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Most businesses need to register with a state government to operate. Corporations need a charter, and other forms of businesses, such as limited liability companies or partnerships, need other forms of registration. The function of this registration is usually to define the financial liability the owners of the company have. It limits their risk to the amount they have invested in that particular organization. Registration also allows the government to monitor companies to execute its other functions in the business world.
Businesses contract with other businesses. These contracts may be complex, such as mergers, or they may be as simple as a warranty on supplies purchased. The government enforces these contracts. Companies bring one another to court just as individuals do. An oral agreement can constitute a contract, but usually only a written agreement is provable. If one party fails or refuses to meet its obligation under a contract, a company will turn to the legal system for enforcement.
The government’s role in business includes protecting the consumer or customer. When a vendor fails to honor the guarantee, the purchaser has recourse in the law. Likewise, when a product causes harm to an individual, the courts may hold the vendor or manufacturer responsible. Labeling is another requirement the government imposes on marketers. Many foods, for example, must display nutritional content on the packaging. The government has been making advances in consumer rights for decades. However, the consumer movement still needs considerable development to protect the public.
Many state and federal agencies work to protect the rights of employees. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration, for example, is an agency under the Department of Labor. Its mission is to ensure a safe and healthful work environment. The Equal Opportunity Commission protects employees from discrimination.
When a marketing transaction impacts a third party–others besides the marketer and purchaser–the effect is called an “externality.” The third party is often the environment. Thus, it is the government’s role to regulate industry and thereby protect the public from environmental externalities. Whether the government is effective in this role is a matter of much discussion. The Gulf oil spill of 2010 has been cited as evidence of lax oversight.
Governments at all levels tax businesses, and the resulting revenue is an important part of government budgets. Some revenue is taxed at the corporate level, then taxed as personal income when distributed as dividends. This is in no way inappropriate, since it balances the tax burden between the company and individual and allows the government to tax more equitably.
Government mandates that companies make financial information public, thereby protecting the rights of investors and facilitating further investment. This is generally done through filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Whether federal regulation has been adequate is a matter of much debate.