Senior Writer and Editor, Strategic Communications, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
January 11, 2024
In this year’s State of American Business keynote address, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne P. Clark defended American free enterprise in a rousing and optimistic speech at Chamber headquarters in Washington, D.C., that was broadcast to thousands of business leaders and partners in all 50 states and in more than 100 countries.
“The State of American Business is optimistic. And this country, its citizens and leaders, and our partners around the world need to hear it,” Clark said. “There are plenty of critics who want to tell you everything that is wrong with capitalism. But the truth is, it’s a good news story.”
In the speech, Clark made clear that the Chamber’s mission is the same today as was when the organization was founded 112 years ago: “to defend, protect, and promote free enterprise.”
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Market Dynamism and Collaboration Benefit Everyone
Despite critics claims that any market necessarily creates winners and losers, Clark countered that properly-functioning markets benefit billions of people every day.
“Yes, markets are competitive,” Clark said. “The cynic sees it as a zero-sum-game—they’re wrong. An optimist rightly sees competition as a creative force. Failure leads to learning—and is often a prerequisite for success. Winners take their profits and find new problems to solve. Competitors learn from others’ success and drive continued advancement.”
Clark pointed out that markets also benefit everyone—that the billions of little interactions which happen every day—have a growing and uplifting impact on society as a whole.
“Markets are also collaborative. They enable people across a supply chain who’ve never even met to integrate and innovate remarkably complex products that no single person or company could make alone,” Clark said. “Add it all up, and the biggest winners are all of us. Our families, our communities, our country, and our world.”
Why the Chamber Is Pro-Growth
Clark added that free enterprise has given rise to innovations that have radically improved the quality of life.
“People have more choices than they’ve ever had, whether it’s for breakfast cereal, sneakers, or career paths,” Clark said. “We can reach more places in the world, more efficiently and affordably. The modes of transportation that get us there are safer than they’ve ever been.”
What’s more, the innovations that the market creates are spread more widely than many think, Clark added.
“Society as a whole reaps the outsize benefits of market-driven innovations. You might think about world-changing technologies—the internet, the smartphone, the social network, AI—as invaluable.,” Clark said. “Economists found a way to quantify what they call the ‘social surplus’—98 percent of the value of a new technology goes to the billions of people who use it, while the company or entrepreneur who invented it gets about two percent.”
Clark also explained that the Chamber supports policies that boost economic growth because growth benefits local communities and the people who live in them.
“A faster-growing economy generates more tax revenues to pay for education, defense, basic research, transit and infrastructure, and the social safety net. It fuels philanthropy and funds the arts, entertainment, and culture that enrich our lives. Most importantly, growth puts more money in people’s pockets so they can care for their families and pursue their goals,” Clark said. “That’s why—in advancing our mission—the Chamber staunchly advocates for policies that are pro-growth.”
Protectionism Hamper Markets and Their Benefits
Clark warned policymakers that protectionism restricts the benefits of markets. In contrast, the right trade agreements can boost domestic workers, America’s standing in the world, and our allies.
“Prosperous nations are stable nations—they become partners, allies, and ballasts against authoritarianism,” Clark said. “A global trend of protectionism—including here in the U.S.—puts all of this at risk. To turn inward—to throw up trade barriers, impose tariffs, stop doing trade deals, reactively repatriate supply chains—is to inflict harm on our own economy. It robs our businesses and workers of new opportunities and it raises prices for every American.”
Government’s Role in a Market-Driven World
Clark reiterated the vital importance of getting government’s role right in a free enterprise system.
“The role of government is to foster the conditions that enable human potential and empower businesses to serve people, solve problems, and strengthen society,” Clark said. “That means letting markets work and protecting them from government intrusion. Passing pro-growth public policies that are workable and predictable. Setting smart regulations that clearly signal to businesses the rules of the road and exercising the fundamental duties of keeping the government open and running.”
In closing, Clark urged listeners to join the Chamber this year and stand up for free enterprise.
“Those who believe in free enterprise—those who have lived it and been lifted by it—must stand up and say so,” Clark said. “If each of us stands up—in big ways and in small—we can send a message that counters the cynics and pessimists. And if we all do it together, with a unified voice, we can start a movement to save the system that will secure our collective future. The U.S. Chamber and our partners will proudly lead the way.”