President Obama made news today by accusing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of acting as a money-laundering outfit for foreign contributors, allowing sinister overseas interests to influence American elections.
No, wait, that was last year. This year, Obama thinks the Chamber of Commerce is wonderful. He gave a speech to them today, and spoke of “understanding obligations to shareholders” and “strong partnerships.” Not a single yen of dirty foreign money was discussed.
Reporting on this speech, the L.A. Times calls it part of a “studied post-election pivot that has moved the White House closer to business and further from traditional allies in organized labor.” Our President is a whirlwind of pivots, isn’t he? Actually, his New Tone of Civility with the Chamber is much easier to understand: the only reason he tried to demonize them last year was their resistance to ObamaCare. Since that little bit of unpleasantness is behind them, it’s time to get back to the business of fusing government with business.
Apparently today’s speech was not a huge success. The L.A. Times describes the audience as “largely silent” during the speech, with only two applause breaks. Obama insisted on trotting out the groan-inducing “Win the Future” slogan from his State of the Union address: “We know what it will take for America to win the future. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build our competitors. We need an economy that’s not based on what we consume and borrow from other nations, but what we make and sell around the world. We need to make America the best place on Earth to do business.” The last thing that will further any of those goals is a “strong partnership” with Big Government… a partner whose major contribution to any shared enterprise consists of insulation against competition.
The other defining characteristic of a partnership with Big Government is the absolute refusal of the “senior partner” to shoulder any of the blame for failure. With a sympathetic media at its disposal, there is nothing Big Government does more efficiently than point fingers. Obama gave the Chamber of Commerce a taste of this during his speech: “As we work with you to make America a better place to do business, ask yourselves what you can do for America. Ask yourselves what you can do to hire American workers, to support the American economy, and to invest in this nation. That’s what I want to talk about today – the responsibilities we all have to secure the future we all share.”
As John Lott notes at Fox News, Obama has been using this language to insinuate that stubbornly high unemployment rates are the fault of private-sector employers, who haven’t responded to the opportunities created by Obama’s wonderful programs by hiring more American labor. Businessman can expect more pointed reminders of their “responsibility to secure the future we all share” by getting those unemployment numbers down before the 2012 campaign begins in earnest.
USA Today mentioned Obama’s Chamber of Commerce speech in combination with House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa’s hearings on the effects of excessive government regulation later this week. Issa asked businessmen to suggest topics, and has received more than a hundred submissions. These hearings make an interesting contrast with Obama’s Chamber of Commerce address, because the notion that all businessmen desire a smaller regulatory burden is rather naïve.
In truth, a carefully sculpted regulatory burden is a valuable asset to large, established business interests, because it makes entry into the market difficult for upstart competitors. This restricts the supply of regulated goods and services, which inevitably raises their price. When the supply of any product falls below the level of demand, either new providers appear to increase the supply, or prices will rise. If supply can be held down through regulation, price increases become unavoidable. Such an arrangement suits many Big Business interests just fine.
This is the true nature of the most valuable “opportunity” Big Government can create for its partners. Otherwise, the best thing business interests can do for America is strive for success in an open, competitive market, and the best thing government can do for business is stay out of the way. That’s not something Barack Obama will ever do, and not everyone at the Chamber of Commerce is unhappy with his inclinations. Political power is an unstable, but extremely valuable, commodity.