If you have spent any time reading my blog, you know that I love to read. Earlier this week I wrote about Ronald Reagan, as a result of reading a book about Reagan. Somebody asked me yesterday if I liked Reagan? It was a political question, one that I answered thoughtfully. When I was younger, and Reagan was Governor of California, I did not care for him. In fact, I chose not to pay my state income taxes to resist. Later, I paid those taxes and the subsequent penalties, declaring “boy I showed him.” Today I reflect back on just how naïve I was.
I told the person, asking me the question about Reagan, that I did not like his closure of mental hospitals because it put many people on the streets that really needed help, but I also said I appreciated his leadership in a time when our country needed leadership. He was able to get two sides to work together for the good of the people. Something that our current President is struggling with, and the previous one was not able to do.
Enough of Reagan, today I’d like to write about the power of business. On May 14th Seattle levied a tax against businesses, with $20 million or more in annual revenue, of $275 per employee to help deal with the city’s homeless problem. According to the WSJ, “It was projected to raise about $47 million a year, to be spent on affordable housing and homeless services.” Originally the tax was going to be $500 per employee, but Starbucks and Amazon pushed back, resulting in the $275 compromise. Yesterday, the city council in Seattle voted to repeal the tax. This demonstrated how business can be a force to change things.
I know the homeless situation is dire, but I have talked to people who are working with homeless people, and they often tell me the state, in this case a city council, does not want to do the right thing. The state usually wants to take money and throw it at the problem and not look at the systemic elements of the problem. The state typically looks at short term wins for political gains.
The young in Seattle, and in Portland for that matter, think business is an enemy. Often business leaders see Millennials as the problem. Ken Langone, founder of Home Depot, once said, “In 2016 I saw Bernie Sanders and the kids around him. I thought: This is the antichrist.” I think that both sides should take an enlightened look at just what business can do.
In the editorial where I read that quote, Peggy Noonan stated, “An occasional preoccupation in this space is that young people have no particular affection for capitalism, the economic system that made America a great thing in history and a magnet for the world.” She then went on to describe two reasons for this lack of fondness, the 2008 crash of the market and the levels of inequality in our country, and they’ve never heard capitalism defended. The reason for this is the educational system in our country leans left even more than the leaning tower of Pisa.
I have taught in the academic environment, and I saw young people who wanted to do good things, rightfully so, but they wanted to start non-profit organizations or do social work. Don’t get me wrong those things are good, but how do you pay for them? There has to be surplus value, profit, left over. It is when the economy is healthy that people are able to provide the resources needed to help others. The combination between wealth generation and a right-sized tax system would provide strong social systems to help people who are hurt by the evolving economic system.
Many of the young today look to socialism as the answer. Even some of my colleagues think socialism is the answer. However, as Paul Kengor stated in his May 4th editorial, “May 5th marks the bicentennial of Karl Marx, who set the stage with his philosophy for the greatest ideological massacres in history.” His ideas have, and continue, to kill millions of people throughout the world. The foundation of his ideology is the elimination of private property. The freedom of owning your own private property is the foundation of capitalism. Kengor states, “In the Communist Manifesto, he and Fredrich Engels were quite clear that the theory of Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property.”
Young people today may not understand the implication of this and its impact on freedom. If that is not enough to convince you of the issues with socialism/communism, then how about Marx’ s ten-point program: 1) abolition of private property, 2) a heavy progressive income tax, 3) abolition of the right of inheritance, 4) confiscation of all property of all emigrants and rebels, 5) centralization of credit in the hands of the state, 6) centralization of the means of communication in the hands of the state, 7) all production of goods will be a part of a common plan, 8) Equal liability of label and creation of agricultural armies, 9) gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country, 10) Free education for all children in public schools. Everything is controlled by the state with a complete elimination of individual freedom. And for those who say, we are not talking about communism but socialism, remember Marx always argued that socialism was part one and full-blown communism the ultimate goal.
I am not a proponent of McCarthyism, looking for communists under every rock, but I do think that we need to pay attention. Especially those who have more resources than others. The non-idiot billionaire, Ken Langone, “worries about the future of economic freedom and sees the selfishness of some of the successful as an impediment.” He argued there are some who are greedy and evil, and he rightfully argued don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
So, what is the point with all of this? I think that Democracy and economic freedom work well together. However, our economic system works best when those who have resources share with those who don’t. What I mean is, instead of relying on government to help people develop the work skills needed to provide for their families in an evolving world, wealthy people should create systems to help people develop needed work skills and the opportunities to exercise those skills. Like Langone states, “Home Depot has changed lives. We have 400,000 people who work there, and we’ve never once paid anyone minimum wage.”
I know it is not business’s core mission to create social change, but it does have the power to do that very thing. We have seen this power throughout the world. Through globalization a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. This could be the start. But it will take forward thinking business people like Ken Langone to accomplish this.
And that is my thought for the day!