So little in public life is really based on fact. We like facts, but the truth is that we, as a people and as a nation, tend to run on feelings-specifically confidence. Confidence controls the markets, influences political decisions, informs questions about faith and controls many of our purchase choices. It should, therefore, be no surprise that confidence is one of the major metrics in determining public opinion. How do you feel about the Congress? Do you trust the Military? What are your feelings about small business? How about your church? We have the answers. The results are in from the 2008 Gallup Annual Update on Confidence in Institutions and they are very interesting.
The Numbers Speak, No Matter What The Other Side Says
There has been a great deal of protest and complaint over the war, and no small amount of that has been directed at the officers and troops we have in Iraq. Moveon.org, for example, with its nefarious “General Betray-us” ad comes to mind at once. Yet, according to Gallop, the most trusted institution in the United States today is the U.S. Military with 45% of respondents saying they have a “great deal” of confidence and another 26% saying that they have “quite a lot” of confidence. Now, who do you think comes in second?
The President? Not even close. Bush is actually in the middle of the pack with 13% in each rating category. He ranks just below banks (11% and 21%) and right above television news (11% and 13%). How about the Congress? With a mere 6% in each rating category, our loudest branch of government sits dead last in the rankings, right behind health maintenance organizations, which squeak ahead of Ried and Pelosi’s Flying Circus with 6% and 7% respectively. There is always the Supreme Court, of course, the branch that’s supposed to keep the other two from running amok. While they do better than the other two at 13% and 19%, it is hardly a stellar performance. Still, it is better than the criminal justice system as a whole, which lurks down in Congress’ neighborhood with ratings of 8% and 12%. This is right below organized labor (10% and 10%) and right above big business (7% and 13%).
That is right, big business-the big box retailers, the major corporations, the multinational conglomerates-all rank lower when it comes to instilling confidence in the American people than organized labor and a criminal justice system that critics say is cumbersome, racist and rarely, if ever, truly just. The only ones lower on the list are HMOs and Congress!
Small Business On The List
The second rank in Gallop’s Annual Update on Confidence in Institutions is held by-you guessed it-small business. According to the pollsters:
Americans express the most confidence in the military, as they have each year since 1988 (with the exception of 1997, when small business edged it out). Small business ranks second in the current poll, just ahead of the police. These are the only three institutions that for whom a majority of Americans express a high degree of confidence.
What does that say to you, that the only institutions that instill a high degree of confidence are the military, small business and the police? To me, it is a signal that these three institutions are the only ones that provide any real security to Americans. They beat out religion (26% and 22%), the Public Schools (16% and 17%) and everything else. It is easy to understand the military and the police being at the top, but why small business?
Small business is there because it provides stability to neighborhoods and is the anchor of small towns everywhere. Small business is built on relationships between neighbors rather than the much more distant and certainly less satisfying customer-vendor relationship one has with a Best Buy or a Wal-Mart. Small Businesses are where you can get help when you need it, knowledgeable sales people and the attention of the business owner-frequently all wrapped up in the same person. More than that, it is small business that contributes to the community it serves through the jobs it creates, the community participation it offers and the taxes it pays.
Contrast that with the big box retailers and others that are putting so many small businesses out of business. They come into an area offering jobs-nothing wrong with that-but with such low wages and impossibly expensive health benefits that their employees often need public assistance just to make it. Do these companies pay taxes that would then go to support that public assistance? Not usually. In fact, it is more usual for them to get massive tax breaks and even subsidies to induce them to set-up shop. What’s worse is that once these entities are established, they undercut local small businesses and put them out of business while pulling money out of the local economy and sending it to other places in the country or even overseas.
The Bottom Line
At the beginning of the 18th century, that process of aggressively pulling wealth from one place or country for the benefit of another was called Mercantilism. This practice of nationalistic “beggar thy neighbor” was considered a form of economic warfare between nations. Now, with the big-box retailers shuttering so many small local businesses and turning once-thriving downtowns across the country into ghost towns, we are doing it to ourselves and have only ourselves to blame.