Beware of supposedly ‘pro-business’ politicians

Michael Schaus

Being “pro-business” is a nice talking point for politicians—but often that’s all it is: A talking point.

The truth is, the term doesn’t actually mean much in today’s political climate. Certainly, it looks good on campaign flyers, and sounds good in 30 second radio spots—however, businesses aren’t some monolithic demographic with universally recognized values.

In fact, the policy interests of a corporate giant, such as Amazon or Walmart, will likely be substantially different than the policy concerns of a sole proprietor trying to open up their first retail location in North Las Vegas… or, say, a food truck owner in western Los Angeles.

Often, they are even directly at odds with one another.

Does being “pro-business,” after all, mean supporting a massive taxpayer-funded subsidy to a private football franchise? To the businesses and trade associations poised to directly benefit from such a taxpayer handout, the answer is almost certainly “yes”—despite the fact that such subsidies will come at the direct (and indirect) expense of other, less politically-connected, businesses and entrepreneurs.

President Trump’s tariffs, as another example, undoubtedly helped some American businesses regain market share and grow their profitability—but it did so at the expense of other American businesses that depended on the very imports taxed under such protectionist policies.

The truth is, many large businesses and major industries are quite content—even welcoming—of big-government intervention in the marketplace. Companies that are dominant in their industry are almost always lobbying to ensure they are part of the political process—allowing them the political clout necessary to regulate away potential competitors in the market, or secure for themselves taxpayer handouts.

And because these corporate interests are, themselves, part of the business community, politicians often take cover behind the rhetoric of being “pro-business” in the process—which really demonstrates the important distinction between “pro-business” and “free market”. The former is little more than a soundbite, regularly hijacked to promote the interests of politically-favored players within a given industry, sector or economy. The latter is what makes economic progress possible for businesses, consumers and workers alike.

However, “free markets” are a hard thing to defend, politically. The uncontrolled chaos of leaving markets to sort out their own winners and losers is a messy, inefficient, often unfair and unpredictable economic model. Nine out of ten new business startups, for instance, don’t even survive their first year, and even long-established brands can die overnight to an unforeseen competitor… However, occasionally, there will be miraculous success stories that fundamentally change our world.

It wasn’t that long ago, after all, mobile phones were seen as mere luxury items for an elite few. Today, not only do they offer virtually anyone the convenience of mobile communication, but they pack more productivity in a single brick of plastic than our entire desktop computers of the 90s could have ever offered. And with that progress, an entire tech revolution employed millions of workers, enriched countless entrepreneurs and democratized opportunity for millions of creative individuals.

Such breakneck progress and economic expansion in this industry has only been made possible by the relatively free nature of the technology economy—a sector that has, until recently, been largely free from the kind of government-intrusion championed by big businesses in other corners of the economy.

It’s this kind of innovation sandbox—a landscape where creative experimentation is encouraged and practiced—that epitomizes what free markets have to offer. It empowers businesses of all sizes the freedom to pursue their creative energies without unnecessary regulatory restraints. And it does so by offering the freedom of opportunity to anyone willing to risk failure—not merely those with political connections.

And that is why staunchly defending free markets is far more critical than squabbling over which policies are more “pro-business” than the other. While every economic sector and politically connected industry will have it’s own view on what constitutes “business friendly” public policy, free market policies are focused on preserving the very system that enables the generation of such prosperity in the first place—a system built on expanding opportunity for anyone who seeks it… rather than regulating it away at the behest of those who have already seized it.