Reports from the Economic Front

a blog by Marty Hart-Landsberg

Know Your Enemy

The following comes from Peter Coy at Business Week.  It describes the upcoming Chamber of Commerce public relations offensive aimed at getting you to defend capitalism and the rights of capitalists to freely make profits.  The problem for the Chamber (and the firms it represents) is that people now view “capitalism” critically.  So,  it is on to new words.

Capitalism, No. Free Enterprise, Yes

To combat what it views as rapid government growth and attacks on business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching a multiyear campaign to remind Americans of the virtues of a free market and free trade. But don’t expect the campaign, which could cost as much as $100 million, to praise “capitalism” or “risk taking.” Or to criticize “protectionism.”

It’s not that the Chamber, which represents 3 million organizations, has gone squishy on its core values. The group just wants its message to resonate with the public. And reactions to these terms by focus groups in Jacksonville, Fla., and Philadelphia suggest it would be best to omit them. ” ‘Capitalism’ was universally problematic,” says Chamber spokeswoman Tita Freeman. Adds Rich Thau, president of New York-based Presentation Testing, which ran the focus groups: “There were those who associated ‘capitalism’ with greed and with the powerful dominating the vulnerable.” But those negatives, he says, didn’t apply at all to “free enterprise.” (For now, the Chamber’s multimedia offensive, which starts officially in October, is called the Campaign for Free Enterprise.)

As for “risk-taking,” which has been promoted in the Chamber’s press materials, “it was at the bottom of the pile,” says Freeman. “We found the average American doesn’t like the idea of businesses taking risks. They think of a casino and someone throwing the dice.” And “protectionism,” which the Chamber opposes? In an earlier round of tests, people approvingly linked the word with a general sense of being “protected,” says Thomas Donohue, the Chamber’s president and CEO. (The campaign may instead inveigh against “isolationism.”)

To test the various terms, Thau convened separate focus groups of Obama voters, McCain voters, and small business owners. The responses were quite similar across all three categories, he says. What surprised him most? “The number of people who associated ‘capitalism’ with increased government involvement in business. I’m still puzzling over that one.”

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