Recently, Forbes Small Business magazine convened a meeting to poll some of its readers on how they felt George Bush has done with regard to small business. They rated him highly for his efforts to end estate taxation and for dismantling a Clinton proposal that would have forced small-business owners to comply with expensive and unnecessary OSHA regulations — but rated him poorly for dismantling certain government programs: grants, loans, and other giveaways for small businesses that can’t get financing and help in conventional ways. That reaction is inconsistent. They liked smaller government when it meant less costly regulations but not when it came to giving up giveaways. That’s not just self-centered; it’s self-destructive.
When you accept a handout, you are admitting to a weakness. If you take handouts for any length of time, you definitely become weaker. I don’t like handouts, and I don’t want the government’s help in my business. I like to think that I can do things for myself. Yes, the government has to play a role in business. We need some government to ensure a certain amount of fair dealing, to protect customers from fraud and danger, and to settle disputes. But we don’t need a lot of it — just enough to deter us from harming one another and to help us settle disputes when harm is done.
When it comes to regulating businesses, deterrence of wrongdoing and adjudication are the legitimate purposes of government. As a businessman, I don’t like restrictions. They limit my growth and complicate my dealings. Most of the time, they are inept and costly. Too seldom, I’m sorry to say, they cause problems that are worse than those they attempt to solve. As an individual, I sometimes favor them — usually when they restrict someone else from doing something I wouldn’t think of doing. But these Forbes guys — they want regulations in place that give handouts to businesses.
As if handouts were ever any good for free enterprise. It’s bad business theory, and it contradicts experience. When people get easy money for faulty business ideas, you end up with bankrupt businesses, disappointed people, and wasted resources. Governments shouldn’t be in the business-boosting business. That’s what banks and entrepreneurs are for. When private money makes a loan, it makes it on the basis of some important realities: mostly, will the business work?
When government gets into the act, it tends to fund businesses for other reasons: not enough women plumbers, too few Hispanic-owned taco stands, etc. These may be perfectly nice notions if you believe that you know better how the world should be — but they are clearly destructive both of the economy they involve themselves in and (usually) the people who get the funding. Do these people really think that lending someone my tax money to fund a business that a bank wouldn’t fund is good for the economy?
I think we’d all be better off if we took on the responsibility of making our own progress in the world. Let private businessmen create, fund, grow, and nurture business. That’s what they know how to do. Let government create sensible restrictions. That’s what it does best. What do you think? Let us know on “Speak Out” (www.earlytorise.com).