As we approach the upcoming midterm elections it has occurred to me that the best thing the United States could do for its short term and long term prosperity would be to declare itself “open for business.” Big cities like Chicago and New York could also help themselves immensely if they did the same.
For many decades we were a country where small entrepreneurs went about building their dreams, making mostly common sense decisions. They viewed government as a partner in their enterprise, providing a beat cop to deter crime, and building infrastructure such as roads, street lights, and water works. They did not look to government for their livelihood or for handouts, but in return they faced little regulation or hindrance from government.
Today if you ask a typical business owner if government is a “partner” or a “hindrance”
to business, the vast majority will view government as a hindrance; even a terrible force that squashes business activity with a vengeance. In fact, there are literally millions of small business owners that cower at the thought of receiving a letter from the IRS or even the local building or restaurant inspector. Official government correspondence is almost always bad news to a small business owner and potentially ruinous for their livelihoods and dreams.
I was in a major US city the other day talking to a businesswoman who had attended some zoning hearings at city hall. Before her case came up she witnessed several small business owners plead their cases to the commissioners. A Korean couple (both citizens of the United States) had owned and operated a restaurant for years, eking out a living to support their children and aging parents. All of a sudden they were told that the parking lot adjacent to their restaurant had to be fenced; with city-approved construction techniques. It was going to cost them $40,000 to complete this task; an amount that they could not afford. There was no good reason (safety or otherwise) to fence the lot, except that the code required it. The city had been hounding them for years, forcing them to hire a lawyer. Despite the fact that this fencing expenditure would drive them out of business, the city was relentless. The commission voted unanimously not to give them a variance. One commissioner said, “If you’re going to run a business in this town you’ve got to obey the law.” The couple was so stressed and distraught after this decision you would have thought that they had been convicted of tainting milk in China. In the course of an hour, my friend witnessed several business owners attempt to get exemptions from onerous and expensive regulations; all to no avail.
No one was successful that afternoon in their cases pleaded before city-paid commissioners and lawyers. When one businessman became upset with the commission’s decision, one of the city lawyers threatened to call city inspectors to look into other businesses he owned. The guy backed off like a gun had been pointed at his head. In reality, it had.
It is easy for government employees and government staff members to act like thugs; they are paid by the taxpayers. They’re not entrepreneurs; in fact they’d never survive in the business world. Furthermore, they don’t understand in the least what it takes to run a successful business. The business owners they harass are forced to pay these bureaucrats’ salaries. It doesn’t bother these government employees if they run someone out of business and squash their dreams.
In Washington DC the harassment is more wide spread with job-killing anti business regulations, crushing taxes, and ridiculous mandates seriously dampening business prosperity over the entire US economy. The arrogance of these government bureaucrats is not only unfortunate, it is contemptuous and ruinous.
The only way to breathe life into our local, state, and national economies is for us again become “open for business”. Regulations need to be scaled down and local officials need to interfere with business owners only in the case where the safety of the public is actually (not potentially) threatened. This will only happen when we stop electing slick lawyers to run the country and instead elect politicians who have worked in or established real businesses.