I started in the business world in 1974, and the environment for business success has been on a decline since then. After World War II, our nation became producers and manufacturers. Industrial and manufacturing output flourished. Unemployment virtually disappeared, and the modern era of home ownership ushered in an amazing increase of our nation's overall standard of living.
THE INITIAL DECLINE began with the growth of the welfare state in the 1960s. There was an aggressive effort on the part of the federal government to feed and house persons who chose not to feed and house themselves. The "Great Society" was born.
What happened to industrial output and manufacturing in our country? Federal regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and dozens of others were born through federal legislation. Legislation designed to protect workers, such as the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, has turned into a lifetime of lawsuits brought against employers. Well-intentioned acts of government start off with the right idea and then they turn into tens of thousands of pages of regulations that some small-business owner must comply with or face the consequences.
The consequences are frivolous lawsuits, and revenue-producing fines for government agencies. The cost of lawsuits, fines and compliance is passed along to the consumer, or the business disappears. When you combine the above with a poorly suited labor pool and big labor unions, you create a recipe for productivity to move overseas because it is the only place a manufacturer can go and still make money. So, industrial output and manufacturing is essentially dead permanently.
Who can argue with the value of the proper use of labor unions? They were invented to protect workers from unsafe workplaces and slave wages. If you need to employ 4,000 people you need a labor union to help find the workers and ensure the qualifications and training levels of workers. That is practical. But when labor unions negotiate contracts or support strikes that put businesses into bankruptcy, not only do the employers suffer, but also employees and those communities in which they live. Now employers will do almost anything to avoid labor unions. That includes hiring through temp agencies and, sadly, moving production to Mexico, Sri Lanka or China.
IT IS NOT JUST the federal government that gets in the way. The burden on businesses by state and local governments with their zoning requirements, license fees, property taxes, smoking bans, overbearing regulations and layers and layers of other fees makes it hard to survive. Frivolous harassment-style litigation brought by regulators, consumers and employees makes the United States less than fertile ground in which to do business.
There are very few hirable people in the labor market. Twenty percent are just too lazy and do not really want to work. Twenty percent are incompetent and illiterate. Twenty percent are not hirable because of illegal drug use and criminal backgrounds. Twenty percent choose to live on welfare rather than wake up in the morning and try to find work. That leaves businesses to fight over the 20 percent who are left over. And I hired them already, so the rest of you are in deep trouble.
Back in the 1970s, and even into the '80s, we always had five to 10 good, hirable applicants who were waiting for us to call them to come to work. That is impossible now. Ninety-nine percent of the people who want to work already have jobs. Would you believe that there are people who like being on unemployment? Twice last year we offered jobs to people who said they would rather wait until their unemployment ran out to start working again. So, when the well-meaning politicians add to the amount that unemployment provides, and extends the length of time you may draw unemployment, all they are doing is adding to the unemployment rolls.
The government education complex in our country is failing. Our public school system is generally turning out very few people suited to work. A reporter I know who works for a daily newspaper told me they are supposed to write on a seventh-grade comprehension level. What does that say about the "average" citizen?
And the fault of this is not the well-meaning, hard-working, professional educators. It is the fault of our federal and state government that burdens the educators with politically correct rules and regulations, and the parents who send worthless, lazy, ill-prepared, poor-behaving young people to school. Recently, I spoke to a class of high school children, and one out of three students was asleep during my entire 50-minute presentation. They were quiet at least. I informed the two-thirds who were awake that they had a hard life ahead of them because they would be paying to feed, house and incarcerate the other one-third.
THE GOOD PARENTS who raise good children are receiving a great education through our government, private and home-school systems.
I feel sorry for the next generation of business people. It is already a 1-in-20 chance that you will make it one year in a new business. With the burdens of big union labor, big government regulation, big taxation and big litigation, you won't stand a chance to make it in business in the decades to come. You will rely on the government for all your needs.
(The writer is owner of Advanced Services for Pest Control in Augusta.)