Long gone are the days when American popular culture featured Horatio Alger-type heroes who rose from the depths of poverty and depression by dint of their own hard work and determination to succeed in creating great companies, invent miraculous new products, and advance the frontiers of education and compassion.
Think about it — when was the last time you watched a documentary on PBS or one of the TV networks about why countries with free people and economies prosper, while those with socialized economies don’t?
As award-winning author Andrew Klavan writes, most of what we see on TV and movie screens about businessmen and entrepreneurship is negative. Hollywood gives us Gordon Gecko and greed over and over. The irony is that Big Hollywood is made up of a few giant companies making billions in profits.
Terrence Scanlon, president of the Capital Research Center, looks at another irony: how the wealth of one generation of successful entrepreneurs so often ends up being spent a generation or two later by nonprofit activists and tax-exempt foundations with explicitly anti-business agendas.
And Amy Menefee, former managing editor of the Business and Media Institute, shines a spotlight on 10 journalists whose reporting seems invariably to feature anti-profit, anti-business themes.
– Mark Tapscott, Examiner Editorial Page editor
No business like show business to bash business
An interesting new movie depicts a businessman’s struggle to build the largest retail chain in the world. Hiring former welfare recipients and paying them well above the minimum wage, the businessman uses economies of scale to bring necessary goods cheaply to low-income customers.
Along the way, our hero has to fight off an evil consortium of opponents: Left-wing politicians who can’t tolerate their government-dependent power base transforming itself into a self-sufficient working class; greedy “civil rights” lawyers who take advantage of red-tape violations to win easy money through lawsuit settlements; and, of course, “crusading” newspapers that rail against the businessman’s worker-benefits policies even while firing their own workers so that they have no benefits at all. Despite these, the businessman triumphs, becomes enormously wealthy and gets the girl.
As you will have guessed by now, this film will be opening at multiplexes throughout an alternate universe, because it’ll never get made in this one. In our universe, Hollywood consistently portrays businessmen in only the worst possible way.
Whether it’s “Wall Street’s” luciferian Gordon Gecko or the uncaring polluters of “Erin Brockovich” and “Michael Clayton,” the casual mass murderers of “Syriana” and “The Constant Gardener,” or the chief executives who get busted on “Law & Order” every other week, whenever you see a rich corporate executive on screen, you know the villain has arrived.
On the face of it, this seems strange coming from the movie industry — a corporate enterprise itself so enormous and lucrative that columnist Andrew Breitbart has wickedly christened it “Big Hollywood.”
But, of course, Big Hollywood runs on ideas from Little Artists and the people who hire them — and these are too often products of a leftist cultural elite obligated by ideology to despise capitalism even as they participate in it. As a result, we are treated to the absurd spectacle of corporate employees being funded by corporations to make movies about how evil corporations are.
Now I rarely object to the movies Hollywood makes: There really are villainous businessmen, and it’s legitimate to tell stories about them. But I often deplore the movies Hollywood doesn’t make: in this case, films that show how businessmen — even big businessmen — often help improve lives, develop technologies, cure diseases, and create jobs and prosperity for millions.
How startling and wonderful it would be to see a moviemaker with a spirit independent enough to throw off his ideological straitjacket and give us a CEO for a hero.
I suppose it could be argued that the artistic soul is naturally antagonistic toward the unaesthetic realities of business.
It’s easy to see why a mystic like William Blake would recoil from the “dark satanic mills” of the industrial revolution, or why the pastoral William Wordsworth would regret that in “getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” or why a sentimentalist like
Charles Dickens would create an Ebenezer Scrooge as the spirit of capitalism. Like the globalization of today, industrialization and the resultant consumerism and capitalism were violent and painful changes that ended eras and disrupted lives.
Yet this current moment in our Western world — the most democratic, prosperous and healthiest age in all the long history of humankind — is to some degree the product of those changes. And while there were surely pleasures to the preindustrial life, it required an awful lot of serfs and slaves to bear those pleasures on their backs.
At least one artist understood this. Ayn Rand’s massive philosophical novel “Atlas Shrugged” has been languishing in Hollywood development for years, and it’s easy to see why.
Her depiction of heroic capitalists with romantic names like Dagny and Galt facing down grasping political looters hilariously christened Mouch and Boyle presents a different ideology from the left’s entirely.
Rand understood that money, trade and honest self-interest are the ways humans interact when they are not relying on force, theft and puling connivance. She understood that an industrialist who makes a product, a capitalist who funds him and a consumer who exchanges his cash for their goods are operating in a peaceful and mutually profitable system of free will — as opposed to governments that loot the profits of those exchanges backed by the threat of imprisonment.
