Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Meaning of ‘Pro-Business’

When we hear people waxing lyrical about the importance of being ‘pro-family’, ‘pro-freedom’, and of course, ‘pro-business’, we must ask: what do they really mean?

One of the commonest tricks in political rhetoric is to cover any ill-conceived or obnoxious proposal with a seemingly incontrovertible label. Who wants to be accused of being anti-family or anti-freedom? But we all know that we cannot allow parents to abuse their children or spouses to be beaten in the name of respecting the ‘family’. Loving relations make family valuable. And where such emotional bonds are missing or broken, changes are not only desirable, but in some circumstances, necessary.

So when it comes to the chorus of ‘we must be pro-business’, instead of blithely singing along, it is vital we take a look behind the label. If ‘pro-business’ means being supportive of everyone involved in business operations – for example, ensuring the people who work in them earn enough to live on; the business has a well-earned reputation that it will not harm the lives of those who use their products; the working practices are not injurious to those who work in them or destructive of the environment in which they operate; it generates sustainable benefits without deception or exploitation – then, let us all sign up to that ‘100% Pro-Business’ manifesto right now.

But what if when the smokescreen is blown clear, what we see is actually an agenda that is above all about giving even more power to the 1% most well-off executives in any industry to do as they please at the expense of everyone else – workers, suppliers, customers, local communities? What if ‘cutting red tape’ is just a code to liberate powerful executives to act irresponsibly? And the greater ‘freedom’ of the elite turns out to be a licence to impose pitiful wages and soaring prices on those who cannot stand up to them?

To champion such an agenda under the banner of ‘pro-business’ is not just disingenuous, but would undermine the development of productive enterprise. When rises in productivity are siphoned off, as they have done for decades in the US and UK, to fund astronomical salary increases for the few at the top, to leave stagnant wages for the rest, it destroys morale and deprives working people of the purchasing power to sustain a healthy economy.

So instead of parroting the calls to be ‘pro-business’, let us press those who hide behind this label to explain themselves. What is it that they propose to do to help everyone connected with business activities to do a better job and get a fair share of the benefits? If all they actually plan to do is to sidle up to the wealthy elite and offer them whatever they want, then their political position should be more transparently known as ‘pro-superrich’.

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