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Big Business, If You’re So Rich, Why Aren’t You Smart?

Original Article

The Wall Street Journal suggests bluntly what people in the pharmaceutical industry should have been asking for weeks: In the process of selling out on Health Care, has Big Pharma been sold out?

Or has Big Pharma just sold out the public that counts on its ever-burgeoning cornucopia of new wonder drugs? That the industry has tried to cut a deal with the White House to escape serious assaults on its income stream is not a matter of conjecture now. It’s in the statements of its lobbyist, the White House and those in the liberal leadership of Congress who think the protection “price” was not high enough.

Billy Tauzin, former Democratic member of Congress from Louisiana, is typical of the folks brought in by business to broker a good relationship with the new Administration and Congress. But instead of serving as an ambassador to his party, Mr. Tauzin turns out to be an ambassador from his party to his new clients. He tells them what they have to pay to play. The price is high and it is not even settled when agreement supposedly is reached.

Left out of the picture is the consumer, the patients, the public. In a way, the eager-to-compromise pharmaceutical companies are behaving like the opportunists the Left has portrayed them.

Increasingly, that is the story of big business in America. Most of its leading members backed a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in 2008. Now they act astonished that the new Administration is not the irenic, moderate force they expected and backed. They just can’t believe that the new crowd would want to take over one industry after another, balloon the deficit, dictate executive salaries, set prices, demonize free enterprise, attack venture capital and debase the currency in service of growing the government’s share of what’s left. They are beginning to feel like the Oysters in Alice in Wonderland who were so happy when the Walrus invited them to lunch.

But who said big business was smart? Too smart by half, as the British say, is more like it.

Maybe it’s time some of them start to ask how they got that way.

Did hiring liberal lobbyists and charitable donations chiefs possibly have something to do with it? Have they possibly turned “external relations” over to a kind of person who only supports conservative principles to the limited extent they apply to the particular business that pays them, while using corporate money to fund people and causes that undermine those principles in general? It occurs to me that while each big business may have external relations people loyal to its respective agenda, the sum of all corporate “external relations” in the big business sector is to support more regulation, big government, more taxes and government dictation. And, in the end stage, many an individual business finds out that even its own “representatives” to government are subtly selling it out.

Apparently, some in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are on top of this problem, but many corporations have dropped out of the Chamber or pursue what they imagine is their own enlightened path.

I am a fan of entrepreneurs—the crucial risk takers of capitalism—and I am sympathetic to the small businesses that cannot compete with the big boys in the hiring of lawyers, lobbyists and environmental experts when they need to fend off a greedy government. And I have to admire those big businesses that try to hang tough in this political climate. But I find it hard to sympathize with those big business officers who are willing victims of the steady erosion of freedom and enterprise in this country.

I do sympathize, of course, with their ill-served stockholders.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.