Anti-Business Hate

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With
all the talk about media bias it may be worth noting that nearly
all news services treat malpractice – or even just the whiff
of it – at business corporations with much greater severity
than malpractice – even the blatant instances of it –
at universities and, well, the news media. I am thinking here of
the vehemence with which everyone in the press descended upon corporate
commerce in general because of various fiascos, actual or alleged,
at Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and the rest. At the same time when UCLA
has a real mess with someone selling body parts, or UCI with one
of its doctors engaging in quackery, and so on and so forth, there
is not a word about the general corruption in higher education.
Nor is everyone up in arms, asking for the abolition of the First
Amendment to the US Constitution, when reporters at The New York
Times, The Washington Post, and The New Republic
perpetrate out and out fraud. Is anyone agitating for federal regulations
of the news media because some reporters are found out to be crooks?
How about coming down hard on colleges and universities with bureaucratic
supervision because of how badly some professors and other employees
behave?

Now
this, to my mind, is a fairly good test of prejudice within the
community of commentators – pundits, politicians, consumer protectors
(yes, I have Ralph Nader & Co., in mind here, who never say
anything untoward about anything other than business). See if there
are people within these other institutions who do bad things – or
are accused of doing them – and then gauge how readily the commentators
attack the entire institution. Corporate commerce is clearly the
winner here: Despite the fact that on average the measure of malfeasance
within American corporations is not great and despite the fact that
people at educational institutions, from elementary schools to universities,
are being convicted on a variety of charges from child molestation
to brazen academic malpractice – not to mention all the misconduct
that should be treated as professionally askew (such as professors
letting grad students read all the assignments, while receiving
huge compensation for "teaching") – the hostility toward
business is notably more intense than that toward these other institutions.

Everyone
knows that there will be bad apples in any profession. And where
the press is concerned, everyone accepts that such bad apples must
be reprimanded from within and the government is required to stay
out of whatever mess happens to occur there. (Where were all the
calls for Congressional oversight of magazines when The New Republic
unleashed more than two-dozen phony news articles on its readership?
How about when The New York Times published a bunch of rubbish
recently from one of its star reporters?)

What
this shows is that when folks come down on business it has far less
to do with actual misconduct than with rank prejudice: Making money
itself is the target, striving for prosperity, unabashedly as people
do in commerce, is what is being attacked. Never mind the particulars
– they only serve to make the prejudice somewhat palatable.

Of
course, this is nothing new – commerce and business has been demeaned
in most of human history, by philosophers, theologians, politicians,
psychologists, sociologists and, of course, artists. Since these
folks dominate the forums of ideas, while those in the business
community are attending to, well, business, there is little chance
that there will ever be fairness about the merits of commerce in
human communities. But perhaps some of us can make the effort to
point out that the mere dominance of such prejudice doesn't render
it the right stuff.

From
Socrates to our day, intellectuals and their adoring public tended
to besmirch commerce and business. American society has turned this
around just a bit because business has been instrumental in erasing
poverty for millions. Sadly, however, even in the USA, the defense
of business rests on a collectivist idea – this is so even
in Adam Smith's thesis that the value of the institution lies in
advancing "the wealth of nations," and that we need to
tolerate the vice of greed and ambition in order to secure the public
benefit.

Such
a defense of business isn't going to do much good for the individuals
who comprise the profession. They need to be honored for what they
do, namely, make good deals, not the side effects.

March
10, 2004

Tibor
Machan [send
him mail
] holds
the Freedom Communications Professorship of Free Enterprise and
Business Ethics at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman
University, CA. A Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford
University, he is author of 20+ books, most pertinently, The
Business of Commerce: Examining an Honorable Profession
,
co-authored with James Chesher.

Tibor
Machan Archives


        
        

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