Gary Hofmeister: Whose business?

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One of the questions I think you could likely get 90-percent-plus of the public to answer correctly is: “Who spends your money better … you or the government?” Assuming that is the case, wouldn’t you think that businesses would be even more prone to screaming bloody murder if Congress would write legislation specifying how you divide up your limited resources? Well, count me in, though, at least at the present, there’s no indication that they are getting ready to swoop in on the fine jewelry stores. But that may be only a matter of time. Only a few months ago, one pundit who apparently had been having nightmares about Enron literally wrote that perhaps Obama and his team “should simply nationalize the entire economy.” Hey! Great idea. Look what it did for the Soviet Union, Cuba and North Korea. Workers’ paradises, man!

Several years ago, I remember reading incredulously that Sen. Kennedy, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, and some other clueless senator whose name escapes me introduced a piece of legislation mandating what percentage of their gross income pharmaceutical companies could spend on advertising. I was aghast! The thought that some legislator (or bureaucrat) could come into a business and dictate his marketing plan to the owners just knocked the wind out of me. I watched and waited for some pundits or legislators to push the panic button for the business community, to no avail. Virtually no notice was taken. I partially ascribed this to the blatant ignorance of journalists, most of whom never have worked in the private sector other than the news organizations that employ them. And unfortunately, the other group deserving an indictment is Congress itself, because few of them ever have had to meet a payroll. The silence was deafening.

And now here we are with Obamacare, which specifically controls not only promotions and advertising of each part of the medical industry, but also anyone who can read the tea leaves can deduce that these companies shortly will be no more than appendages of the federal government in the same way as most quasi-government operations. Think of the post office and Fannie and Freddie on steroids. Not what I would call a fun future. Please pass the razor blades.

But I also must admit that having started a company 38 years ago and having lived through the years of 16-hour days, getting paid last after your employees, struggling through the ups and downs of the economy and wondering at times whether you are even going to survive, I take this very personally. I firmly think nearly every entrepreneur in the country would (and why it’s so difficult to find a small-business person who is a liberal). Right or wrong, you sweat out your emotions and brains wondering if you are making the right decisions in products chosen, advertising to use, number of employees to hire and loads of other strategic decisions that sap your energy. Then along comes the hammer of big government to stick its ugly finger into the mix by mandating things it knows nothing about.

Obama has just made a strategic decision to try to mend some of the relations with the business community by hiring Bill Daley and others who have some real-life business experience. After all the radicals of the past two years, this is new territory for the president. Let’s hope it means that there will be some regression from the attitude that all businesses are trying to rape the public and must be regulated. We will watch for the change … and hope.

Gary Hofmeister is the owner and operator of Hofmeister Personal Jewelers in downtown Steamboat, a company he founded in 1973. He is a director of The Steamboat Institute and a former Republican nominee for Congress in the 10th District of Indiana. He made 18 trips to the former USSR to teach democratic-capitalism during the 1990s.

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