LECTURE 7: BUSINESS AND MONEY FLOW
By Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind (source)
An old conservative characteristic the next conservatism should revive is a suspicion of bigness. Many conservatives remain suspicious of big government, as well they should. But we should favor small scale in many other things as well. Small scale is critical to local life, to the ability of local people to control what happens where they live. In general, small, local schools teach better than big, regional schools; small towns work better than big cities; and small business provides communities a better economic base than does big business. Big businesses care little, if at all, what effects their actions have locally. Small businesses do care, because their owners and managers live in the local community. If they injure that community, they hurt themselves as well.
Small businesses are also an important part of something America does relatively well - namely, creating economic opportunity and new jobs. A major reason we do that better than much of the rest of the world, including Europe, is that small businesses and especially new start-ups face fewer government obstacles. In much of the world someone who wants to start a new business faces a huge, hostile government bureaucracy. It can take him months or years (and often bribes) to get the many permissions he needs.
The next conservatism should work to build on this American success. The lesson is not that we should rest happy in our superiority to other places but rather that we can benefit even more if we make establishing a new business even easier.
At present, while starting a new business is less difficult than in most other places, it can still be daunting. Immediately, the person who wants to set up shop faces an array of federal, state and local rules and regulations. He is deluged with pieces of government paper, many of which begin, "Under penalty of law." The many forms he must fill out are obscure and confusing. If he makes an honest mistake he may be legally liable.
If we really want to promote small businesses, the next conservatism should work to reduce this burden. Some of the rules and regulations should simply be abolished. Others, such as public health requirements for new restaurants, are clearly necessary. But where government imposes a requirement, it could and should also offer the help people need to meet that requirement, especially help in dealing with government paperwork.
I propose the next conservatism incorporate something along these lines. Whenever government lays a reporting or other paperwork requirement on small business it also offers an office the business can turn to, without charge, to obtain help in meeting the requirement. The office offers both advice on meeting the substance of the requirement and help in filling out the paperwork. In effect, this office would be a type of ombudsman, a government employee who helps ordinary people to deal with other government offices.
Here is an example. Let us say someone is good at repairing small appliances. He starts to set up a small business to do that. Immediately, he faces multiple government requirements with a large amount of paperwork and complex forms. Now, he is very good at repairing appliances, but knows nothing about legal forms. Most of them seem incomprehensible to him.
Instead of having to hire a lawyer with money he probably doesn't have, he can turn to his local small business ombudsman. The ombudsman not only walks him through what the requirements mean, he sits down with him and helps him fill out all the forms. If there is a mistake, the error is first drawn to the attention of the ombudsman rather than facing the new business with legal action. The ombudsman's job is to get the business up and going by running interference for the business owner, and he has the legal authority to do that.
This is one way the next conservatism could be especially helpful to inner-city residents, minorities and immigrants. Many of these people have skills that could be the basis of a small business. But they have no idea how to deal with government, and they are often afraid of the government. Right in their neighborhood would be a small business ombudsman's office they could go to for all the help and assurance they would need. The burden imposed by government would fall at least partly on government, instead of serving as a crippling tax on enterprise.
By including such a program, the next conservatism would build incrementally on something America already does comparatively well. That in itself is conservative. Conservatives rightly favor incremental progress over sweeping programs. We would also put some substance behind our belief in thinking locally and acting locally. The only losers would be the lawyers, and if more of them get pushed into an honest line of work, so much the better.
The next conservatism, like today’s conservatism, will generally be opposed to new taxes. But there should be some exceptions. There is an old saying that, “if you want less of something, tax it.” That is the rationale for “sin taxes,” high taxes on substances such as cigarettes and alcohol. It is also the reason conservatives oppose higher marginal tax rates on incomes and profits. Income and profits represent economic growth, and the more we tax growth, the less growth we will have.
Something the next conservatism should want less of is outsourcing American jobs overseas. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties now support free trade, which has some important benefits. But it also effectively averages America’s economy with the Third World economies of places such as China and India, which have low wages and low standards of living. Not surprisingly, one result is that the standard of living of middle and lower-middle class Americans is dropping. It will continue to drop so long as we keep outsourcing jobs overseas.
