There’s an old workplace maxim that I have always found useful: Don’t do anything well, as you’ll get stuck doing it forever. If you’re the one guy enthusiastic about stuffing envelopes, then congratulations – you’ll have paper cuts until you quit. If you brag about your sweeping skills, there’s a 100% chance you’ll get to show them off. Forever.
Businesses in Wisconsin are faced with a similar dilemma, but for slightly different reasons. Businesses often become victims of their own successes. If you produce a popular product that becomes necessary to the everyday lives of Wisconsin citizens, suddenly you become the enemy for attempting to profit. Never mind that the motive for profit is probably the reason you started the business in the first place – once people want your product bad enough, you become the bad guy. After all, how dare you charge customers a price they are perfectly willing to pay for something they value? Expect to be taxed to the point where customers stop buying your product, or expect the government to come in and take over your operations.
Certain business sectors have come under fire for being too successful in providing services. You all know what they are. But what is the alternative? Don’t like $3 a gallon gas? Here’s a shovel, start diggin.’ There’s oil down there somewhere. Don’t like pharmaceutical companies? Here’s a lab coat and a Bunsen burner – you should have a cure for grandma’s Alzheimer’s figured out in no time – right after you learn how to hook up your DVD Player.
Surely, not all business owners are wonderful people with hearts of gold. Yet they deserve more credit than blame for the services they provide the public. Wisconsin politicians are constantly attacking businesses for profiting on practices the elected officials deem so necessary – without realizing what would happen without the business there to provide it. Does anyone actually believe health care will improve if we tax hospitals more?
These politicians often confuse “self interest” with “selfishness.” Of course, we all act in self-interest. It’s why we wake up in the morning, brush our teeth, and go to work. We want to make money and better our positions in life. Businesses also act in their own self-interest. They want to make money and be successful – but in the process, there’s also a side benefit in the employment they offer their workers. (Although, admittedly, your job is hard to view as a “benefit” if you have a cranky boss.) In this respect, the business’ self-interest helps the individual workers pursue their own interests.
On top of their battles with government, businesses also must compete with each other. Company profits are dictated in large part by the profits of their competitors. Recently, Netflix announced plans to drop their monthly rates by $2, in response to Blockbuster’s nascent DVD-by-mail operation. A liberal would be angry at Netflix for “gouging” consumers all these months – while a conservative would recognize that the market is working and keeping prices down. In this case, competition has become a check on Netflix’ “excess profits.” And in the end, anything that can get Borat into your hands for two bucks cheaper is a big winner for everyone.
Often times, business innovation betters the lives of everyone in Wisconsin. They convince us that something new is something we can’t live without – and sometimes, they are proven right. By attacking their successes, we dissuade such innovation in the future – which is in no one’s self-interest.