Washington, D.C. -- In the annual State of American Business address, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne P. Clark today celebrated the energy and ideas of people and the innovations of business that improve life and inspire the world. She called for a robust defense of the free enterprise system, which unleashes human potential and private sector solutions to address the greatest challenges of our time.
Noting that we're about to be inundated with everything wrong, bad, and dire about the country ahead of the 2024 election, Clark said the state of American business is optimistic as she highlighted how America’s economic system is the best in the world at enabling success and ensuring our future.
“At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we know that the State of American Business is optimistic—we see it every time a business opens, a paycheck is signed, a person is hired, a technology is invented, a new product is launched, a five-year plan is set, or a business expands into a new market. It’s all optimism,” said Clark.
Stressing that the optimism of entrepreneurship in the United States remains strong with a near-record number of new business starts, Clark said that free enterprise “is an upward spiral of human progress, fueled by the ambition and striving of people, and supercharged by the innovation of American business—and there’s no limit, no ceiling for what humankind can achieve.”
“American free enterprise has made life better,” said Clark, noting that before the pandemic disrupted our economy and basic way of life, the U.S. achieved historic levels of employment, real wages, and standard of living. And because of the resilience and resourcefulness of the private sector, the nation has since surpassed many of those pre-pandemic milestones.
Clark outlined how market-driven innovation has dramatically improved living standards, health outcomes, and connectivity for Americans. Through private-sector jobs in a growing economy, the system has enabled millions of Americans to provide for their families and pursue their dreams.
“Free enterprise has made life simpler and better for everyone by scaling technologies, expanding choice, driving down prices, and boosting every American’s buying power,” said Clark.
Over the past few decades, democracies around the world choosing to open their economies and foster greater competition has resulted in:
- A 70% reduction in extreme global poverty
- A rise in global life expectancy from 64 years to 73 years
- A plummet in illiteracy rates from 25.7% to 13.5%
- And a decrease in child labor from 16% to less than 10%
- But Clark warned that American free enterprise is under threat today.
Clark stressed, “It is important to remind people of what free enterprise has done to build support for what free enterprise still must do—which is to find solutions to the greatest issues of our time.”
Free enterprise will help to:
- Revitalize communities that were left behind in the modern economy;
- Rethink education in this country so every person has every opportunity to do and be and give their best;
- Reskill and reposition the workforce for the future, so all people can keep up with the rapid pace of change;
- Responsibly leverage AI and unleash a new era of human productivity;
- Address climate change and lead the energy transition while powering our economies today; and
- Solve global problems, from food insecurity to water scarcity.
But Clark warned that American free enterprise is under threat today.
“It’s under threat from a small but powerful opposition of policymakers, political candidates, academics, and organizations—some who think it needs to be replaced and are spending tens of millions of dollars to that end. They are sowing the seeds of doubt—and if they succeed, they will limit your potential, stifle our growth, and undermine our future,” said Clark.
“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.”
Viewpoints from Business
Following the keynote address, the event featured interviews with several notable business leaders.
Developing and Deploying Responsible AI
"We have an innovation-led economy, and we need innovation to flourish. We need to ensure that humans remain in control of this technology. We need to have safety and security standards in place," said Vice Chair and President of Microsoft Brad Smith. "If a year from now people are sitting around the proverbial water cooler talking about how they're using AI to do their jobs differently, be one of the individuals who has some experience, who has ideas to share."
The Importance of State and Local Partnerships
“There is nothing we can't accomplish when we work together. And today, that means promoting and protecting our free enterprise system from Main Street to corporate America, from city halls to the halls of Congress,” said Ashley Watts, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “We will stand shoulder to shoulder with our U.S. Chamber partners in defense of the system that makes America strong.”
The Franchise System: Big Businesses Creating Small Businesses
International Franchise Association President and CEO Matthew Haller interviewed College HUNKS Hauling Junk President and CEO Nick Friedman and Franchise Owner John Bates about the impact of free enterprise on their lives and businesses.
“Free enterprise means providing opportunities for individuals to pursue business ownership, financial independence, job opportunities, business ownership opportunities in any path, no matter where they start in life,” said Friedman.
“Free enterprise makes it possible to just achieve whatever I want to achieve. I don’t want to see it go anywhere, I want it to be there, and I want the generations after us to still have those same opportunities as well,” said Bates.
Ahead of Thursday's event, the Chamber released its second annual State of American Business Data Center, which uses 12 economic indicators to analyze the health of the current economy and business.