Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fixing American Capitalism

Believe it or not, American capitalists are not that far apart from American communists when it comes to the issue of concern for the individual's ability to participate in the economy. Both would like to see the individual have much more access to "means of production". The difference is that capitalists would like to achieve this by making it easier for the individual to acquire, create and deploy means of production, while the communists would simply take existing means of production from those who have it and give them to those who don't.

There are serious flaws in the American system. What we need to do is not eliminate risk, but make it easier and more rewarding to take risk. The biggest barriers exist at the bottom of the income scale. Well meaning programs and policies have made it increasingly difficult to go from poor to rich. First and most obvious is simply the paperwork, taxes and regulatory requirements involved in starting even the smallest business. This can be intimidating, even when it is affordable. The more serious problem is that the system is not seamless. When you reach a certain level of income, the rules change. You no longer qualify for this, and you are now subject to that. When you reach a certain level of employees you no longer fall under this set of rules, but that one. Taxes you were exempt from last week, suddenly apply. The result is, if you're not ready to grow by a giant leap, you're better off not growing at all.

A federal sales tax that would replace all of the existing taxes would be a great step in eliminating many of these issues. The tax rate may be steep, around 22%, but it would be predictable and consistent. Collecting and paying sales tax is also very simple. You don't have to hire an accountant or financial expert. Filling out the form and writing the check takes about 10 minutes.

Regulation must also be addressed. The rules governing business should be consistent from the lemonade stand, right up to the Cisco's and the GM's. You shouldn't have hire a team of Phd's to take your business to the next level. There is a difference between publicly traded and privately held companies however. If you're going to offer a stake in your company to the public, the public has a right to know exactly how you're deploying their investment. If you don't want to be under that kind of scrutiny, stay private.

Ironically, big powerful companies get bigger and more powerful because of legislation designed to keep them in check. Intense regulation wards off competition who either don't understand it or can't afford to comply with it. The emphasis needs to shift from paranoia toward the very big, to enabling the very small. Stop trying to reign in Big Blue and instead, take the shackles off Bob's Hardware.

The fact that a ridiculously high percentage of taxes are paid by a ridiculously small portion of the population points out the fact that we need to increase the ranks of the rich. We need to do so by making it easier to move from the bottom to the top, rather than simply trying to make the bottom more comfortable. As we are about to find out, relying on 5% of the people to produce for the rest of us is an unsustainable situation. Put the other 95% in a position to produce by really setting loose the power of the marketplace.

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