant with the composition and publication of the above essays, books, etc., create an ethics curriculum/reading list to expose said manipulation, to explain its intended and unintended consequences, and combat its effects in the broader business/market environment – $20,000 Consult and contract with software company to formalize and distribute curriculum/class plan/reading list – $10,000
Develop an online/conference call round-table to consult with leading experts in traditional ethics, morality (and offer a consulting fee where necessary) to enhance our understanding of the expectations of traditional ethical/moral codes and how they might be harnessed to combat the political agenda of the new, post-Christian ethical expectations for businesses, business owners, and corporate managers – @ $5,000 per session/up to four per year
Create a podcast series of interviews and discussions with leading experts. Initial investment to create the format, engage recording professionals, and produce two to three podcasts – $30,000.
Establish and maintain a professional website for an informative online presence – $10,000 set up/$6,000 per year maintenance and content management for 2 years
Market and advertise the creation of the Institute, its mission, and especially its publications, capitalizing on the dedication and long-term support of diverse initial audience, mostly from within the financial services community – $25,000/$15,000 year 1; $10,000 year 2
Build out a larger audience through online marketing and potential selective mailing list rentals, keeping in mind the values of community and “thinking small,” while nevertheless attempting to develop a more significant following and an even broader foundational community – $25,000
Contract with freelance copyeditors to help ensure the highest quality publication materials – $5,000-$15,000/per year
Administrative assistance and list management – $15,000 - $20,000/per year
Fundraising management and grants writing – $30,000 -$50,000/per year
American Principles Project https://americanprinciplesproject.org/ (Not-for-profit fiscal sponsor for The Political Forum Institute)
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To follow up or for more information about The Political Forum Institute, please contact Steve Soukup, Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum and co-Director of The Political Forum Institute, at (402) 261-3175 or [email protected]
Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.
Mr. Soukup has followed politics and federal regulatory policy for the financial community since coming to Washington in 1996, when he joined Mark Melcher at the award-winning Washington-research office of Prudential Securities. While at Prudential, he was part of the Washington team that placed first in Institutional Investor magazine’s annual analyst survey for eight years in a row.
Mr. Soukup left Prudential with Mr. Melcher to join Lehman Brothers in the fall of 2000 and stayed there for two years, before leaving early in 2003 to become a partner at The Political Forum. While at Lehman, Mr. Soukup authored macro-political commentary and followed policy developments in the Natural Resources sector group, focusing on agriculture and energy policy. He also headed Lehman’s industry-leading analysis of asbestos litigation reform efforts.
Mr. Soukup initially joined The Political Forum as the editor and junior partner but is now the senior commentator and publisher. He holds an M.A. in American Government and Public Administration/Public Policy and a professional certification in policy analysis and program evaluation. Steve is also the Fellow in Culture and Economy at the Culture of Life Foundation.
Mark Melcher is the President and Editor of The Political Forum. He has followed global and domestic social and political trends from Washington for the financial community since 1973, when he joined The Washington Forum, a subsidiary of Drexel Burnham Lambert. He left Drexel in July 1983 to open a Washington research office for Prudential Securities.
Mr. Melcher ran Prudential Securities’ Washington Research Office for 17 years, leaving in October 2000. During that time, his office won first place in the Washington Research category of Institutional Investor magazine’s annual All-American Research Team in each of the eight years that the category was in existence. Shortly after leaving Prudential, Mark joined the Washington Research office of Lehman Brothers on a part-time basis. He left there in April 2002 to found The Political Forum.