Americans display a striking series of bizarre contradictions in our attitudes toward business loving private companies when they’re small and struggling, but then suddenly hating them if they become too large and profitable. When asked about big business, respondents in public opinion surveys react with fear, contempt and resentment, associating the major enterprises that permeate every aspect of our lives with an array of vices and dangers. When it comes to small business, however, we smile with warm approval, identifying these mom-and-pop operations with classic American values of hard work, decency and neighborly concern. In overwhelming numbers, we affirm the ludicrous notion that business contributes to progress and prosperity only so long as it achieves limited success.
A recent Harris Poll (March, 2007) reflected this schizophrenic approach to the free market system. The pollsters asked respondents to assess their confidence level in the people in charge of running various institutions. Small business easily topped the poll, with 54 percent expressing a great deal of confidence in its leaders, and only three percent indicating hardly any confidence at all. According to the survey, Americans look up to small business more than the military, the medical profession, organized religion or any other segment of society. This raises an obvious question: if those who run small businesses truly deserve this sort of confidence, then why are their enterprises still small? The same survey, by the way, rated major companies near the bottom of the list (along with organized labor and Congress), with a scant 16 percent suggesting they felt a great deal of confidence in the big corporations that dominate our economy.
Many other polls produce similar results. In February, 2009, Zogby International asked Who will lead us to a better future? And small business and entrepreneurs led the way (with a resounding 63 percent), handily outpolling government (just 31 percent) and large corporations and business leaders (a meager 21 percent). Another Harris Poll (March, 2009) asked the public to classify those groups or institutions with too much or too little power and influence in Washington, DC. Once again, small business placed at the very top of the list of fourteen categories, with an amazing 90 percent suggesting that these minor enterprises wielded too little influence. At the other extreme, big companies finished rock bottom among the representative sample, with 85 percent declaring that they exerted too much power on the federal government. \