Richard Turnbull: The ‘elites’ have lost confidence in the market

60 per cent of business leaders and, indeed, 75 per cent of leaders in larger businesses, think profit is incompatible with a society in which people are happy. Incompatible. The figure for the general public is just 37 per cent. Similar percentages of business leaders think business should be taxed more and executives are paid too much.

According to British Religion in Numbers around 2.5 million were attending church in 2015, a considerable number. A mere 30 per cent of church leaders think that employers care about their employees, 75 per cent think business leaders are paid too much, and only 30 per cent trust multi-national enterprises. For the committed flock these results are 56 per cent, 65 per cent and 73 per cent respectively, some enormous differences. The numbers don’t improve when we consider society and taxation. There are surprisingly high levels of support for high taxation as a way of achieving a fairer society, Universal Basic Income, reliance on government grants to support entrepreneurs amongst both business leaders and church leaders.

In essence our national establishment and elites have lost their conviction in the market economy and power of business for economic well-being. They have lost confidence in the nation as a place to do business, the role of profit, competition, incentive and innovation. They are, however, out of touch, with the general public and with the committed in the pews.

This is the result of polling conducted for the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics. Savanta ComRes polled six audiences between 10th May 2021 and 5th August 2021 to secure their findings: the general public, regular churchgoers, business leaders, Muslim and Jewish people, and Church leaders. They also conducted in-depth interviews between 10th May 2021 and 5th August 2021 with ten Anglican and Catholic bishops. The total sample size was just short of 3,500 people.

The business community seem less supportive of the market than the general public on just about every metric. Perhaps business leaders are actually out of touch with the public, the people who actually buy the goods and services they produce?

They certainly are on the headline topics. 60 per cent of business leaders may think profit is not compatible with a society in which people are happy, but only 37 per cent of the general public agree. There are also gaps on corporate tax, executive pay, political campaigning and even pay ratios (public less interested than business leaders). The results also show that those who preach to the flock hold opinions on business and enterprise, tax and society far removed from those who listen in the pews, if they are still listening. Perhaps the faithful are more in touch with God?

According to the polling 51 per cent of church leaders viewed higher taxation as a better way of achieving a fairer society than lower taxation. This is probably predictable as nobody really seems to make the case for a low-tax economy today. Perhaps the case needs to be made afresh? There would certainly be an open door among the faithful; only 34 per cent of weekly churchgoers had the same rose-tinted view of high taxation as the clergy.

Committed churchgoers – defined as those who attend weekly – have a considerably more positive view of business and the market economy than those who lead them and teach them on matters ranging from trusting multinational and employers caring about employees.

Disturbingly there seems to be among clergy a loss of confidence not only in many aspects of the market economy but also in the nation itself. In response to the question whether Britain was an attractive place to do business only 46 per cent of the church leaders thought so, compared to 66 per cent of the congregation members.

What has led to our national elites losing such confidence in the power of enterprise and the market? What has happened to our business leadership that might lead to this extraordinary state of affairs?

The idea of a competitive market with reward and incentive for risk and innovation producing the goods and services which the public demand has drifted onto the back-burner, accompanied by increasing reliance on government. But if those who are at the heart of enterprise don’t really believe in what they are doing the implications for both the economy and society are enormous. And those who preach to millions of the flock Sunday by Sunday a message is being preached that is not believed by most of its recipients.

What lessons can we learn?

First, business should focus on business. The idea of the business enterprise is to produce goods and services in a competitive market. The high ideals of quality, innovation and new ideas lie at the heart of an enterprise-focussed economy. Perhaps this type of innovation will be what contributes to solving environmental and climate challenges rather than big government?

Second, we must again advocate for a market economy, with thriving businesses and a flourishing society. We need to restore confidence in the market and enterprise, promote business independence and less reliance on the role of government and high taxation. And we need to restore confidence in Britain as a place for business.

Third, make no assumptions. We cannot assume that the case for the market is a given, not even in the business community. We need more business advocates. The case must be made again for a market economy, amongst all-ages, for if we do not, the idea of a high-wage, low tax economy will be for the birds by default.

An effective market economy requires thriving businesses and flourishing participants in the market. Profit is not a dirty word, rather it is an essential component of economic well-being. Competition is good. We must promote business independence, less reliance on government and the growth and innovation that flows from lower, not higher levels of taxation. We need to promote Britain as a great place for business and learn the lessons before we lose the case for the market without noticing. The public understand that need. So too do the flock.


This was first published on Comment Central.

Richard%20Turnbullweb#1# (2)Dr Richard Turnbull is the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics (CEME). For more information about Richard please click here.