FORTUNE — “You didn’t build that.” “Corporations aren’t people.” With the first, a revealing gaffe, and the second, a wildly cheered campaign refrain, one party has certainly made it clear how it feels about American business these days.
Well — big surprise — we don’t agree. Business can’t operate unfettered, of course, without any form of oversight or control. But in our view, business is a source of great good for society, with the power to create hope and opportunity like no other institution going.
Indeed, the positives so outweigh the negatives that lately we’ve been trying to identify why some people hate business so fervently. After all, the risks of this movement’s efforts to demonize business are frighteningly high.
Here’s where we’ve landed. First, there’s clearly a group of people who disdain business because they support some or all of the fundamental leveling tenets of socialism. This ideology is too multifaceted to summarize here, but suffice it to say that its adherents believe, as the President once put it, “You’ve got to spread the wealth around.”
Then there are people who hate business not because of ideology but because of personal experience — they’ve been wrongly fired, endured a dreadful boss. These individuals see business as a place where good people get burned.
For still others, their hostility derives from the recent financial meltdown, when the sheer negligence of many financial institutions and rating agencies, they believe, resulted in blameless Americans losing their jobs and homes and threatened to bring down the entire economy.
Finally, and perhaps most pernicious because of its outsize influence, is the hostility toward business that radiates from the intellectual elite — the opinion leaders in journalism, academia, and government. To them, business is rotten because it’s just so completely unfair. Otherwise, how do you explain the success of the party animal who lived down the hall in college?
You know what we mean. You have a group of people who once took their studies very seriously and protested for social justice in their free time. After graduation, they took jobs where they felt they could fight the good fight. That was all well and good until 10 or 15 years out, when they started hearing stories about the obnoxious loudmouths who majored in playing the angles and minored in beer pong. These “lightweights” (in their view) had struck it rich on Wall Street. And not by making the world a better place. No — simply by showing up and chumming around.
Okay, so maybe that is enough to make you hate business. Except you shouldn’t. First of all, even if Wall Street shows up in movies and on TV as the archetype, far more of U.S. business comprises consumer and manufacturing companies making and selling real stuff, family-run enterprises, startups, farms, corner stores — you name it. American business is what America does every day.
But just as important, you shouldn’t vilify American business, since it’s our only road back to a thriving country. Everyone knows that our economy must improve, but it can improve only in an environment that encourages business — and, yes, even loves it. Atmosphere matters. When hostility reigns, big enterprises worry about the regulations coming down the pike, and most hunker down on the capital-spending front, human and otherwise. Entrepreneurs worry it’s not the right time to expand.
Look, if you want jobs — and who doesn’t? — you have to come to terms with reality. Hating business doesn’t just hurt business.
It destroys the way forward for everyone.
This story is from the October 8, 2012 issue of Fortune.