What business really needs
We imagine the conversation going something like this. A dozen or so owners and executives of successful mid- and small-sized companies are assembled around the table in the Cabinet Room in the White House. They listen attentively as the president lays out the dire situation they already know all too well.
Unemployment remains at more than 9 percent, he says, and hundreds of thousands have long given up hope of finding a job. Those who are working have seen their incomes stagnate, and are losing ground as the cost of fuel and food increase. People aren't spending money. Growth is so low that America teeters on the brink of a double-dip recession.
"Your companies, and hundreds of others just like them, are the real engines of the economy," he says. "What can my administration do to help you create jobs and grow this economy?"
The executives pause momentarily as the weight of this responsibility settles upon them. But then they answer. They've waited for this opportunity. They know what must be done.
Key to their ability to create jobs and grow the economy, they respond, is a federal regulatory apparatus that imposes increasingly strict rules on every aspect of their businesses. No half-measures will do. The more costly and less practical, the better. If this rush to regulate results in the rules of one agency conflicting with those of another, well that's just the cost of progress.
Similarly, they say, Congress should be encouraged to pass laws that require companies to adopt risky business practices, and to create watchdog agencies that will hold them publicly accountable for the inevitable failures. These agencies should be empowered to second-guess and overrule the siting of our manufacturing facilities and our staffing decisions.
The country's tax policies should punish profitable businesses and innovative entrepreneurs. Keep us guessing from one year to the next, they say, about income, capital gains and inheritance tax rates; depreciation schedules for new plant and equipment; and credits for new investments.
Make the energy and fuel we use to run our plants and transport our goods as expensive as possible, they say. Mandate that increasing percentages of this energy be from expensive "renewable" or "green" sources.
The government, they say, should be adversarial to the point of being downright hostile to the interests of the business community. They invite the president to publicly demonize them as greedy, selfish and uncaring.
What's wanted, they conclude, is greater uncertainty.
It's unlikely that executives would say such things, but it seems as if that's what the administration has heard.
Business is not against regulation, but it must be reasonable. Business is not against taxation, but it must be fair and not create a competitive disadvantage. Business is not against government, but where possible government should work as partner not as an adversary.
Most of all, business needs to know that regulations, policies and taxes won't radically or suddenly change to satisfy political exigencies.