Tag: entrepreneurship

Apple: Too Big Not to Nail

In Sunday’s New York Daily News, I deplore the efforts of politicians and regulators to drag successful companies into the parasite economy of Washington, the most recent example being Apple. As the article says,

Heard of “too big to fail”? Well, to Washington, Apple is now too big not to nail.

I was prompted to these reflections by a recent article in Politico. The Wall Street Journal used to call itself “the daily diary of the American dream.” Politico is the daily diary of the rent-seeking class. And that class is very upset with Apple for not hiring many lobbyists, as illustrated by Politico’s front-page cartoon:

The story begins:

Apple is taking a bruising in Washington, and insiders say there’s a reason: It’s the one place in the world where the company hasn’t built its brand.

In the first three months of this year, Google and Microsoft spent a little more than $7 million on lobbying and related federal activities combined. Apple spent $500,000 — even less than it spent the year before.

The nerve of them! How do they expect lobbyists to feed their families? Then comes my favorite part:

The company’s attitude toward D.C. — described by critics as “don’t bother us” — has left it without many inside-the-Beltway friends.

“Don’t bother us”—yes! Don’t tread on me. Laissez nous faire. Leave us alone. Just let us sit out here in Silicon Valley, inventing cool stuff and distributing it to the world. We won’t bother you. Just don’t bother us.

But no pot of money can be left unbothered by the regulators and rent-seekers.

Apple is mostly on its own when the Justice Department goes after it on e-books, when members of Congress attack it over its overseas tax avoidance or when an alphabet soup of regulators examine its business practices.

And what does the ruling class say to productive people who try to just avoid politics and make stuff? Nice little company ya got there, shame if anything happened to it:

“I never once had a meeting with anybody representing Apple,” said Jeff Miller, who served as a senior aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee for eight years. “There have been other tech companies who chose not to engage in Washington, and for the most part that strategy did not benefit them.”

As I noted in the Daily News, back in 1998 Microsoft was in the same situation—a successful company on the West Coast, happily ignoring politics, getting too rich for politics to ignore it—and a congressional aide told Fortune’s Jeff Birnbaum, “They don’t want to play the D.C. game, that’s clear, and they’ve gotten away with it so far. The problem is, in the long run they won’t be able to.” All too true.

Watch out, aspiring entrepreneurs. You too could become too big not to nail.

11-Year-Old Entrepreneur Discovers Business Can Be a Picnic

In my home province of Quebec, an 11-year-old boy is building children’s picnic tables in his garage (using jigs his father built for him) and selling them at a very reasonable price at local home stores. You won’t need to speak French to get the gist of it. What he’s learning is surely invaluable, and it seems as though, in a sane world, this sort of activity would be readily available to all children who enjoy working with their hands.

Thanks to the rapid productivity growth enjoyed by earlier generations of North Americans, families in this part of the world no longer have to rely on the income generating capacity of their children for survival. But does it make any sense to divorce work and entrepreneurship from education as thoroughly as we currently do? In the places where co-op work experiences are being offered to high school students, the practice seems popular. And in a truly free education marketplace, there would be an incentive for educators to meet that demand wherever it exists.

Steve Jobs, Prosperity Creator

The all-too-early death of Steve Jobs was reported on the day that President Obama made another defense of his so-called jobs bill. Which one actually benefited (or would benefit) Americans and the American economy? Lots of people have talked about the way Steve Jobs changed technology, changed business, changed the world. And I trust there’ll be no more churlish complaints about his alleged lack of philanthropy. As Dan Pallotta definitively pointed out,

What a loss to humanity it would have been if Jobs had dedicated the last 25 years of his life to figuring out how to give his billions away, instead of doing what he does best…. [T]he world has no greater philanthropist than Steve Jobs. If ever a man contributed to humanity, here he is.

Two years ago Portfolio magazine did a great graphic on “The Steve Jobs Economy,” trying to assess just how much value he himself had created for the economy. The conclusion: Jobs’s personal wealth at the time was estimated at $5.7 billion. But he was generating $30 billion a year in revenue for Apple, its partners, and its competitors (who were spurred to get better). Here’s the analysis (sorry for the imperfect tear sheet):

Click image to enlarge. And for text but not graphics at Portfolio, click here.

According to Portfolio and the experts it consulted, Jobs was producing $30 billion a year in value for various companies. And of course that means that consumers believed they were getting at least that much value themselves, or they wouldn’t buy the products. That’s a wealth creator. And that number pales in comparison to this one: After returning to Apple in 1997, Jobs took the total value of the company from about $2 billion to $350 billion.

How much value is the Post Office creating this year? Or Amtrak? Or Solyndra? And if you point out that the Post Office does create value for its customers even though it loses money every year, I would ask, how much more value might its competitors create, if it allowed competition?

Instead of another bag of taxpayers’ money for state and local governments and politically favored businesses, a real jobs program would encourage the next Steve Jobs to create value. What would that involve? Keep taxes on investment and creativity low. Reduce the national debt and its threat of huge tax hikes to come. Ease the burdens of regulation, especially regulations that make it difficult to open a business, hire and keep the best employees, and develop new ideas. Open the huge, stagnant postal and schooling businesses to competition, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Repeal some of the licensing laws that now afflict 1,100 occupations. Renew progress toward free trade. Make it smart for businesses to invest their time, money, and brainpower in productive activity, not lobbying.

Happy National Entrepreneurs’ Day?

President Obama has proclaimed today to be National Entrepreneurs’ Day. The president who has brought us regime uncertainty, more regulations, more government intrusion into the economy, more debt, and is proposing to raise taxes on productive businesses and individuals wants to celebrate entrepreneurship?

