Obama's Anti-Business Policies Are Our Economic Katrina

The president’s demonization of business is exactly the wrong approach.

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The growing divide and tension between the Obama administration and the business world is a cause for national concern. As Clive Crook wrote in the Financial Times, Obama is "a president under business attack." He is certainly under sharp criticism and for good reason: He has lost the confidence of much of the business community, whose worries over taxes, the dramatically increased costs of new regulation, and a general perception that the administration is hostile toward them and may take yet harsher steps, are holding back investment and growth. In the midst of a weak economy accompanied by levels of unemployment unprecedented since the Great Depression, it is critical that the government in Washington appreciate that confidence is an imperative if the business community is to invest, take risks with start-ups, and altogether get the economy going again to put the millions of unemployed back to productive work.

This is what businessmen do when they are free to conduct business. For example, in the two decades of the 1980s and 1990s, the United States created 73 million new private sector jobs—while simultaneously losing some 44 million jobs in the process of adjusting its economy to international competition. That was a net gain of some 29 million jobs. A stunning 55 percent of the total workforce at the end of these two decades was in a new job, some two-thirds of them in industries that paid more than the average wage. By contrast, continental Europe, with a larger economy and workforce, created an estimated 4 million jobs in the same period, most of which were in the public sector (and the cost of which they are beginning to regret).

How could America achieve this? It is because of the get-up-and-go culture that reflects individualism, courageous entrepreneurialism, pragmatism, adaptability, and innovation. This adventurous spirit outlived the passing of the frontier and still inspires and nourishes millions, including our young and our newcomers. No other country has a population so habituated to self-help, self-improvement, and even self-renovation in a manner that carries over into business life.

The unique historical conditions of America encouraged a remarkable management culture. The anthropologist, Lionel Tiger, showed that the style of American corporate management was a response to the opportunities of a huge internal market, but also the obstacles presented by vast distances and diverse populations. We created a monetized market economy inspired by a belief in technology and scientific management, governed not by kinship and custom but by contracts freely agreed upon and law passed by assent.

Over the years, the transformation of American industry has been nothing short of phenomenal. U.S. companies replaced large, mass-produced consumer products with sophisticated goods derived from intellectual output and knowledge-based interests, the fastest-growing segment of the world's economy. Management was assisted by a level of labor flexibility that is the envy of both Europe and Asia. Europe struggles with the legacy of the steam age in the form of craft, union, and management demarcations that limit management's role. In Asia, management is often stifled by large, oligopolistic networks and government mandates.

American managers consistently led the world in investing in new technologies and providing high-tech training to exploit them. We were the first to realize the importance of computers and information technologies and invested massively in them, spending twice as much per capita on info-tech as Western European firms and more than six times the global average. In fact, U.S. companies are the major suppliers of the information age's silicon, brains, and sinews.

No other country has met the requirements of an emerging economic system that needed people to be mobile both physically and psychologically. No other country shares America's belief in numbers and statistics as a basis for rational decision-making. No other country invests so much in business training and the retraining of its people—on top of having the world's best graduate and undergraduate business schools. No other country forms as many small companies year after year that compete with flexibility, rapid response, openness, innovation, and the ability to attract the best people. And as new products and services are developed, American businesses' unique marketing and advertising skills establish their success at home and abroad. Our system, in which ideas freely percolate at all levels, is tantamount to a giant information-processing machine. It enhances our capacity to absorb, adapt, and manage ongoing revolutions in technology, information, and logistics, which are too dynamic and complex to be handled by a top-down system.