Published

January 11, 2022

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Introduction

Thank you, TJ [Douglas]and thank you to our terrific partners from chambers and associations across this country and AmChams around the world. You met a few of them a moment ago, and you’ll hear from more across today’s program, highlighting the importance of the federation to our work. We are delighted to welcome all of you joining us from all 50 states and more than 140 countries.

“The market is not your mama. It’s not going to love you just because you exist.” Or so said my favorite business school professor. What he meant—and what we all know—is that you have to earn it. You have to add value, meet needs, and solve problems.

That’s what so many of you, as business owners and organization leaders, do every day.

You challenge assumptions and you drive change. You may fail, but then you get up and try again. You push yourselves to be better, smarter, faster in pursuit of your dreams. You strive and you succeed.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the state of American business is competitive. Businesses are not simply competing to win today, but to build a better tomorrow. To propel our country and world toward a brighter future of growth, solutions, and opportunity.

Competition is how we build our country, make it exceptional, and move it forward.

Competition in the marketplace brings the best ideas to life...and to people and communities everywhere. 

Competition for talent gives people the opportunity and incentive to achieve their dreams; it harnesses the best of human imagination and ingenuity for the benefit of society.

Competition for global leadership pushes us to engage with the world for our own security and prosperity, and to lead in the world for its advancement.

And competition of ideas fosters the civil discourse and constructive exchange of views that lead to common ground and real solutions.

Competition will enable us to innovate our way through this pandemic. And it will help us use all of the challenges, disruptions, and opportunities accelerated by the pandemic to shape a new economic era that will define our future.

Competition in the Marketplace

It starts with competition in the marketplace.           

Market competition incentivizes people to take big risks and persevere through failures. It motivates people to start and grow businesses. It enables companies to go public and create wealth for others. That’s how customers get more choice and lower prices. It’s how people save for retirement and secure their futures. It’s how all of us get to benefit from life-saving innovations and world-changing solutions.

And it’s the process that has allowed this country to build the most innovative, resilient, and dynamic economy in history.

We all witnessed the stunning capacity for innovation in the race for COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. Who won? Humanity...with multiple vaccines and drugs made widely available, saving millions of lives and providing millions of people our best defense yet against the pandemic. And the race to distribute them worldwide must continue with urgency.

Because we are innovative, we are resilient.

This was revealed in a surprising way in the most recent quarterly Small Business Index released by the U.S. Chamber and MetLife.

When small business owners across the country reported the highest levels of optimism since the start of the pandemic, we wondered why. After all, they’re facing the challenges of a 40-year inflation high, a historic worker shortage, and supply chain disruptions—not to mention more COVID uncertainty.

When we asked TJ Douglas—who opened the program a few minutes ago—why he was optimistic, he told us this: “Does it take too long to get wine from Napa Valley to Boston? Yes. But, the constant innovation in packaging, delivery, and logistics is helping us keep up.”

Likewise, innovations in e-commerce enabled brick-and-mortar stores to go online and endure lockdowns. Small manufacturers pivoted to meet major shifts in market demand. Service providers, like healthcare clinics, quickly adopted telemedicine—discovering new efficiencies and cost savings along the way.

What we’re seeing and what we’re hearing is that businesses have built new muscle, become more adaptive, and are more comfortable with discomfort—knowing that whatever challenges lie ahead, innovation can see them through.

And that necessity of innovation drives dynamism.

Did you know that new business formation in 2021 is on pace to shatter all previous records? That means more people than ever before stood up, took a risk, started something new, and created jobs for others—in this challenging environment.

This dynamism isn’t simply a feature of the COVID economy, nor is it just limited to startups and entrepreneurs. In fact, if you look at the top 10 companies by market cap, you’ll see that not one of the companies on the list in 1980 is still on that list today. And if you look at the list over time, you see companies move in, out, back in, and so on.

What does that tell us? That markets work—they enable businesses and industries to evolve, disrupt, and compete to serve customers, solve problems, and strengthen our society.

Despite the clear innovation, the resilience, and the dynamism of our economy, we have leaders who think the government needs to step in and impose a heavy hand.

The Biden administration introduced a sweeping executive order based on the false premise that our entire economy is overconcentrated and stagnant.

Modern-day “trust-busters” on Capitol Hill—from both parties—think all big is bad and necessarily a threat to small ... when in fact, our economy is an ecosystem where big business depends on small companies and vice versa. They are each other’s vendors, suppliers, customers, and partners. And they each employ the consumers who keep the whole system afloat.

The dynamism we see today in new business formation, the constant churn among the list of America’s largest companies, and the tremendous choice and lower prices available to consumers are all proof that our antitrust laws work.

