February 14, 2012

Of Bozos And Businesses

My partners and I operate a small business. We have about 75 people in our company. We try to run our business in a prudent manner. We take our responsibilities to our colleagues and their families seriously. This sometimes means doing unpleasant things and making difficult decisions, but we try to keep as many people employed as we can.

Politicians in Washington and in City Hall like to use small businesses as a symbol of their concern for the average citizen. They are forever using Wall Street as their symbol for the bad guys and Main Street as their symbol for the good guys. As a small business owner, I find this offensive in the extreme.

The reason I find it offensive is that it is cynical and hypocritical. In fact, when the cameras are turned off, the influence of big business on government policy is immense, and the thought given to small business is nonexistent.

Recently The New York Times ran an article about the absurd and insane barriers one city put in the way of a person trying to start a small business. You would think that in an era in which people are losing their homes and their savings because they can't find work, the idiots who run our lives would try to make it easier to start a business and create jobs. You would be wrong.

You can read the complete Times article here. But a synopsis goes like this:

A woman in San Francisco wanted to open an ice cream parlor. Here's what she had to go through:
  • It took her two years to get the permits to open her ice cream parlor
  • The permit fees alone cost her $20,000
  • During that two year period she had to pay rent on her retail space, even though she couldn't use it
  • The city demanded that she create a detailed map of all existing businesses in the area because they didn’t have one
  • The city charged her $11,000 just to turn on the water
Or, as The Times put it
"...it took two years to open...due largely to the city’s morass of permits, procedures and approvals required to start a small business. While waiting for permission to operate, she still had to pay rent and other costs, going deeper into debt each passing month without knowing for sure if she would ever be allowed to open.
(The owner) would not say exactly how much it all cost, including construction, but smiled and nodded when asked if it was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."
We're not talking about a nuclear power plant here. We're talking about a fucking ice cream parlor.

There is no excuse for this. Pandering politicians are forever telling us that small business is "the backbone of America" and that it provides 2/3 of the jobs. It's all bullshit. Utter bullshit.

The tax codes are rigged in favor of big businesses and against small businesses. Our thousands of pages of tax laws are just thousands of pages of special pleading for corporate big shots and other pressure groups with influence in Washington (nobody is even sure how many pages the federal tax law consumes. The best guess is about 17,000 pages.) I'll bet you $10 that if you examined the tax returns of Omnicom or Interpublic Group they pay less than half the taxes that my company pays as a percent of revenue. As a matter of fact, I'd bet $10,000.

The knuckleheads in federal, state and municipal government make it as difficult as possible to start and run a small business. And the people who suffer most are the people who are out of work.

Now that the ice cream parlor has opened, there are 14 more people who have jobs. And if it wasn't for inexcusable stupidity they could have had jobs 2 years ago.

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