(Business) haters gonna hate – but who gets hurt?
“You didn’t build that.”
“Corporations aren’t people.”
It ain’t good.
Well, big surprise, we don’t agree. We consider entrepreneurs American heroes and, as we’ve opined recently, we think many corporations brim with humanity. Business can’t operate unfettered, of course, without any form of oversight or control. But our view, essentially, is that business is a source of great good for society, with the power to create hope and opportunity like no other institution going.
Indeed, the positives so outweigh the negatives that lately we’ve been trying to identify why some people hate business so fervently. After all, the risks of this movement’s efforts to demonize business are frighteningly high.
Here’s where we’ve landed.
First, there’s clearly a group of people that disdains business because they support some or all of the fundamental leveling tenets of socialism. This ideology is too multifaceted to summarize here and is well-known in any regard, but suffice it to say that its adherents believe, as the president once put it, “You’ve got to spread the wealth around.”
Then there are people who hate business not because of ideology but because of personal experience – they’ve been wrongly fired, endured a dreadful boss, or watched a schmoozer get the promotion that, by rights, belonged to someone better. Whatever the specifics, these individuals see business as a place where good people get burned.
For still others, their hostility derives from the recent financial meltdown, when the sheer negligence of many financial institutions and rating agencies, they believe, resulted in blameless Americans losing their jobs and their homes and threatened to bring down the entire economy.
Finally, and perhaps most pernicious because of its outsize influence, is the hostility toward business that radiates from the intellectual elite – the opinion leaders in journalism, academia and government. To them, business is rotten because it’s just so completely unfair. Otherwise, how do you explain the success of the party animal who lived down the hall in college?
You know what we mean. With the intellectual elite, you have a group of people who, once upon a time, took their studies very seriously, ran their college newspapers and clubs and protested for social justice in their free time. After graduation, they took jobs where they felt they could fight the good fight, even if it meant financial sacrifice. That was all well and good until 10 or 15 years out, when they started hearing stories about the obnoxious loudmouths in their college dorms who majored in playing the angles and minored in beer pong. These “lightweights” (in their view) had, horrifyingly, struck it rich on Wall Street. And not by making the world a better place. No – simply by showing up and chumming around.
O.K., so maybe that is enough to make you hate business.
Except, you shouldn’t. First of all, even if Wall Street allows some former party animals to make a fortune, Wall Street is but a piece of American business. It may show up in movies and on TV as the archetype, but far more of U.S. business consists of consumer and manufacturing companies making and selling real stuff, family-run enterprises, startups, farms, sports teams, ice cream shops, art galleries, summer camps, record labels – you name it. American business is what America does every day.
But just as important, you shouldn’t vilify American business because it’s our only road back to a thriving country, free of the noose of debt and offering opportunity to all who are willing to work, create, compete and grow.
Everyone knows that our economy must improve, but it can only improve in an environment that encourages business – and, yes, even loves it. Atmosphere matters. When hostility reigns, big enterprises worry about the regulations coming down the pike that might crimp operations and profits, and most hunker down on the capital spending front, human and otherwise. Entrepreneurs worry it’s not the right time or climate to expand, borrow on their credit line or hire, and they do the same.
Look, if you want jobs – and who doesn’t? – you have to come to terms with reality. Hating business doesn’t just hurt business.
It destroys the way forward for everyone.
Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric for 21 years and is the founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University. Suzy Welch is an author, speaker and the former Editor of the Harvard Business Review.
PHOTO: An Occupy Wall Street activist takes part in a march in downtown Manhattan in New York, July 11, 2012. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz