Biz Federation Needs Context


Publisher Todd Stauffer

It seems like the releases from the National Federation of Independent Businesses (nfib.com) are coming fast and furious these days.

This latest one, called "NFIB Responds to Obama's 'you didn't build that' Statement" takes a line from an Obama speech over the weekend out of context, and then infers that the president said that people who build businesses don't deserve any credit.

Of course, it misses his larger point. Here's the actual quote: "Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business--you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

It's not Obama's most elegant rhetorical construct ever, but "that" doesn't refer to the business, it refers to the American system.

The NFIB's response: "Every small business is not indebted to the government or some other benefactor. If anything, small businesses are historically an economic and job-creating powerhouse in spite of the government." (Emphasis theirs.)

Really? So, America is not, in fact, a great system for a thriving business? Infrastructure and public investment--laws, contracts, stable currency, incentives, markets--none of these things help grow businesses?

I'm not saying that "government" is always the most exciting thing for small business to have to deal with. But some of us do find roads, bridges and clean running water handy in the course of our business day.

And, as Obama points out in that speech, the Internet--a huge catalyst for a quarter century of business growth--was a government-funded project, and its openness came because it was a partnership between government and academia.

The bigger picture problem, though, is the NFIB's reliance on language such as "in spite of the government." It's particularly disconcerting coming from an organization that purports to have small business interests at heart ... because it's a dangerous argument for any American to make.

Think about this for a second: Government is us. We the people.

In fact, you wonder sometimes why conservatives seem hell-bent on beating the drum of anti-government rhetoric, which does little more than serve to further the oligarchy (government by big business interests) by making "government" seem monolithic and "other" and something we have little or no 
control over.

We do have control over government, but managing it takes a desire to work together, not a desire to drown it in a bathtub.

Charles P. Pierce, in Esquire this month, has a great piece about the "common wealth" in this nation: "(Our Constitution) is a charter that enumerates individual liberties, but it is not a license for unbridled greed or reckless political solipsism. We owe each other a debt, and we owe each other an obligation, and because of these fundamental American imperatives, there are things that we own in common with each other, and that we are obliged to protect for our posterity. The water. The trees. The wild places in the land."

That's what government is for; it's not a monolithic taxing authority designed to get in the way of your pursuit of happiness. It's a tool for managing our shared self-interest and building our common wealth.

Pierce writes: "We lose sight of these truths sometimes. Acceleration is the great danger. We lost sight of these truths during the Industrial Age, when the accelerated pace of new manufacturing caught the country by surprise. It was only the long, slow rise of progressive politics that brought these basic truths back to the national mind, and we got the national parks out of it. We have lost sight of these truths again, in the Information Age, when even more accelerated technologies caught us by surprise. It is an open question still whether we will be able to recover that which we have forgotten."

It seems to me that business owners and executives in America used to understand this.

I think this is why a discussion of Gov. Romney's tax returns, Swiss bank accounts and tax havens is resonating with a lot of Americans right now. Because while some folks applaud him for gaming the system for his own benefit, others believe that for a man with so much, the idea that he's ducking and dodging feels unseemly. And this rings especially true for a man who also has great sway in the Republican Party and the potential to lead his country. When increasing your own wealth becomes your focus, to the detriment of our common wealth, we lose something as a country.

And it's not about handouts or redistributing income. It is about being responsive to the idea that we're in this thing together.

The country has gone through a great recession and is still mired in a world economy that's stuck in neutral. For the last decade, we've tried to wage global war while cutting back on the tax revenues to pay for that war, and we have a Supreme Court that's given its blessing to a system where global corporate "persons" can now pay near limitless amounts of money to attempt to sway our government to balance the budget exclusively on the expense side of the ledger.

Just this week, Republicans blocked the Disclose Act, which would force non-profit groups to reveal donations for $10,000 or more for political purposes. Why is this not a no-brainer for both parties?

The people of this country need economic growth, we need infrastructure investment, and we need to learn the hard lessons about exactly how close to bankruptcy global wars can get you. We need to invest in America and Americans. And, coming soon, we'll need to dig out. That'll mean raising revenues (taxes) along with lowering expenses (programs) to bring things back into balance.

It doesn't mean one or the other, it doesn't mean my-way-or-the-highway, it doesn't mean them-vs.-us. Or, at least, it doesn't have to.

So I call on the NFIB to be not just "pro-business" but be "pro-government," too. After all, we're the government--the people of the United States of America--and we're in this thing together. Let's make a go at improving our nation.


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