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In defence of business

A book from the USA explains why business should also be seen as a positive feature in society

Business is neither good nor bad. It’s just business. It can have considerable positive traits, even when it is managed solely on the basis of profit. It’s a question of management strategies and, above all, of the men and women at the helm. This is certainly an interesting way of looking at production organisations and should be done, even if it can lead to unexpected results.

That’s why it is interesting to read “Big business. A love letter to an American Anti-hero” by Tyler Cowen, professor at George Mason University and a columnist for the New York Times. The author writes in clear and engaging language “in defence of business, to convince you that it deserves more love and less hate”. Based on an analysis of American companies, the text aims to make the reader think by debunking a series of preconceptions (sometimes based on real data, sometimes not) that undermine the credibility and good name of businesses (with a particular focus on the USA).

The reader is led to consider issues such as the honesty of production organisations, the remuneration of CEOs, the monopolies held by big business, the significance of Wall Street and the relationship between business and politics. On closer examination, Cowen’s argument is that business is “a better deal than it seems: in fact, when business is at its best, it provides us with more opportunities to pursue noble and heroic goals, because we can use the products of business to satisfy our creative desires and improve our lives”. Nevertheless, Cowen helps to provide a better understanding of the reality. In some passages he raises more than one question, but his words are certainly worth considering and remembering.

“Many of the problems relating to business are actually problems relating to us, reflecting the inherent, almost universal imperfections of human nature”, writes Cowen, for example. Sharing and stimulating is one of the final passages of the book. According to the author, this describes the essential aspects of his vision of a company made up of a “set of assets, brought together at advantageous purchase prices”, but also a “nexus of internal and external reputations and procedures”, as well as being “a vector of responsibility” and “a complex band of efficient and sometimes very inefficient transactional relationships”.

Cowen’s book is clearly “biased”, but should be read with care, and perhaps read again at a later date.

Big business. A love letter to an American Anti-Hero

Tyler Cowen

LUISS University Press, 2020