Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Mind your own business

I build homes for a living. Not very fast and not very many, but it’s what I do. And I know that if I don’t build homes that people want to buy, and at a price they are willing to pay, I won’t be building homes anymore.

My wife Susan owns a furniture store. She knows that she has to offer furniture that people want to buy, and at a price they are willing to pay, or else she won’t be in the furniture business very long. She can’t force someone to shop at her store, anymore than I can force someone to buy one of my homes. That’s just the way the free-market system works. That’s the way it has always worked. We knew that going in. It’s a system that rewards good decisions and forces you to deal with your bad decisions. All in all, it’s a pretty good system, certainly the most fair for all participants.

But sometimes something comes along throws a wrench in that system. A good example here in Wayne County is the Economic Development Income Tax and the Economic Development Commission. The EDC, working with various elected officials in the county, uses of your tax dollars to support certain businesses over others. It might be in the form of tax abatements on equipment or property, or it might involve providing the business with land and buildings at a bargain price, or it might involve providing the business with taxpayer subsidized loans at bargain rates.

I don’t care if someone wants to sell chocolate covered olives, or underwear made out of soybeans, or rats. If there is a market for their product, they will do just fine without our forced support. If there isn’t a market for their product, well, that probably means they’ve made a bad decision, and that free-market thing kicks in.

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Government never furthered any enterprise but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way.” (Yeah, I had to look that word up, too. It means ‘eager willingness’.) Wayne County has made a good start in getting out of businesses way by sending Mr. Holbrook on his way. They need to follow-up on this good start by disbanding the EDC and repealing the Economic Development Income Tax.

That tax money, when left with it’s rightful owners, could be spent in Wayne County by those rightful owners on products and services of their own choosing, instead of providing artificial support for a company that couldn’t exist on it’s own merit, and will quite possibly leave when their abatement runs out, anyway.

In conversations with officials around the county, I’ve had commissioners, council members, and even EDC members tell me that they agree that it is wrong to give tax money to private businesses, but since other cities and counties are doing so, Wayne County has no choice but to do the same. I used that same argument in my younger days when I tried to convince Mom that my curfew should be extended. I figured when she learned that Stinky Wilmont could stay out until 11:00, surely it would be alright for me to stay out later. She didn’t buy that argument then, and we shouldn’t be buying it now.

Creating a friendlier business climate through lower property taxes for all businesses and individuals, along with less restrictive zoning requirements and regulations, would go a long way in supporting existing and attracting new businesses. The kinds of businesses that have made a commitment by investing their own capitol in themselves.

That’s all the help a viable business and it’s willing investors really need.


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