That may be an oversimplification, but it’s not an untruth. Big Business is responsible for far more of the good in our lives than Big Government ever will be. And if the businessmen who run Hollywood can give us their endless legions of Geckos, it wouldn’t kill them to give us an occasional Galt as well.
Andrew Klavan’s new novel is “Empire of Lies.” His Web site is andrewklavan.com.
Some journalists are profiting by bashing big business
By Amy Menefee
People are suffering. The economy is bad. And businesses are out to get you. That’s the gist too often of mainstream business news reporting.
A survey last year for the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News found that 62 percent of those surveyed thought American chief executive officers were either “not too ethical” or “not ethical at all.” It isn’t surprising. Americans are bombarded with anti-business news in print, online and on TV.
Journalists seem to forget that even they work for companies built by entrepreneurs. Certain reporters and anchors stand out in their antipathy toward business. A look at their tactics is instructive for news consumers who want the whole story.
1. Brian Ross – ABC
Ross’ reports are all about blaming businesses for awful things without giving them a chance to answer the allegations. He blamed a coal mine owner for a fatal mine collapse, emphasizing the owner’s multiple homes, nice office and blond wife, and describing his status akin to a “coal baron.” An investigation later showed the mine disaster was caused by a lightning strike. He blamed a gun store for the tragic Virginia Tech shooting. He even blamed American gun stores for Mexican drug violence.
2. Lou Dobbs – CNN
Dobbs, the ultimate populist anchorman, talks nightly about the “War on the Middle Class.” His mantra blames businesses for hurting workers, while he features union leaders and calls for more government intervention.
3. Chris Cuomo – ABC
The “Good Morning America” co-host has called the stock market “legalized gambling where Wall Street tries to cash in on bets made on the right companies.” He slammed an insurance company on behalf of a litigious attorney general: “Mississippi’s attorney general suggests the real problem isn’t the worst hurricane season ever. He says it’s State Farm’s greed,” Cuomo said.
4. Anne Thompson – NBC
Thompson, an award-winning financial reporter, put in some time covering unions and attacking Big Oil. In one 2005 gas price story, she used comments from people on the street — one of whom said, “We’re all getting cheated” — and closed by saying drivers wanted to “stop shelling out wads of money to feed the profits that tonight have America fuming.”
5. Charles Gibson – ABC
Gibson reported on the U.S. housing market with a 2007 series titled “The Home Wreckers.” And who were the wreckers? Lenders. He accused them of “locking families out of the American dream by offering mortgages too good to be true.”
6. Steven Pearlstein – The Washington Post
Pearlstein claimed in February that “the best thing that could happen to our economy is for a dozen high-profile hedge funds to collapse; for investment banking to enter a long, deep freeze; for a major bank to fail; and for the price of a typical Park Avenue duplex to fall by 30 percent.” “For only then,” Pearlstein wrote, “might we finally stop genuflecting before the altar of unregulated financial markets and insist that Wall Street serve the interest of Main Street, rather than the other way around.”
7. Christine Romans – CNN
On “Your $$$$$” (formerly “In the Money”), “Lou Dobbs Tonight” and other CNN shows, Romans has offered opinionated statements about businesses and revealed her feelings.
On global warming, she declared, “We’ve really come a long way on this debate,” as she could say “global warming” on TV without being “inundated” by “conservative oil-industry-tied groups.” In a segment about the student loan industry, she managed to smear another sector as well: “In this industry scandal, you see that these sound like drug companies.”
8. Anthony Mason – CBS
Anchorwoman Katie Couric called Mason the “grim reaper,” and it’s well-earned. He delivers reliably negative reporting on the economy and business. He’s taken jabs at oil executives being “called on the carpet” because of record-high gas prices. And he’s criticized executive pay and taken other one-sided hits at chief executives.
9. Louis Uchitelle – The New York Times
According to Random House, whose Knopf Publishing Group printed his book, “The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences,” Uchitelle “passionately argues that government must step in with policies that encourage companies to restrict layoffs and must generate jobs to supplement the present shortfall.” This is the reporter the Times puts on business and union labor stories.
10. Gardiner Harris – The New York Times
Harris spends a lot of his time criticizing prescription drug makers. He accused the pharmaceutical industry of spending “far more than it spends on research — trying to persuade doctors to prescribe its pills,” a claim the industry’s figures show false.
Amy Menefee is the former managing editor of the Business and Media Institute.
