Archive for the 'Government' Category

Mr. President, a recovery is not an expansion

Dear President Obama:

For as long as there have been organized economies there have been economic cycles, of which there are essentially three elements:

  • Beginning at the bottom, a recession (sometimes, but rarely, a depression). Historically, sir, recessions are short – often measured in months.
  • In the middle is a recovery, which has the task of healing the defects that caused the downturn while reversing negative growth. Depending on the severity of the recession, recoveries take a little longer, from months to a year or so.
  • And finally, the tide that floats all boats, the expansion. Expansions can last for years, as they did under two of your predecessors, Reagan and Clinton.

In America, we expect a recovery to be a means to an end, not a way of life. Alas, that isn’t your standard, because perpetual recovery has been our economic fate since you took office, four months before the Great Recession ended in June 2009.

Recently, in a speech in Elkhart, Indiana, you said this: “By almost every economic measure, America is better off than when I came here at the beginning of my presidency.” Those of us who have made payroll every month of your tenure see things differently, as, apparently, does your own Department of Labor. Two days after the Elkhart speech, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a measly 38,000 jobs were created in May – the worst jobs month in six years. And labor participation – the number of Americans who work – has languished under your watch at rates not seen since the last president who manufactured malaise, President Carter. You can’t have an expansion, sir, if people aren’t working.

Let’s review your economic performance, Mr. President, by the numbers. First, we’ll cut you some slack and throw out your first year in office, 2009. The recession ended halfway through, but ’09 was a horrible year you didn’t create, going almost 3 percent negative. But the next six years, through 2015, the economy averaged a pitiful 2.15% GDP growth. Those are not expansion numbers, sir, and they’re the worst for any president since World War II. Any economist will tell you an expansion is annual growth averaging at least 3%. By the way, 2016 is not trending any better than the past six.

It’s a misnomer to refer to a president as “handling of the economy,” because there are really only two ways you factor directly into its performance: 1) helping by getting government out of the way of job creators; and 2) hurting by putting government in the way. Mr. President, you’ve set a record for the latter as an unprecedented assaulter on job creators. Your weapons are:

  • Anti-business rhetoric – “You didn’t build that” and referring to successful people as “fortunate” who need to pay their “fair share”;
  • Anti-business laws – both the specter and the reality of Obamacare, plus Dodd-Frank, to name the big two;
  • Anti-business regulations, guidance and executive orders from your EPA, NLRB, Labor and FCC.

All of these are unprecedented for any president in their tone, scope, and damage. Not to mention the palpable fear and uncertainty that manifested among job creators.

Here’s more evidence: The NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism, the gold standard for such research, reports the longest stretch of pessimism in the Index’s 43 years during your presidency. This from the sector that creates over half of the jobs and half of the U.S. economy. In my own polling of small business owners, only 9% think you have “been good for the economy,” while more than two-thirds think your policies have been “an economic nightmare.”

Referring to the economy in the Elkhart speech, you said, “We can make it even stronger.” Who are “we,” Mr. President? The Oval Office door will soon hit you in the backside for the last time. With all due respect, sir, if “we” make “it” stronger, that will happen after you leave.

Write this on a rock … Out here on Main Street, Mr. President, we’re not going to miss you when you’re gone.

What politicians, small business and mice have in common

Almost 20 years ago, Dr. Spencer Johnson wrote a legendary book titled, Who Moved My Cheese? It tells a story about four characters who ate only cheese.

Early in the story all four characters went to the same place in their world – a maze – to get cheese. The first two were not picky about their cheese or where they found it – it was just food. In fact, the current place in the maze where they found and ate cheese was literally just that. So when someone moved their cheese, they immediately started looking for the new place where cheese was being put.
For the second two characters in Johnson’s story, cheese represented more than food; they had allowed themselves to become defined by the specific cheese found in that specific place in the maze. To them, this cheese was more than nourishment, it also represented their esteem, success and happiness. You’ve heard of being hidebound. Well you might say these two were cheesebound (my term, not Johnson’s), which really wasn’t a problem until someone moved their cheese.

Twenty-five years ago, in his book (and film), Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future, futurist Joel Barker defined a paradigm as a set of rules that: 1) establishes/defines boundaries; and 2) tells you how to be successful within those boundaries. Barker says paradigms, both written and unwritten, can be useful until there’s a shift, which is what happened to the cheesebound characters in Johnson’s story. When someone moved their cheese, instead of looking for new cheese like their maze-mates, they whined and dithered so long in the old place – now devoid of cheese – that they put their survival in jeopardy.

Johnson’s cautionary tale – and the two sides of Barker’s paradigm coin – apply to all parts of life, especially politics and business.

For generations, the Democrat and Republican Parties each showed up at the same corner of their own political maze where they had always found the same cheese. Like the second characters in Johnson’s story, both parties had been nourished and defined by the cheese they found in that specific spot. But when someone moved their cheese, as the electorate is doing now, the cheesebound members whine and struggle to maintain their identity instead of taking action to find new cheese. In his book Johnson says, “Old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese.”

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are like the first two characters in Johnson’s story. Neither define themselves by the old cheese in the old location. They went looking for and, to the surprise of their party leadership, found new cheese. Johnson says, “Movement in a new direction helps you find the new cheese.”

Small business owners should watch the clinic that the Democrats and Republicans are putting on this year on the wages of being cheesebound. Like the electorate, customers are moving cheese and shifting paradigms all over the marketplace. You cannot afford to become cheesebound.

Write this on a rock … Blasingame’s Law of Business Love: It’s okay to fall in love with what you do, but it’s not okay to fall in love with how you do it.

The politics of the Supreme Court

By now, you know that one of the great Supreme Court justices in the history of our country passed away unexpectedly. Even those who disagreed with almost every decision Antonin Scalia ever cast had immense regard for him and his work. Indeed, Scalia and his liberal alter ego on the court, Justice Ginsberg, had been best friends for decades, even before they were on the nation’s highest court.

In our online poll this week, we asked you to weigh in on the debate about the process for replacing him. Here were the responses and my comments:

20% - The president should nominate a replacement and the Senate confirm this year.
23% - They should start the process to see if a replacement can be confirmed this year.
16% - The president should not nominate a replacement in his last year in office.
41% - Even if a replacement is nominated, the Senate should not confirm this year.

Only one-in-five of respondents to our first option think the president and Senate should just get along together and do their business this year. But there are circumstances that complicate this logical and Constitutional scenario, like ideological balance of the bench and the impending election to replace the sitting president. Kumbayah will not be part of this scenario

I kinda like the second group, representing almost one-fourth of our sample, because they’re saying, regardless of the politics, both parties should just give it their best shot in the process of doing their job. Everyone knows the president is going to nominate and the Senate is likely going to reject. So quit jawboning and get to work.

The third group is the smallest, with 16%, who think the president should just stand down on this issue, since he’s out the door in less than a year. But even though he likely knows he’s not going to get a nominee confirmed, he will at least be able to use the rejection to help his party. It’s politics, and any president of either party would do it.

The largest group, at 41%, is the most troubled by the imbalance of the Supreme Court. They’re counting on a party change in the White House next year, and maintaining the majority party in the Senate. For now this group, and the Senate, are in the catbird seat.

Just when you thought the political season couldn’t get any weirder or more complicated, with a socialist and a billionaire running for president, the arch-conservative Justice on a tightly divided Court dies, leaving his replacement up to a president who is his polar opposite politically. As I’ve written before, we continue to live the Chinese Curse: May you live in interesting times.

To take this week’s poll on the US economy and your small business sales in Q1, click here.

Poll results: Which of the frontrunners would you vote for?

The Question:
It’s the week before the Iowa caucuses. Which of the frontrunner of the two parties would you vote for?

4% - Hillary Clinton
7% - Bernie Sanders
44% - Donald Trump
25% - Ted Cruz
20% - If these are my choices, I won’t vote.

Jim’s Comments:
So, there you have it. The Small Business Advocate Iowa Straw Poll results.

First, you have to notice that small business owners are heavily weighted toward the GOP. When asked why, they typically say, “Because I make payroll twice a month.”

Second, the two troublemakers, Bernie and The Donald, are the frontrunners in their parties. Surely this who-woulda-thunk-it scenario will be the stuff of books and civics lessons for years to come.

Finally, for those of you who support the Democrat O’Malley, or Bush, Rubio or any of the other Republicans, please forgive me for leaving them out of the survey. We just didn’t have room other than to offer the “anyone else” option at the end. Even so, with only 20% choosing this line, it looks like the choices were offered were justified, as they align pretty well with the national polls.

I’m looking forward to our edition next week where we’ll compare our numbers with the actuals of the caucuses. Stay tuned.

And thanks for your abiding support of our poll each week. Check out our new one below.
Poll: Do you think your business is prepared to be relevant and competitive into the next decade?

Poll Results: What grade would you give President Obama?

The Question:
From the standpoint of the impact on your business, what grade would you give President Obama for his time in office?

5% - A
6% - B
6% - C
9% - D
74% - F

Jim’s Comments:
As you can see, President Obama is a failure to three-fourths of our small business audience. It’s been clear from day one that the president has been ambivalent to the Main Street economy atbest, and against us at worst. In seven years in office, the only policy he’s proposed that looks anything like pro-business is the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal he cut last year.

On the other side of the coin, the anti-business stuff is a long list, which I’m going to innumerate in an article in the near future. Stay tuned. Thanks for participating.

And thanks for your abiding support of our poll each week. Check out our new one on how you would vote today, click here.

To listen to more about these poll results, click on the link below.

Small business owners have give Obama a grade

Is 2016 trending as the year of our next recession?

One of the distinct markers of the United States is what has been termed our “consumer economy.”

It’s pretty intuitive.

Having a consumer economy means that the main driver of GDP (gross domestic product), and therefore, the engine of economic growth, comes from spending by consumers. Other major elements that make up the entire U.S. economy include private investment, government spending and trade.

America is not unique in this distinction, but no other major economy in the world compares to the U.S. in this definition. For example, American consumers represented 71% of GDP in 2013, having risen from 62% in 1960. Around the globe, Japanese consumers are 61% of their economy, with only 36% in China. And in the major European countries, consumers average less than 60% of GDP.

The U.S. has experienced an increasingly robust consumer economy for generations. But one of the implications that has arisen for, let’s say, the past half century is that consumers are more likely to spend their money than save it. There are many reasons for this imbalance: America is the strongest economy in the world; has a diverse credit industry with creative products; and produces and imports a lot of cool stuff, which Americans want even if they have to borrow, instead of save, to get it.

The world economy has long benefited from the exuberance, rational or not, of the U.S. consumer. Indeed, during the global slowdown of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the U.S. consumer almost single-handedly kept the global economy from collapsing. But today, with a declining global economic scenario, will American consumers reprise their earlier role as economic champion? A new data point may provide that answer.

Recently, in our online poll, we asked small business owners if the significant drop in gasoline prices ($1/gallon in six months) was manifesting as increased spending by their customers. Less than one-fourth of our respondents reported such a trend was evident or slightly evident, while almost half said they saw no such evidence.

One of the reasons for the consistent moribund U.S. economy since 2008 has been the debt-reducing behavior of both American businesses and consumers. But it now seems the consumer’s cash conservatism continues unabated because, in addition to our poll results, other surveys indicate people are using the gas price dividend to reduce debt and save.

During the first quarters of 2014 and 2015 the U.S. economy went negative, producing one half of a technical recession, while the Dow Jones Index rose to new record highs. But 2016 has begun with stock indexes retrenching toward bear territory, a decline in both imports and exports, and no apparent help from consumers. Consequently, a negative Q1 this year may prove to be just the first one, rather than a one-off like the past two years.

Write this on a rock … The best way to not participate in a recession is to be prepared for one.




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