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Commentary

Down To Business: War On Business, Part II

Readers weren't shy about weighing in on my column critical of the anti-business movement in this country. Take your best shot, but I'm not backing down.
Good And Evil

Do I think all or even most businesses are as pure as Ivory Snow? Of course not. But I also don't appreciate the cynical view of one online commenter who insisted that business, "by its very nature, must be unethical--the only ethics or values other than that of profit which a business adheres to are ones imposed from the outside." Yes, businesses are self-interested by nature and even law, but self-interest and ethical behavior are consistent with sustainable prosperity. Flouting the law and screwing customers and partners have never been viable long-term growth strategies.

One e-mail writer staked out a more tenable middle ground: "Publicly traded corporations are under legal obligation to maximize profit, but that is precisely why it is foolish for consumers, employees, or public officials to be overly trusting of them. ... Certainly, this obligation should cause voters to be wary of the efforts made by corporate lobbyists and lawyers to shape the law to the advantage of their employers. ... I certainly don't think that there are many corporate executives that can be fairly characterized as sneering villains, but neither do I think that many have or can have much resemblance to the enlightened captains of industry featured in 'pro-business' propaganda for the past century and a half."

My point was and is that the egregious exceptions (the likes of Enron and WorldCom, or more to the point, CEOs Skilling and Ebbers) aren't the rule. And the likes of Google, Apple, IBM, and Microsoft can and do make bad decisions and exhibit bad behavior, but we need to evaluate and punish their actions selectively and intelligently, not spray entire industries with a fire hose full of regulations and penalize individual companies for their capitalist tendencies.

Another online commenter nailed it: "The reaction from some ideological quarters is, in the face of malfeasance, to label capitalism and profits as inherently evil. For a government official not to understand that the government makes money, via taxation, on profits, and therefore highly profitable companies are actually a good thing for humanity, shows a frightening disconnect between ideology and reality."

The commenter, who goes by the label "Chris," waxed more prosaic than I did on the virtues of a free market: "Capitalism, especially capitalism existing within a democratic society, relies upon an educated and informed populace, as does democracy, if it is to be channeled for the good of society. I cannot imagine ever thinking of even a purely conceptual model of capitalism as an ideal. It is a tool, the most productive tool found thus far for enabling human ingenuity and 'good greed' to maximize potential benefits for society as a whole." Referring to the BP fiasco, he wrote: "The environmental destruction resulting from 'bad greed' has no more to do with capitalism than Chernobyl has to do with Communism. Human beings, not ideologies, commit harm and pursue selfishness at the expense of the good of society."

Not bad for a guy supposedly just interested in speeds and feeds.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief, InformationWeek
[email protected]

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.