14 July 2009

Remembering McNamara

As we struggle to find the best avenue out of our current recession, a Robert McNamara quotation always seems to percolate in the back of my head. In rememberance of his recent death, I'll take this opportunity to share.

"The government is not in the business of putting small business out of business."

A good way to intepret this quoatation is the following. In every industry and every market that the government participates (either the government provides a good or service, purchases a good or service, or regulates non-government to non-government transactions of goods or services), its participation influences the market, generally making it more difficult for small businesses to survive.

When the government provides a good or service it is very hard for private industry small businesses to compete with them. The government does not have to be profitable and is financed by a large and captive audience.

Less directly, consider the market effect when the government regulates a market. OSHA, the government office that tries to regulate labor markets to make working conditions better, may at first glance appear to do no wrong. in reality however it can be a very subtle and very manipulated agency by large business victimizing small business. Large businesses give politicians campaign funds. One way politicians may reward such businesses is to make code overly protective and convoluted so that the entry of a new small business competitor is prevented by compliance costs. They are repaying the business by eliminating competition, and to the unaware citizen, these policies can seem glorious. In public finance terms, government regulation can act as a significant and highly regressive corporate tax.

As an alternative, if we simply allowed the worker to choose for himself if he were willing to work a particular job for a given wage, two competing firms would have to ultimately compete to lure workers by providing them higher wages and safer work environments on their own. Suddenly government safety regulations no longer appear as necessary or innocuous.

A bad way to interpret this quotation is as i was instructed during my military acquisitions training. sometimes when the government hires private defense contractors to provide goods or services the government knowingly provides them a profit. i suggested that the government could save taxpayers money by not paying that profit, to which the instructor quoted McNamara "the government is not in the business of putting small business out of business." But, as long as the government isn't requiring a firm to provide a good or service, they should never take a contract that's not in their interest anyway.

in conclusion, for those large-government command & control democrats who want lots of government interaction in a variety of markets, remember the impact on free enterprise encapsulated in this McNamara quotation. "the government is not in the business of putting small business out of business"

For sell-out Republicans who espouse policy that favors the big businesses that wine and dine them, remember you are just as guilty of creating an environment unfriendly toward American small business free enterprise. i offer a parallel quoatation "the government is not in the business of making big business bigger"

the business of the government is simple, and was simply identified by Arrow in the 1950s. The government is in the business of simply correcting market failures.

thanks to mcnamara for inspring today's conversation.

01 July 2009


A couple of buddies of mine from econ grad school at UT, Jason DeBacker and Rick Evans, have a very successful blog with good insight and a running compilation of the best econ jokes available. their blog was recently cited as an officially sanctioned AEA blog, and perhaps more importantly referenced by Mankiw's blog (see ad hominem post).



btw, if you check out Rick's professor page
he has a link to UT econ intramural sports recaps.
(i was the first receiver on that hook and ladder.
rick to me to Debacker for a TD!)