Corporation, Sell Thyself

Laura Hollis

4/6/2009 4:36:12 PM - Laura Hollis

The American corporation has been the greatest creator – and distributor – of wealth in the history of the human race.  Nothing else even comes close: no government, no individual, no private foundation.  In fact, the largesse that governments, individuals and foundations “distribute” would not even be possible without the American corporation.  (And Americans gave over $306 billion to charitable causes in 2007).

But you would certainly never know that from the news today.  Corporations – and by extension inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs – are being demonized, denigrated and blamed for every social ill – including and especially the social ills that are the fault of well-meaning but brainless government programs like Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” and Jimmy Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act.

This is the worst climate I can remember for American business in my whole life.  Yes, the oil crisis of the 1970s was bad, and yes, the car companies’ reputation at the same time was not much better.  But it was viewed as an economic crisis, not an identity crisis.  Never have I seen such worldwide antipathy for business and commerce generally.  People smashing bank windows, urinating on buildings, and carrying signs that read “capitalism is terrorism”?  (Meanwhile, actual terrorists get a pass; they’re just misunderstood and in need of a great big geopolitical hug.)

Our President is not only not helping, he is inflaming the problem, as he usurps the authority of corporate boards, unilaterally fires executive officers, and calls for federal control over salaries.  He may have “inherited” a wounded economy (*yawn* – that’s happened umpteen times before), but he has kicked it when it was down, by contributing to the perception that it is American commerce that is the problem; and that government takeover – specifically, takeover by Barack Obama -- is the solution.  And he will take the same measures with every industry he can.  It started with banks, the financial industry, and the car companies.  Soon it will be insurance and medical care and pharmaceuticals.  Every “takeover” will be precipitated by a “crisis” that will be translated as the American “public’s” call for more “federal intervention,” that will be touted as “temporary,” but will be permanent.  Charles Krauthammer has called these measures a “sideshow.”  With all due respect to that esteemed and honored journalist, he is wrong this time.  These tactics are the main event.  They are right out of the Marxist and socialist playbooks going back to the 1930s, and Barack Obama has been well-trained.

 

The presidency of Barack Obama is deplorable, and it is contributing devastatingly to American malaise.  It’s long past time that American corporations take matters into their own hands, and take their message directly to the American public.  So this, American corporations, is my message to you:  STOP PARTICIPATING IN YOUR OWN DESTRUCTION, AND FIGHT BACK!

The media makes it look as if corporations are dependent upon government.  It’s the other way around.  Where would the government be without your taxes?  Where would individual politicians be without your campaign contributions?  Corporations often donate to both political parties, in order to curry favor no matter who is in office.  Now that the Democrats are in power in the Executive Branch and both houses of Congress, how’s that working out for you?  Have you figured out that you are funding the very organisms that are committed to destroying you?  STOP.  Stop funding gutless politicians who take your money, and then get on national television and blame you for the problems they themselves brought on.  No more campaign contributions, no more lobbying as under the rubric of “special interests.” NOTHING.  Cut them off.  Deprive them of their lifeblood (which is really your blood).  Starve them.

More to the point, stop letting the federal government tell Americans what to think about you.  56 million people voted against Barack Obama and the initiative-destroying socialism he represents.  They and their families represent a wide and deep potential audience.  As individuals, we may lack the assets to craft a polished message that will reach our fellow citizens; but you don’t.  Most of us cannot reach millions of other like-minded folk; but you can.  You have massive amounts of power that you have inexplicable ceded to Obama and Congress.  Take it back.  Use that power not to sell products this time, but to sell yourselves.  (Here’s  my prediction: the first CEO to tell Congress to “*%$@ off” will single-handedly send the Dow up 500 points.)

What should your message be?  That every American corporation is the product of someone’s dream.  People like Henry Ford.  Andrew Carnegie.  John D. Rockefeller.  Thomas Edison.  Mark Charles Honeywell.  William Proctor and James Gamble.  John Deere.  Benjamin Holt.  Bill Hewlett and David Packard.  Doris Christopher.  Robert and Sheila Johnson.  Bill Gates.  Michael Dell.  Larry Page and Sergey Brin.  Steve Chen and Jawed Karim.   The American dream may be viewed as dead or dying in Washington, D.C., but it is alive in thousands of companies – public and private – across the United States.  And every company has a compelling narrative.  You all need to remind Americans what those narratives are. 

Entrepreneurial enterprise is the quintessentially American story.  And America is a better place because of American corporations.  Where there was once filth, American companies provided soap and sanitation.   Where travel was once confined to horseback, American ingenuity provided automobiles, trains, airplanes, and ships.  Women once slaved over housework; American companies provided vacuum cleaners, ovens, washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers.  (Even the Vatican opined, to much feminist consternation, that the washing machine was a greater liberator of women than the Pill.)  Northerners went without fruit in the winter until American companies provided refrigerated transportation.  Food spoiled until American manufacturers made freezers and refrigerators available.  Farms could feed far more when machinery made large-scale agricultural production a possibility. Where disease and despair were once rampant, American scientists and American companies have provided life-saving drugs and other medical treatments.  And where geographical distance traditionally meant long spans of time without correspondence with loved ones, Americans invented the telephone, and later commercialized personal computers and the internet, putting communication and information at our fingertips.

American corporations have not just made our lives better with the products and services they have provided for us.  They have helped untold numbers of people in multiple generations achieve personal, if perhaps less grandiose dreams, by providing employment - including for those with little to no education, immigrants who fled unspeakable horrors or intractable poverty in other nations, and others who aspired to political and economic freedom.  American corporations have also made millions more prosperous, financially secure, and even wealthy, with opportunities to invest – often one share at a time – in the growth of the companies themselves.

We are so accustomed to the prosperity that the American corporation has provided that we no longer appreciate it, even though most of us cannot conceive of life without it.  If you want to know what life would be like without American enterprise and American corporations, just look at any third-world country: the poverty, the disease, the violence, the oppression, the truncated life expectancy.

Yes, it’s true that we’ve taken some serious bruises in the past year or so.  But as with everything else, the Pravda press and our craven, opportunistic President love to tell about the extreme exceptions – but don’t tell about the rule: the vast majority of American corporations are not embroiled in financial scandals.  Just as it would be manifestly ignorant to accuse all human beings of murder because some do, so it is that painting all corporations with the same brush of corruption is inaccurate and unfair.  And it is worsening the crisis by undermining American confidence in our companies, our products, our entrepreneurs, ourselves.

Capitalism is under attack.  American enterprise and ingenuity are under attack.  But every entrepreneur knows that a problem contains the seeds of an opportunity.  Americans are growing weary of the daily onslaught of negativity, and the government that is fueling it.  The opportunity here is for visionary corporations to remind Americans about what has always been great and grand about you – and by extension, about themselves.  In the short term, people will buy your products when you make them feel good about being Americans again.  But the larger point is that it’s no longer market share you are fighting for; it’s your very survival.