05 Apr Public Enemy: Lamprey Nation and Small Business by D. Creighton
Publisher’s Note: D. and I are friends and he has been an entrepreneur and a businessman for more than three decades. He speaks from a lifetime of dealing with the other enemy – smaller government. I did not say limited government since that does not exist. I am referring to the smaller brother of the state and federal government, local government. We live in and near a town that sees its fellow citizens in commerce not as neighbors and friends but simply yet another victim to be mugged by their infernal system of tax and regulatory oppression to fund their rather luxurious existence and push people around to refuse to comply. One of my other business associates tells me that nearly sixty cents of every dollar in revenue is vacuumed up by some level of government and, by the way, he is not even reimbursed for his collection services for various state Mafiosi. Both major parties in America from local to federal levels of government are friends of big business and the mortal enemy of the small business. As Bastiat said: “The state is the great fiction by which one group of people live at the expense of another.”
*The lamprey is the curious fish that lives attached to its host until death do they part. -BB
“The politicians say ‘we’ can’t afford a tax cut. Maybe we can’t afford the politicians.”
I sit on the board of the Economic Development Foundation which receives $139,000 annually from the citizens of “the city”. The current mayor sits on that board as a liaison to the city. During one of our meetings the director of the EDF said she was going to be more proactive in linking the city to the existing business community in order to assess how the city could be of assistance. I chuckled and when the mayor inquired as to what I found amusing I said that in the 35 years I have been in business in this city I have never once been approached by anyone associated with the city with an offer to help with anything. He turned to me, smiled, and asked what the city could do for me. I told him I would get back to him since I had never even considered the possibility of engaging with them for assistance, but considered only how I could avoid their wrath over the years. Frankly I still don’t know how they can help other than to get out of the way since my only experience with them has been that they simply do not have the tools to do anything productive, only to hinder any effort my business is working its way through.
Business and government are philosophically at odds since the primary function of business is to generate a profit and the overarching function of government is to relieve them of as much of that profit as they can get away with through threats and extortion in order to provide goods and services at a cost obscenely exceeding the cost a private enterprise could accomplish the same goals for. The mindsets required to achieve these mutually exclusive goals are as different as those of Muslim and Christian fundamentalists. You can explain the different rationales until you are blue in the face and you will receive nothing but blank stares for your efforts from either side.
Business people perceive government workers as mindless automatons with nothing better to occupy their time with than the calculation of their benefit packages and number of days until retirement and business people are grateful for that mindset in that anything government employees do that deviates from that will cost them money and time to no benefit and most likely with bad unintended consequences. Conversely, government employees see the business community as plunderers of everyone they can reach with no regard for the masses. In all fairness, that’s pretty close to the goals of US financial institutions which are now raking over 1/3 of all corporate profits off the table for adding no perceptible value to the economy, but that perception has absolutely nothing to do with the local economy or local business relations in this community.
When a business wants to relocate or do a start-up in any city they engage with the local government because they have to. They assume the relationship will be a painful and expensive one because that’s how it generally works. The business doesn’t want to spend any more capital, human or otherwise, engaged with any part of the government than is absolutely necessary so they suffer through it. The attitude in this town is to see how much they can extract from this helpless enterprise before they cry ‘uncle’ and either move on or comply. This has lead to an atmosphere of fear on the part of smaller business to expand and has had the effect of driving bigger businesses on to greener pastures. The city will vehemently deny this, but I would testify under oath in any court in the land as to the veracity of this claim.
This city is of the belief that in order to build the perfect city for today and the future, they must be as rigid as possible. This goes back to the basic misunderstanding of the evolutionary character of business. Business is about creativity and speed of reaction (folks, we have a problem. Let’s get it fixed before we open that front door for business today!). Government is about being as slow moving and hidebound as is possible without imploding too quickly (folks, whatever you do today be sure you incur no liability on behalf of this city and be sure all of us make it to our retirement day with our full benefit packages intact!).
When negotiating with the city they will always ask for the impossible because money means nothing to someone who is spending someone else’s. They call their demands “The cost of doing business”. I call them “The cost of pointless bureaucracy”. If you react as any sane person would by telling them they are out of line in their request, they will buckle. The less informed business person will probably give up, thinking the government is powerful enough to smash their dream, not knowing they are negotiating with someone who is on a fools’ errand.
The city, on the other hand, will give away the farm to a bigger national enterprise because they feel intimidated and out of their league when negotiating with them. This leads to the accurate perception that the city is sophomoric, amateurish, unfriendly and uncoordinated in their efforts related to small business. The attitude should be to impose as few demands upon businesses as is possible in order to build as prosperous and diverse a business community as possible since that is a defining element of a successful city, where instead they seem to want to unrelentingly show who’s boss. I have told them they are driving themselves into irrelevance in their relationships with businesses by not making any attempt to understand and appreciate their value to the community, but they see themselves as so big and bad the health and well being of the business community just doesn’t matter. Granted, the Fort is the elephant in the room when it comes to our local economy and none of us would be here without them, but who do we suppose hasn’t set up shop here to make this the kind of community our children want to return to after leaving to be educated elsewhere?
“To force a man to pay for the violation of his own liberty is indeed an addition of insult to injury.”