Commentary: The relationship between government, business
Recently I was invited to speak to a group whose purpose is to make the relationship between business and government in Virginia as good as it can be. I share that goal.
At the same time, as I told that group, in our times it would not be right for me to do what most politicians would do with such an opportunity: i.e. tell the audience just what they wanted to hear. I felt it important to say what most needs saying.
Being a strong believer in free markets, I said, I appreciate the role that business has played in making America great. So government policies should not unduly burden free markets.
But I went on to say that, “My concern for Virginia today, and indeed for America, has less to do with how government is interfering with free markets than with how the power of corporate money is interfering with the proper functioning of our democracy.”
I then gave an example of what the optimal relationship between business and government would not include:
“It would not include having a giant corporation — a monopoly not held in check by market competition — buying so much control over Virginia’s government that, in the past two years, it has been able to get our General Assembly to pass laws that take literally hundreds of millions of dollars that rightly belong to average Virginians and to put into its corporate coffers.”
I was talking, of course, about Dominion Power — the largest corporate donor to our legislators — buying what is obviously undue influence over members of both parties.
The oath that our founders put into the Constitution shows clearly that what they wanted for us to defend, above all, is not the flag, not even the homeland. It is, rather, the system of government they gave us — government by and for the people.
That’s why I regard it as the first duty of an American patriot to protect the gift our founders gave us, and restore to the people our rightful power over the government.
Thus, while part of government’s job is to create a good environment for businesses to prosper, part of the responsibility of business is to welcome, not resist, government’s efforts to protect the good of all by addressing problems that market forces, by themselves, are unable to address.
Economists have recognized for generations the problem of what they call “externalities.” These are costs and benefits that are imposed on the system as a whole and do not relate specifically to the interests of the buyers and sellers in the market.
For example, the market by itself has a blind spot when it comes to things like pollution of the air we breathe or the water we drink.
Now we face the most serious externality in human history. I’m talking about the problem of climate change.
In the face of this vitally important challenge, the role being played by some mighty corporations has been disgraceful. As is now well-documented, much corporate money has been spent to deceive people into believing what the companies themselves know is not true. They don’t want Americans to heed the urgent warnings that 97 percent of the world’s best experts in the field are issuing about this growing crisis.
With our children and grandchildren depending on us now to act responsibly to protect them, here in Virginia that same corporate money has bought the help of politicians in blocking our taking even easy and prudent measures.
This is unacceptable. In dealing with climate change, we all should be guided by the central moral principle of Christianity: the golden rule.
If we were in the position of our children and grandchildren, how would we want for those wielding power over our future – by their actions and their inactions, whether in government or in business–to do unto us?
A “good” relationship between government and business, therefore, has a vital moral dimension. It involves not only government aiding business in its important role of creating American prosperity. But it also calls for business to facilitate, rather than resist, government regulation of business when the public good requires it.
“Sometimes, self-interest, which the free market is so good at harnessing,” I told this business group in conclusion, “has to be held in check by judgments made on behalf of the whole and translated into action by a democratically elected government.
“The sometimes conflicting demands of freedom and order have always needed to be sorted out with wisdom. Our founders understood that. So must we.”
April Moore is running for the Virginia State Senate in the 26th District, which includes Shenandoah, Warren, Page, and Rappahannock Counties, as well as northern Rockingham County and the city of Harrisonburg .