This 1993 article by George McGovern, former U.S. senator and presidential candidate, is worth revisiting. Ron Paul refers to it in The Revolution: A Manifesto. McGovern reflects on what it was like to try to run a small inn in Connecticut, only to run into a series of completely unreasonable mandates that made it impossible to continue. He had to abandon the inn and let his 60 employees go.
The second lesson I learned by owning the Stratford Inn is that legislators and government regulators must more carefully consider the economic and management burdens we have been imposing on U.S. business. As an innkeeper, I wanted excellent safeguards against a fire. But I was startled to be told that our two-story structure, which had large sliding doors opening from every guest room to all-concrete decks, required us to meet fire regulations more appropriate to the Waldorf-Astoria. A costly automatic sprinkler system and new exit doors were items that helped sink the Stratford Inn — items I was convinced added little to the safety of our guests and employees. And a critical promotional campaign never got off the ground, partly because my manager was forced to concentrate for days at a time on needlessly complicated tax forms for both the IRS and the state of Connecticut.
I’m for protecting the health and well-being of both workers and consumers. I’m for a clean environment and economic justice. But I’m convinced we can pursue those worthy goals and still cut down vastly on the incredible paperwork, the complicated tax forms, the number of minute regulations, and the seemingly endless reporting requirements that afflict American business. Many businesses, especially small independents such as the Stratford Inn, simply can’t pass such costs on to their customers and remain competitive or profitable.
I’m not expert enough after only two and a half years as a business owner to know the solutions to all those concerns. I do know that if I were back in the U.S. Senate or in the White House, I would ask a lot of questions before I voted for any more burdens on the thousands of struggling businesses across the nation.
For example, I would ask whether specific legislation exacts a managerial price exceeding any overall benefit it might produce. What are the real economic and social gains of the legislation when compared with the costs and competitive handicaps it imposes on businesspeople?
I’m lucky. I can recover eventually from the loss of the Stratford Inn because I’m still able to generate income from lectures and other services. But what about the 60 people who worked for me in Stratford? While running my struggling hotel, I never once missed a payroll. What happens to the people who counted on that, and to their families and community, when an owner goes under? Those questions worry me, and they ought to worry all of us who love this country as a land of promise and opportunity.
Read the whole thing, and thanks to Chris Baker.
(N.b.: At the end the article incorrectly identifies McGovern as a former U.S. senator from North Dakota; he actually represented South Dakota.)