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Jewish World Review June 22, 2001 / 1 Tamuz, 5761

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
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Consumer Reports

The business offense -- PRESIDENT BUSH and his administration take guff from Democrats because they are "oil men" and "corporate chieftains" who are sympathetic to "business interests" and "special interests," which shape his policies with "campaign contributions" and "pollute the environment." In response, Bush seems often to be on the defensive. His photo-ops read: "As Green As Thou." Big mistake.

He should brag on his business connections.

When Democrats take office their top appointees typically come from government, law and the academy. Nothing wrong with that. In 1993 Clinton said his cabinet would "look like America." Actually, it looked like what it was: rich lawyers of two genders and two races.

Now come the Bushies. Like most Republican administrations their talent pool comes mostly from the commercial arena but with earlier government credentials. Bush successfully ran a baseball team and tried unsuccessfully to build an oil company in Texas, an "oil state," of which he was later governor, re-elected by a landslide. Vice President Cheney, after several decades in high government positions, was the CEO of Haliburton, a premier oil exploration company.

After government service, Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neill was the CEO of aluminum giant Alcoa. Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld was a young congressman, a White House aide and CEO of the pharmaceutical company Searle. The director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels, had served in government and comes back straight from the corporate suite of a pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly.

As Casey Stengel said, those are true facts. Bush can't deny it. He shouldn't. And when Democrats beat up on him for his corporate ties, he should say, "Yes, and damn proud of it!"


(1) Business 'R' Us. More than half of all Americans (52 percent, and rising) now own equity shares of American corporations, typically through retirement plans and/or mutual funds. Some of these holdings are small -- today. But as Albert Einstein said, the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest. Since the 1790s stocks have appreciated in value by 7 percent per year after inflation, including dividends.

If you invest $1,000 at age 22 at 7 percent it doubles in about 10 years, and in 50 years, at a retirement age of 72, it would be worth about $29,000 after inflation. But suppose business is not so good and stocks only appreciate at 5 percent. You end up with $11,000. Or if business is really good, appreciating at 9 percent, the figure is $74,000. The swing between "business is good" and "business is not so good" is almost seven-fold, for voters.

(2) Business produces the goods and services we love and we need. Consider two industries under recent attack: energy and pharmaceuticals.

With a diminished supply of energy, you have, uh, California. If the (commercially owned) power plants can't supply enough energy for a population that is growing and seeking a higher standard of living, the lights go off, and so does the air conditioning. Gasoline prices go up, de-mobilizing the middle and lower classes, who can't afford gas at $2.50 per gallon to take a weekend trip -- or even a long commute. Energy companies, that is, businesses, make our world what it is, which is better than one without light, mobility and what President Bush might call coolity.

The pharmaceutical companies may have an even higher claim on our hearts, even though they were a favorite target of candidate Al Gore. The human genome has been mapped. In the pipeline there are cancer drugs and medications for Alzheimer's. The era of the drug breakthrough is likely just beginning. Some estimates put the costs of bringing a new drug to market at about half a billion dollars. Pharma companies can't deliver if their risks don't offer potential rewards. Rigid price controls diminish those rewards, and the drugs may be delayed, for thee and for me. Paint the antis as pro-cancer.

(Note: Pfizer is one funder of my weekly PBS program "Think Tank." Like most investors, I own both drug stocks and energy stocks in my retirement accounts.)

Finally, business often speaks for you. Labor unions make this sort of point all the time: We protect workers' rights. And in many cases they have, and do. Businesses, and a proud-of-business president, can make the same claim. When overly strict environmental regulations drive companies out of business, or price them out of the market, or turn gains into losses, or erode the bottom line, it is easy to say "Let the polluters pay." But the people who pay the most are those who lose their jobs or find their paychecks decimated -- voters.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and moderator of PBS's "Think Tank" is the author, most recently, of The First Measured Century: An Illustrated Guide to Trends in America 1900-2000 (paperback) and (hardcover). You may comment by clicking here.

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