In defense of business

During one of my early morning breaks from the computer,  I read the Schumpeter column in the Economist (12/19/2009), and found that I strongly agreed with the point they were trying to make.

They start with a quote from the obscure (maybe not to their learned audience – but to me) Henry Hazlitt, “one of the great popularizers of free-market thinking, who once said that good ideas have to be relearned in every generation.”

They were referring to the fact thay they thought business was a good idea, and that the current generation seems to be losing sight of that.

They lament that “critics of business dominate the discussion of corporate morality,” and go on to say “For all too many people it is taken as a given that companies promote greed, crush creativity, and monopolise power.”

(Excuse the spelling – they are British, after all).

They offered three arguments:

“The first is that business is a remarkable exercise in co-operation..  It is worth remembering that that the word ‘company’ is derived from the Latin words ‘cum’ and ‘pane’ – meaning ‘breaking bread together’. ”

I didn’t realize the derivation of company – but how true is that.  It is all about gaining co-operation and building trust – among employees, suppliers, customers, lenders, and sometimes the public at large.

The Economist continues, “Another rejoinder is that business is an exercise in creativity.”

These guys are so on-target.  I see it every day in my business, in my industry, and in my customers’ businesses.  People constantly experimenting with new processes, new products, new techniques in a continuous quest for improvement.

The third one is one I never thought of, but leave it to the editors of the Economist to come up with this:

“A third defence is that business helps maintain political pluralism.”  You’re excused for a quick run to the dictionary.  Basically it is a good thing.  I think it means tolerance of diversity in democracy.  The majority rules, but the rights of all are protected.

“Companies have a difficult enough job staying alive , let alone engaging in a ‘silent takeover’ of the state.”

Amen to that!

“Only 202 of the 500 biggest companies in America in 1980 were will still in existence 20 years later.  Anti-capitalists actually have it upside down.  Companies actually prevent each other from gaining too much power, and also act as a check on the governements that would otherwise be running the economy.  The proportion of the world’s governments has increased from 40% in 1980, when the pro-business revolution began, to more than 60% today.”

They conclude by exhorting us hard-headed business people to take a few minutes from our busy days to stick up for ourselves, and make these arguments.

“.. the price of silence will be an ever more hostile public and ever more overbearing government.”

Count me in.

Here is their website:


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