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American business is the envy of the world

The scope and character of the American Free Enterprise System is hard to capture in a few hundred words. But there are businessmen everywhere. Doctors are a good example. We rarely think of them as businessmen. Of course, they’re healers, but they’re also in business. My doctor, a truly gifted healer, is a businesswoman. Navigating a labyrinth of insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid forms, and old fashioned cash payments, she has to make enough money to cover the cost of her practice, make a profit, and still fulfill her calling, which is taking care of patients like me.

Businesses of all kinds define the American landscape and give us a standard of living that’s the envy of the world. Some don’t seem that profound,

perhaps not up there with making cars or building houses in leaving their mark, but they have helped create our own unique cultural landscape. If you’re looking for a latte, you can thank Starbucks, a company that started out of a tiny shop in Seattle Washington for your morning jolt. It would be hard to guess how many great business ideas started out over double expresso at a coffee chop.

Business is pushing new frontiers every day. If you’ve got the cash, and want to experiment and buy an electric car, Chevy has the Volt. Will it catch on? I don’t know, but a major corporation is betting its future on it. But not everyone builds cars. If you’ve got the talent and the training and want to roam the countryside fixing PC’s and servers, there is not much stopping you in this country from printing up your business cards and going to work. And if you do, given how badly my computer is behaving this morning, I might be your first customer.

American enterprise is remarkably adept at taking notional concepts and finding applications in day-to-day business. When your drainage line gets clogged, don’t be surprised if the plumber pulls out a laptop and a remote camera to find out what’s going on. It’s cheaper, more precise, and a lot less messy. But forty years ago it would have been science fiction.

Being a businessman can be lonely. Sure, there is the excitement of working for yourself. But, in business, and for the 90% of our economy that is defined by small and medium sized business, every decision, every account, can mean the difference between success and failure. Do you move your business out of your basement and lease space? Do you buy the new milling machine or not? Do you hire someone, or not? And most importantly, is there enough business to justify that decision? That’s a lot of burden to carry every day.

Amazing as it may sound, and we all know this, whole societies in our world have tried to live without independent business. In the Soviet Union, with few exceptions, independent businesses were banned. After 70 years, this horribly misguided experiment finally ended in failure. Business and enterprise are part of what makes us human. It’s an outlet for our energy and our creativity.

American business is the largest producer of wealth the world has ever known. Tomorrow morning, thanks to American business, 120 million will be going to work. Our gross domestic product, what we consume and produce, is the largest in the world. That’s American business. But it not just a measure of what big businesses bring in. It includes the revenue from an antique shop in King George, a bait and tackle shop in Colonial beach, a roofer in Westmoreland, and an auto body shop in Fredericksburg. It even includes my tax accountant whose sole tool of his trade is his uncanny knowledge of the tax code and his PC. He may not be a big business, but every day, just like all businesses, small and large he plays his role in making this massive engine run.

David Kerr writes Virginia Viewpoints each week in The Journal. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

David S. Kerr

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