End of an affair?

Spotlight on Corporate Governance
OECD Observer

An opinion poll in BusinessWeek magazine shows half of the US believing that what is good for business is not necessarily good for their country. Hardly surprising, you might think – except that the poll was carried out over two years ago, before the high-tech bubble burst and well before the recent corporate scandals. And the fact that the opinion poll was in one of the US’s main pro-business magazines meant that the results simply had to be taken seriously.

They were also quite unexpected. The BusinessWeek poll was wide-ranging, with respondents asked to agree or disagree with several given statements. The one that made the headlines was simple: in general, what is good for business is good for most Americans. Some 47% of respondents agreed with that statement, but 49% disagreed. This was much more negative than the previous poll conducted in 1996, when just 28% felt their interests and those of business were not necessarily the same. Another finding to ruffle corporate plumes in the 2000 survey was that 72% of respondents agreed that business had gained too much power over too many aspects of American life.

It was not all bad news for corporate America. Indeed, 68% of respondents agreed that American business should be given most of the credit for the prosperity that prevailed during most of the 1990s. However, one question might make worse reading if the poll was conducted today: when asked how much confidence they had in those running big business, only 19% had a lot of confidence, though as many as 58% had at least some.

Opinion polls have their limits, though the BusinessWeek survey at least suggests that, probably because of a backlash against globalisation as demonstrated at Seattle in 1999, the public image of corporate America was looking tarnished well before the scandals that erupted at Andersen, Enron and elsewhere. These scandals appear to have transformed that disillusion into a crisis of confidence.

Is it the end of the affair between America’s public and its business world? Probably not, though a more demanding public will mean the relationship may never be quite the same again. There is a coincidental footnote to add to this story: the issue of BusinessWeek in which this rather astonishing opinion poll appeared was dated 11 September, 2000.

• "Business Week/Harris Poll: How Business Rates: By the Numbers" in BusinessWeek, 11 September, 2000.

©OECD Observer No 234, October 2002

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email Observer@OECD.org

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2019