At the regular meeting of my civic club our guest was the new exec of our local Chamber of Commerce. He’s a fine, intelligent, communicative, focused leader. I believe he is a real asset to our community. As a part of his presentation he shared the core values and mission of the Chamber, one similar to other chambers around the country. This unsurprisingly included a commitment to creating a pro-business environment in which local commerce may flourish. That makes sense. I mean, that’s why they exist.
One of the questions that Chamber execs often field is that of the Chamber making political endorsements of candidates or taking political stands on certain issues. This can become controversial. It is not a practice shared by all chambers in all parts of the country. Some chambers may focus on politics rather than politicians, for instance. But in Columbia we have a tradition of endorsements.
When the board of a Chamber of Commerce endorses a particular candidate it is ostensibly to further the mission and goals of the organization, i.e., to create that pro-business environment. Again, that would be anticipated, to choose politicians or support legislation that further the goals. The problem enters when you attempt to define just what creates a pro-business environment.
The way that is defined by most chambers is generally through a fairly narrow lens. It usually has to do with regulation, taxes, incentives, and supportive infrastructure. What I want to say (and they aren’t asking!) is that a pro-business environment requires much, much more than that.
What a truly pro-business environment includes is the stability and flourishing of the entire community and social system. Instability, failing systems, inadequate health care and social services, low wages, lack of investment in education, and any sense of disenfranchisement of the public undermines the goals of a pro-business environment.
For instance, lowering taxes cannot be the only focus of creating a pro-business environment. Enlightened entrepreneurs know that investment in education, infrastructure, municipal services, and cutting edge programs to strengthen families and children create the work force and tax base that makes the pro-business engine hum. That’s why the most progressive pro-business leaders make sure that they invest in just those things and they make sure the local, state and national government do too.
One of the most dramatic things leaders can do to create a pro-business environment is to invest in people, in workers, and strengthen their lives and families. In a time of extreme gaps between mega-wealth and the eroding wages and benefits of the middle class, a real and vast inequality that is creating instability and an anti-business environment, we could right-size the enormous gap between excess at the top (that opposed to popular mythology does not create jobs) and the repressed middle and lower class. This will take courageous people who dare look at the whole picture of our society and economy.
The endorsement of candidates or taking of political positions by a chamber is not dangerous because they do it. No, it is dangerous because those who make those decisions are peering through too small a lens. The whole, bigger story is required reading for anyone who truly wants a thriving, continuing, sustainable pro-business environment that benefits all. That requires a multidimensional approach, one usually not brought forward by the candidates who are most often endorsed.
In the end the most fruitful pro-business environment can only be obtained by pursuing the most just, righteous and compassionate course. That, in the long run, will be rewarded, and I don’t mean just with heaven. I mean it will be rewarded with the loyalty, commitment, long tenure, sacrifice and true affection of fellow citizens. And that, as the commercials say, is priceless.