Monday, July 08, 2013

A surreal apologia for "free enterprise"

Saturday's Duluth News Tribune had one of its Pro/Con pairings of opinion; they were titled "Can free enterprise boost the nation's economy?"  I would have liked to have read them then but I didn't want to do it on my wife's cell phone, our fastest web access at the cabin.

Today I did, and oh, boy!  The pro was an unbelievable, non-critical, paean to "free enterprise" that I just have to comment on.  It was written by Steve Van Andel, co-CEO of Amway and chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.  The con was a standard piece about the government needing to do more to regulate the economy through stimulus and other measures.  The latter was written by Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

I found so many clich├ęs in Van Andel's piece passing off as received wisdom that I have a hard time picking a few of the most egregious.

"When employers and entrepreneurs are successful, they indirectly share that wealth by expanding opportunities and creating jobs for others."  Success has too often been measured by stock price, and stock price often means cutting jobs rather than creating jobs.

"Businesses wanting to remain successful always strive to do better."  Too many successful businesses ignore their customers.  Just look at the support boards of Apple, Microsoft, Google, CenturyLink, and many others.  Users complain about the same problems for years and they don't seem to be fixed or responded to.

"The truth is that government doesn’t create opportunity, equality or success — the private sector does."  Let's see!  Federal government purchases of computers led to further development of computers; for example, the first UNIVAC was sold to the Census Bureau.  ARPAnet led to the Internet; ARPA was Advanced Research Project Agency, a part of the government.  An NSF grant led to the creation of Google.  How many private weather forecasters depend on the Federal Government for their raw data?

"When our leaders attempt to reach deeper into the affairs of businesses and individuals — through overregulation and higher taxes — they breed uncertainty and stifle growth."  Just what is "over-regulation" - requiring proper labeling on food, reducing power plant emissions, requiring easy-to-understand contracts?  What are "higher taxes" - taxes sufficient to enforce the laws, taxes sufficient to rebuild our infra-structure, taxes sufficient to have a "strong" military?

Van Andel's article is copyrighted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and has been reprinted in several newspapers besides the Duluth News Tribune.  The links that I found include

The original article was published by McClatchy –

Others include

Centre Daily Times –
Arizona Daily Star –
Deseret News –

The comments to all of these are mostly critical of Van Andel's view.

A good critical letter appeared South Coast Today, but a search of South Coast Today for "Van Andel" did not turn up the original opinion piece.