Politicians tell us we need a government that is "business friendly." But there are Fortune 500 companies, publicly traded corporations, family businesses and farms, mom-and-pop stores and sole proprietors. There are so many different types of business, it's hard to have one policy that's friendly to them all.
Beyond that, not all companies benefit us equally. Multinational corporations sometimes diverge from U.S. foreign policy goals. Overseas subsidiaries can conceal revenues from the IRS and stockholders. Some financial institutions take risks that endanger the economy. Sometimes these entities get ill-advised exemptions from our taxes and our laws.
Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists create jobs, but in pursuit of efficiency also eliminate them, too. Innovation brings new products and technologies; but some businesses obtain patents for things not invented to stop rivals from doing it.
The vast majority of business people are honest, and successful businesses often give generously to charities. Businesses offer goods and services. These terms imply we benefit from what we buy. But not always. Fatty or sweet foods can cause heart disease or diabetes. Smoking causes cancer. Some production pollutes.
We all desire economic growth and higher employment. In pursuit of these quantitative goals we should not sacrifice qualitative factors like our health, the morale of the workforce, the longevity of herds and fields and the positive engagement of employees and consumers in what they make, offer and use.
When we think of government being friendly to business, we should ask: which business? What product? For what quality of life? We do need government that's business friendly, but business should also be friendly to consumers, neighborhoods and the environment.
With a Perspective, I'm Alan Bernstein.
Alan Bernstein is professor of history, emeritus, at the University of Arizona. He lives in Oakland.