Policies proposed by politicians naturally reflect such attitudes. Democrats and Republicans compete to offer tax cuts and credits for small businesses that may not be available to larger competitors. Though lawmakers in both parties advocate a corporate-tax rate cut, many vow to resist until small businesses that file their taxes through the individual tax code are also included in the benefits.
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The new health-care law's mandate that employers offer health coverage doesn't apply to businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Small business that want to offer it anyway have a special marketplace "exchange" offering lower group-purchasing rates.
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One underlying cause of the embrace of small business is the routine assertion that small businesses are responsible for two-thirds of job creation. Some economists argue that statistic exaggerates the importance of small business in the economy, since that's a "net" figure that obscures the constant churn that destroys as well as creates jobs in small business. They also note the superior pay and benefits that large companies offer workers.
But don't expect the American public or the politicians who represent them to note that fact very loudly or espouse the merits of corporate executives anytime soon.
In the Public Religion Research Institute's American Values Survey last year, 41 percent agreed that "business corporations generally strike a fair balance between making profits and serving the public interest." A 53 percent majority disagreed.
—By John Harwood, CNBC's chief Washington correspondent