As I watched, it struck me how painfully long it had been since I had heard the political leadership in this country inspire Americans with reminders of our country’s – and our citizens’ – greatness in the face of difficulty, and the entrepreneurs’ part in that greatness. If the average American’s ignorance about entrepreneurship is troubling, lack of understanding of American entrepreneurship at the political level is potentially catastrophic. Understanding America’s unique ability to start and grow successful businesses, and the vital role those businesses play in our liberty and prosperity, is critical to the development and implementation of public policies that foster rather than thwart entrepreneurship.
But our policymakers show no such understanding. Never in my lifetime has the national conversation about business been so one-sided and so negative. The “greed” meme now permeates every level of discussion about business, all the way to the top. Like many others, I have been struck by the ignorance and overwhelming hostility President Obama and his administration display toward enterprise, private industry, and the free market. Evidence of this abounds, from the disregard for contract, securities , and bankruptcy law, to comments like “boot on the neck” and “whose ass to kick,” to threats leveled at businesses if they dare to communicate with their employees, stockholders or policyholders .
This hostility has dismal consequences. First, the president’s decision to populate his cabinet with virtually no one having private sector experience has stymied economic recovery efforts. The president and his team seem astonished that runaway spending thrown at highway construction projects and other public sector initiatives has not stimulated the economy, or (most significantly) produced jobs. Someone having even rudimentary experience with actual enterprise development could have told them that (and many did).
Worse, crass displays of loathing toward business quickly translate to resentment of ingenuity, discouragement of initiative, and demonization of aspirations. In short, there is lack of appreciation of the American entrepreneur, who is hovering in the background, however unacknowledged, in all of these conversations, and who seems to exist for our present political leaders for no purpose other than to be a scapegoat.
“Business is bad,” or some version thereof, has been chanted for so long that is has taken on the form of a creed. Our founding documents rejected the establishment of a state religion. But politicians in this country have elevated themselves into a perverse ecclesiastical hierarchy, demanding adherence to a warped ideology of sin and salvation where aspiration is greed, accomplishment is exploitation, and expiation can only be achieved through payment of ever-larger sums of money in taxes as a secular version of indulgences.
Few will undertake the risks of entrepreneurship in such a climate. And yet the ongoing viability of our nation’s economy is dependent upon a significant percentage of us doing exactly that.
We are just 30 days away from a pivotal election. It is essential that we elect leaders who understand and appreciate the role of entrepreneurship in economic success.
Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, “Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs,” © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.