By Emma Crosby
Special to The Chronicle
Back in August, Penny Pritzker, US Secretary of Commerce, visited the Vermeer Corporation in Pella. This was as part of a ‘nationwide listening tour’, which many hope will help to bridge the gap which has grown up between the Obama administration and US business. People on both sides of the gap seem cautiously optimistic about Pritzker’s efforts, seeing the ease with which her business background sits with her Democrat credentials as a positive boon which could be of great value in the re-alignment of business interests with state interests (and vice versa). Is this confidence justified? What could Pritzker’s tenure mean for businesses like the Vermeer Corporation?
Penny Pritzker is certainly a powerful and successful woman. Indeed, in 2009, Forbes magazine named her one of the top 100 most powerful women in the world, and she routinely makes the Forbes 400 ‘rich list’. Born into the wealthy Pritzker business dynasty, Penny swiftly proved that she was more than a simple heiress by founding and running a variety of successful business and banking interests. Her knowledge of American business and the US economy is intimate and detailed, and she undoubtedly has the requisite background knowledge to fulfill her role with aplomb. She has also been involved with the Obama administration from the very beginning – a union which those who consider Obama opposed to American business interests may find confusing. However, Penny Pritzker appears to have had an extremely solid and worthwhile relationship with Obama’s regime, serving as an economic and finance advisor on campaigns and within government. Rumor has it that the President has wanted her for Secretary of Commerce since at least 2009, but she refused the role until 2013 – when she was sworn in.
The Pertinent Issues
Her term is only a few months old, but signs look promising both for business and government. One of the main issues facing Pritzker in particular and the Obama administration in general is re-opening communication channels between business and government, and rebuilding trust between the two. When the Recession hit, people on the left and right of politics flew to the respective ends of their spectrums and spent the next few years glaring and blaming across the divide. Thus, many business interests feel that they are being stamped upon by a repressive left-wing regime, while those on the left equally feel that corporate greed and unregulated business are largely what caused the terrible economic problems of the last few years in the first place. The left wing feels that business needs to be brought to heel to prevent such a catastrophe from reoccurring, while right-wing business interests believe that over-regulation of corporations is stifling economic recovery. The truth is probably somewhere between the two, but the truth of the matter is not what is important if relations between business and government are to be repaired. What needs to occur instead is a thawing of hostilities, and for free-flowing communication networks to be re-established. Most importantly of all, there needs to be respect on both sides for the opinion of the other. This is where Pritzker comes in. Her impressive business credentials ensure that she will be respected by American businesses and corporations, while her own knowledge of the economy from a business point of view will allow her to effectively mediate the Obama line through a reasonable prism of experience. The ‘listening tour’ which she undertook, part of which involved her visit to Pella, demonstrates a great willingness to establish communication, and to listen without prejudice to the grievances and ideas of American business. Indeed, her department’s new slogan is ‘Open for business’, which bodes well for a cooling of tensions.
This comes at a good time. Green shoots of are beginning to spring up everywhere, and confidence in the economic recovery is growing. However, this by no means indicates that Americans should become complacent. This is a very sensitive time, as government and business must now go head to head in order to work out how this recovery should be managed and encouraged. This is a problem countries worldwide are facing, and there is no clear answer. This recession has been the first internet-age economic crisis, and people are unsure of the implications of such a thing for the future, or how it should be handled. In the US, the tendency seems to be for government to crack down on business. This has been met with horror by US business – but it should be remembered that, compared to businesses in Europe and other parts of the western world, American business has always enjoyed a deregulated freedom which people of other nations would probably consider reckless, promoting of greed, and even bad for human interest. Interestingly, in the UK (traditionally a far more left-wing nation than the US), David Cameron’s government have been trying to encourage the burgeoning economic recovery by cozying up to big business. This is the precise opposite of the Obama’s administration’s tactics, and has been met with similar horror on the part of the British public. Yet the UK, despite its government’s differing economic tactics, has been showing similar signs of economic growth to the US. Notoriously credit-shy during the crash, British financial websites are now offering comparisons of business loans for ‘that extra cash boost’ - something which would have been unheard of a mere two years ago. The British government’s relationship with business started on the left and has been moving slightly right, while the American government’s relationship with business started on the right and has been moving slightly left. Perhaps this indicates that the solution lies in the middle of the political spectrum, with communication, respect, and concessions on all sides.