Two popular ways of talking about businesses have creeped into the modern mindset. One is the “you didn’t build that” approach, where businesses should kneel towards the awe-inspiring supremacy of the “Builder-of-Roads-and-Provider-of-Teachers.” The other is to talk about how businesses fit into an overall communal view of “sustainability” or “diversity” or “community” or “family values” … or pick your buzzword that doesn’t mean what you think it means.
Both viewpoints are dismissive of what business really is and why it is valuable. What these two views have in common, though they often act as if they are in conflict, is the abiding notion that businesses only serve a singular purpose, and though they should be patted on the back (“you have a factory, good for you!”) so that they continue doing what is wanted of them; they should always be mindful of their place in the back of the line behind the all-knowing intelligentsia of the planners.
So first, let me say what I think “pro-business” is not. It’s not a Governor’s Opportunity Fund. It’s not picking winners and losers, even when it is called “economic development” or “comprehensive planning.” When a regulation is designed to “nudge” certain behavior, or attract certain types of businesses, or creatively encourage sustainable lifestyles, the result is never what is intended. For instance, when a new form of zoning is touted as easing restriction on function, so as to focus more on form, then rest assured: there will simply be more control of form AND function.
Being “pro-business” is not pretending that the basis of owners’ social responsibilities lie on their winning an award for being the most “green” or being the most “healthy” or being the most “diverse” — though all those things are great — for these are the trappings of planners seeking what they seek, not what the community seeks.
Being “pro-business” is understanding that at its core, one of the most socially responsible things that anyone can do is to start a business. Running a business well, successfully, is a public good. A good business not only creates jobs, it creates goods and services that the community needs, and forms a central part of the community, while giving employees opportunities to do the same. No bill can create a dry cleaner. No legislation can open up a restaurant. No resolution by council, or board, or assembly can open up a factory. It takes someone willing to take a risk, willing to create something new, and willing to fail at doing it.
And yes, businesses must be free to express their values, and we should not pretend otherwise. First, religious values demand that people follow the law, voluntarily; indeed without “nudging” and force or threats, devoutly religious business owners follow the laws of their community because they know that their faith demands it. Further, when businesses express religiously founded values of generosity, compassion, concern for the environment or the poor, well…we want those values expressed. There is not enough money for police or charity without them, and their values.
If you want to be “pro-business” then start by talking about businesses and business owners as contributors to the community, not simply as agit-props for your political interests. Start with the reality that almost all government spending is a form of taxation, and all forced distribution of income reduces output. Start by eliminating favoritism for certain businesses, and focus on laws which make it easier for all businesses to thrive. Making it easier for people to promote their business and serve their customers’ needs, instead of the needs of the “plan”; and reducing tax burdens and regulatory intrusiveness and hurdles; these are the things which respect business, and thus understanding, applying and fighting for these things is the only real way to be pro-business.
Local small business owner, Butch Porter, writes on education, culture, and government.
The above first appeared in the print edition of the Loudoun Times-Mirror.