By Tyler Cowen
We love to hate the 800-pound gorilla. Walmart and Amazon destroy communities and small businesses. Facebook turns us into addicts while putting our personal data at risk. From skeptical politicians like Bernie Sanders who, at a 2016 presidential campaign rally said, “If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist,” to millennials, only 42 percent of whom support capitalism, belief in big business is at an all-time low. But are big companies inherently evil? If business is so bad, why does it remain so integral to the basic functioning of America? Economist and bestselling author Tyler Cowen says our biggest problem is that we don’t love business enough.
In Big Business, Cowen puts forth an impassioned defense of corporations and their essential role in a balanced, productive, and progressive society. He dismantles common misconceptions and untangles conflicting intuitions. According to a 2016 Gallup survey, only 12 percent of Americans trust big business “quite a lot,” and only 6 percent trust it “a great deal.” Yet Americans as a group are remarkably willing to trust businesses, whether in the form of buying a new phone on the day of its release or simply showing up to work in the expectation they will be paid. Cowen illuminates the crucial role businesses play in spurring innovation, rewarding talent and hard work, and creating the bounty on which we’ve all come to depend.
Matthew Bisshop on The New York Times wrote:
"The book’s central thesis is that we anthropomorphise business and are thus inevitably disappointed by what in reality are abstract legal entities devoted to commercial profit. There is something in this, but a simpler explanation might be that capitalism’s business cycle is cruel. In bubbles, unethical behaviour is extreme. After they burst, recession creates insecurity. People feel revulsion at the role of the profit motive — greed, in a word — in driving economic growth. While the manifesto is undoubtedly thoughtful, its injunction to love companies more will fall on many deaf ears in the post-crisis world."
"If you are hoping for a billet-doux to set your heart aflutter, remember that the author is a practitioner of the dismal science; the romance in his love letter is less Harry Met Sally than Demand Meets Supply. Still, there is no shortage of passion from Cowen. [...] He dismisses the familiar complaints made by critics of corporate America: that it is too corrupt and fraudulent to be trusted; that greedy executives are paid too much; that it hurts consumers by wielding too much monopoly power; that cronyism gives it too much influence in Washington; and so on. Some of his defense of business is more nuanced and less certain than his positive headline message suggests. [...] For Cowen, the real reason business is so unpopular, despite all it does for us, is that we humans tend to anthropomorphize companies [...] Cowen’s explanation is not particularly convincing. Nor is his two-part advice for clearing the current atmosphere of distrust. First, the public should accept that business will always fall short of our unreasonably high expectations, and get over it. Second, rather unexpectedly from a member of the famously libertarian and pro-capitalist economics faculty at George Mason University, he wants business to try harder at being socially responsible. [...] This would have been a far better book had Cowen focused more on how to overcome the negative consequences of the spread of the Friedman Doctrine, which I believe has clearly helped socially irresponsible, greedy, unheroic business leaders flourish at the expense of the heroic kind. [...] If only Cowen had shown less unconditional love for corporate America as a whole and instead concentrated on its best bits, and on what needs to be done to ensure that being ethical and heroic becomes business as usual. That 'love letter' would have left most readers hopeful that there might yet be a Happily Ever After."
Podcasts with Tyler Cowen on Big Business
- On Manifold (channel from Michigan State University, 17 October 2019)
- With EconTalk host Russ Roberts (The Library of Economics and Liberty, 19 August 2019)
- On TomWoodsRadio.com (a libertarian channel, 3 May 2019)
Table of Contents of Big Business
- A New Pro-Business Manifesto
- Are Businesses More Fraudulent than the Rest of Us?
- Are CEOs Paid Too Much?
- Is Work Fun?
- How Monopolistic Is American Big Business?
- Are the Big Tech Companies Evil?
- What Is Wall Street Good for, Anyway?
- Crony Capitalism: How Much Does Big Business Control the American Government?
- If Big Business Is So Good, Why Is It So Disliked?
- Appendix: What Is a Firm Anyway, and Why Do So Many Workers End Up So Frustrated?
About Tyler Cowen
Tyler Cowen is Holbert L. Harris Professor of Economics at George Mason University and also Director of the Mercatus Center. He received his Ph.d. in economics from Harvard University in 1987. His book The Great Stagnation: How America Ate the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better was a New York Times best-seller. He was recently named in an Economist poll as one of the most influential economists of the last decade and several years ago Bloomberg BusinessWeek dubbed him "America's Hottest Economist." Foreign Policy magazine named him as one of its "Top 100 Global Thinkers" of 2011.