“The Takers”

Recently someone on some television program announced that “Americans are takers.”
Americans are extremely fortunate in the quality of life we have and in the wealth of resources available to us. It is unparalleled in all the world and in all history. But, how did it get there? It is not a matter of luck.

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Foot-shooting, Not Good

Whether it’s a sales tax, or a tax on gasoline, or more building and permitting requirements, as Billings’ political leaders make decisions about the future of the city and its laws, one has to hope that they really keep an eye on the future of other cities as well.
Billings is in competition with other cities in attracting businesses and future residents. One has to hope that they are asking, “How does this stack up with what other communities are doing?”
When it comes to winning sport events at Metra Park, we certainly are aware we compete with other communities. When it comes to airline service, Billings seems to be anxiously looking over its shoulder at Bozeman. Local construction companies often find that they are competing against bidders from other cities for local projects. That kind of competition keeps us sharp and on our game, and it certainly makes sense to try to be all that we can be in putting our best foot forward. Community leaders are willing to invest money to keep us on par in cases like that, so why would they then seem so anxious to shoot ourselves in the foot, when it comes to other issues?
What competitive advantage is there to Billings having a community-wide sales tax (local option tax), or to impose a unique gas tax that would make gas purchased in Billings higher than outside of Billings?
Laurel should love it. Lockwood, too.
Much traffic coming to Billings passes through other communities first.
Gas stations in those areas would surely see business growth as visitors quickly figured out where to fill up, and as Billings residents drove the extra distance to fill up their vehicles.
A local option tax might be great encouragement to Costco to build next to Walmart in Laurel.
As incentives stack up better for one area over another, the center of shopping would slide to other areas as well. After all wasn’t it Washington’s sales tax that spurred the growth of Post Falls, Idaho?
Wasn’t it a special property tax which gouged Montana’s transportation industry that drove trucking companies to move their headquarters from Billings to Wyoming; that caused BNSF to pull much of their infrastructure and operations out of the state; or that caused airlines to pack up and leave, almost overnight, from the Billings airport, once its passage was announced? (Oh yes, there was a time when Billings had far more air transportation and incredibly low air fares – but we fixed that, by golly.)
The point is such things make a difference in what businesses decide to do.
Be assured, we are in competition with Bozeman in more ways than just airline traffic. We are in competition with Big Timber, with Columbus, with Lewistown and with Miles City.
And, then there is the really big potential competitor just down the road, which is rapidly growing: Williston, North Dakota. The city’s economic development authority just announced that they are launching a campaign to draw new retailers. As our esteemed leaders push to impose a gas tax or a sales tax on shoppers who come here, it seems they are augmenting Williston’s campaign.
Chances are Williston shopping will be on a par with that of Billings in a decade or so – and remember shoppers can drive east as well as west.
Even during this time of low priced oil, while we tout occasional business expansions that amount to one million dollars or perhaps even ten million dollars, in North Dakota, the announcements of projects bringing hundreds of millions dollar, keep coming at a fast clip.
Economic gurus are predicting that as natural gas prices remain low, manufacturers will not only find an advantage to expanding in the US, but those who previously left the country may return to build factories. Since there is usually advantages to locating close to energy sources, North Dakota and South Dakota could get the lion’s share. Montana, of course, has just as much geographic advantage but no one even mentions the state as a possible beneficiary of the boon… need a hint as to why? It’s because the state has laws and taxes and barriers to business that were just as ill-conceived as some of those that Billings has been contemplating.

Being a “Benefit Corporation” - Aren’t You All?

Public officials recently celebrated the Legislature acting to make Montana the 29th state to create a new legal category of business called a “benefit corporation.”
It passed through the state legislature without much fanfare, and that may be because there isn’t much to be said about it. But, that in itself, raises an eyebrow about why it had to be sanctioned by the law-making body. If to be a “benefit corporation” is voluntary, imposes no legal requirements, and grants no tax favors or subsidies, then why exactly call upon the use of legalized force?

Read more: Being a “Benefit Corporation” - Aren’t You All?

So, why the surprise?

For all the angst that Presidential Candidate Donald Trump is causing the Republican establishment, they should certainly understand that he is a creature of their own making.
Donald Trump is just as much a creation of the Republican establishment as was President Barack Obama. The emergence of both should have been seen as the logical consequence of a half century of abdicating the Constitutional process and of the consistent selling- out of the American people and their freedom.

Read more: So, why the surprise?

A New Kind of Criminal

Jerry Brown, Governor of California, declared that California was burning because of climate change, and, he said, “We can’t wait for the government to act.”
How profoundly perceptive. He has nailed it. Unfortunately, (and this is a head scratcher) he made the statement while at the same time appealing to government for help.
If, indeed, the climate changes in ways that are life threatening – be it warming or cooling – how simply ridiculous is anyone who believes that government will save the day. Where has that ever been proven an effective solution? What agency of government functioning today would you trust to save your life?

Read more: A New Kind of Criminal

War of Ideas by Evelyn Pyburn

On 9-11-2015, a commentator noted that if the US had been attacked in the same manner as on 9-11-2001, by a country, we would have been at war with that country. We have been, 14 years since, struggling with the significance of being at war, with not a country, but with ideas – the ideas held by those responsible for the attack, she said.
The commentator seemed to be saying that this was something new, but it’s not.

Read more: War of Ideas by Evelyn Pyburn

Celebrate On! 2015

This editorial is a repeat. But, it says things that need to be repeated. There are generations of people now who do not know how recently it was that people did not have the wealth we have today, which makes Christmas the celebration it is. They do not realize how fragile is the structure that created all that they take for granted, and that is what must be reminded time and again. It is part of the thanksgiving and celebrating to recognize what freedoms are necessary to make it possible.

