“Just what exactly is a culture of enterprise?” Dr. Richard Brake, Director of the Culture of Enterprise Initiative at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), asked at a Heritage Foundation event on April 2nd. “[P]erhaps even more important, how have this past year’s dramatic and, in many ways, unprecedented economic events…affected the long-term viability and prospects for securing and expanding the benefits of a dynamic, vibrant, and humane culture of enterprise?” He said simply, “[W]e are…at a crossroads today” and turned to the panelists to answer his previous questions.
The panelists were the winners of a contest by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Timothy Carney won for his book The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money.
Carney argued that “big business actually wants more involvement in industry.” With regards to the current economic crisis, he defined a crisis as a time of “opportunity to do things you think you could not do before. More recently, the president promised to discover opportunity in the midst of great crisis. And secretary of state Hillary Clinton exhorted world leaders, ‘never waste a good crisis.’ So what do these politicians mean?” He argued that it means that “opportunity” for many government officials means more government control and consequently, an increase of government.
“If the government is an investor, a lender, or a donor to these organizations, it might be absurd to demand that Washington can’t or shouldn’t place any conditions on the money it spends. So, the collapse of the housing bubble, the meltdown of Wall Street’s most connected firms, the implosion of AIG, the decline of Detroit—all of these bright opportunities for those in power, and those who have always favored more government control to inject Washington more intimately into the finance/auto sector, and maybe broadly, the whole economy.” He argued that those who find small businesses “beautiful” should agree that “in government, small is also beautiful.”
Carney held that there is a “Big Myth.” He explained, “The Big Myth is the notion that big business and big government are rivals, that they check the power of one another.” “The Big Myth creates a false dichotomy of Mom and Pop versus the Free Market.” “The opportunity that this crisis presents us is on this score. Presidents Bush and Obama, through their bailouts…have pierced the Big Myth. Nobody who has been paying close attention can honestly maintain anymore that laissez-faire is the preferred economic policy of big business. They certainly can’t point to specific examples. And nor can they maintain that government’s growth provides a check on businesses.”
Carney argued that big government is “killing the small and local” businesses in favor and “at the request” of larger businesses. He painted a picture of a different economic world: “Imagine no bailouts. Imagine a government that wasn’t dedicated to…’restoring lending to previous levels’… Imagine a world where…if people need banks, they will pay for them. If they’re not willing to pay for them, maybe they don’t need them… Many things that are easy today would…become harder in a more libertarian world. Many things that are done for us today we would have to do for ourselves.”
“If government didn’t promise to bail us out if our banks run out of money, or if we borrowed more than we could repay, prudence and thrift would become more common virtues, both on the consumer and on the merchant side… [I]n a smaller freer economy, virtue would be more profitable and more in demand, as would friendship and community. Commerce is supposed to be a positive activity… The culture of business should be a culture of enterprise, but instead, it is a managerial culture embodied by the lobbyists.”
Carney concluded that this is “an opportunity for those of us that care about culture and economic liberty; it’s a chance to show how a regulatory state—even one built up in the name of promoting growth and protecting consumers—replaces entrepreneurs with managers… Restoring the treasures of community, tradition, and family, may require restoring real enterprise. Our current crisis has the virtue of making that a bit clearer.”