According to one widely held view, President Barack Obama's policies on health care, taxes and regulation are destroying business confidence, paralyzing investment and making it impossible for the private sector to create jobs.
The latest business panjandrum to blame Obama for crushing animal spirits is Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn. During a much-publicized conference call with stock analysts on Monday, he blasted the Obama administration as "the greatest wet blanket to business, and progress, and job creation in my lifetime," adding: "I could spend the next three hours giving you examples of all of us in this marketplace that are frightened to death about all the new regulations, our health care costs escalate, regulations coming from left and right."
Wynn is an unlikely spokesman for the dispirited bourgeoisie. Wynn Resorts' second-quarter earnings were up more than $300 million from the same period of 2010. Its stock price has more than tripled since June 2009. He's also rather hyperbolic: According to him, the president "keeps using that word redistribution," and "making speeches about redistribution." Huh? I can't think of a single such instance, and, for what it's worth, the White House told me that they can't find the word anywhere in his speeches and statements since 2009.
Wynn accuses Obama of intimidation. "Those of us who have business opportunities and the capital to do it are going to sit in fear of the president," he claimed. "And a lot of people don't want to say that. They'll say, 'God, don't be attacking Obama.' Well, this is Obama's deal, and it's Obama that's responsible for this fear in America." Yet Wynn's own prosperity since 2009, when he first began excoriating the president, doesn't square with this grim picture.
Nor does his example of pro-business government: China. He's been making money hand over fist in Macau, the former Portuguese enclave in the Communist People's Republic, where, he says, "the political environment, the regulatory environment, the human resource environment that we're in (is) absolutely delicious."
Business "is frightened to death of the weird political philosophy of the president of the United States," according to Wynn. But in socialist-nationalist-corporatist-Confucian-authoritarian China, with its payoffs and political arrests and censorship, "government is predictable." Wynn Resorts is "so grateful to be part of that market and to be allowed to participate in that community."
Now that's speaking truth to power!
Of course, business confidence makes a difference in how well the economy performs. Governments must always strike a balance to make sure that additional regulation — however necessary — does not dampen entrepreneurial fire. These are uncertain times, and a lot of uncertainty emanates from Washington, where everything from carbon emissions to postal delivery seems to be up for grabs.
The problem is that it's impossible to estimate these psychological effects with precision, especially since chief executives themselves are hardly unbiased observers. Well-founded business criticism of government fulfills a civic function and enhances corporate America's credibility. Over-the-top jeremiads like Steve Wynn's achieve the opposite.
Charles Lane is a member of the Washington Post editorial page staff.
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