As this is championship season in sports (yes, it’s always championship season for some sport), let’s begin our discussion with a sports analogy.
Over the course of a game, we have seen our beloved Home team riddled with injuries. Our star players have been physically and emotionally clobbered, as the Visitors have used every tool at their disposal against us, regardless of the rule book. They tripped and tackled our starters, given us two broken legs and three broken arms, driving five of our best out of the game. Kicking our boys during time outs, shooting darts from dart guns, wearing brass knuckles over their gloves, and putting them to use every chance they get.
And the Visitors who aren’t on the field just sit in their dugout, pointing threateningly at our players, gesturing and mouthing the words “You’re next!”
Two more of our best prospects quit by the halfway point, tore up their contracts and signed with a Japanese league, telling their lawyers they don’t care if they get sued; they’ve had it. We can’t bring in fresh blood from our farm teams, because our farm teams have dried up; seeing how the Visitors play the game has driven our reserves out of the game entirely. They’d rather wait tables or work an assembly line for somebody else than put everything on the line to play a crooked game against thugs.
By the second half of the game, our valiant Home team is operating at half strength, with nowhere near a full complement of players, without a prayer of recovery as long as the Visitors act as they do. But in this particular game, they don’t even have the option of forfeiting the game; the team must return after every time-out, ready to be illegally beaten down again. The team has no choice.
I know what you’re asking: Why aren’t the referees stopping all this abuse?
Good question. But a third of the refs grew up rooting for the Visitors; they’re not objective. Another third accepted bribes from the Visitors, with promises of lifetime income and respectability far beyond what they deserve, so they look the other way. And the remaining third? They stand up for the rule book, and they get outvoted in every conference. So when the Visitors break the rules, there’s nothing to stop them.
Now we come to today’s question: What are the sportscasters saying, as they announce this game over the loudspeaker, and over the radio and television waves?
Do the sportscasters tell the truth, reporting the constant kneecapping of the Home team by the thuggish Visitors, and calling out the corrupt refs every time the enforcement arm fails to do its job?
Or do the sportscasters blind themselves to what’s going on, retaining a fan’s hope for the Home team to somehow still win the day, surprised by every crooked point scored by the Visitors?
An Economy Under Fire
As you’ve surely figured out by now, this is not a case of a heartbroken Chicago sports fan, saddened by the loss of yet another title. Major league sports in the United States may have the occasional bad call or the occasional thuggish player, but the scale described above could never happen in baseball, football, or our other professional American sports.
The United States private sector economy, however, is very much a beloved Home team, a set of entrepreneurs and businesses, small and large, privately held and publicly traded, that together employ the American people. The private sector manufactures goods, raises and markets agricultural crops, and provides services of immense variety and scale. The private sector works to provide employment and investment opportunities for a nation under fire.
The United States public sector – the regulatory aspect of the leviathan – is the obstacle course that our private sector must overcome. From federal agencies to state and local bureaucrats, the armies of inspectors and regulators and paperwork – often created with good intentions – have accumulated to make success an impossibility for ever more of our employers. We used to fear our tax burden, but we have found that our tax burden is just a part of the arsenal that this malevolent force wields against us.
It is hard to start a business, to put your own savings at risk and open a shop, a restaurant, or a factory… hoping against hope to turn profitable before your seed investment runs out.
You already have to pay for rent, utilities, employees, and materials; now imagine adding to that list a stack of government regulations to follow, taxes to pay, mandated benefits to provide to your employees.
And then, after you’ve accepted these obstacles that the Visitors have put in your way – a level of taxes, a level of bureaucracy, a level of mandated salary and benefits – imagine then that the target keeps moving. Imagine that the government keeps on making it harder. First your city raises your property taxes, then your state raises your workmen’s comp and unemployment insurance costs, then the feds raise your income taxes and your FICA match. Every year, one or two of them go up.
Some years, they all go up. Other years, a state government will have pity and lower a tax, so the feds pounce on the opportunity and hike theirs even higher.
And then to all this, add the regulations. We grow up aware of a certain level, but every year, more so than ever these past two terms, federal agency regulations have skyrocketed. If you ran a coal mine a decade ago, you’ve been driven to the brink of bankruptcy by the Obama administration by now. If you ran a nuclear power plant, you’ve been forced to switch to less efficient oil, or much less efficient water, or insanely less efficient wind, by a federal government newly dedicated to eradicate nuclear power.
But we always knew those power utilities were hard businesses, you say. Fine. Then what about manufacturing, where the EPA has ratcheted up the penalty ranges for emissions that wouldn’t even have been regarded as a pollutant a decade ago? What about the restaurant business, where minimum wages and minimum benefit mandates have doubled the cost of hourly workers practically overnight? What about healthcare, where a complete upturning of the insurance industry has destroyed the old pricing model, resulting in countless hospital mergers, clinic closures, and physician retirements, just since that dark day in March 2010 when Obamacare was illegally passed and signed?
The federal, state, and local government assault on the private sector is illegal and unrelenting. And the people we count on to protect us – the other co-equal branches of government, particularly the judicial branch – have dropped the ball as well, being coopted, infiltrated, or outnumbered to the point of helplessness.
The Headlines of the Day
And so it is that our business reporters look for the bright side in every story. This factory shows record orders; that factory is expanding. This business just built a new office building; that one just moved its headquarters to accept a tax forgiveness incentive. What gets reported sounds good.
But businesses suffer as well. If they close all at once, they make the news. But if they just lose employees through attrition, or the layoffs are minor and under the mandatory reporting thresholds, the public may never hear about them. As businesses outsource more and more parts to their overseas vendors, or move more and more finished goods production across state lines or across the oceans, we don’t see it in the financial pages. And when there’s no new business start-up occurring, there’s no new business start-up to report, so the lack of new businesses isn’t as noticeable in the financial papers. You may at least see some businesses close; you’ll never see a new business “not start up.”
It just happens, below the radar.
So it is that the headlines continue. We always have something to report, some news to declare. But as the nation’s population swells with immigration – both legal and illegal – there are fewer jobs for this population. We have 94 million people “outside the workforce” in America – and many more who are in the workforce are dreadfully underemployed, because the contraction of manufacturing and other businesses has eliminated the jobs these people could have had.
Companies flee, companies shrink, companies quit. And jobs are shed, along with opportunity. Along with the American Dream, for millions and millions of Americans.
We see the same surprised headline, every quarter, sometimes every month, sometimes every week: “Economists See Signs of Downturn.” As if the newsmen and headline writers are surprised. As if the business press – who covers these beleaguered employers every day – are truly oblivious to the beatings that our private sector is taking from our government.
How can they seem so surprised? How can every business headline, every day, NOT be "Business Sector Attacked Again," and "Bureaucrats Continue War on Employers," and "Sluggish Economy Continues, Of Course."
Wake up, sportscasters and fans alike. There are Refs who need to be fired. There are Visitors who need to be imprisoned.
And it’s time for America to start really ROOTING for its Home team again.
Copyright 2015 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based international trade compliance trainer, writer, and actor. Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the IR URL and byline are included. Follow John F. Di Leo on Facebook or LinkedIn, or on Twitter at @johnfdileo, or his own site at johnfdileo.com.