Business Demonization Consistent in the Media and Classroom

August 2, 2016

– Mark MacDonald is the President of Invest Northwest Publishing. For additional information, please visit the ‘Contact Us’ page on our website.

BC – When was the last time we saw a positive depiction of a business or corporation on television or film – other than through a paid-for advertisement?

There’s certainly a lot to choose from in terms of movies about “big business” being exposed for a problem, scandal, or both. That’s entertainment, one supposes, because good news is a tough sell to the marketplace. It would be a stretch to envision a lineup at the local theatre to watch a film “exposing” a company lending a helping hand, or reaching out to make a difference in the lives of the downtrodden.

Roll through the Rolodex of your mind, and you could easily come up with at least a handful of scenes from movies about small groups of determined individuals digging in to oppose a development of some size or shape. The classic David vs. Goliath scenario is played out over and over again: It’s up to regular citizens to stand up to corporate behemoths whose sole goal is to, as Joni Mitchell put it: “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”

It’s not much different in many schools, either pre- or post-secondary. That’s not surprising, either, as many teachers are, by and large, either union members or lack business experience. It would be more surprising if they could keep their personal views out of classes about business, or refrain from painting business as much of what is wrong with society. Corporate greed is the obvious villain, students are often told.

A good business education is worth its weight in gold, and young people today must have some type of post-high school degree in order to make a comfortable living for themselves. Students will learn important principles that can help them chart a clear path for the future.

But students need to filter some of the perspectives they are presented in the classroom, as pervasive, anti-business ideals can still be clenched and disseminated by well-meaning, but ill-informed teachers. Just because they teach about business doesn’t mean they’re successful operators themselves, or even understand all that is required to succeed in the business world.

Even in the political sphere, there’s nary a politician who will run on a real “pro-business” platform, knowing that business owner/operators comprise a small fraction of those who actually cast votes. It’s much more politically palpable to espouse job creation under the banner of economic development than to suggest that incentives to encourage people to invest and build companies are necessary to spur growth in the economy.

It’s also interesting to watch politicians and the media demonize certain businesses to make them look “evil”. Think “sin taxes” like alcohol, cigarettes and now, anything oil and gas-related. It’s like a mini-war, where the worst of the opponent is magnified to justify financial attacks on a particular sector.

While it may just be a clever way of extracting more revenue from companies, these levies can come across as punishment, and therefore necessary, helping the collective good.

The standard political mindset is something like this: Business is a “necessary evil”, but should be supported only because it creates jobs. But they sure should be taxed, because, after all, anyone in business is rolling in dough and can simply pluck fifties and hundreds off the money tree in their backyard.

Successful businesses spend a lot of money on advertising and promotion to craft and sustain their image. They must, as the mainstream media isn’t going to offer them any freebies in case they appear like they’re being “bought”, other than to note they’ve opened their doors or offer some type of out-of-the-ordinary, story-worthy product or service. This is certainly not to suggest that the media’s mandate is to primp business. It’s just an acknowledgement that the general naïveté about business and what it takes to operate a successful one is so widespread.

Recently, I attended a Fraser Institute forum aimed at educating journalists from across the country about how to report on economics. It was interesting, compelling and invigorating.

And at the same time, it was shocking. It was easy to tell that most of those attending held strong opinions like those expressed above, and clearly were hearing some important economic truths for perhaps the first time. Even though they had undoubtedly written about the economy many times prior to the seminar. The purpose of the event was to educate writers in hopes of having more accurate depictions of economic principles, trends and analyses in the media, and one hopes it is successful in that regard.

That would be a good starting point. Maybe that would get the attention of the movie industry. But maybe they don’t want to tell the other side of the story.

That is, that business is a vital, integral, important part of our society, and there are plenty of good stories to tell, if one wants to.

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