President Calvin Coolidge is famous for saying, “The chief business of the American people is business.” Could Coolidge still say that? Or would he now say, “The chief business of the American people is government.”
I’ve been to a couple of entrepreneurial thought leadership conventions this year and am attending Inc.’s GrowCo next week in Nashville. And I find disturbing the number of new companies I see that are staking their viability on selling into the government or getting around the problems created by government.
I can tell you anecdotally my executive sales outsourcing company, Corporate Rain, is increasingly being asked to serve companies selling into the corporations who offer technology, consulting, and products to ameliorate and take advantage of government dicta having little relation to needs created by the real world marketplace, but rather serving a skewing and distorting agora of faux incentivization created by bureaucrats.
Don’t get me wrong. These services and products are needed by corporations large and small. Yet they increasingly, if necessarily, address a wasteful and growing set of conundrums created by government hegemony itself, rather than offering solutions for real people living real lives. The new incentives of solving the problems of over-regulation are only penultimately about solving real world problems. They are fundamentally, first and foremost, about feeding the maw of innately inefficient and smothering government.
Obamacare is just the most prominent of these governmental morasses. I am coming to suspect there’s a creeping conquest of traditional capitalist process that may eventually obviate the salubrious and cleansing efficiency of our natural business process of creative destruction. I ask myself the question: Is the entrepreneurial process itself being subtly and gradually being corrupted into being a richly rewarded enabler of inefficient oligarchy? As Willie Sutton famously put it when asked why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”
There are some alarming portents out there. For example, back in 2012 Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin did an article for Harvard Business Review titled “Can America Compete” which discussed a poll that revealed graduates of Harvard Business School overwhelmingly favor foreign over US locations for new investment and growth. Only 16% preferred the US. (HBR, Sept.-Oct. 2012) Or take the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report where the US doesn’t even make the top 20 on almost all measures of government and institutional quality.
Niall Ferguson has commented on the growing economic counter-productivity of American governing institutions in his book The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die.
“Many development economists argue that poor countries can get richer if they improve their institutions, particularly the rule of law. The converse also applies: Rich countries can get poorer if their institutions deteriorate, particularly the rule of law. [For example] today only lawyers think the United States has the world’s best legal system. Everyone else knows it has become a nightmare of impossibly complicated statutes (example: Dodd-Frank), open-ended liability (tort costs are the highest in the industrialized world relative to GDP), and eye-watering billable hours….The political debate in America today is all about symptoms, from slow growth to large deficits, when it should be about the underlying malaise.”
As Ron Paul puts it, less elegantly, “When one gets in bed with the government, one must expect the diseases it spreads.”
“Government entreprepreneur” seems like something of an oxymoron to me. There is something corrupting and unsavory about magnificent entrepreneurial companies being incentivized to serve a governmental Gargantua, like lamprey eels feasting on a great blue whale.
President Thomas Jefferson said, “I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of caring for them.” Thanks, Thomas.