Tag Archives: libertarians

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.

Sincerely,

Sam Smith

Dear “small government” conservatives: that Thoreau quote doesn’t mean what you think it means

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, they say. How true, how true, especially when it comes to reducing the wisdom of brilliant, complex minds to their pithiest quotes. In a recent thread on what has become of the GOP, one commenter went all-in with Henry David Thoreau’s famous (and greatly abused) edict: that government is best which governs the least. (Thoreau was actually quoting someone else, but he endorsed the idea, so let’s go with it.)

As I explained at the time, I used to be an enthusiastic young Republican and I was known to quote that line myself. Granted, I was just spouting something I’d heard others say – I hadn’t actually read Civil Disobedience. But by gods, it sounded good. It’s brief, it’s clever, it has the smell of truthiness about it and it comes with the credibility that automatically attends canonical high school reading assignments, even if we hated them at the time.

But there are a couple of problems with the quote. Read more

The American Parliament: our nation’s 10 political parties

Part two in a series.

Forgive me for abstracting and oversimplifying a bit, but one might argue that American politics breaks along the following 10 lines:

  • Social Conservatives
  • Neocons
  • Business Conservatives
  • Traditional Conservatives (there’s probably a better term, but I’m thinking of old-line Western land and water rights types)
  • Blue Dog Democrats
  • New Democrats
  • Progressives Read more

Welcome to Colorado Springs, America’s teabagger paradise

Colorado is a beautiful place and it always ranks right at the top of those most desirable places to live rankings (heck, a new poll says the People’s Republic of Boulder is the happiest place in America), but be clear about one thing before you pack up the family to head this way: a consistent voting majority of our citizens are butt-stupid when it comes to taxes. We’re the ones who blazed the trail for the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” (TABOR) movement, and we’ve been paying a steep price for it ever since. For instance:

  • Under TABOR, Colorado declined from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income.
  • Colorado’s average per-pupil funding fell by more than $400 relative to the national average. Read more

Unleashing the Green stampede

windturbines_greenWhile on the campaign trail, Barack Obama made greening America’s infrastructure a huge priority for his administration. As noted in the Los Angeles Times, Obama planned

to spend $150 billion over the next decade to promote energy from the sun, wind and other renewable sources as well as energy conservation. Plans include raising vehicle fuel-economy standards and subsidizing consumer purchases of plug-in hybrids. Obama wants to weatherize 1 million homes annually and upgrade the nation’s creaky electrical grid. His team has talked of providing tax credits and loan guarantees to clean-energy companies.

His goals: create 5 million new jobs repowering America over 10 years; assert U.S. leadership on global climate change; and wean the U.S. from its dependence on imported petroleum.

He’s currently battling Congress for the appropriations required to turn his vision into reality, and the resistance from Capitol Hill raises once again a question that’s been bouncing around the office here for the last six months: why not revise the tax code to make wind, hydroelectric, solar and other renewable technologies “like-kind” with traditional fossil technologies? This would allow energy companies that wanted to transition into green energy to employ Section 1031 Like-Kind Exchanges, thereby speeding the switch-over considerably. Read more

Jesus, McCain and the GOP: a former Republican ponders the future of the party

Most folks don’t realize it – even people who know me fairly well – but I used to be a Republican. Back when I was younger and, one supposes, more naïve about the relevance of certain kinds of economic theory, I was a pretty mouthy GOPper. I voted for Reagan twice and Bush the Elder once, and while I can defend myself by saying things like “Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and Mike Dukakis,” I think it’s now clear that history will regard those voting decisions as, at best, insufficiently considered.

As time passed and I grew more … educated … I became more and more conflicted. Read more

2007 in Review, pt. 5: Politicians, whores and the media who love them…

Welcome to the fifth and final installment of the Scholars & Rogues year-end wrap-up. Today we tackle the dirty, but oddly riveting world of politics. We’ll take a couple shots at the even dirtier world of media that makes it all possible. Let’s start at the top, shall we?

George Walker Bush: I’ve been telling my Republican friends for five years now that Dubya was going to do more damage to their party than an army of Hillarys could dream of doing. And 2007 was the year where I think the truth of this proposition finally started becoming evident. Scandals at the Justice Department and World Bank did him no favors, nor did the conviction of Scooter Libby (which necessitated the most politically debilitating pardon/commutation sequence since Ford saved Nixon). Iraq got worse by the day and we’re not seeing a lot of GOP presidential hopefuls looking to surf that Bush legacy. Read more

All I want for Christmas is for Democrats to stop making Ron Paul look good

Hey, what’s that in our stocking? It’s Ron Paul! Oh joy – we got The Truth® for Christmas!

Ahem. So those of you who thought Ron Paul was going to go away once the big boys got serious have probably been surprised by his staying power so far. He’s polling in the high single digits (something Ronald Reagan Fred Thompson can’t say) and one pollster thinks his actual numbers are in the double digits. He says he’s raised $19M this quarter. His supporters are insane courageously enthusiastic, and he seems to be showing strength among some groups that you wouldn’t expect – progressives, younger voters, etc.

And of course, he’s left the rest of the pack for dead in the highly scientific S&R reader poll, where at the moment of this writing he has over twice as many votes as the rest of the GOP candidates put together (unless you count “other”).

Election watchers in both parties are trying to better understand Paul’s appeal and what it means for their candidates’ chances. Read more

Democracy: the cleverest tool for oppression in the history of the world

Thomas Jefferson’s legacy is much admired in the US and beyond, and for good reason. Without his contributions it’s hard to imagine how the American system of “democracy” would have evolved.

I’ve always admired him a great deal, too, although for somewhat different reasons than most. Yes, he was critical to the development of democracy, but what was so brilliant about this is that democracy is arguably the cleverest tool for the oppression of the masses ever devised.

This assertion no doubt comes as something of a shock to The Average American, who tends to get all sniffly about the majesty of his “freedoms” every 4th of July as he sits in his local park watching pretty explosions in the sky and listening to the facile, self-deluded patriotism of Lee Greenwood yowling from the PA. Read more

Reframing the Republican lie about wealth in America

In America, the Republicans are seen as the party of money and wealth. This perception is certainly accurate in one sense – the GOP is the favored party of the wealthy elite. Unfortunately, the party is also supported in large numbers by those who have no wealth, and thanks to the policies of the Republican party, no hope of ever attaining any. But they continue to support the party for reasons that seem irrational to us. Why?

In a nutshell, I want to argue here that they do so because the GOP has, through a long-term and exceptionally effective messaging campaign, drawn around itself the ideology of hope. Forgive a brief over-generalization, but they’re the party that preaches wealth and that tells people they can join the club (never mind that the message is a lie, given our current economic policy structure). In the popular frame, the Republicans are often seen as being about getting and having money while the Democrats are about taking your hard-earned money and giving it to people who didn’t earn it. Read more

Scholars & Rogues take the Political Compass test


My fellow Scrogues and I have been talking about the Political Compass and sharing scores and insights (and complaints) today. On the whole, the compass a great tool for helping us think past simplistic notions of a left vs. right political spectrum by forcing us to separate economic and social issues, which are all too often conflated in public “debates.”

Both an economic dimension and a social dimension are important factors for a proper political analysis. Read more