A Free Enterprise Manifesto

May 22, 2012

Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue gave a spirited defense of free enterprise during remarks at America's Small Business Summit 2012.

The U.S. Chamber's President and CEO Tom Donohue delivered a spirited defense of free enterprise and entrepreneurship at America's Small Business Summit 2012 on May 22. 

We share some fundamental beliefs that bind us together. What are they?

We believe in the free enterprise system. It’s not perfect, but it provides one thing most other systems don’t—opportunity … The opportunity to try and succeed beyond our wildest expectations. Or the opportunity to fail and try again.

We believe it’s OK to fail—in fact, failure is a key part of success.

We believe in risk—and that risk should be rewarded.

Likewise, we believe success should be rewarded, not punished, and that a life in business is just as honorable as any other vocation.

We believe that businesses and the pursuit of profit are good things ... that businesses that do well almost always do a lot of good—like giving folks the dignity of a job … or bettering their communities … or giving to charities.

While we support a strong social safety net for the truly needy, we think most people should take responsibility for themselves and look for a hand up, not a handout.

We believe in a government that only does for people what they can’t do for themselves … a limited government that makes smart regulations that protect public health and safety and provide basic rules of the road for businesses and individuals—but aren’t overly burdensome or politically driven.

We believe that given the opportunity to experiment, innovate, and work for a just reward—without undue interference from the government—there’s very little we can’t accomplish.

And we believe the free enterprise system is the best bet to ensure that future generations get the same advantages and opportunities we did.

Donohue called on businesses to do three things: 1) work to limit the size of government 2) actively defend the free enterprise system, and 3) remain active in the political system. Below are excerpts from his remarks.

Limit the size of government

Government overreach and interference into our businesses is preventing us from lifting America out of this weak recovery.

There’s too much regulation, too much taxation, and too much spending.

As a result, there is too much uncertainty. It’s holding us back.

Businesses are too afraid to invest and expand … consumers and investors are too cautious to spend and put their money to work … and so demand is weak.

Actively defend the free enterprise system

Today we hear many of our leaders demonize specific industries and even demonize success.

We hear them argue that entrepreneurs and businesses owe their success to government—more than to their own individual initiative, hard work, and good ideas.

They say businesses never would be able to thrive if not for public goods like roads and bridges, public education, and other government services.

If that were true, then why isn’t everyone successful and wealthy? Everyone has the same access to public goods.

The fact is success is driven by the hard work, ideas, initiative, and risk taking of individuals - not the government.

Remain active in the political process

Put simply, we need to elect leaders who believe in free enterprise and will vote for public policies that will support business and get our economy moving again.

We hope all of you make it to the Hill on Wednesday to visit with your elected officials. They are pretty good at listening to their constituents.

But you know what? Sometimes they just don’t get it.

Many of them haven’t ever met a payroll. They don’t understand the burden of bureaucracy and how it weighs down a small business.

It’s our job to explain it to them. And if they still don’t learn it, it’s our job to hold them accountable.

That’s why the Chamber is engaged in its largest voter education program ever.

We don’t do presidential politics— but we will do presidential policy.

We will constructively critique ideas and proposals heard on the trail and urge all candidates for all offices to embrace the ideas we have put forward. 

Our main focus is on key House and Senate contests and races for state attorneys general and supreme court justices.

We’re looking to defend our 2010 advances in the House and make significant inroads in the Senate.

Now, some folks in town don’t want us involved in the election. Too bad. They’re in for a disappointment

The business community won’t be intimated and we won’t be silenced. We have a constitutional right to make our voice heard and we intend to fully exercise it.

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