December 29, 2011 by William Hennessy
How the RCGA Is Ruining St. Louis and What Businesses Can Do About It
Everyone knows and accepts that government does stupid things. Sometimes it feels like people institute governments and delegate them certain powers just to give us something to complain about.
Government stupidity, scandal, and corruption hits different people in different ways. Government hyperactivity keeps poor people poor by limiting opportunity and by building barriers to exiting poverty programs. “If you take that job, you’ll lose your health insurance.” Compassion my non-qualifying asset.
Government induces moral complacency by telling otherwise decent people not to help their fellow humans.
Perhaps most insidiously, government steals opportunity from future generations for the benefit of generations that can and should take care of themselves.
Traditionally, business people, among others, watched and checked government. They did this through local chambers of commerce, like the RCGA in St. Louis.
According to this article on Harvard Business Review:
Chambers of commerce are the oldest surviving business organizations. The earliest in the English-speaking world were set up in the 1760s in New York City and the Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. Charleston (SC), Manchester and Liverpool (UK), Quebec, and Jamaica followed in the 1770s, with the chamber model diffusing to all major towns and cities by the 1920s.
Chambers of commerce organized out of anger against government stupidity and growth.
Their earliest business leaders were angry protesters against the Stamp Act, taxation of the colonies, and military coercion on America. They were responding to a period of extreme contention between economic and political interests. A chamber of commerce provided a new model to shape anger and protests into more effective, reasoned, and sustained economic lobbies to the imperial government in London.
Somewhere between Stamp Act protests and Aerotropolis, though, chambers of commerce switched teams. They become lobbyists who curry favor with politicians in order to win unfair advantages for certain members of the chambers. According to economist Stephen Moore:
The Chamber of Commerce, long a supporter of limited government and low taxes, was part of the coalition backing the Reagan revolution in the 1980s. . . . [M]any chambers of commerce on the state and local level have been abandoning these goals. They’re becoming, in effect, lobbyists for big government.
That certainly seems to be the case in St. Louis.
The RCGA, which once helped revitalize areas of town like Laclede’s Landing, Soulard, and Dog Town, now focuses on transferring tax dollars from future generations or from tax payers in distant Missouri counties into the pockets of the RCGA’s favorites players.
In the process, St. Louis has fallen in almost every category. Population is declining in both St. Louis City and St. Louis County. City schools are a discredited shambles. St. Louis County is shedding tax payers to adjacent counties thanks to its insatiable appetite for fees and taxes. The St. Louis region has fallen dramatically in job creation.
Instead of working to get government off the backs of businesses and improving the region, the RCGA is focused on growing government and shifting business risk to the tax payers. That’s not only bad for business and bad for the region, it’s bad for the soul.
Stephen Moore says St. Louis’s RCGA is not unique:
In as many as half the states, state taxpayer organizations, free-market think tanks, and small business leaders now complain bitterly that, on a wide range of issues, chambers of commerce deploy their financial resources and lobbying clout to expand the taxing, spending, and regulatory authorities of government.
The reason I and many other Tea Partiers oppose the Republican Establishment is because we’ve seen how that Establishment has gutted American cities like St. Louis. The Republican Establishment is almost indiscernible from various chambers of commerce. Neither advances limited government, free markets, and fiscal responsibility.
Conservatives like me have a knee-jerk tendency to defend all private businesses against all accusations. But that’s a knee-jerk reaction, not a wise consideration of facts and consequences.
Big businesses are famously myopic. We’ve all heard the woes of companies that look only to the fiscal quarter or year, not to the long-term value of the business. Many conservatives have oversold themselves on certain aspects of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations without ever trying to square those ideas with his other work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
As a result, we on the right have become de facto enablers of big government, defending big business in their efforts to gain advantages through activist governments.
Stephen Moore found a small business owner in Maryland who’s had enough with his local chamber and the big businesses using it to destroy everyone else:
“I used to think that public employee unions like the NEA were the main enemy in the struggle for limited government, competition, and private sector solutions,” says Mr. Caldara of the Independence Institute. “I was wrong. Our biggest adversary is the special-interest business cartel that labels itself ‘the business community’ and its political machine run by chambers and other industry associations. [emphasis mine]”
Luckily, that Harvard Business School piece offers some solutions. I’d like to responsible and serious St. Louis businesses start a rival chamber to advance these 7 principles of business-friendly government:
- Set an ambitious new vision for engagement with the deepest irritations among chamber members; involve non-members to aid recruitment.
- Build capacity among staff and volunteers to manage protest.
- Recognize that government “bads” and threats are usually a far more influential force on businesses than government “goods”: avoid the US “pork barrel” and do not be trapped by the UK or EU incentives to “chase the funding”. This just gets non-profits to follow politicians’ agendas.
- Focus on where threats, risks, and anger are highest; most businesses are not interested in the minor or trivial.
- Use new technology to expose contention and open new avenues to welcome protest. Take on the tough problems and avoid easy solutions. Use business networks, social media, and crowdsourcing to re-engage business communities at low cost.
- Prepare for long term and sustained campaigns; policy victories are rarely won quickly.
- Expose policy incompetence, look for public programs that do not work and press for termination; but celebrate policy successes, especially where businesses and chambers have contributed. Use blogs and networks to keep up to date and monitor feelings. [emphasis mine]
If you’re interested in starting such a chamber, please enter comments below.
Update: Perhaps Joe Reagan will changes things. I forgot that the RCGA recently replaced long-time CEO, Dick Fleming.