A New Job For Business In 2024

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It’s time for business to shake off the recent guilt and self-loathing and reestablish as the solid center of what makes the world actually function.

Oh, the joys of living through history. We’re about to endure what is almost certainly the least-popular, least-anticipated, potentially most-dreaded U.S. presidential election ever, with approval ratings well below 50 percent for both President Biden and former President Trump.

It doesn’t bode well for the next few months, especially now, amid the most destabilized geopolitical scene in our lifetime. From a great-power, cross-pacific rivalry unlike any we’ve seen before, to a shooting war in Europe shifting quickly to Russia’s advantage, to rising authoritarianism across the globe to a growing 1930s déjà vu as too many Americans feel we’d be somehow safer to withdraw from the world stage rather than direct on it. It’s likely to be a bumpy year.

Into this breach, might I offer what will likely be seen, in many quarters, as a laughable suggestion: This is the year for business to shake off the recent guilt and self-loathing and reestablish itself in the public’s mind as the solid center of what makes the world actually function. In a messy, scary time with so much uncertainty, let’s remind people that business works.

This Better World

In 2018, sister publication Chief Executive published a long excerpt from a way-too-overlooked book called Factfullness, in which author Hans Rosling explored an unpopular, but mature truth: That for all the problems in the world, this is also a golden age in the history of mankind. A U.N. researcher, Rosling came armed with plenty of data, including:

• Global poverty has been cut in half in the last 25 years, though less than 10 percent of people in developed countries knew this, according to Rosling’s polling;

• In 1900, nearly 40 percent of kids worldwide died before their 5th birthday; in 2016 it was just 4 percent;

• 90 percent of girls of primary school age worldwide are enrolled in school, compared to just 65 percent in 1970;

• 88 percent of 1 year olds have been immunized vs just 22 percent in 1980;

• 86 percent of adults have basic reading and writing skills, vs about 20 percent in 1900

• More than 48 percent of the world’s population has access to the Internet (and all the world’s information) — a technology that didn’t exist in 1990.

His list goes on and on, and behind each of these gains, you can see the very-visible hand of business and muscular free markets. Amid a decade of ESG teeth-gnashing and hair-shirt apologia for the sins of commerce, all too forgotten is an equal truth: The measurable good entrepreneurial capitalism creates every single day in every nation that is smart enough to foster it.

If the world’s political instability is to grow in the months to come—and it’s hard to see how it will not—billions of people around the world will be searching for leadership, for stability, for a way forward, for, bluntly, a grownup in the room. Rather than retreating and apologizing, business should own this challenge, becoming a refuge from uncertainty rather than a rallying point for it. A breakwater for the political excesses of the world.

You’re all old enough to remember when “free markets, free peoples” wasn’t a punch line in an Ivy-league vaudeville show. And you’ve likely read enough history to know that it never actually was. This year, we’ll get the chance to remind a new generation of that. We should.

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