Capitalism, No. Free Enterprise, Yes
To combat what it views as rapid government growth and attacks on business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching a multiyear campaign to remind Americans of the virtues of a free market and free trade. But don't expect the campaign, which could cost as much as $100 million, to praise "capitalism" or "risk taking." Or to criticize "protectionism."
It's not that the Chamber, which represents 3 million organizations, has gone squishy on its core values. The group just wants its message to resonate with the public. And reactions to these terms by focus groups in Jacksonville, Fla., and Philadelphia suggest it would be best to omit them. " 'Capitalism' was universally problematic," says Chamber spokeswoman Tita Freeman. Adds Rich Thau, president of New York-based Presentation Testing, which ran the focus groups: "There were those who associated 'capitalism' with greed and with the powerful dominating the vulnerable." But those negatives, he says, didn't apply at all to "free enterprise." (For now, the Chamber's multimedia offensive, which starts officially in October, is called the Campaign for Free Enterprise.)
As for "risk-taking," which has been promoted in the Chamber's press materials, "it was at the bottom of the pile," says Freeman. "We found the average American doesn't like the idea of businesses taking risks. They think of a casino and someone throwing the dice." And "protectionism," which the Chamber opposes? In an earlier round of tests, people approvingly linked the word with a general sense of being "protected," says Thomas Donohue, the Chamber's president and CEO. (The campaign may instead inveigh against "isolationism.")
To test the various terms, Thau convened separate focus groups of Obama voters, McCain voters, and small business owners. The responses were quite similar across all three categories, he says. What surprised him most? "The number of people who associated 'capitalism' with increased government involvement in business. I'm still puzzling over that one."
Have Job? We'll Travel
Just how bad is the job market? Here's one indication: Unemployed Americans, who have largely been staying put as houses languish on the market or sell at a loss, are now relocating at the highest rate since 2006. More than 18% of people who found employment in this year's second quarter moved to get the job, says outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That's up from 11% a year earlier. Most of those picking up stakes "basically have no choice," says John Challenger, the firm's CEO. With nationwide unemployment at more than 9%, people are using the Web, he says, to find jobs in parts of the country that are less hard hit—a trend that's likely to continue for months.
Get Sick, Visit Japan
Could Japan become a destination for medical tourists? Japanese hospitals and clinics, which rely mainly on national health insurance payouts, are struggling. So to beef up health-care revenues, the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry plans to lure wealthy patients from nearby Asian nations, as well as Russia, says Koji Fujimoto, METI's service-industry director. As a first step, 10 of the country's biggest hospitals will team up with travel agencies and translation services to offer tour packages combining checkups with sightseeing. The one- to two-year pilot, to start in September, is expected to cost about $1 million. (No word yet on what tourists will be charged.)
It won't be easy to attract overseas patients. India, Singapore, and Thailand are already popular destinations for Americans and Europeans looking for specialized procedures at low prices Japan can't match. But the ministry has identified some niches—cancer treatments, gene analysis, and other high-tech services—not offered by some other countries. And Japan's reputation for safety, cleanliness, and pampering may help. Will all that be enough to overcome other hurdles—the country's shortage of doctors, for instance? Ruben Toral, president of the International Medical Travel Assn., says Japan's medical tourism plan needs more focus. His recommendation, given the population's longevity: anti-aging therapies.
A Record Revenue Decline
Investors pushed stocks up by more than 7% in July, reacting to second-quarter earnings as roughly 75% of companies in the S&P 500 index beat expectations. But the news on corporate revenues isn't good since the earnings rose mostly because of cost cuts, not new business. With nearly 80% of the S&P 500 companies reporting results as of Aug. 4, combined second-quarter sales fell about 17% year-over-year. This marks the first time since S&P started tracking quarterly revenues (in 1993) that revenues dipped 10% or more for three quarters in a row (see chart, right). Cost-cutting is a corporate version of the paradox of thrift, says Dirk van Kijk, chief equities strategist at Zacks Investment Research. It helps individual companies but creates "more economic weakness."