Every big business you can think of, every publicly traded company, every non-Government contributor to the Gross Domestic Product started as a little company, or part of a large company that was once a little company itself. This obvious fact is easily forgotten. Microsoft did not spring fully grown from the head of Bill Gates. Nor did Henry Ford spew forth a multi-billion dollar behemoth in a year. Effectively, every company started small, in one location. Sometimes that location was a storefront or workshop, sometimes it was nothing more than a garage or a spare bedroom. Even in today’s world of huge corporate conglomerates, 99% of American businesses are “small,” employing fewer than 500 people. These same companies employ over half the American workforce. Small business is the spark plug in the economic engine, and the traditional leader out of recession.
Economic stimulus depends on having and spending money: people — and companies — buying things. Indeed, for the last several quarters, consumer spending has been the only bright spot in the economy. Companies buying things is particularly good for the economy, benefitting both the buyer and seller. Not only does that allow both companies to produce goods and services for sale, it allows them to pay employees for that production. Companies having money is fine, but it is people having enough money that keeps them from complaining about the economy and voting out politicians. And how do the overwhelming majority of Americans obtain money? From their jobs.
To truly and lastingly stimulate the economy, you must create jobs. Although it might on the surface seem much more efficient to encourage large companies to create lots of jobs, that approach is short-sighted. Not if, but when market conditions dictate, those additional employees will be laid off, exacerbating any existing downturn. Corporate tax breaks, dividend tax breaks, and similar measures are not going to create an appreciable number of jobs. Corporate tax breaks will serve the limited purpose of making publicly traded companies look as if they earned more money. Some of them might even spend a little money upgrading some equipment. Dividend tax breaks won’t even do that. Contrary to political rhetoric, they won’t create a single job. Dividends siphon money that could have been used on plant upgrades and hiring more employees. The only thing “eliminating double taxation of dividends” will do is encourage some people to buy shares of big, profitable companies that pay dividends, driving share price up a little bit. “Price per share” is largely irrelevant to whether or not companies are hiring.
The legion of laid off “consultants,” “contractors,” “artisans,” and “independent salespeople” who decided that there is no job they do not create for themselves is a nice start, but an end in themselves. The odds of any to them becoming employers is really quite small. It’s simply too big a hassle for such people to employ anyone on the books. This situation also puts such people in the dangerous position of “don’t work, don’t eat.” A particularly nasty cold puts them at risk of losing everything, even if they can afford health insurance. The key to sustainable economic growth is the encouragement of small business: people who become employers; companies that employ a few people for years; small local enterprises that become big national or maybe even international concerns. To encourage small business, we must do the following:
Simplify the the registration, incorporation, and taxation of small businesses. The initial expenses of setting up an LLC, complying with mountains of government regulations from all levels, and simply figuring out what taxes must be paid and to whom can be overwhelming for a new entrepreneur. Such hassles may encourage him to be self-employed (putting business taxes on the only relatively simple Schedule C) or simply decide “don’t quit your day job.”
Seriously examine the funding of small business. The Small Business Administration appears to be in the sole business of writing paperwork, press releases, and guaranteeing second mortgages. They cannot be counted on to help start a business. In fact, a bank asking the SBA to get involved is a vote of no confidence. One idea that is relatively new to the United States but appears to be working wonders in poorer nations is the “micro-loan.” These loans of under $1000 (in reality, often under $500) certainly go farther in developing nations, but the premise remains the same. Here in the States, the amounts available are a bit higher. Loan a small amount of money to buy items like tools and sewing machines, and suddenly people can go into business.
Critically reconsider barriers to entry. “Barriers to entry” are things that make it more or less difficult to enter and compete in a field. It’s almost impossible to set up in auto manufacturing or oil drilling independently. It’s difficult to start a bank. It’s relatively easy to open a restaurant, particularly a franchise. It’s ludicrously easy to set up a website. While I think most of us agree that it’s just as well you can’t on a whim open up “Gina’s Fine Handcrafted Automobiles” or “Bob’s Bank of Fort Worth,” some barriers to entry are artificial and protectionist. Some of the rules and practices have little purpose beyond limiting the competition.
Remember, 99% of American companies are small, and they have over 50% of American workers on the payroll. Economic stimulus isn’t just for the S&P 500, it’s for the little diner, store, or machine shop down the street.