In Jim Cook's Archive


We used to have a socialist professor at the University of Minnesota who gained notoriety with his anti-business tirades. One day there was a demonstration that pitted his advocates against a handful of business people. In the verbal exchange that followed, one guy kept yelling “you’ve never made a payroll.” Frankly, I didn’t get it. What the heck did he mean? What did making a payroll have to do with anything?

Years later, after I started my own business, I got it. For twenty years, from 1973 to 1993, four years were good and sixteen years were bad. When I had to go around to my employees and ask them if they could wait another two weeks before they got paid, I got it. When I went for months without a paycheck, I got it. When I laid off dozens of employees because business was bad, I got it. When I sold off my personal assets and the collection I loved to make payroll, I got it. When I cut us down to four-day weeks, I got it. When I laid awake a thousand nights racked by anxiety about how to make payroll, I got it.

The politicians, the media, the Hollywood liberals; they get it least of all. Our worldly goods, our luxuries, our services and our wealth don’t come through osmosis. Somebody had to take a big risk, struggle against overwhelming odds, work long hours, go the extra mile, practice unstinting integrity and develop abiding faith. Most who try don’t make it. Only by serving others better than the competition, or through innovation and new products can they succeed.

I’m not Hank Reardon or Midas Mulligan (Atlas Shrugged) but I can tell you that only the smallest number of individuals conceive the industrial and technological breakthroughs that dramatically improve our living standards. One of these was Henry Ford. In my book “The Start-up Entrepreneur,” I wrote, “In 1914, he shocked the world as no man had ever before him. He doubled the wage of his workers…and reduced their hours… The ‘five-dollar day’ stands out as one of the most generous acts in the history of commerce.”

Nevertheless, Ford was forced to yield to Walter Reuther and the United Auto Workers in the 1930s. The New York Times called him “an industrial fascist.” In the name of “social justice” Franklin Roosevelt sanctioned unions and gave them broad powers. This, coupled with an overabundance of regulation and high taxes has led to the current downfall of what was once our greatest industry. The things that raised everyone’s wages and made American industry great were minimal regulation, low taxes and limited government. That’s the exact opposite of what’s going on today.

Daniel Henninger, writing in the Wall Street Journal, describes today’s state of affairs. “So far Mr. Obama has used his personally exciting presidency for initiatives that are spending public money on a scale not seen since ancient Egypt. Besides Obama Motors ($60 billion to $100 billion), there is Obama-Care for health insurance ($1.2 trillion over 10 years), the stimulus ($800 billion), a global-warming offensive called cap and trade that hopes to siphon hundreds of billions of dollars from the economy, and a fiscal year 2010 budget of $3.59 trillion. Out of these mists of federal ‘investment’ they promise five million ‘green collar jobs.’ Only public-sector lifers could believe or assert, anything so fantastic…

All this is the Obama government’s idea of innovation. It is all public sector because all any of them know is public sector. Without exception, the Obama people with responsibility for the private economy come from a lifetime in politics, public administration or academia.

Besides Mr. Obama himself, the list includes Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, EPA’s Lisa Jackson (16 years with EPA), Commerce’s Gary Locke (zero private experience), or Transportation’s Ray LaHood (14 years in the House). The bio for Agriculture’s Tom Vilsack says he ‘has served in the public sector at nearly every level of government.’ How can the private sector – especially the world of risk capital, sweat equity and start-ups – be anything but an abstraction for this group?”

Those rare individuals like Henry Ford aren’t going to evolve in an environment where business persons are considered to be culprits rather than heroes. They won’t flourish when government lends its support to unions, regulators, socialist and politicians who see business as an adversary and who see wealth and success as a matter of luck. Higher taxes will kill off new businesses who desperately need to retain the capital they earn. It will drive entrepreneurs to other domains and discourage new ventures at home. The Washington agenda is the blueprint for national ruin.

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