“There’s too much materialism associated with Christmas,” is a popular refrain. Or, we hear, “there is too much commercialization of Christmas.” No one usually speaks to disagree with such sentiments, and yet the actions of most people demonstrate that they do not agree.
The anti-materialism sentiment seems to attempt to douse the joy of what has become a cultural event that reaches beyond any one religion, any single historic event, or any philosophical point. The sentiment seems an attempt to instill guilt where none is warranted, and to reinforce, a political, anti-capitalist mantra that seems to know no end. Bah humbug to it all.
Christmas has evolved into a huge celebration of life in the United States – a celebration of the discovery of the key to survival – of that which wards off plagues, famine, and the general misery that was once the lot of the common man.
What was once a nominal religious holiday has been expanded in meaning, by many people, to include all that they find good about life, existence and human achievement.
Prior to the United States, and all this joyous celebration, Christmas was not too commercial at all; it was little more than just another gray day of drudgery, poverty and servitude. It was Americans who, dare we say, “capitalized” upon an established religious event to celebrate the prosperity and happiness, for the common man that they discovered is inherent in freedom.
It is not surprising that an existing event and most especially an existing religious event, should serve as the basis upon which the celebration grew. After all, the date upon which the birth of Christ is celebrated is not that which theologians believe is the true date. December 25th is close to the winter solstice which was long celebrated as the turning point at which days start becoming longer offering the promise of spring. It has always been a celebration of rebirth.
The discovery that economic freedom is essential for the best possible life for the greatest possible number of people, is a rebirth . . an intellectual, political and social awakening, after centuries of subsistence and oppression.
“…Christmas as we celebrate it today is a 19th century American invention,” declared philosopher Leonard Peikoff. It was invented when, “the freedom and prosperity of post-Civil War America created the happiest nation in history. The result was a desire to celebrate, to revel in the goods and pleasures of life on earth. Christmas (which was not a federal holiday until 1870) became the leading American outlet for this feeling.”
Peikoff credits 19th-century capitalism: “industrialization, urbanization, the triumph of science – all of it leading to easy transportation, efficient mail delivery, the widespread publishing of books and magazines, new inventions making life comfortable and exciting and the rise of entrepreneurs who understood that the way to make a profit was to produce something good and sell it to a mass market.”
It was then that gift-giving became a major feature of Christmas. There was finally enough wealth for the common man to rise above mere survival, to give gifts. It was the productive apparatus of capitalism – the freedom to create and exchange goods and services – that brought forth the surplus of wealth that allowed individual citizens to share their joy and happiness about life. It allowed them, for the first time in history, to reach out to friends and family with gifts expressing the sentiments they felt. “The whole country took with glee to giving gifts on an unprecedented scale.”
Even Santa Claus is a thoroughly American invention.
There was a predecessor called St. Nicholas, but it wasn’t until 1822, that an American named Clement Clark Moore wrote a poem about a visit from St. Nick. “It was Moore (and a few other New Yorkers) who invented St. Nick’s physical appearance and personality, came up with the idea that Santa travels on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, comes down the chimney, stuffs toys in the kids’ stockings, then goes back to the North Pole.”
And, most appropriate for a capitalist country, it was a highly successful corporation, an icon of capitalism, Coca Cola – that most contributed to introducing the red-suited, rosy-cheeked, white bearded, jolly fellow to the American public. Ho! Ho! Ho!
Not long ago, I listened to the reminiscences’ of an old cowboy, who grew up in early Montana without much of a family. He said he was a young lad of about 12 before he knew about Christmas. It was then that someone gave him his very first Christmas gift.
Christmas, as the stark and somber event that many seem to advocate, was a reality not long ago.
It took surplus wealth, and associated leisure and happiness, that allowed people to divert their attention from the struggle for survival, to indulge in levity and frivolity.
So what’s wrong with that?
Shouldn’t any celebration of life include the reality of what life requires?
Why shouldn’t the celebration have grown and expanded in meaning and significance to include all people and all manner of expression? Why shouldn’t we all revel in the glitter, glitz, music and merriment of a happier, healthier, more secure and pleasant life?
Celebrate on, America, celebrate on!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a very prosperous, productive and happy New Year!

The Magic of Generational Entrepreneurism

A family business is about hard work and dreams.
The family businesses which were honored at the Montana State University Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship Family Business Day were families who know about the hard work and have been successful in achieving those dreams. And, they are on their way to achieving even greater dreams – and embracing more hard work.
Kregg Aytes, the College of Business Dean, said these families and their businesses are “the life blood of the state.” And, he’s right. When family businesses can no longer survive, it will be the end of the culture we know and the standard of living we have all come to enjoy. All policies, taxes and laws should be designed in a way that facilitates, as many such enterprises as possible, because it is from their production and success that all other benefits flow to society.

Read more: The Magic of Generational Entrepreneurism

A Teachable Moment Missed by Evelyn Pyburn

Donald Trump isn’t going to eat Oreo cookies any more.
That’s because the manufacturer of Oreo cookies has moved their plant from Chicago to Mexico, and he is blaming the company.
Trump knows better — but like most other Republicans, he is pandering, in the most shallow of ways, to what he believes are his audiences prejudices against “big business.” But, more tragically, he is failing, just as almost all Republicans fail, to seize a stellar teachable moment, about what happens to businesses, to jobs, and to economic growth, when government becomes too large, too greedy, too arrogant and too much of a bully.

Read more: A Teachable Moment Missed by Evelyn Pyburn

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