November 20, 2009
Entrepreneurs Go on StrikeBy C. Edmund Wright
Can Barney Frank Dunk on Lebron? No, he cannot. Nor can anyone else in Washington. Nor can they catch passes from Ben Rothlisberger in the Super Bowl or strike out Derek Jeter in the World Series. They are not equipped to do so.
This ridiculous image speaks to the business malaise infecting the economy since Obama took office. The point is that politicians are equally ill-equipped to run the auto industry or the health industry or the lending industry or the insurance industry -- and their determination to do so is sucking all the dynamism from the entrepreneurial class in this country.
With the threat of this administration and congress, what is the possible motivation for anyone with ideas and capital to invest his time, talent, and money into a risky endeavor? There appears to be none. In fact, there appear to be powerful incentives not to invest any time or treasure -- thus an economy with almost zero creative inertia.
For Obama voters, almost zero creative inertia means almost no one is having bright ideas, starting businesses based on them, and hiring employees to help share the dream.
Consider: A professional sports league featuring Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, and Robert Byrd is not an enterprise that can successfully draw investors or paying customers, nor will it command media attention as anything resembling excellence. The entrepreneurial class in this country looks at the governing class in Washington today and sees a bunch of misfit incompetents who are determined to play starring roles in every nook and cranny of the economy.
And it is repulsive as well as disheartening. Maybe three of the 535 members of Congress have what it takes to keep a small business alive for a single fiscal quarter. We believe even fewer have what it takes to roll the dice and actually start one.
Yet they continue to pass laws and speak to reporters about all they are doing to create or save jobs. Yeah, right.
To people who are supercharged with the entrepreneurial spirit, the idea that the pudgy, bespectacled congressman -- a self-described non-outdoorsman -- could properly run an industry is just as outlandish as the idea that he could elevate over and "posterize" Lebron or Kobe. Taking risks and investing blood, sweat, and tears into a business that will -- should it become successful -- fall under the strict supervision of Washingtonians is simply a non-starter.
Any business idea, from the first day it is hatched, is nothing more than a series of cost-benefit analyses that the idea-holder either acts on or passes. Sometimes the first decision is to forget the idea. Sometimes the first decision is to move ahead and invest some cash. Perhaps a few million cost-benefit analyses later you might have Microsoft or Home Depot or ESPN. Or you might have Bill's Plumbing or Johnson's Quality Homes or a café or an electrical wholesaler, and so on. And those businesses still operate on a constant stream of risk-reward decisions. In the business world, there is no neutral gear.
This is the American dream. And it is being killed daily because there are few opportunities worth the risk anymore, thanks to Washington. Whether the Congress or the administration will infuse themselves directly into a given industry is not the only point. When government arrogantly claims it can perform impossible slam dunks in the banking industry, the auto industry, the insurance industry, and the medical industry, all the while imposing confiscatory taxes, there is almost nowhere to escape them in any legitimate business.
Businesses need professionals in banking, lending, insurance, and accounting to depend on, and we know now that whomever we hire in these areas will be under the government's thumb. Of course, paying customers are needed as well, and with government causing huge cracks in foundational sectors like housing, lending, and manufacturing, a reliable employed customer base is becoming harder and harder to maintain, much less find..
For many decades, the American dream has been undergirded by the faith that regardless of its current state, the economy would come back around thanks to the greatness of ordinary people being free to do extraordinary things. Thus the bold gunslinger mentality many business owners have had in previous recessions, refusing to participate, and even expanding cheaply to grab market share in the next recovery.
But it's different now, and there is no denying it. The dream itself is being killed by legal and regulatory micromanagement. Washington is determined to employ policies to cure something that can be cured only by government getting the hell out of the way.
A small business summit in the White House will accomplish nothing unless the invitees include unions and lawyers and bureaucrats, in which case it will be devastating. When did a union or a lawyer or a bureaucrat ever start a business? How many times a day do they kill one?
And that's the climate entrepreneurs see. Unions, lawyers, and bureaucrats gain more power and leverage every day. The big opportunity now is to spend government money: an eighteen-million-dollar government contract to create an awful Recovery.org website, SEIU union jobs in ObamaCare, bankruptcy lawyers, and perhaps carbon credit trades coming. There are ACORN-style crony contracts to be had, not to mention all the jobs created by the David Axelrod astroturfing media escapades. If you are connected or if your dream is to enrich yourself by killing the dreams of others, then the field is ripe for you.
But if you simply want to live some iteration of building a better mousetrap, this is not currently the country for you. And entrepreneurs can sense it. This is not about tax policy. It is not about health care. It is not about cap-and-trade. These are all terrible and need to be stopped, but most importantly, the dying American dream is in trouble. We now have a class of people in Washington now that will relentlessly pursue these ruinous initiatives, and a never-ending stream of similarly un-American agendas, until they are removed from power.
The businessmen are under attack, and they know it. This kind of economy cannot work -- not until pigs fly, or until Barney Frank dunks on Lebron James.