On top of that trust-busting, the Federal Trade Commission has taken such an aggressive stance against mergers and acquisitions that small and medium-sized businesses fear they’ll have worked for years to build something and have no exit strategy if they choose to sell. The FTC has a really important job to do in stopping anticompetitive behavior that harms consumers. But it can’t do that job if instead it is trying enlarge its powers to, as its new Chair has actually said, “shape the distribution of power and opportunity across our economy.”

These are just a few examples of the threat of government overreach that now confronts businesses of all sizes and undermines our fragile economic recovery.

There are numerous others, from the proposed partisan tax-and-spending spree to fund a massive expansion of the federal government ... to aggressive oversight and overregulation from agencies like the SEC and the CFPB ... to overenforcement from the DOJ, the EPA, and the IRS.

Here’s the U.S. Chamber’s message to our partners in government: be an enabler, not an inhibitor. You can set the conditions for businesses to succeed. If you want them to continue delivering growth, innovation, jobs, and prosperity—let them do it.

There’s a reason 70% of American voters think our nation’s highest priority is keeping businesses on their feet so they can move our country forward. There’s a reason the public deems business the most competent and the most trusted of institutions.

Government can’t do what business does. It can’t take the kinds of risks businesses can. It can’t operate at the speed of innovation. It can't create wealth or prosperity or new job opportunities; it can only redistribute them.

If bureaucrats and elected officials don’t stop getting in the way, we will stop them. We will challenge overreach and defend the rule of law at every turn, in every agency, with every tool at our disposal ... in Washington, in statehouses, and in the courts.

Let me be clear, the U.S. Chamber will take on this fight because what’s at stake is no less than the future of our free market economy.

Competition for Talent

The U.S. is also in a competition for talent.

Employers are competing for job-seekers in the tightest job market in decades. Our country is competing to attract the best talent from around the world, while also building our own skilled and educated workforce.

We all know that the competition for talent has become an urgent and complex economic imperative. What the data tells us—and what you deal with every day—is that nearly 11 million jobs sit vacant. More than 2 million people lost their jobs or left the workforce during the pandemic—and half of them still aren’t actively looking for work.

I talk to CEOs and leaders of businesses of every size, industry, and region every day—and to a person they tell me this: This workforce shortage is a crisis. It is contributing to supply chain disruptions and rising inflation. It is undermining business growth.

We can’t simply move people from one industry to another, or from one skill-level to the next. We have to grow our workforce if we want to grow our economy and stay competitive.

So, who wants to put their talent to work and pursue their dreams in a dynamic economy flush with opportunity? Immigrants of every skill level. Where are they going to go? The U.S. or Canada? Let’s make it Austin or Boston, Atlanta or Denver, or any of the countless U.S. destinations in search of top talent.

We must double the number of people legally immigrating to the U.S. And we must create a permanent solution for the “dreamers”—those young men and women who know no other home and who contribute to their communities, but whose legal status is in limbo.

And who in this country can we help get off the sidelines and back in the game?

Parents without access to affordable childcare. People with limited access to broadband and remote work. Formerly incarcerated adults who have paid their debt to society. Individuals struggling with addiction.

Let’s remove these barriers through thoughtful, achievable solutions. And let’s be careful with government policy... we are seeing a growing and troubling number of proposals out of Congress that substitute a government check for a paycheck.

And what role will technology play in shaping the future of work in this era? Whether it was Henry Ford and the assembly line or the adoption of computers and the internet, innovation has always played a critical role in improving efficiency and helping our economy grow.

Pandemic-era disruptions have accelerated the pace at which technologies like automation and artificial intelligence can be applied to work. Through the leadership of the U.S. Chamber’s soon-to-be-announced AI Commission and our broad tech advocacy, we will make sure government policy is supporting innovation—not holding it back.  

Finally, let’s not forget our greatest advantage. The diversity of people, perspectives, and ideas. Let’s ensure everyone in this country has the skills, the education, and the opportunity to go as high and as far as their hard work and talent will take them—for the nearly 11 million jobs that sit vacant today. And for the jobs of tomorrow that haven’t even been invented yet.

Competition for Global Leadership

Winning the future means competing in global markets and competing for global leadership.

By one vital measure—trade—we’re standing still. And that means we’re falling behind.

While other economies race to ink new deals, the U.S. has not entered an agreement with a new trade partner in a decade. And the current administration—consumed by caution and internal reviews—is doing little to change that. In fact, it has yet to embrace even relatively uncontroversial initiatives such as a trade agreement with the UK, our closest ally.

But Europe is charging ahead. The EU has 46 trade agreements with 78 countries. The U.S. has just 14 trade agreements with 20 countries—and the trend for our tariffs has been up, not down.

Meanwhile, China continues to rise as a formidable commercial and strategic competitor.

On January 1, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership—a massive China-led trade pact that covers all of East Asia—entered into force. It means better access to some of the world’s fastest growing markets for businesses from Korea and Japan to Indonesia and Vietnam.

