How the RCGA Is Ruining St. Louis and What Businesses Can Do About It

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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.

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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:

  1. Set an ambitious new vision for engagement with the deepest irritations among chamber members; involve non-members to aid recruitment.
  2. Build capacity among staff and volunteers to manage protest.
  3. 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.
  4. Focus on where threats, risks, and anger are highest; most businesses are not interested in the minor or trivial.
  5. 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.
  6. Prepare for long term and sustained campaigns; policy victories are rarely won quickly.
  7. 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.

What Scrooge Teaches Millennials

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This is the fourth in a series. If you haven’t, please read part 1, part 2, and part 3

Because so many school systems have driven great English literature out of students’ hands and minds, it’s possible that some kids never read Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  If you’ve never read this classic, please do so now.  You need it.

Scrooge_Marley

Back?  Good. Fascinating stuff, isn’t it?  And so much more accessible than David Copperfield, which was my introduction to Dickens.

So now you know that Scrooge was a miser who treated the whole world and all of its inhabitants with a cruel contempt.  Scrooge loved money and nothing else.

But during the course of the story, a series of spirits massage Scrooge’s conscience. They begin with his own happy youth, when Scrooge still enjoyed the presence of other people.  They proceed through Scrooges present and into his future.

Somewhere along the way, Scrooge changes.  He has a conversion. He learns to love others as himself.

If I were a Millennial—those born between 1983 and about 2002—I’d ask myself, “why?”

The spirits didn’t argue politics or morality with Scrooge.  They didn’t tell him his taxes were too low, and they didn’t send bureaucrats to audit his books and extract fines.

Instead, they made it personal.  They showed him his real life—past, present, and future—in living color and 3D.  They simply held up a mirror and provided him clear evidence of what his future would be if remained on the path he’d taken.

Scrooge reformed because he knew a lonely, unhappy death awaited him. He knew that people would mock his memory.

Millennials should take a hard look at our national debt. Not just where it stands, but the direction it’s going.

Look at the amount of debt that Gen X, Boomers, and WWII have saddled you with.  It’s about $50,000 and going up every day.

What did you get for that money?  Not a damn thing, really.  Most of that debt went to pay for people who are already retired. In other words, your grandparents are borrowing money, spending it, and passing the bill onto you.

I know you’re a generous group. You want to help. You believe in this country, and you’re willing to sacrifice to make it stronger.

We all are.  That’s a common trait of Americans.

But how much can you bear?  How much of a debt burden can your generation really handle?

On top of Washington’s $15 trillion in debt and $60 trillion in unfunded liabilities, most states hold hundreds of billions or more in combined debt and future pension obligations.  Those aren’t your pensions, but the pensions of people in older generations.

Well, you weren’t asking for all that debt. Now you’re stuck with it.

Again, how much more can you and our society handle? And does it really help anyone for the government to make promises it can’t keep?

Scrooge looked at “Christmas Yet To Come” and saw his horrible death. Unless he changed.

When I look at America’s future, I see the same.

The spirits gave Scrooge the chance to reform, and he took it.

Will you?

How Government Growth Creates Scrooges

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Scrooge’s nephew left the office and let in two men in the process. They came to ask for a donation for London’s poor.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (pp. 5-6). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Liberals, of course, consider Scrooge the quintessential Republican. Scrooge cared only for himself. He was a miser. His miserliness made him miserable, bent, and twisted. 

humbug-scrooge

Of course, this liberal view of Scrooge lacks consideration. It misses the fundamental flaw in 19th century English government meddling. 

Is Scrooge’s attitude so different from most American’s? Do we really take it upon ourselves to help those in need?  Are we, as individuals or groups, trying to build a better society?

Or do we say, “let the government take care of it?”

Government largesse only encourages misers like Scrooge to remain miserly. The debtors’ prisons and Union workhouses lent Scrooge an easy out.  “That’s what government’s for.”

The traditional American view of the good society differs wildly from Scrooges; the welfare state’s view does not.

When it comes to certain topics—sex, drugs, profanity, modest dress—we often hear, “you can’t legislate morality.”  Why do we never hear that about charity?  Isn’t welfare simply government’s attempt to force a moral viewpoint on society?

And doesn’t it fail as surely as attempts to dictate skirt-lengths or song lyrics?

Good societies result from good people. All legislation is moral, but legislation can’t change men’s hearts.

The After Party is St. Louis Tea Party’s attempt to repair the fabric of society—a fabric left to rot as we turned to government for solutions to problems that can and should be handled by local communities, charitable organizations, and states.

That’s not to say that government, at every level, must withdraw from charitable programs. Rather, the Constitution provides no authority to Washington. And local programs tend to trump distant ones precisely because the benefactor and beneficiary live, work, and worship together.

While the Tea Party is not a charity, it does have the tools to make stronger, healthier human bonds.  These bonds give us all resources for handling tough times. 

More importantly, these bonds encourage us to look at each other as human beings. And we’re more likely to help fellow human beings than we are to give up another tax dollar to a bureaucracy that loses and wastes more money than returns to the needy.

