Major policy changes can have long-term cultural implications. Major changes can impact behavior almost immediately, but the real cultural implications are a result of the often subtle changes in individual attitudes. With the Obama administration, I believe we will see such cultural changes.
I am an entrepreneur. I started with a little 100-seat restaurant almost 32 years ago. My wife and I, along with many good people, built our company the old-fashioned American way. We worked night and day, lived very frugally for a long time, put almost everything back into the company, borrowed more and more money backed by personal guarantees, hired more people and built more buildings. We have never taken a distribution out of the company except to pay income taxes, because we are a Subchapter S company, or to pay life insurance premiums on policies that our banks have requested so the company could pay the estate tax in the event of a tragic dual death. (That’s cheery.) I once was fined by the federal government for taking too low a salary. Should have fought that one.
This mundane, old-fashioned, grind-it-out, slow-and-steady method is how most “rich” Americans have built their wealth to become “the millionaire next-door.” And in the end, in some ways, though I am nominally the owner, my banks think my business is theirs until I fully repay them.
Now, at 55 years old, I get the message from the Obama administration loud and clear. I am a chump.
I’m a chump because now that I may someday take something personally from the company after many decades, I will be penalized. As a reward for providing many thousands of jobs, the administration will make it continually more onerous. As a thank-you for building value slowly in bricks and mortar, the federal government will substantially increase its take if I sell anything, and it wants to take a sick and wrong 45 percent when we die, which will make some big company ecstatic because it will be able to buy us, probably on the cheap. I am a chump because the public entitlements we have paid into all these years will be means-tested away because all those risks we took happened to be more right than wrong.
Trust me - the small and medium business entrepreneurs who create all the jobs in this country get the message. Instead of being celebrated as we were under President Reagan, we are being attacked as bad guys because of what happened on Wall Street, which is not our street.
The message to young entrepreneurs is also loud and clear: Don’t be chumps like your folks. Find a business where you can build something fast, like high finance. Avoid hard assets and employees. Get into a deal where you get a bunch of the upside but none of the downside. Make it fast and spend it fast.
Then you can feel guilty and send big donations to you-know-who.
This culture shift has dire consequences for the future of our country. Speaking of which, maybe our new cultural anthem should borrow from the band Dire Straits: “That’s the way to do it, money for nothing and your chicks for free.”
Mike Whalen is owner of the Heart of America Group.
By Elaine Donnelly
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