Businessmen are in business to do business. They work in the free market and will do what it takes to do business. Even if it means shutting up.
Champions in the free market of goods and services, these same businessmen have conceded control of the marketplace of ideas to people who distrust and despise them.
So says Fred Smith on the Forbes site.
The controlling powers in the marketplace of ideas have spun out an anti-capitalist narrative: capitalism is corrupt; capitalism exploits the poor and disadvantaged; capitalism destroys the environment; capitalism discriminates against just about everyone.
These charges, Smith explains, are offered up schools and colleges, even in business schools. They are constantly repeated in the mainstream media.
And yet, those who function in the marketplace of ideas need business and need capitalism. It is the reason for their jobs.
They also recognize that calls for smaller government mean less money for them. So they tamp down policy proposals that would translate into less pay, less power and less authority for them.
Smaller government is a catchy slogan. It is surely the right way to go. For people who work in government it is an existential threat.
Merchants of ideas and merchants of goods seem, however to have reached something of an accommodation.
Those who trade in ideas are far less wealthy than successful businessmen. In exchange for allowing businessmen to accumulate vast fortunes, they have been compensated with control over the marketplace of ideas.
It is almost as though businessmen are willing to allow others control their minds because they have been well paid for it.
Thus, one finds businessmen, from Wall Street bankers to Silicon Valley tycoons mouthing politically correct thoughts without the least awareness that these ideas have been promulgated by people who detest them and what they stand for.
If businessmen are willing to trade their good names for lucre, they are as venal and unprincipled as their critics think they are.
On the simplest level, businessmen know that it is costly to challenge the masters of ideas. In some cases they are going to be harassed by government regulators, or even the IRS. In other cases, their reputations will be attacked by zealous advocacy groups.
Businessmen do not speak up because they have been subjected to threats and intimidation.
When they call in advisers to tell them what to do, they are told that they should go along to get along. It’s the cost of doing business.
Finding it difficult to speak out and being practical, business leaders often seek out experts for advice. But many said “experts” share the intellectuals’ skepticism toward business. Thus, these advisors—vice presidents of environment, affirmative action, human resources—often tell executives that appeasing their critics will stop the political attacks upon the firm. The result is that business leaders who do speak out are often as critical of business as anyone. Soft drink executives apologize for selling sugary drinks, energy executives ask people to use less gasoline. That never works. Next thing you know, chemical companies will be apologizing for the periodic table!
Smith believes that businessmen can solve the problem by retaking the narrative:
A defense of economic freedom requires an understanding of the crafting of narratives at which academics, intellectuals, and other second-hand dealers in ideas excel. To take back the board room for capitalism, free marketers need to make their presence felt in the nation’s campuses, newsrooms, publishers, and film studios.
The problem is: many businessmen do not know how to craft narratives. They did not get to where they are by their powers of conceptual thought.
As Smith points out, they are great at making things happen, but not so great when it comes to developing a concept.
If your side does not know how to develop a concept, you will be outcompeted by those who do.
Witness the last Republican presidential candidate. The Republican Party nominated a successful businessman who could not articulate a coherent set of ideas. It nominated a man who was lost in the marketplace of ideas. And it ran several other notable candidates who were notably witless.
Admittedly, the party ran a supposedly great thinker for the vice presidency. But that left it trying to defend an Ayn Rand view of capitalism. It is fair to say that Rand is not the most sophisticated thinker out there and that her views, whatever their merit, are easy to caricature as cold and heartless.
Anyone who thinks that Paul Ryan was anything but disappointing has not been paying attention. Those who promoted Ryan as the best and the brightest seem to have misjudged.
Republicans did not do much better in 2008, either. Today, a party whose public voice is very often that of John McCain is not going to articulate the case for capitalism or for any other conservative policies.
Smith does not mention it, but if Republicans want to articulate a stronger defense of capitalism they need candidates who have the verbal and conceptual skills to make the case.
Businessmen can themselves do more to assert the value of their enterprise.
They can, as has often been suggested, stop contributing to universities. It’s one thing to be incapable of mounting a good defense of free markets. It’s quite another to fund the people who are trying to destroy you. If they are not trying to destroy your business they are certainly trying to destroy your public reputation.
Smith ignores conservative media outlets, but I imagine that he is saying that their influence pales into insignificance when compared to the mainstream media.
It would certainly be a good thing for more conservative businessmen to buy important media outlets. As in, the Koch brothers’ interest in the Los Angeles Times.
Clearly, that will not suffice. In truth, the cause of free market capitalism needs spokesmen and women who can frame the message and communicate it effectively.
In one way, at least, Smith shows what is wrong with the way conservatives express their ideas. When he entitles his article: "Why Are Businessmen So Lacking in Self-Esteem" he trafficking in a shopworn cliche. If you are going to argue that conservatives need to do better at expressing their ideas, a good place to start is to learn how to express your own in a way that does not sound like liberal psychobabble.