By the way, the two gentlemen soliciting donations said something you’ll never hear from a Washington bureaucrat.  Did you catch it?

A Merry Christmas After All

Reading Time: 2 minutes

We know how the story ends.

“What’s to-day!” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

“EH?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.

“To-day!” replied the boy. “Why, CHRISTMAS DAY.”

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can.”

Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (p. 68). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

The Spirits can do anything they like.

Nativity

And we are the spirits. Our future is in our hands.

Christmas Day reminds us that we can be redeemed. All we’ve squandered and wasted, all of our sins of omission and commission, can be forgiven.

The consequences remain. 

But there’s good news, still. The cumulative pain of debt stops increasing when we stop borrowing.  That’s true whether we’re talking about borrowing money or borrowing good will.

And we know how the story ends.

In the midst of the street thereof, and on both sides of the river, was the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits, yielding its fruits every month: the leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations.

And there shall be no curse any more: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it. And his servants shall serve him. And they shall see his face: and his name shall be on their foreheads.

And night shall be no more. And they shall not need the light of the lamp, nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall enlighten then. And they shall reign for ever and ever.

. . . Behold, I come quickly: and my reward is with me, to render to every, man according to his works. 

I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

A Christmas Carol ended similarly:

[A]nd it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

–Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (p. 73). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Merry Christmas. 

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the course of our lives, we sometimes lose our way. We wander off the good path. Or we fail to blaze the trail we should.

GhostOfChristmasYTC

THE Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.

“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?” said Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.

Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (p. 53). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Nations are no different.

Dickens warned us about the dangers of putting money before God, about worshiping wealth rather than using wealth to do good.

Sometimes, the luxuries that surround us blind us to the real purpose of wealth. I’m not talking about charity, and certainly not about government redistribution. I am talking about the good society.

Liberty, the right to pursue happiness and acquire property, lead to wealth—a surplus of goods and currency.Our wealth literally buys our futures. 

If we invest in earthly things, things that gratify our temporal sensations, our investments will rot and blow away with the wind.

If we invest in higher things, our investments will be repaid. 

Scrooge invested in things of the earth. They made him miserable and despised. Just as his treasured decayed, so did his soul. And his body.

Simon Sinek, a man who’s dedicated his life to helping others find their purpose, learned the Scrooge lesson in Iraq. He shared his story in an amazing video.

Just before the the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, the Ghost of Christmas Present introduced Scrooge to two wretched little children, dirty and pale, who clung to the spirit’s legs.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The bell struck twelve.

Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (pp. 50-52). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Do we dread or celebrate our glimpses of America’s future?  Is our Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come bright or dark?

Midnight approaches, America. 

The GOP is to Public Relations What Evel Knievel Was to Motorcycle Safety

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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I live in a very hilly area. Yet I’m still alive. Explain that.

Maybe that’s why I’m a lower-case “r” republican and not an upper-case one.

Republicans seem to feel every hill is worth dying on. 

What else could explain the House’s rejection of a silly payroll tax cut extension followed by a doubly-damaging capitulation?

By “silly,” I mean ill-advised, inconsequential, irrational, and fiscally irresponsible.  The Senate’s two-month extension of the Social Security tax cut represents the worst of Washington.

And the GOP House just signed off on it, caving to pressure from the White House and media.

In the chess match of public relations, the extension was golden. The press trumpeted it as a victory for the little guy that only the most cynical, hateful bastards on earth could oppose.

The GOP could have eked out a tiny PR win by denouncing the Senate’s cynicism in passing a meaningless and destructive bill by lying to people about its benefits.  Then quietly pass the stupid thing, and leave on Christmas break.

Instead, the House GOP stepped up to the microphone and announced, “Well, we are cynical, hateful bastards, and we’d be happy to oppose it!”

Having taken the black eye for opposing a tax cut for the little guy, the GOP could have shown some muscle by sticking it out.  They could have said, “The Constitution places power to tax and spend with the House, Mr. President. You might be willing to compromise your principles, but we are not.” 

Sure, the press would call them cynical, hateful bastards.  But they’d at least be resolute, firm,and committed.

But they caved.  The pressure got to be too much.  Or Christmas spirit overwhelmed them. 

One way or another, the House Republicans took a black eye and got nothing for it.

Yes, the Tea Party’s core principles are Constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets.  This extension fails the middle one.

But we have a much longer vision than two months.  Our goal is to stop and reverse the illicit growth of government power, growth that requires fiscal irresponsibility,and power that consumes human freedom. 

Our mission requires more than one election cycle. Dying on on this particular hill didn’t advance our fight—it set us back.

Moral of the story: win every battle you fight, but don’t fight any battle unless it’s a strategic necessity. 

Christmas on Sunday

Reading Time: 2 minutes

When I was a kid, I loved Christmas on Sundays. What I hated were the years before and after the Sunday Christmas. 

Our_Mother_of_Perpetual_Help[1]

My problem was I didn’t want to go to Mass two days in a row.

