Even Elon Musk wants to help out. Yes, the Bad Boy Billionaire of the auto industry, who earlier had described “panic” over the coronavirus as “dumb,” has volunteered to make ventilators, in the event of an anticipated shortage. Twitterdom was ecstatic.
One commentator raved, “You have the chance to be a hero and save many lives…Go for it!”
GM and Ford didn’t generate so much excitement, but they, too, have promised to manufacture the life-saving equipment, while Honeywell has proposed to make face masks. In fact, innumerable U.S. firms have pitched in to help the nation get through this trial.
There isn’t much to celebrate about the coronavirus outbreak, but perhaps there is this: American corporations have a golden opportunity to rebuild some much-needed credibility.
To hear Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tell it, U.S. companies are bastions of corruption, pandering only to the desires of their self-serving executives. Bernie has toured the country vilifying Corporate America and hitting the pharmaceutical companies especially hard. Young people, especially, are buying his act.
Millennials, who are great supporters of the presidential candidate, are predicted to comprise 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, have increasingly soured on Big Business. A recent study by Deloitte showed that only 55 percent of Millennials in 2019 believe business has a positive impact on society, down from 76 percent in 2017.
In the most recent debate, Sanders explained that our health care system may struggle to deal with the virus outbreak “because we have a bunch of crooks who are running the pharmaceutical industry, ripping us off every single day… in the midst of this epidemic, you’ve got people in the pharmaceutical industry who are saying, ‘Oh wow, what an opportunity to make a fortune.’”
Sanders is not alone in bashing our businesses. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted recently, “One of the reasons industries are so short on cash right now is that they have spent billions buying back their own stocks instead of investing in their workers and saving for a rainy day. That needs to be addressed NOW.”
The implication is that the managements of American Airlines or Delta should have anticipated that a pandemic would rise up and crush their businesses, and hoarded cash just in case. Yes, well, the federal government, and your home state of New York should have done the same, senator. Generally, organizations do not plan for the Apocalypse.
Unlike Sanders and Schumer, President Trump is not pummeling corporate America, but rather has enlisted U.S. businesses into helping combat the fall-out from COVID-19. He has pressed the pharmaceutical companies to ramp up vaccine and therapy trials and has reduced red tape to clear their path. The president brought the grocery chains together to reassure the public there would be no shortage of foods. He assembled big retailers like Wal-Mart and Target to help develop the infrastructure for increased testing.
Moreover, as the Wuhan virus bores through the health and wellbeing of our country, American companies are voluntarily responding to the crisis. Some are letting customers off the hook for late fees, cancellation charges and the like. Some are stepping in to manufacture goods in short supply, others have offered their facilities to help the public.
Appearing on Martha MacCallum’s Fox News show recently, White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro revealed that Pernot Ricard, a French maker of alcoholic beverages, had volunteered to manufacture hand sanitizers at their U.S. facilities, and to distribute those scarce products at cost.
Pernot Ricard had made the offer to the White House but listed three regulatory hurdles they encountered. Navarro made three phone calls, as he described it, and the obstacles disappeared. Production was set to begin within days.
“That’s the kind of beauty we’re seeing as we have the full force of government and full force of business join hands to help the American people,” Navarro said. That’s how it should be.
Early on, Verizon began running full-page ads in the New York Times and elsewhere telling customers they will waive late fees for those impacted by the virus and increase data allowances for students whose schooling has moved online. Verizon also pledged to contribute $15 million to various programs on the front lines of helping people get through this crisis, including one that will feed children who might suffer from school closures.
Such gestures are critical to our country as we deal with the stresses and shortages being caused by COVID-19; they could also help boost good feeling about our business community. According to a Gallup survey taken a few months ago, only 10 percent of the public has a “great deal” of confidence in Big Business; 28 percent would like to see more regulation — the highest since the financial crisis.
Americans have always been wary of the power of large corporations. But only recently have the firms that employ tens of millions of Americans and that provide the most generous benefits to workers been so assailed by prominent politicians.
The Great Recession caused some of the hostility. Many firms had to be bailed out by reluctant politicians, who have since tried to regain favor with voters by going on the attack. Calling for higher taxes and more regulation, Democrats are, of course, not just assailing our corporations, but also the policies of President Trump.
The hostility could prove not only counter-productive, but also dangerous. Once again, the government may have to rescue industries, like the airlines and cruise lines, that are being destroyed by the Wuhan Virus. It is not the time to score political points by sabotaging sensible measures to keep those businesses and their employees afloat.
Everyone, including Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, must recognize that corporate America, and the millions they employ, are part of the solution, and not part of the problem. They, too, are family.
Published on The Hill