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Riddell: There really is no free lunch

John Riddell
Not Business As Usual

Our last column dealing with managerial responsibility for providing insight to pending election issues provided an interesting dichotomy of responses. While a number of folks found the suggestion to have some merit, a few took issue with it. Central to the discomfort and disagreement was the perception that managers/owners should not try to unduly influence the politics of their employees. This was further supported by an undercurrent of mistrust by employees of their employers; a crystallization of “they” will always take advantage of “us.”

I must admit that I was not totally surprised by these reactions. Certainly macro trends in American society support this and politicians have successfully figured out how to capitalize, perhaps even enhance, this perception of exploitation for their own advantages and purposes. I strongly suggest that this must be addressed.

Small business and the realities of economic survival should not be confused with emotional pandering for solicitation of a vote. Small business decisions come with very short term and very real consequences — both for owners/managers and their employees. Good decisions allow companies to continue, bad ones result in companies closing with the resulting negative impacts on the income of both owners and employees and their families. Consequently, like it or not, everyone in a community has a vested interest in political decisions and their impacts on local businesses.

Perhaps the best place to address the aforementioned discomfort is to remove any intention of trying to “unduly influence the politics.” I am under the opinion that providing educational information is not trying to unduly influence, rather it is an attempt provide a basis for a more educated voter. Alexis de Tocqueville in his seminal work, Democracy in America, pointed out in the 1800s that the greatest threat to the American experiment was an uneducated voter. It was true then and it is true today.

It is certainly unfortunate today that the key to successful pandering resides in the reality of a lack of education. So many folks, especially young ones, do not understand the fundamental relationships between what they do and what they get paid and where these compensation funds originate. This disconnect is further underscored by a lack of understanding of the taxes they pay and the operation of the government these taxes go to fund.

A perfect example of this disconnect is the recent Animas River spill. While everyone is quick to justifiably criticize the EPA and demand remedies, everyone just needs to be aware that these remedies cost money and the money only comes from citizen workers paying taxes. The reality of “no free lunch” seems to be conveniently forgotten or perhaps even replaced with a misguided belief that everyone is entitled to a free lunch. So when a business owner/manager takes the initiative to clarify a particular election issue in a way that reduces the emotional fog to a clarity of costs and benefits, how can this be anything but an attempt to provide a better educated voter?

The “we” versus “them” tension between employers and employees also needs to be addressed. While much of this stems from historic conflicts originating in the upheaval of the industrial revolution, today’s successful business leaders clearly see their employees as essential contributors to the overall success of the business. Rather than an item for exploitation, tremendous amounts of time and energy are devoted to trying to recruit and retain these vital keys for success. Just look around at how many small companies are trying to accomplish this and the innovative ideas that are being tried. You start to realize that just maybe, this supposed conflict is indeed one of exploitation; however, the exploitation is by politicians playing again to an uninformed voter.

The American Dream has always been founded on equality of opportunity, not on guaranteed equality of outcomes. Outside of inherited wealth, successful small business entrepreneurship provides the single best gateway for opportunity to transition to reality. And educated, committed owner/managers working together with educated, committed employees are the best ticket to access the gateway.

Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.


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