Let me note that in this instance, the Democrats are betraying their own base more than the Republicans. I have mentioned other issues where the Republicans are selling conservatives out, with immigration at the top of the list. But American workers, especially those in manufacturing, have tended to vote Democratic. When Democrats support free trade and unlimited outsourcing of American jobs overseas, they are giving American workers a kick in the pants. So why do so many Democratic Senators and Congressmen now back free trade? The answer, as usual in Washington, is “follow the money.”
As I have argued in previous columns, the next conservatism should seek to include American workers. Most of them are cultural conservatives. So with the Democrats’ abandoning workers’ most important economic interest, their jobs, I think the next conservatism should step in to defend those jobs. Patriotism also argues for such a position. If America continues to lose its manufacturing base and the good jobs it provides we will become a Third World country ourselves.
So if we want to stop or at least reduce outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries, we should tax outsourcing. In my view, that would be a good new tax. I am not an economist but one way to do that might be to levy export duties on outsourcing. When we think of tariffs, we usually think of tariffs on imports. But for many centuries countries also had export duties on some products. What if we put an export duty of, say, 500% on every job companies here send overseas? The company would have to pay a tax of five times the wage of the new employee it hired overseas. Businesses might find it made better economic sense to keep that job in America.
There might be better ways to tax outsourcing jobs than with export duties. I am not set on any specific way to do it. We might also want to dedicate the revenues from such a tax to things businesses here need, like improvements in infrastructure such as increasing the capacity of American railroads.
But the next conservatism should be for keeping good jobs in America. If we are really to be pro-family, we need to make sure heads of middle-class households can still obtain jobs that pay enough to raise a family. A major reason why so many mothers are in the workplace instead of home with their children is that their family requires two incomes to stay afloat.
The next conservatism should work to change that and restore the situation we had in the 1950s, where a male head of household could readily obtain a job providing a family wage. Averaging our economy with those of Third World countries works against a family wage in this country, and if a new tax can help us stop doing that, then in my book that is a good new tax. The next conservatism should be about serving Main Street, not Wall Street.
Over the past half-century, labor union presence in American life has declined greatly. In the 1940s only one union, John L. Lewis’s United Mine Workers of America, could and did hold hostage the whole country. Today only some 12% of American workers are union members.
Most conservatives see this as a good thing, and in some ways it is. But as I have argued in this series of columns on the next conservatism, conservatives should not be against American workers. Most of the people who work in manufacturing are cultural conservatives.
Moreover, the kind of country we desire only can exist if average people have jobs which pay a family wage, enough that the husband can give his family a middle-class standard of living on one paycheck so his wife can stay home with the children. That usually requires a job in industry, in a factory that manufactures. The free-trade policies which have shipped so many manufacturing jobs overseas also have exported many Americans’ way of life.
From this perspective, I want to suggest the next conservatism take a somewhat different position on labor, one that reflects today’s situation, not yesterday’s. We should be pro-labor, in the sense of pro-worker, not of course pro-union leadership. We should stand up for American private-sector workers and their most vital interest, manufacturing jobs that pay a middle-class wage.
Further, we should be willing to work with some unions, unions that actually stand for their members’ economic interests. We have a political opportunity here. The leadership of most of the big unions could care less about American workers. They use their compulsory dues to support all kinds of radical, Politically Correct causes that most of their members oppose. But on issues that affect their members’ jobs, like free trade, they go along with the Washington Establishment. They are completely out of touch with their base.
As in other aspects of the next conservatism, bigness is an issue here. In my view, we should favor smaller unions that are still in touch with their members and represent their actual economic interests. Again, we should be willing to work with those unions.
How do we get there, given that the big unions dominate? In my view, the next conservatism should include a plan for “trust-busting unions,” to go after the big unions that sell out their members. Specifics of such union trust-busting could include:
Enforcing regulations that are already on the books to
require much more transparency in union expenditures. If the big unions’ members
could see the kinds of radical causes to which their money goes, they would
demand changes or form new unions.
Inform union members of the Beck decision, which ruled
that union members were not obligated to pay dues that are used for causes
unrelated to workers’ interests.