To give some background, I grew up in a Catholic home.  Very Catholic.  My dad went to Epiphany. My mom’s Catholic, and her dad converted very late in life.  Two of my dad’s cousins were Monsignors. Our most treasured piece of art was a Mother of Perpetual Help painting by my aunt Mame.  Before every meal we said, in unison:

Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Every meal.

Despite all this great Catholic upbringing, daily Mass—even two days out of seven—seemed like punishment.

In this, I believe, I was the perfect American male.

True or not, our cultural image of the Wild West involves lawless, wild men tamed by Bible-beating women. Not that American men are bad by nature, but left to our own devices, we’ll build a saloon and a house for women who go well with whiskey before we build a church and recruit a preacher.

But when the women folk show up, preacher in tow, we heel.  And we heal.

In our wildness, we wound ourselves and others.  Perhaps not physically, but wounds we open.

Years later, we appreciate the civilizing effect of church.

At 48, I no longer dread Mass.  I look forward to Midnight Mass this year, and I’ll try to talk the family into making the trek to St. Francis de Sales for its heavenly Midnight Mass.

Though I’m no better a person now than I was when two Masses in one week tortured me, I’ve come to understand that God’s inconveniences are not obstacles but express ways: the pain perfects us.

This year, Christmas is on a Sunday.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.

The Two Key Roles in Social Media Activism *Update*

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Have you ever studied human networks?

I’m not talking about online social networks alone, but any kind of human network.

They’re amazing.

inmap

Networks tend to determine who we date, who we marry, and where we work. Our lives are more influenced by networks than we can imagine.

A network community can be defined as a group of people who are much more connected to one another than they are to other groups of connected people found in other parts of the network. The communities are defined by structural connections, not necessarily by any particular shared traits.

Christakis, Nicholas A.; Fowler, James H. (2009-09-09). Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (p. 12). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

Most importantly, though, networks determine who wins elections.

A large body of evidence suggests that a single decision to vote in fact increases the likelihood that others will vote. It is well known that when you decide to vote it also increases the chance that your friends, family, and coworkers will vote.10 This happens in part because they imitate you (as discussed in previous chapters) and in part because you might make direct appeals to them. And we know that direct appeals work. If I knock on your door and ask you to head to the polls, there is an increased chance that you will. This simple, old-fashioned, person-to-person technique is still the primary tool used by the sprawling political machines in modern-day elections. Thus, we already have a lot of evidence to indicate that social connections may be the key to solving the voting puzzle.

Christakis, Nicholas A.; Fowler, James H. (2009-09-09). Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (p. 181). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

Old fashioned, retail politics—knocking on doors, canvassing—creates human social networks.  By looking someone in the eye, you connect with them.

As Nicholas Christakis pointed out, Obama didn’t win because he connected with voters; he won because he connected voters to each other.

The After Party is how we’re beginning to build that network. One person acting alone is necessary but limited. One person acting in concert with one hundred others is powerful. Two or three 100-node networks quickly become invincible.

Above is my LinkedIn network. On the right is work. The orange is Tea Party. (Yes, I’m pulled in many directions.)

Seeing one’s network graphically helps you understand just large and important your networks are to getting anything done.  To give you some perspective, my Facebook network is at least 3 times the size and complexity of this one.

A recent study on social media confirmed and elaborated Christakis’s work. It found that two key social media roles can launch revolutions:  recruiters and spreaders.

Recruiters are highly influential starters, originators, movers.  They are not necessarily tightly connected to many people.  They are, however, connected and influential among very important types of people: spreaders.

Spreaders are connected to people with lots of connections.  They know lots of people. They have lots of Twitter followers or facebook friends. More importantly, their followers listen to them and respond. These are the people Malcolm Gladwell called “Connectors” in his fabulous book The Tipping Point.

From the research:

Researchers followed the posting behaviour of 87,569 users and tracked a total of 581,750 protest messages over a 30-day period. They found that the growth of the movement was driven by two parallel processes: the recruitment of users, started by early participants who provided what the study calls ‘random seeding’; and the diffusion of information, which made the movement grow from those roots by means of the ‘spreaders’. The latter were more central in the network not necessarily because they had a higher number of connections but because they were connected to others with equally good connections

Revolutions and movements start when a recruiter calls for a new action. Then the spreaders spread the call. People (nodes) in the network repeat the call. People start showing up—on the Arch steps on a cold February Friday.

Then the signal jumps to other networks. Recruiters in these other networks relay the signal to their own spreaders who pass along the call to action.

The Tea Party failed in 2010.  No doubt about it.

The reason The After Party is so crucial right now, is that networks, not heroic individuals, will win the 2012 primaries, caucuses, and election.  If you’re not in a network, your influence is diminished. If you’re part of a network, your power is magnified.

Sign up here for the exclusive After Party mailing list.  You’ll connect to all the right people.

UPDATE  I forgot to make a key point.  Each of us must be either a recruiter or a spreader. Lurkers—those who simply observe—make up the vast majority of people on the internet.  So, if you see something important on Twitter, retweet it.  If you see an important blog post, tweet it or like it on Facebook.  Post comments on blogs and Facebook posts.  Get involved.