Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference > A Conversation With Suzanne P. Clark

A Conversation With Suzanne P. Clark

May 29, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Capitalism has played a crucial role in lifting millions of people out of extreme poverty and is considered the best option for solving societal problems on a large scale.
  • While the state of American business may feel optimistic overall, there are still threats to free enterprise, such as misinformation from adversaries, public policy risks, and excessive regulations.
  • It is important for government to have a strong and effective role in certain areas, but when they overstep their authority, it can harm businesses and hinder growth and innovation.


Good or Bad: The Role Capitalism Plays in Humanity

According to Clark, capitalism has lifted more than 70% of the world’s population out of extreme poverty.

“If you look at Bono – and I’m paraphrasing – he said, ‘foreign aid is a band-aid, but free enterprise is a cure,’” she said. “You really don’t have to go much further than Detroit. Look at what has happened with business investment, what that means to a community, what a job means to a community, what it means to health outcomes, what it means to environmental outcomes.”

Clark cautions not to think of capitalism as a perfect system. Instead, consider it an evolving system that is the best option available.

“As a society, we expect business to solve a lot of big problems at scale,” she said. “That only happens if you have a free enterprise system.”

The State of American Business

Earlier this year at the U.S. Chamber’s premier annual event, Clark said the State of American Business is optimistic. In today’s media and political environments, that might seem surprising, but Clark insisted on keeping a positive attitude, just as many business owners have to be in their own endeavors.

“The state of American business feels optimistic,” Clark said. “I think it has to be optimistic. None of you flip open a sign on your door and think no customers are coming or make the next hire and think, ‘I don’t have anything for them to do anyway.’ The idea of investing in a business to start with means that you’re somewhat optimistic.”

She cited the 5.5. billion new businesses that started in America last year as a testament to this optimism. Despite that positive number, Clark believes there is still secondhand pessimism lingering.

“People feel optimistic about their own business but not necessarily about the overall economy,” she said. “There is that dichotomy that we face a lot.”

Threats to Free Enterprise

One major threat to free enterprise in the U.S. is our adversaries, according to Clark.

“There are well-funded foundations … to try to come up with a new economic model for the United States,” she said. “They’re funding journalists to write negative stories about capitalism; they’re funding academics. And our adversaries are using misinformation tools to really make us feel ever more polarized than we are.”

Public policy risk is another threat to free enterprise, as the U.S. Chamber has found in a recent study that examined the S&P 500 and every risk it listed over a decade. The results found that some of the U.S.’s biggest businesses were increasingly concerned by the growing risk of public policy, which was up by a third.

“It’s why what you do in Detroit, what we do together at the national level, is so important because of public policy risk. Risk from your own government is really dangerous for business,” Clark said. “And it’s dangerous mostly because of the uncertainty.”

The uncertainty harms businesses by making it difficult for them to plan and invest in the long term. In addition, excessive regulations and taxes can weigh down companies, stifling growth, and innovation.

The last risk Clark talked about is regulatory, and how “there is so much that we need … a strong, effective, and smart government to do [but] when government starts doing things that they don’t have the authority to do when they want to be experts on everything like running your business, the U.S. Chamber will step in to stop them.”

This session was sponsored by Ford Motor Company.