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Small Businesses Are the Lifeblood of Capitalism

By Carl Langley
web posted March 11, 2008
GUEST COLUMN – Charles Wilson, a high ranking cabinet official during the Eisenhower Administration of the early 1950s, is famous more for one statement than any of his many accomplishments in the private and public sectors of American life.

“What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA,” Wilson, the former president of the giant automaker, supposedly declared when pressed on the closeness his company had to government production.

Wilson denied ever making such a declaration with that choice of words, but it was obvious that in his times the health of his company was directly tied to the economic health of the nation and vice versa.

Before Wilson offered his observation on economic relationships another even more prominent public figure made a similar correlation. President Calvin Coolidge, a tight man with words who kept much of his counsel to himself, was said to have observed to a constituent that “the business of America is business.“

And long before Coolidge and Wilson were born Adam Smith, an economist born in Scotland before the American Revolution, wrote a magnificent treatise called The Wealth of Nations, which in a subtle way predicted the giant America would become.

In Smith’s analysis of the movement of goods and money, individuals and nations would become financial giants if left unfettered by confiscatory taxes and oppressive regulations. His mind was attuned to the very basics of growth, which is demand creates products, products create markets and markets create wealth.

I find no fault in the statements made by either Wilson or Coolidge. Good for you, Charlie Wilson. Good for you, Silent Cal. I salute them both for uttering the obvious and giving support to the theories of Smith, whose foresight presaged the birth of America’s development.

Wilson’s, Coolidge’s and Smith’s critics come mainly from leftists and socialists, the ones who believe only rigid government control can make life better for all of us. Josef Stalin and Mao Tse Tung were adherents to such philosophy, took it even farther and killed millions of luckless souls to reinforce their beliefs.

A leftist’s warped view of the economic world ignores the fact that free education, free health care, free housing, free food, free clothing, free everything, etc., etc. can be achieved only by taxing the ones who generate income. In other words, someone has to work and make things work in order to provide the freebies.

The main practitioners of something for nothing are any country’s leftists, whose bedfellows are university and college professors and a vast coterie of social engineers, activists, welfare nannies and others who see government and its ability to tax as the ultimate security blanket.

France, Germany, Spain, Italy and even Great Britain are mere shells of what they once were because of leftists who now dominate their political systems. And the home-bred leftists have been joined by Muslim throngs who are slowly getting a stranglehold on the system.

Here at home things are not much better. We don’t have the rioting Muslims, but we do have the socialist teachings which have produced many young people unable to balance a checkbook and unable to use our language properly.

A nation’s strength lies in how well its people use their language and employ the basics of math, physics and chemistry, and those unable to converse intelligently and unable to cope with the sciences end up on the trash piles of society.

From personal experience I know that too many young people spend more time at rock music concerts and hip hop street festivals than they do in lecture halls and libraries where knowledge flows like a mighty river.

I once read a column by a newspaper editor who wrote with gusto about attending a concert featuring Joan Baez, a folk singer with suspect talents as an entertainer. The editor’s slavish devotion to Baez suggested he also had suspect talents, namely as a purveyor of prose. Baez was the poster girl for the American left in the 1960s, which is to say she was representative of the very worst among us.

The American left gives no consideration to the fact that this nation, birthed out of a desire that all men be free and allowed to rise or fall on their own merits or demerits, was founded in an independent spirit and after little more than 200 years has become the envy of the world.

Being a child of the Great Depression, I learned in my youth that those who survive are those who prepare themselves for life after work. I have held stocks for many years now, finding them the perfect vehicle, mainly through mutual funds investments, to feather my retirement nest.

The stocks and bonds that make up the framework of the capitalist market system enable every American to buy a piece of the action. But the corporate giants that were built on private investment are only a blip when the focus is on the broad spectrum of the capitalist system. It is the hundreds of thousands of small businesses, some employing as few as two or three people, that are the vital parts of the mighty engine that runs our system. I can’t imagine a world without the corner delicatessen, the family pharmacy, the local hardware store, the mom and pop sandwich shop and so on and so on.

My love for small businesses comes from personal experience. My father was a small businessman, and he usually employed only two or three clerks and helpers in his store. He ran what was called a country store and a small sandwich shop. He cooked and sold barbecue on weekends to keep our family solvent.

I remember a day in 1946 when only one customer came into my father’s store. The man bought a loaf of bread and a couple of gallons of gas. His total purchase amounted to less than a dollar.

“It can sure get lonesome around here some days,” was my father’s only reply to the slow pace of business. He knew that life as a small store owner held no guarantees, but it proved to be better than that of a sharecropper, which he was before stepping into the uncertain waters of the retail stream.

Because of my father’s long years behind the counter of a small store, I have long had an appreciation for the ups and downs of little merchants, mainly because of their ability to suffer through bad times, and I know the love they have for the business they had chosen.

During my junior year in college I ran a soda fountain for a pharmacist named Phil Faile, who was building a nest egg so he could return to school and become a doctor. He was a great inspiration to me, and I worked hard for him jerking sodas, making banana splits and cooking hamburgers and hot dogs.

Dr. Faile, as I called him, told me one evening as we were closing that I was the only manager he ever had that made money in his soda fountain. I felt a rush of pride and worked for him another year before graduating. Years later I found he had sold his drug store, gone to medical school and became a surgeon.

Dr. Faile’s Five Points pharmacy is the real story of American business enterprise, and it is a story that has been repeated millions of times over since this republic was founded. My father was among the multitude.

Daddy enjoyed and appreciated his customers and many were his connection to what was going on around and about the town. I can never imagine chain store executives sharing the same bond with those whose pennies, nickels and dimes keep businesses going and no amount of advertising the retail giants buy can convince me otherwise.

While preparing this book and two others I have published since my retirement from the daily newspaper field, I roamed all over the local landscape seeking information and assistance, and in doing so I spent a lot of time and money inside small businesses. I seldom visit chain stores.

Aiken, I found during my wanderings afoot, is a pleasant and welcoming place for those pondering decisions to go into business. The town is bulging with family businesses and an afternoon stroll down Laurens Street and its byways tell me the “moms and pops” are doing well.

Up and down our town’s Main Street businesses of every kind imaginable are thriving and the resurgence has given Aiken a wholesome look. Other towns the size of Aiken are not so fortunate, and in many places the numbers of shuttered store fronts outnumber the places still doing business.

I end by asking all who have bothered to read this to do business with their local merchants. They are our neighbors and our friends, and they are in this boat with us, paddling as hard as they can to help carry us safely along the currents of life.

(This tribute to small businesses and their owners appeared in Carl Langley’s third book)


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