Based on a few columns and conversations over the past few days, I regret to inform you that anti-business sentiment is alive and well in New Brunswick. Of course this is nothing new – I remember feeling this back in the early 1990s when I started in the economic development business when certain journalists and pundits heaped scorn on efforts to attract industry to the province as if there was some magical better way – a way they themselves never felt inclined to share with the rest of us unwashed masses.
There are clearly businesses that act in unethical ways. There are businesses that act in criminal ways. No one would ever deny that. However, claiming that businesses – and capitalism itself – is inherently unethical and corrupt and needs to be tightly controlled is, in my opinion, fundamentally wrong.
We have rules and laws in society that apply to all people but are meant to deter a small minority who would act unethically or immorally if those laws were not in place. If we took the no murder law off the books tomorrow, the vast majority of people would still eschew murder – because it is morally wrong. The same applies to business. We need rules and laws to protect the majority of fair minded and honest business people from the fringe who would act unethically or immorally given the chance (and who do). We should not assume all businesses and business people are inherently corrupt and immoral and need tight laws and control anymore than we would say that about the general public at large. We do not assume all New Brunswickers are inherently unethical and immoral and we need tight laws to rein in their evil designs. However, that is exactly how many people feel about businesses – and the New Brunswickers who lead them.
In fact, the seeds of fascism lay in that very belief that people need to be tightly controlled. Tightly controlled by whom? Same with business.
I believe in the invisible hand – in most cases, where there are relatively open and competitive markets – works fine. There are hundreds of industries from pizza to plumbing that operate essentially on the supply/demand principle. There are a few industries where more regulation is required – those where there is a greater public interest or where there is greater potential for externalities – but that doesn’t invalidate the capitalist, free market system.
Those who wage this guerrilla war on business with their misleading and inflammatory diatribes – I think – do so from a belief system that capitalism is inherently evil and needs to be tightly controlled. They believe there is a defined economic ‘pie’ that is somehow carved up and too much of that pie goes to too few people. The whole Shumpeterian idea of innovation, creativity and creating new value/wealth is completely lost to them.
My liberal view of the world is that we need to be an open, free economy where businesses can thrive and prosper and those who commit illegal acts are brought to justice – just like those individuals who also flout the law. Society as a whole should take a portion of the economic activity generated and apply it to public goods that are desired by the population as a whole.
While I fully agree with the right of any person to have a viewpoint and, further, I even agree there is some value to keeping a skeptical eye on some industries and business practices, I wholly disavow the full bore war on business. It is cowardly to try and bring something down without providing a viable alternative. All that does is make the current system unstable and distrusted by the populace without providing any other options.
New Brunswick needs more business investment, not less. At its core, the problem with our society over 100 years has been the lack of a vibrant and growing business community. We have replaced this lack of business activity with $2 billion in transfers from stronger economies elsewhere in Canada to pay for public services and created an unstable political economy where there has been virtually no immigration, limited business investment, a lack of entrepreneurship and out-migration of many of our most talented people.
I am going to keep defending capitalism in New Brunswick. I am going to celebrate those entrepreneurs who develop interesting new ideas into products and services and take those ideas to market. I am going to applaud those large businesses who make the decision to invest their capital here rather than elsewhere creating jobs and opportunity for New Brunswickers. I am going to continue to call for more immigration – and the attraction of people and ideas – the ideas that transform dormant capital into economic development and stronger societies.
And where businesses and business groups take steps or do things I think are counter to interests of New Brunswick society as a whole, I will continue to say so – just as I have by criticizing business groups for demanding ever lower taxes even as KPMG reports we have the lowest total tax burden for businesses in North America. We can, and should, have these debates – but I will not broadly criticize the economic system at the heart of our democracy. I will promote it.
Let the criticism begin.