In a recent review of one of my books, the reviewer stated that, for a “United Statesman,” I was remarkably contemptuous of business. The reviewer was not an American, obviously, and his views suggest that outsiders believe that Americans are far too pro-business, and that I’m an exception. Yet, I have to say that I never thought of myself as being contemptuous of business in general. Certainly, I’ve been contemptuous of certain sectors, such as finance and mortgage banking and Walmart-style corporations that exploit part-time workers, but corporations and businesses come in all flavors and types, ranging from those on which no amount of contempt would be sufficient to describe their actions to those who act in the manner one would hope all businesses and corporations might.
The problem is, in dealing with business, those meriting contempt and/or regulatory/legal actions to rein in their corrupt and self-dealing excesses are also the most visible, just as the most corrupt and violent individuals are often the most visible. In addition, often unethical or excessively self-serving acts are legal under existing law, which also points out the fact that law can only do so much, and usually does less because of the pressure on lawmakers by those businesses with great resources.
As I’ve stated before, I believe that no truly viable society can long exist without an economy based on at least some form of market economy, but in our world market economies come in all varieties and operate under differing cultural and social constraints. In some countries, the government controls tightly just what aspects of the market are permitted to operate and how. In others, it appears that business can’t be done without some form of bribery, and bribery is a part of their market economies.
Most western industrialized economies either frown on wide-scale direct bribery or theoretically outlaw it, but in the United States we pretty much turn a blind eye away from campaign contributions, which often have operated as either slush funds or deferred retirement accounts for elected officials, meaning that such contributions were nothing more than bribery one step removed. In any case, corporate involvement in the political system has become a larger and larger part of the market economy, simply because the political system sets the rules under which business operates.
And yes, I am contemptuous of those businesses and businesses who attempt to use political influence to tilt the economic playing field in their favor. But then, shouldn’t all of us be contemptuous of that sort of behavior, whether it’s “legal” or not?