Eliminate all requirements for compulsory unionism, so unions actually represent workers if they expect workers to join them.
All of this goes only for unions that represent workers in private industries. Public sector workers’ unions are another matter. Not only are many of those union leaders deeply into the cultural Marxism of Political Correctness, so in some cases are their members. In their case, we need to continue to be wary. They can and do still hold the country hostage, or at least parts of it, as we saw in the recent, illegal New York City transit workers’ strike. We need to make it clear that public employees have no right to strike. After all, their wages are paid by our taxes. When they strike they are biting the hand that feeds them.
In sum, I am suggesting the next conservatism see labor and unions as differentiated rather than as all the same. Labor, in the form of unions that represent workers’ real economic interests like good manufacturing jobs, should not be seen as an opponent. On the contrary, it is a potential ally, at least on some issues. The leadership of the big unions, detached as it is from member interests and devoted to radical politics, remains an opponent, as do many public sector unions. There, some trust-busting is in order.
As the next conservatism should favor small scale in business
and in agriculture it should favor small scale in unions as well. Small scale
means local control, and real life is local.
One of the odder phenomena of recent years has been the application of the adjective "conservative" to many things that were traditionally considered the opposite of conservatism. Thus we have heard "conservative" calls for America to become a world empire, regardless of the loss of liberties that may entail for American citizens. We have seen "conservatives" in Congress pile up record budget deficits, and we have listened to "conservative" economists justifying the de-industrialization of America's economy.
From a traditional conservative standpoint, one of the stranger examples of this confusion has been the notion that materialism, the idea that goodness or happiness comes from owning ever more stuff, is conservative. Vast, ugly McMansions, gas-guzzling SUVs, households that have more cars than people, the latest and most expensive of everything, most of it acquired by building up debt, are now supposedly signs that the nominal owners are conservatives. Each side, it seems, has adopted its characteristic vice as a virtue: for liberals, lust, and for conservatives, gluttony.
Earlier generations of conservatives would have been appalled by this mis-labeling. Conservatives looked down upon crass materialism and conspicuous consumption as marks of the nouveau riche and the snob. Happiness, conservatives knew, came not from piling up stuff but from doing the duties of one's station, with little thought of material reward.
No binge runs on forever, and as piled-up debt comes crashing down, one of the tasks facing the next conservatism will be putting materialism back in its place. A passage in a novel by Wendell Berry, A World Lost, offers a view of materialism that may be genuinely conservative:
A "small abundance," abundance in the little things that make day-to-day life comfortable and generous, is consistent with the conservative virtues, which begin with prudence. A small abundance implies no competition with one's neighbors, no display, nor any wastefulness. One may take pleasure in such abundance without shame or guilt. It is an abundance open even to the poor, which Dick and Aunt Sarah Jane were by common standards.
The notion of a small abundance points to a broader concept I think may also be conservative, namely an intensive rather than an extensive valuation of material things. Previous generations placed a higher value on having a few things of high quality, things that lasted for generations and took on meaning from each generation to possess and use them, than on lots of "store-bought" stuff. People did not throw out their furniture every ten years and buy new. They valued the familiar over the "latest thing," the worn, hand-woven rug over cheap new carpeting, Grandma's black walnut kitchen table over flashy granite counter-tops. Their kitchens witnessed real cooking; it now seems that the more ostentatious the kitchen, the less food gets cooked in it.
As genuine conservatism values the past, seeks to learn from it and also to preserve it, these attitudes toward material things, which most of us know from the lives of our parents or grandparents, are pointers to us. They point us away from the wild materialism of recent years (one of my foreign students, a Hollander, said that "Americans are just Pac-man with legs"), not toward asceticism, but toward just that small abundance and deep appreciation of good, old things conservatives traditionally enjoyed. Things can have meaning, but they do not acquire their meaning from their price tag, less still from Martha Stewart. Their meaning grows from the skill and love the craftsman put into their making, and from the generations of people, known to us or unknown, in whose lives they played a part. Such things, like people, have memory.
So let the next conservatism make it plain: whatever the crass materialism and rampant consumerism of the present may be, they are not conservative. Nor, as the past teaches us, will they be long-lived.
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