Category Archives: Consider This!

What is Business’s Responsibility to Society?

“Children born today, on average, won’t live as long as their parents. That’s the first time in our society that has ever been forecast.” These were the words of Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne in a speech to the attendees of the 2007 National RV Trade Show in Louisville, KY. He was referring to a recent report by the U. S. Surgeon General, which pointed out that illnesses due to physical inactivity—type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity—are a growing crisis.

Kempthorne expressed special concern for our children’s loss of connection to nature. The secretary pointed out that technology is keeping our kids indoors and sitting on the couch playing virtual games instead of being outdoors playing real games. Their are too many kids (and adults) that need to put down their Blackberry’s and go picking wild berries.

I wonder…when a company develops a new time-consuming gadget—from cell phones to the latest game-player—do they ever give any thought or consideration as to what physical effect their new gadgets will have on the users, or society in general? Apparently not, according to Alan Cooper, a highly regarded development engineer in Silicon Valley. In Cooper’s book “The Inmates are Running the Asylum”, he presents the premise that “…despite appearances, business executives are simply not the ones in control of the high-tech industry. It is the engineers who are running the show. In our rush to accept the many benefits of the silicon chip, we have abdicated our responsibilities. We have let the inmates run the asylum.”

As long as the engineers are developing “things” that sell well, the executives are happy—delighted, in fact. The possibility that these “things” are contributing to the potential breakdown of mankind—both socially and physically—is totally ignored, as long as the money keeps coming in.

Do you know what the highest grossing entertainment product in the world is? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the highest grossing entertainment product in the world grossed $310 million in 24 hours—it was a video game. I also just saw that the number one Christmas gift this year is…video games.

It is easy for all of us to say, “It’s the parent’s responsibility to oversee their children’s lifestyle and activity.” Yes, that is true, up to a point, but through aggressive advertising, PR events, and peer pressure, it’s not that simple. The cell phone companies are constantly adding new features to attract kids, video games are getting more realistic and exciting, Blackberrys are de rigueur to a younger and younger group, computers are now a necessity for most school kids—and then, of course, there is television.

Where does the responsibility of we business people enter into this picture? Shouldn’t we consider some of the real impact of our products on society while we are developing them—or not?

I would really like to hear the views of others.

Federal Regulations Unfair to Small Business.

American businesses pass on to the American people $1.1 trillion in costs of complying with federal regulations. This is more cost per U.S. household than the cost of health insurance.

Smaller businesses bear the heaviest load of the cost of business regulations. They spend four and a half times as much per employee to comply with environmental regulations, and 67 percent more per employee on tax compliance than big businesses do.

This is data recently released by the Office of Advocacy of the Small Business Administration. The Office of Advocacy has been trying for decades to get many of these regulations modified for small businesses—all to no avail to date.

Yet, small businesses—with fewer than 500 employees—are truly the backbone of U.S. Industry. Here are some little known facts about the importance of small businesses in America:

Small Firms:

  • Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.
  • Employ half of all private sector employees.
  • Pay nearly 45 percent of total U.S. private payroll.
  • Have generated 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually over the past decade.
  • Made up 97 percent of all identified exporters.
  • Hire 40 percent of high tech workers (scientists, engineers, and computer workers).
  • Produce 13 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms, and these patents are twice as likely as large firm patents to be among the one percent most cited.

(The Office of Advocacy of the Small Business Administration also recently published this information.)

So, in spite of all the challenges thrown at small businesses…by government agencies and private institutions alike…small businesses have remained the backbone of America’s Free Enterprise system.

Now, with the economy in the tank, our small businesses are in even greater jeopardy. Let us not allow the politicians to build the barriers any higher.