Cheering Entrepreneurs “Because They’ve Lived the American Dream”

(p. B1) Wall Street’s disdain for the bottom-up populist campaigns of Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont has gotten a lot of attention. The candidates’ full-throated attacks on corporate greed, extreme wealth and banking excesses are backed up by ambitious plans to upend the industry’s everyday operations.

Wariness extends far beyond an elite financial fellowship, though, to many small and medium-size businesses whose executives are not reflexively Republican but worry that the ascendancy of a left-wing Democrat would create an anti-business climate.

. . .

Michael Brady, the owner of two employment franchises in Jacksonville, Fla., is one of the independent business executives interviewed who feel unappreciated. “I get up before 6 o’clock every morning and work hard,” he said. “I put 200 people to work every week.”

Mr. Brady, 53, said he voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Mr. Trump in 2016. Since then, he said, some of the president’s actions and “some of his tweets” have made him cringe.

He said he could vote for a Democrat this year. But he finds several of the economic proposals from the party’s left wing off-putting, mentioning free college tuition and a nationwide $15-an-hour minimum wage.

What particularly irks Mr. Brady, though, are some of Ms. Warren’s statements about successful entrepreneurs’ not having built their businesses entirely on their own. Attacks on the country’s wealthy elite have also grated.

“When did the word millionaire or billionaire become a bad word?” he asked. “I cheer those people on because they’ve lived the American dream.”

For the full story, see:

Patricia Cohen. “Employers Are Leery Of Warren And Sanders.” The New York Times (Saturday, January 18, 2020): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 17, 2020, and has the title “Trump Fans or Not, Business Owners Are Wary of Warren and Sanders.”)

“Openness to Creative Destruction” Discussed on Power Trading Radio

John O’Donnell interviewed me at 6 PM 11/8/19, about my book “Openness to Creative Destruction” on his weekly Friday show on Power Trading Radio. (In the screen capture above, Merlin Rothfeld is on the left and John O’Donnell is on the right.)

“To Be Profitable, You Have to Have a Purpose”

(p. F2) When a group of the nation’s largest companies said last month that they had changed their mission strictly from making profits to also include benefiting “customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders,” it was generally applauded as an important step in the right direction.

. . .

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in his first public comment on the topic, flatly told me: “I wouldn’t have signed it,” stunning a room of policymakers and business leaders in Washington at last week’s DealBook DC Strategy Forum.

His explanation was nuanced: “To be profitable, you have to have a purpose. I think it’s not as simple as saying we either have a purpose or we have profits. I think the problem with creating a simple answer is it doesn’t fully explore the issues.”

He added: “I do think companies should be long-term oriented. I don’t think companies need to necessarily be focused on quarterly profits and hitting Street earnings numbers. But I think, ultimately, a business’s job is to deploy the capital correctly and to make profits.”

Stephen A. Schwarzman, the co-founder and chairman of Blackstone Group and one of only a handful of members of the Business Roundtable who declined to sign the document, also went public with his explanation in a conversation with me earlier this week: “I know why we’re in business: because people give us money to manage. They want us to earn a lot of money to give them back or else they would give us nothing.”

He said “the idea that business should be concerned” with employees, customers, suppliers and the community should be a given. But, he said, he objected to the idea in the Business Roundtable statement that profits should be listed as simply equal to the other four issues.

“I have trouble managing when I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said, suggesting the statement gives managers too many masters. “I know what I’m supposed to be doing, which is making good investments, safely, and making a great contribution to these pension funds and regular people.”

For the full commentary, see:

Andrew Ross Sorkin. “Profits or Public Interest?” The New York Times (Thursday, September 19, 2019): F2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 18, 2019, and has the title “Profits or the Public Interest: The Debate Continues.”)

Boston Brahmins Invested in Western Industrialization

(p. A13) One of history’s ironies is that, even though New England birthed the abolition movement, many of Boston’s most prominent families offered less than total support for freeing the slaves. Their prosperity required a steady supply of cotton to feed New England’s growing textile industry. Even after slavery ended in 1865, wealthy Bostonians were reluctant to abandon their traditional business. Henry Lee Higginson, 30 years old and freshly discharged from the Union Army, bought with his partners a 5,000-acre plantation in Georgia with the goal of turning a profit by growing cotton. But the 60 former slaves living on the plantation thought the wages and terms offered to be grossly inadequate; the land they had worked in chains for generations, they believed, should belong to them. The enterprise soon collapsed.

As similar episodes played out across the South, Boston’s business elites looked for new places to invest their money. “They began to reenvision American capitalist development, not in modifying and salvaging the arrangements of earlier decades but in a far more ambitious program of continental industrialization,” Noam Maggor writes in “Brahmin Capitalism.” “They retreated from cotton and moved into a host of groundbreaking ventures in the Great American West—mining, stockyards, and railroads.”

. . .

Especially representative of the Bostonians’ transformative influence was Higginson’s next enterprise. Far removed from Georgian cotton, his interests landed on a copper mine in northern Michigan’s remote Keweenaw Peninsula. Copper had been discovered there 20 years earlier, but extraction had been small-scale and labor intensive; the high cost per unit meant that mining was profitable only for veins that contained at least 40% copper. In a short time, high-yield mines in the area began to show signs of depletion. But with Higginson’s capital—alongside investments from other Brahmins—large-scale copper extraction could take place as a continuous operation, making mining profitable on belts that contained only 2%-4% copper. In this way, Higginson’s Eastern capital transformed Western mining and launched a career that would make him one of Boston’s leading financiers.

For the full review, see:

John Steele Gordon. “BOOKSHELF; Enterprising Bostonians; Contrary to stereotype, the Brahmins of New England crisscrossed the continent and took bold risks in search of higher yields.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 26, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 25, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

The book under review is:

Maggor, Noam. Brahmin Capitalism: Frontiers of Wealth and Populism in America’s First Gilded Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.

“For This Hong Kong, We Fight. We Shall Never Surrender.”

(p. A6) HONG KONG — Thousands of black-clad antigovernment protesters demonstrated at Hong Kong’s international airport on Friday [Aug. 9, 2019], taking aim at both a global transit hub and the city’s closely guarded reputation for order and efficiency.

. . .

The airport protest began in the early afternoon, as demonstrators in black T-shirts and face masks nearly filled the cavernous arrivals hall, chanting “Hong Kongers, keep going,” a rallying cry for the two-month-old protest movement.

“You’ve arrived in a broken, torn-apart city, not the one you have once pictured,” read a pamphlet that protesters offered to arriving travelers. “Yet for this Hong Kong, we fight. We shall never surrender.”

As of Friday night, the demonstration remained peaceful, and there had been no reports of arrests or disruptions of flights. Protesters were careful to leave a path clear for travelers, some of whom recorded the demonstration on their phones or helped themselves to pamphlets.

. . .

Miki Ip, a real-estate agent who attended the demonstration, said she came partly to refute unproven claims by the Chinese government that the civil disobedience had been led by foreign forces who wanted to undermine Beijing’s authority.

“China has told us so many lies, and we lack a government that really works in our interests,” Ms. Ip, 38, said in the arrivals hall. “The living conditions facing youngsters nowadays are harsh, and they feel a lack of ownership over their hometown, both economically and politically.”

For the full story, see:

Katherine Li and Mike Ives. “Protesters in Hong Kong Choke Airport Terminal.” The New York Times (Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019): A6.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 9, 2019, and has the title “Hong Kong Protesters Descend on Airport, With Plans to Stay for Days.”)