Responding to a small businessman who says he did it without any government help AT ALL
A few days ago I offered up Art Pope and Pat McCrory leading North Carolina into the 19th century, a collection of thoughts on the state I was born and raised in. The comment thread wandered a bit, as they tend to do when you say things other people don’t want to hear, and eventually one commenter – a Stan Lee Harrison – weighed in with this:
I run a small business [without any assistance from the state or Federal governments] and interact with customers every day.
Wow, you’re probably thinking. A truly self-made man, eschewing handouts and welfare state charity and Obama-style Socialism and everything else that the authentic Randite is vehemently opposed to. Up until they aren’t, anyway.
I got to thinking about Mr. Harrison’s remarkable claim and decided that it deserved a serious response. In some cases I’m skeptical – can’t help it, I’m afflicted with an inherently critical mind and have never been able to do much about it – and in others I have honest questions. If he can do it, maybe I can, too. When it comes to my perennially underwhelming pursuit of financial solvency, I’m always willing to learn.
What follows is a slightly revised version of my answer, which has so far received no response.
Dear Mr. Harrison:
Since you “run a small business [without any assistance from the state or Federal governments] and interact with customers every day,” I have to admit that I’m having a hard time trying to guess what kind of company this is. I mean, it obviously has to be home-based, because you don’t use any state or federally constructed or maintained transportation infrastructure. This means you don’t make a product that has to be moved via roads and highways, or rail, or air. It can’t make use of the maritime system, which relies on government ports and management. You have to be working from home because you can’t be driving around on the roads that the rest of us use. You certainly don’t fly to visit clients in other cities because without the government airplanes would be crashing in midair every day. Amtrak is obviously out.
Not sure how you’re interacting with customers, either. Pretty much every corner of our communication system requires government regulation of some sort because if it didn’t you’ve have such a morass of unstandardized channels that nobody could talk to each other. And wait a damned minute. You’re using the Internet right now. Do you you turn it off as soon as you start work? If not, I’m going to need you to explain how the Internet was erected by private entrepreneurs with no government help at all. If you aren’t e-mailing your customers and you don’t have a Web site or a social media presence, I really don’t envy your marketing director.
I also assume that your home office is pretty spartan. Getting no help from the government and all, there’s no electricity or running water. Your cave must be in a gated community because you receive no protection whatsoever from law enforcement and if it weren’t for the high fence and the concertina wire and the private security force your home office would have been looted by now. Not sure what you’re going to do if you’re ever ripped off, though, because your only recourse (short of going vigilante) is the government court system.
I’m guessing that you don’t have any employees, because in your corner of the world you’d almost certainly have to hire people who at some point attended public schools. And forget college. Given the cost of higher ed these days they’d probably have had no choice but to rely on federal grants or scholarships and/or federal student loans. Or maybe you just hire uneducated people. Of course, that kind of mitigates against success, doesn’t it?
(Wait – you didn’t go to a public school, did you?)
Let’s see. You had to have been born rich. Taking a bank loan means federal and/or state influence on the system to assure that you weren’t scalped. And I’m especially wondering about how your company is incorporated. Every business of any magnitude makes use of a limited liability structure. If it weren’t for that, you’d be bankrupt and homeless the first time you screwed something up. And let’s be honest, we all make mistakes. In this same vein, if you have customers, that probably means you have contracts of some sort. How do you enforce them?
Also – do you keep your money in a bank or under your mattress? If in a bank, are your funds insured by the FDIC?
Since you aren’t in jail (you aren’t writing from jail, are you?) I’m guessing that you pay taxes (or at the least you have an accountant who helps you avoid paying them). From your tone, I’m guessing you’re the sort of person who takes advantage of every single deduction legally available to you. That’s a government thing – you could get a new car “for business use” and write it off, whereas I can’t unless I’m also pimping that government system.
What else, what else? Oh, right. Duh. How do your customers pay you and how do you pay your bills? Since you eschew any sort of federal support, that means you aren’t using the dollar. Do you accept payment in chickens?
As a side note, you never died as a result of rubella, smallpox, measles, or any of the other diseases that government immunization programs have mostly eradicated. (I’m assuming you aren’t a zombie here, although I admit, it would be pretty damned cool if you were.) You probably didn’t have polio, either, right? What other life-threatening medical conditions did you never contract and die from as a result of federally driven research into prevention and treatment? Because when it comes to running a successful business, such as yours, there’s really no substitute for being, you know, alive.
Also, does your business market a product or service that emerged in some way from federally funded research? There’s a lot of things that we sell that we wouldn’t have without those programs. I’m including in this research conducted at private universities which received substantial government support, like my alma mater, Wake Forest, which as I’m sure you know is one of the nation’s premier private institutions (Go Deacs!).
In conclusion, I cannot imagine what sort of business you run. I can’t think of single company that doesn’t get “any assistance from the state or Federal governments.” Not. One. I can’t even imagine how such a thing is possible.
So I hope you’ll fill me in. This seems like a great opportunity to learn something valuable that I might be able to use in my own career. Like every smart business guy, I’m always looking for an edge.
Thanks for your time and consideration.
The issue, of course, isn’t that small business doesn’t pull its weight. I’m sure it pays its share and then some. The issue is WE vs. ME. While small business in the aggregate is quite powerful, there is no lone businessman of any size who did it without any help.
As for “letting it go,” you saw (and commented on) my post the other day, so you know that I am letting it go, and for good, in the not-too-distant future.
Frank: I’m not sure there’s any way to legislate empathy, but we need to do what we can to actually remove incentives for sociopathy from the system. If I were charged with such a task, I’d begin by overturning the court case that required public corps to act exclusively in the shareholder interest and implement a broad public interest standard. And you can easily imagine what I’d do to Citizens United.
Also, as a function of both our comment policy and the way the software works, ALL comments are moderated. Even staff comments don’t go live until a moderator hits the button.
Dammit. We changed the comment policy but I guess we forgot to update that page. Fixing now….
Yes, a very good letter indeed. We like to pride ourselves on our Laissez-faire capitalism in America, but is it really so pure? Is it all that free of using government resources? Your point-by-point argument here pretty much nixes that whole idea.
I have a long trip to make this afternoon on the Interstate. I guess I’ll have to be content with becoming a traveling socialist for four hours or so.
I hope if this self-made businessman who’s had no government help whatsoever responds to your letter, you post it on S & R. I’m sure it’ll be interesting.
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