I was alerted to National Entrepreneurs’ Day via an email (not online) from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. The EDA email makes it clear that the administration wishes to celebrate political entrepreneurship, not market entrepreneurship.

In his book, The Myth of the Robber Barons, historian Burton Folsom explains the difference:

A key point about the steamship industry is that the government played an active role right from the start in both America and England. Right away this separates two groups of entrepreneurs — those who sought subsidies and those who didn’t. Those who tried to succeed in steamboating primarily through federal aid, pools, vote buying, or stock speculation we will classify as political entrepreneurs. Those who tried to succeed in steamboating primarily by creating and marketing a superior product at a low cost we will classify as market entrepreneurs. No entrepreneur fits perfectly into one category or the other, but most fall generally into one category or the other. The political entrepreneur often fits the classic Robber Baron mold; they stifled productivity (through monopolies and pools), corrupted business and politics, and dulled America’s competitive edge. Market entrepreneurs, by contrast, often made decisive and unpredictable contributions to American economic development.

As Obama administration achievements, the EDA touts increased Small Business Administration subsidies and a smorgasbord of industrial planning contained in last year’s stimulus package:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act served as the cornerstone for this new foundation by pumping $100 billion into the economy to help us tackle some of the grand challenges of the 21st century in diverse fields from healthcare IT and health research, to clean energy, to smart grids, and high speed trains. Recovery Act investments are creating a virtuous cycle of investment, innovation, and job creation that have so far led to the creation of 3 million new jobs.

Wrong. The stimulus has fueled an unvirtuous cycle of political entrepreneurship in which business interests chase federal hand-outs for endeavors sanctioned by inside-the-Beltway planners. Political entrepreneurs have less incentive to innovate and are naturally reluctant to criticize the government because they don’t want to bite the hand that’s feeding them. As Chris Edwards puts it, they become “tools of the state.”

If the administration were really interested in promoting entrepreneurship, it would repudiate the anti-market policies it has pursued thus far. That’s obviously not going to happen, so it’s going to be up to congressional Republicans to repudiate their own history of supporting federal subsidies. In other words, the GOP’s re-found fondness for limited government rhetoric is going to have to actually be matched by action.

Economics 101

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

In his speech in Ohio yesterday, did President Obama draw a stark enough contrast with House Minority Leader John Boehner, whom he attacked by name eight times, to help his party in November?

My response:

The contrast the president drew was clear enough. His problem is that the people aren’t buying what he’s selling – and for good reason. His ideas, far from being new, have been tried countless times, both here and abroad. They don’t work. And they undermine basic American principles about individual liberty and free choice.

So when Obama says that Boehner and the Republicans have no new ideas, he’s partly right. (They have new ideas about how to address unsustainable entitlement programs – ask Rep. Paul Ryan.) At least in their rhetoric – their behavior in office, alas, is too often another matter – Republicans stand in substantial part for old ideas that work and conform more closely to the nation’s first principles, starting with lower taxes, less regulation, and less government management of the economy. That contrasts sharply with Obama’s countless “programs” to “stimulate” the economy, his targeted tax and spending schemes to create “green jobs,” to sell cars, and on and on. Listening to him, you’d think the economy would collapse were it not for Washington’s management of it.

The truth is quite the opposite, of course, as Americans are coming increasingly to appreciate. Economies prosper when entrepreneurs with ideas and capital are able to employ both for profit. But they won’t do that when conditions are uncertain, as they are when government meddles recklessly and uncertainly at every turn. How often have we heard entrepreneurs in recent months saying that they’d like to hire more people, but with the uncertainty of ObamaCare and so much else coming out of Washington, they’re sitting on their capital? And who can blame them?

So the answer is, get out of their way and let them do what they do best. But that’s not the Obama way. This “community organizer” – who organized people to demand more from government – seems to have no grasp of how economies work, beyond the failed command-and-control model. Even Fidel Castro has just now admitted that a government run economy doesn’t work. So either Obama smells the coffee coming now even from Cuba, or elections will take care of the matter.

The Power of One Entrepreneur

The Institute for Justice has launched a new economic liberties program called “The Power of One Entrepreneur.”  They have five detailed reports produced by successful local writers, highlighting five individual entrepreneurs. 

The power of one entrepreneur, the reports explain, is the key to helping our nation recover from this economic slump and to restoring our inner cities and countless lives through honest enterprise.  Together, they showcase the importance of economic liberty and the fact that countless people are fighting Big Government to secure their American Dream. 

These reports do two important things:

First, they document the positive impact one single entrepreneur can have on those around him or her, not only by offering employment, but through charitable work and mentoring to grow other entrepreneurs in the community, thereby growing the economic pie.

Second, through tangible examples, they make the point that if the government wants to do something to help Americans in this “jobless recovery,” it can do one simple thing:  Get out of the way so entrepreneurs like these can be free to create jobs for themselves and for others.

This is part of IJ’s laudable long-time effort to put a human face on the issue of economic liberty — the right to earn a living free from arbitrary and unnecessary government regulation.

Stossel on Fox News Channel: What’s Great about America

John Stossel, usually seen on Fox Business Network, will have a special on the Fox News Channel this weekend, well targeted to Independence Day: “What’s Great about America.” He’ll interview Dinesh D’Souza and immigrant businessmen, among others.

Saturday and Sunday, 9 p.m. ET both nights. Fox News is on lots more cable systems than Fox Business, so if you don’t get Fox Business, this is your chance to see Stossel.

Tonight at 9 p.m., I think it’s a rerun of his recent show on Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose, featuring … me. Along with Johan Norberg, Tom Palmer, and Bob Chitester.

For some of my own thoughts on what’s great about America, see this article.

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