Business is not the enemy

Politicians shouldn't knock business leaders, says Merryn Somerset Webb. We all need them to be successful.

Being a bit sniffy about business isn't considered as odd asit should be in theUK. At universityI took a course in the portrayal of business in literature, a subject that DJ Taylor picks up in The Times this week. In the classic English novel, the business man is "little more than a caricature, tending at the upper level to straightforward swindlers of the Trollope variety and at the lower to dissenting grocers calling their assistants into prayers while sanding the sugar".

Not much has changed: the business man is usually the fattie with the cigar; books on the matter written by anyone with commercial experience "can be counted on the fingers of one hand"; and too many people and politicians still consider business to be the enemy.

You need only look to the rise in membership of the radically anti-business Green party, or to some of Ed Miliband's exchanges with top businessmen in recent weeks one entrepreneur even told The Sunday Times that the Labour leader showed a "palpable disdain" for him at a recent dinner.

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Not all business is a full-on force for good HSBC hasn't covered itself in glory over the last few years. Tax avoidance is a problem for the Treasury (albeit and this is important an entirely legal one). And we could do with a little more in the way of activist investment to force change and end the almost comically out-of-control compensation culture at the top of our big firms.

But most businesses in the UK are run by nice, well-meaning people who pay what they can afford to pay; work with their communities; pay their taxes properly; and, crucially, create wealth along the way.

It matters that politicians on all sides recognise this and support them. That's because there is a simple truth here, one so obvious it seems almost silly to have to say it. But here it is: we all rely on business being successful. Some politicians may think that if they aren't running a business, working for a business, or receiving a pension via a business, they can feel themselves free from the grubbiness of commercialism. Not so.

Where does the cash come from to pay Miliband's salary? For the still-sacred NHS? For roads, public-sector pensions, foreign aid and education? Business. Real money just doesn't come from anywhere else.

The general attack on business isn't all investors have to worry about. John Stepek runs through the five things we reckon are most likely to cause another whopper of a financial crisis. His number five the collapse of the bond bubble is on Professor Robert Shiller's list too read our interview with him. Then there is Greece, the slowdown in China and the fact that not a single developed country has managed to reduce its debt pile since 2007. But no crisis comes without opportunity: David C Stevenson tells us where we can shelter our money when the storm finally comes.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.