Once upon a time, our answer to China was the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-country trade pact in the Asia-Pacific. Remember the TPP? American negotiators wrote 90% it. Well, the U.S. has pulled out, and now it’s the UK, Korea, Taiwan and— yes —China trying to join while we stand on the outside looking in.

China has emerged as the top trading partner and source of investment in much of Africa and Latin America too. If the U.S. fails to engage in mutually beneficial trade agreements with these countries, we’ll lose export sales and the domestic jobs they support ... not to mention weakening strategic alliances.

Look, there is no easy answer when it comes to China—we must compete vigorously around the world. We must stand up for our values and security and against unfair trading and regulatory practices. And we must cooperate on critical global challenges such as sustainability and public health. We have to be able to do all three—and doing so deftly will be one of the defining features of American leadership in this era.

Opening markets and contending with a rising China are not the only ways our leaders must support American businesses in the global competition for the future.

We need a domestic tax code that does not put U.S. companies at a disadvantage—as some propose to do with the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world.

We need a regulatory framework that supports the private-sector led innovation needed to address challenges such as climate change—which cannot and will not be solved without the ingenuity and investment of American business, working in cooperation with global partners.

We need strategies to maximize the security, efficiency, and resiliency of global supply chains ... while making smart decisions about manufacturing capacity here at home.

We need a tough stance on cyber threats, working with allied partners when possible and unilaterally when necessary to deter and punish criminals and their state-sponsors.

And we are all acutely aware in this moment that we need a global plan not only to get us through this pandemic but also to prepare us for the next one.

When international governments begin negotiating a global pandemic treaty—as the World Health Organization has pledged to do—the private sector must have a seat at that table.

Competition of Ideas

Finally, winning the competition for the future requires a robust competition of ideas.

The competition of ideas is alive and well in business. What about politics?

Our democracy is strongest when candidates and elected officials are focused on winning people over to their ideas—and on the merits of those ideas—not merely relying on the support of those who already agree with them.

Politicians should compete for public support with their platforms, persuading more voters and then building broader coalitions to turn those good ideas into good policy.

That’s not a radical concept, but this moment seems to call for a radical shift back in that direction.

The U.S. Chamber is calling for a new movement of bold—and I mean bold—business advocates committed to defending those elected officials who dare to find the common ground necessary to enact durable policies that move our country forward ... and committed to supporting pro-business champions in both parties.

This coalition—those of us fighting for business in Washington... and all of you leading our economy across this country—we have to be as loud as the extremists. We have to be as passionate about our interests as those on the far left and the far right. We have to boldly, proudly, assertively put our ideas into the public debate. Because we can compete and win on the strength of those ideas.

My message to lawmakers today: When you work, our system works. Let good policy be the incentive. Let progress be the motivation. Have the courage to forge agreements and the commonsense to pursue what can actually be achieved. Let’s follow the model of last year’s historic bipartisan victory on infrastructure—proof that our system can work.

My message to the media: You not only provide the biggest platform for the exchange of ideas, you also help form the foundation of our democracy. Obsessive coverage of intraparty warfare and partisan gridlock does nothing to engender public trust or advance civil discourse—it merely fuels the tribalism across the country that drives the partisanship in Washington. Have the confidence in high-quality journalism and the commitment to our future to cover what’s working, what’s going well, what our country needs to move forward.

My message to the business community: Get louder, more passionate, less apologetic. Businesses are key stakeholders in this democracy. Leaders in this country. The greatest way we can serve America is by succeeding on its behalf and fighting for policies that will usher in a new economic era.

And my message to all the citizens of this great nation: Let’s get on the same side in this competition for our future. The U.S. has enough enemies. Let’s stop being our own worst enemy. Let’s stop the infighting and show the world that our democracy supporting our American enterprise system is what made the U.S. dynamic, diverse, resilient, and strong.  

Conclusion

If you hear nothing else today, hear this—the stakes are high.

Because this is not just a competition of ideas here in our nation and in our politics. It’s a competition of models in the world. And the world is watching.

Which one will win the future? Which one will deliver the growth, opportunity, and innovation that shapes a new economic era?

The one that’s top-down? State-run? Centrally managed?

Or the one that’s spurred by freedom?

The freedom to disagree ... and the ability to work through it.

The freedom to try and fail ... and the incentive to get up and do it again.

The freedom to make a living for yourself ... and make a difference in the lives of others.

The freedom and the ability to learn, improve, and grow ... to constantly strive to fulfill our potential and live up to our ideals.

We have all the imagination, ingenuity, and genius of a diverse people rising, thriving, and competing in a robust democracy. Those are the people I’m betting on.

We have a free-market system that forgives failure and rewards success. That’s the system I’ll put my faith in.

And this is what we must all fight for.

Ladies and gentlemen, the state of American business is able, agile, resilient, and ready. We are ready to compete and win—not just for us, but for the pursuit of a better future for all humankind.