EDITOR'S LETTERMerryn Somerset Webb
Business is not the enemy
Being a bit sniffy about business isn’t considered as odd as it should be in the UK. At university I 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.
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.
• Read the full editor’s letter here: End is nigh for index huggers