A battle guide to the war on profit and prosperity
By Terrence Scanlon
In this election year, an army of social and political activists is mobilizing against American business enterprise. Don’t think they are the stereotypical young anarchic radicals of a generation ago.
Today’s enemies of a wealth-creating free economy are very rich, they are serious and they are organized. A powerful anti-business movement is preparing to spend millions of dollars to influence the news media and lobby politicians to get what they want: government controls on labor, capital and trade; regulations on education and energy, and higher taxes.
The anti-business movement claims to speak for workers and consumers, children and seniors, endangered species and the global environment. In fact, its leaders want Washington politicians to pass laws that are hazardous to our freedoms and a drain on our hard-earned dollars.
Here are some of Washington’s most powerful special interests:
Organized labor: It’s estimated that labor unions in the AFL-CIO and its rival labor federation, Change to Win, will spend more than $1 billion on politics this year. All that money comes from union members who have no say over how union bosses spend their dues.
The No. 1 priority: AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Change to Win’s Andy Stern (president of the politically hyperactive Service Employees International Union) want Congress to pass “card-check,” a law letting unions organize workplaces by having employees sign cards stating a union preference, eliminating secret-ballot elections. The union organizers who thought up this misnamed Employee Free Choice Act will spend freely in 2008 to elect politicians in 2009 who will pass the card-check law.
Wealthy left-wing donors: Billionaire philanthropist George Soros owes his fortune to the free market, yet he attacks capitalism and makes grants from his foundation, the Open Society Institute, to fund left-wing groups.
Soros spent $27 million trying to defeat President Bush in 2004. His latest venture: urging fellow billionaires to join The Democracy Alliance, a fund to create a new generation of anti-business think tanks, leadership training schools and media outfits for the left.
Soros’ megabucks collaborators include Rob McKay (Taco Bell) Peter B. Lewis (Progressive Insurance), Herb and Marion Sandler (Golden West Financial), and Hollywood producer Stephen Bing.
The Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts: These and other well-endowed philanthropies (Rockefeller, Carnegie) were created decades ago by great captains of industry. Now foundation bureaucrats control them and use their billions to support “social justice” groups that lobby to regulate industrial production, reduce consumption and restrict individual rights.
American Association for Justice: Legal reforms to end abusive lawsuits won’t get anywhere as long as the 27,000-member trial lawyers lobby has clout in D.C.
Famed trial lawyer William S. Lerach is in prison for giving kickbacks to plaintiffs in his anti-business class-action suits. He calls it an “industry practice.” For good reason, the group dropped its old name, the American Trial Lawyers Association.
National Education Association: The nation’s largest teachers union (3.2 million members) is dead-set against education reforms (merit pay for good teachers, school choice for parents and kids).
Its $341 million in annual revenue comes from dues payers in 14,000 local affiliates that collect even more money. Much of it goes to political campaigns to elect everyone from local school boards to the president.
AARP: The powerful seniors lobby has more than $1 billion in annual income from the dues of its 37 million members over age 50 and the royalties and fees it collects on its lucrative insurance and travel businesses.
Its “Divided We Fail” campaign will lobby Congress on health care next year. Earlier it fought for the Medicare pharmaceutical drug entitlement and against Social Security reforms letting workers open private retirement accounts.
The environmental lobby: Its latest crusade is to stop global warming by reducing carbon-based energy exploration, production and use. It targets oil, gas and coal companies; electric utilities; auto manufacturers and — ultimately — the American consumer.
Ironically, green groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife are headquartered in Washington, D.C., and New York. These interest groups want to regulate markets and restrict choice.
They reward political maneuvering while punishing hard work and risk-taking enterprise. Typically organized as tax-exempt “nonprofits” and soliciting millions of dollars in contributions (often tax-deductible), Washington’s special interest network awaits the end of the Bush administration. It’s getting ready for a new season of lobbying and influence peddling.
Terrence Scanlon is president of the Capital Research Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that studies the nonprofit sector.
America’s top 10 anti-business contributors
Name and amount to Democrats
1. ActBlue, $12,883,701
2. Blue Dog PAC, $595,000
3. Moveon.org, $588,800
4. New Democrat Coalition, $382,000
5. Dem. Congressional Campaign Committee, $336,708
6. Impact, $286,000
7. Natl. Committee for an Effective Congress, $236,000
8. Victory in November Election PAC, $152,000
9. Obama for America, $94,335
10. Forward Together PAC, $81,000
SOURCE: OPENSECRETS.ORG, DEMOCRATIC/LIBERAL TOP CONTRIBUTORS TO FEDERAL CANDIDATES AND PARTIES