This year, there were about twenty-five bills introduced in the California legislature taking aim at the regulatory process. Listening to those pushing bills that would eviscerate core worker and environmental protections, regulations are to blame for our battered economy. They say regulations have created a bad business climate and that's why small businesses can't keep their doors open.
Hmmm. Sure makes for nice soundbites. But is it true?
Not so much.
In actuality, deregulation is a far greater threat to our economy. Those pushing so-called “regulatory reform” seem to conveniently forget that it was deregulation of Wall Street and Big Banks that caused our economic collapse. And there are important worker safety regulations, like heat stress protections, that took decades to get enacted. Other regulations, like nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, protect public health and have literally saved lives.
But the bogus claim by the right wing and big corporations that regulations pose the greatest threat to the economy has been repeated so many times, some accept it as truth. The problem with that is, when you actually talk to the small businesses that everyone keeps claiming to be speaking for, it's not regulations that percolates to the top of their list of concerns. Last week, McClatchy Newspapers actually asked small business about regulation… and it turns out, regulations are NOT their major concern.
If it's not regulations, it must be taxes, right? Aren't California businesses withering away because of taxes? Nope. Again, a reporter just tried actually asking small businesses if taxes are the source of their problems. The businesses they talked to said it's not about taxes, it's about customers.
As one shop owner told the San Francisco Chronicle:
People are not shopping because they are afraid. Either they don't have a job, or if they do have money, they're afraid to spend it because they don't know how long they'll have a job.
Wow, so after all this talk about regulations and taxes killing small business, here's the truth. What small business needs is a jobs program. An agenda that builds rebuilds a middle class economy with good jobs that puts money in people's pockets. Until we get people back to work, there will be no customers and there will be no economic revitalization. And the last thing small businesses need is more budget cuts that take money out of circulation so that the wealthiest among us can horde cash in off-shore accounts.
That's the essential problem with the “race to the bottom” mentality. We could cut corporate taxes. We could undo worker safety regulations. We could give more tax breaks to the rich. And those small businesses would still be empty.
It's time to stop using this economic downturn to take away workers' rights, eviscerate environmental protections or slash our safety net. Let's get real about what we need to move California forward. It's all about the jobs. Good jobs bring family stability, secure communities, and economic recovery. And as small business owners know better than anyone, jobs mean customers.