In the Enron era, businessmen are crooks, big business is evil, and many of our television pundits are somewhat opposed to capitalism, so it is no wonder that people dislike business people. We all go on buying business products — potato chips, cars, paper towels, and everything else — but many of us despise the people who direct the production of these products. In the past, businesspeople were often considered the heroes of American progress. Why has the tide turn? Why are people so hostile to businesspeople today?
Reason one: publicized cases of fraud. While certain people in America are opposed to capitalism to matter what happens, many people’s attitude about the free market changes based on what business stories are in the headlines. I know that there are honest businessmen and women today, but there are also many publicized cases of fraud. The most remarkable recent cases were Enron and WorldCom, there have been many lesser-known cases that have given people the impression that businessmen are crooks. Over the past two years the stock market has tanked, and this, too, has given people the impression that big business is evil or conspiratorial in some way. All this negative news has certainly lead to a backlash against business.
Reason two: envy. The primary reason why people believe the business is evil is that they think the people the top of such businesses are making piles of money. Of course, they are somewhat correct. While the stereotypical business leader is fabulously wealthy, it is difficult to deny that most CEOs of public companies do make a lot of money. This fact does not make most people opposed to capitalism itself, but it does create envy along with the feeling that it is unfair for people at the top to make so much money. Even people who stopped short of saying that businessmen are crooks might nevertheless feel that businesspeople are somewhat dishonest or have not earned their money honestly, and that there that sellers should be divided up among the working people. We can call this sentiment envy, but it is actually somewhat more noble than that. At least in the case of publicly traded companies, it does seem wrong for an officer to receive an exorbitant salary while his business struggles or fails.
Reason three: symbol of capitalism. If people believe that big business is evil, then it is no wonder that they believe businessmen are crooks, as well businesspeople are the symbols of capitalism for many people. People who feel like they are on the losing end of capitalism might see businesspeople as the personification of evil. Even those who are not opposed to capitalism, might support increased regulation of the economy in the current environment due to the perceived wrongdoing of businesspeople.
There is definitely something wrong with business in America today, and it is not surprising that people dislike business people. I am not saying that businessmen are crooks necessarily, or that big business is evil. Nor my opposed to capitalism. But the publicized cases of fraud that seemed to appear in the newspaper daily suggests that something at the core of capitalism has gone wrong somehow. Until it is fixed, people will continue to feel hostility towards businesspeople.