on being small
Family, friends, and faith lead a long list of blessings for which each of us are thankful, especially at this time of year. It’s a fourth “F,” however, that makes Thanksgiving a truly American holiday: fortune.
Fortune isn’t just about money. It’s about being blessed with an opportunity to enrich our lives in whatever ways we see fit, including ways that only tangentially are financial.
It’s what drove Pilgrims to the New World, pioneers to prairie settlements like ours, and generations of immigrants, even to this day, to the shiny promise of better lives in America.
Ours is a nation of self-determination, both in lifestyle and in vocation. If your dream is to run a widget boutique, you can. If you supply enough hard work and insightful ideas, it can be a success. That’s the American dream.
America long has been the land of a million Davids, each wielding a sling against various Goliaths. But as shoppers this week flock to distant mega-stores like so many cattle in slaughterhouse chutes, it’s becoming increasingly clear that David no longer wins in modern America.
Today’s Goliaths have grown mammoth, and government increasingly has slanted the playing field in their favor. With bureaucratic zeal, America has essentially outlawed the sling — or, more accurately, regulated it to the extent that only Goliaths are able to wield it.
Whether we’re talking about family farmers, independent grocers, local retailers, or community newspapers, burdensome regulation has made it nearly impossible to fend off, much less fell, Philistine giants.
The dawn of the Information Age was greeted as a great equalizer, with opportunity for all. What’s arrived instead is an illusion of opportunity that concentrates real power in fewer hands than at any time in our history.
Gone are the days of the generalist — the small business owner whose hard work and good ideas could lead to success. Even the smallest of companies now must meet the same myriad, specialized challenges as the largest, and the overhead necessary drowns most businesses before they can get their heads above water.
Whether you have five employees or 500,000, you must calculate and pay payroll taxes no later than 9 p.m. the day checks go out in ways so complicated it requires special software or service bureaus to handle them.
You’re absolutely free to compete online with anyone in the world — provided you can deal with California’s product warnings, the European Union’s privacy protections, Kansas laws that charge different sales taxes for nearly every different customer you serve, and hackers from obscure corners of the globe who attack your email, your website, and your sanity.
Sure, you can hire services that will address those needs and more, but the small business without separate departments for H.R., I.T., and all the other initials necessary to run a business nowadays is at a decided disadvantage.
Look around the county and count the number of locally owned retail establishments. You won’t need a computer to tally them. Realize that each and every one of them has the exact same regulatory, operational, and competitive challenges as do the big chains and distant mega-stores that compete with them, and rarely do they get any of the benefits that accrue to being large.
America has long favored evening the playing field by having such things as graduated income taxes. The rich pay more; the poor pay less. It’s one of the ways we help those less blessed have a life for which they can be thankful and position them to secure a future that could be brighter.
Time has come to do the same with businesses as we do with individuals. Tax their earnings, to be sure, but tax the earnings of businesses with large sales volume at a higher rate than those with lower sales volume.
Don’t let huge businesses avoid taxes by overpaying their executives and constantly buying and spinning off various divisions. The longer an asset is held, the lower the tax rate should be when it is sold. If salary caps are good enough for professional sports teams, why shouldn’t they be good enough for the executive suite, as well?
Instead of constantly seeking the lowest bidder, shouldn’t local government give preference to local bidders who contribute to the tax revenue that will pay for the purchase?
Economic development begins at home and in small ways. Instead of inviting distant Goliaths to invade, we need to empower local Davids by giving them more than just a sling to compete with. If that means tax breaks, bidding preference, and even the social equivalent of tariffs on purchases made outside the county, why not?
All this can begin even in casual conversation. Instead of marveling next week at some neighbor’s Black Friday purchase, perhaps we should try being embarrassed for them and how they turned their backs on the local economy.
Marion County was settled by people seeking family, friends, faith, and fortune they could be thankful for. Making this a place of opportunity, where financial and other fortune can grow rather than remain stagnant, would leave us all much more thankful in future years.
— ERIC MEYER