This is a letter I wrote the Nashua Telegraph in response to an article in a Sunday edition back in late May. As is generally the case–for The Telegraph at least–it was never published. I wanted to start a section of the Blog for letters (published or not) and I happned to think this was a great one to start with.
To the Editor
How many business investments can you think of that focus on filtering capital through an inefficient government bureaucracy as a model for creating private employment growth and income opportunity?
The Sunday Telegraph business section focuses on just such a program in an article titled “Forward thinking.” The State Division of Economic Development has hired a coordinator to “help businesses avoid cutting positions.” Francis Allain, the coordinator, is charged (in a nutshell) with making sure business owners can locate various state resources to help prevent layoffs, or assist with employees who will need to be laid off. But I suppose it never occurred to anyone in State government that creating jobs at the state level, using money the State took from the pockets of private business owners, with the intention of helping businesses retain employees, sounds a bit ridiculous.
The division director, Mike Vlacich epitomized this naiveté by claiming “It’s not a handout,” referring to the funding resources as taxes businesses have paid for years, and calling it “a return on investment.” Mr. Vlacich, if you printed the money yourself it would still be a handout. But to make a better case what you are really saying is that funding an infrastructure of agencies with people who have salaries and benefits, vacation time, insurance, and expense accounts, all paid for with the taxes the State took from business owners, is an investment just because whatever is left—after the payroll, infrastructure, and operating costs of the State agencies—will be used to help some businesses keep employees they might otherwise have to shed to stay solvent? Forget about gold or oil, or even a lousy bond fund, this is clearly where the action is!
I bet if you surveyed tax paying business owners they would overwhelmingly agree on at least three things. First, that no matter how many agencies or coordinators the State feels it needs to manage the product of other people’s labor, despite their good intentions, the business owners would rather take their chances and keep the money themselves. Second, that they, the business owners, are probably in a better position to decide how best to use their money for the benefit of themselves, their business, and their employees right now. And finally, that keeping the money in the community where the business owner is most likely to invest it, will provide more immediate assistance to the people of that community, and the State, than if they had funneled it through the government first.
The very act of collecting the resources government runs on immediately diminishes their value. The State should focus less on how it might spend our money to suit some government notion of good will and focus more on how to sustain an environment in which business is free to create that good will on its own. That may mean laying off state employees but maybe they’ll feel better if they just think of it as an investment.