Business gets a bad rap in America, but I didn’t know how bad that rap was until I saw quantified and laid out in easy to read charts. My beloved boss, Fred Smith, forwarded this old, yet still telling Business Week/Harris poll on the perception of business by Americans.
Overall, the American public doesn’t have a very rosy perception of business. Certainly this measurement of the cultural zeitgeist shows we haven’t gone the way of Chavez’s Venezuela, but a majority of Americans nonetheless find business to be unsavory in a multitude of dimensions.
While libertarianism isn’t pro-business, it’s pro-market, and businesses make up a large part of the market. So, the perception of business is a barometer for the perception of the market itself.
Why is business and the market failing to win over the “hearts and minds?” The problem lies in perception. We form a lot of our worldview through our day-to-day experiences. Unfortunately the human mind isn’t designed to internalize statistics and see the wider picture, we live very anecdotal existences. Unfortunately, our anecdotes are full of interaction with business and the ones we remember most vividly are not the seamless interactions, but the ones that go horribly wrong.
We hate business when it charges us “too much” for gas, or when the call center doesn’t make our computer work again, or when we eat a less-than-satisfying meal. When we’re under-served, overcharged, forced to wait, put on hold, or otherwise ill-treated we’re interacting with business.
Government, what libertarians would contend is the real enemy in our midst, just doesn’t reach out and poke us in the eye during the average day. Sure, we have to go to the DMV every once in a while, we visit the clerk of courts, and next week we’ll all have a painful reminder of governments role in our lives. The DMV is almost always painful, the clerk of courts can be a mixed bag, and in a few weeks we’ll all be getting our yearly rebates from the government and will quickly forgive them for the thousands and dollars they decided to keep.
The challenge then, for those of us that don’t forget about the tax man during the rest of the year, is pointing out that business is not always the bad guy. We need to show how government reaches into the machinery of business and twist the gears and gums up the works until our daily experiences are degraded because of it. High prices, poor service, and low quality of goods are not just the fault of business, but also the environment in which business operates. If government makes situations difficult for business it makes our experiences with business worse.
Fighting regulation by regulation is sometimes useful, but we also need to illustrate the faults of the entire system. In many ways this makes a more compelling case. A single regulation is easy to defend, but a body of regulation that costs the American people 1 trillion dollars a year is a harder thing to defend. But that’s precisely what we need to force the regulatory state to do – to try to defend its overwhelming burden on the economy and its impoverishing affects on our lives.