What is the business of America? At his Congressional hear- ing for appointment as President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense
in 1953, General Motors CEO Charles
Wilson told the Senate that “for years” he
thought that “what was good for General
Motors was good for America.” Considering the world situation at the time (the
Korean War) he wasn’t so sure.
Undoubtedly, many readers of this
column will be quick to suggest that the
business of our nation is business, which
affects everything from health to politics.
When Moses came down Mount Saini
with the Ten Commandments, he found
his people worshiping a golden calf. Today that calf has grown up and many worship a golden bull…market.
We follow the Dow religiously, and
cheer when it, the NASDAQ or S&P 500
reach new records. My first journalism
job was with The Wall Street Journal;
during an economic slump, we made wa-
gers on the number of new “lows” each
day. Today, there are numerous cable
channels that do nothing but cover busi-
ness day and night. Some shows feature
various aspects of business deals, the in-
vestors, speculators and the would-be en-
trepreneurs. We seem drawn to numbers
like moths to the lacy curtains nearest a
Toward the middle of the 19th century,
many Americans might have proclaimed
the most important business in America
was agriculture and industries that relied
on farming, including manufacturers of
farm equipment, the railroads, granaries
and seed or fertilizer companies. Then the
Industrial Revolution claimed more of our
cities, industrial manufacturing became
the primary “business” of America.
We made steel and automobiles, locomotives and airplanes, not to mention
ships that moved America’s goods around
the world. This created the need for new
businesses, including energy, advertising,
marketing, wholesale and retail. By the
21st century, agriculture and manufac-
Those curious Ten
turing had globalized and outsourced,
putting a crimp on manufacturing and
energy. The Atomic Age became the Age
of Technology and Information. “Data”
was a new product, and the means of em-
ployment became computers.
Marketing and advertising lead us to
violate the last of the Big Ten – covet-ness! If we don’t covet the latest model of
car, new prescription, kitchen gadget or
other products, businesses fail. We see it,
we want it! The Declaration of Independence suggests the goal is “the pursuit of
happiness.” Maybe happiness is America’s business?
The Iconoclast’s choice: Risk
There is one business that seems primary
not only in America, but worldwide.
It is the business of “risk,” defined not
only as “the chance of loss,” but also as
the “chance of gain.” Entrepreneurs risk
their own, a bank’s or investor’s money
starting new businesses. A certain percentage will strike it rich, while others
will go bankrupt. They may try again
and be successful.
Those of us in the claims business deal
with risk where “loss” is the only option.
Under the principle of indemnification,
one cannot profit from loss, at least one
should not, if adjusters stick to the concept of fairness and actual cash value.
Look how many industries risk supports:
doctors and hospitals, auto body shops,
home repair and construction, the need
to fix and maintain damaged infrastructure. There’s no Dow Index on risk, but
maybe there should be. It’s a big part of
the Gross Domestic Product.
Ken Brownlee, CPCU, (kenbrownlee@
msn.com) is a former adjuster and risk
manager based in Atlanta, Ga. He now
authors and edits claims-adjusting
textbooks. Opinions expressed are the