Last spring, a congressional staffer introduced me to a new expression. She said, “Our job is to make business succeed.”
My message to her had been that careers in science and technology were threatened as our economy de-industrialized. As manufacturing work goes to low-wage countries, the engineering and R&D jobs will go, too. American engineers and technical workers will have fewer opportunities for career growth.
Already, engineering and science graduates compete with hundreds of thousands of foreign temporary high-tech workers for entry-level high-tech jobs. About half of all engineering and science students find work outside of engineering and science, when they graduate from college. Our policies are undermining high-tech workers in America.
She was gently explaining how I had missed the point. Her job was to make business succeed. I was worried about workers. Her priorities and mine did not match up.
I assume she meant large businesses, with very large PACs, who have more influence with congressional committees than I do.
Shortly afterward, US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said it more artfully in a radio interview, “Our job is to make businesses succeed… so they can create good new jobs.”
To be clear, I am a capitalist, and I want business to succeed — for one reason and one reason only. I expect any success to be shared between workers, communities and investors. Since the mid-70’s and the fall of communism, free-market advocates have told us that the best public policy is to get out of the way and let markets solve all our problems. The invisible hand will deliver bounty to workers, as Secretary Locke implicitly promised.
An alternative view is that we can’t see the hand invisible hand because it is not there.
The two parts of Secretary Locke’s promise are not equivalent. The first part is certain; We will make business succeed. The second part — where workers prosper — is a leap of faith.