St Petersburg, FL--It isn't your usual political or business meeting.
No one is denouncing anybody. No one cares about passing this or that measure to tell their neighbors how to live or get special favors. Instead, some two dozen small businesspeople are quietly talking about co-operatives, best practices, and how micro-unions could work. They discuss a pledge not to initiate force against others, and list ways that rule isn't followed in government in their daily interactions, and how much it impacts them.
"Jeepers," says Kim (first names were used as the attendees wished to be anonymous), staring at the worksheet, "I could double salaries and my profits without all the time I spend on these taxes and regulations."
Welcome to the small business workshop sponsored by the Pinellas Libertarian Party, an affiliate headquartered in the retirement metropolis of St Petersburg. . A growing number of small businesspeople are quietly joining or supporting the Libertarian Party, and the seminar suggests why.
SMALL BUSINESS INITIATIVE
Libertarians say the old model of coercive government--taxes, regulations, social controls--is a menace. Instead they propose to better individual rights by offering voluntary alternatives to government programs. These, they say, are low cost, improve quality, and support social tolerance. As a political party, they've been slowly but implacably putting people in office, demonstrating their programs, and changing laws. In fact, Libertarian groups are in 100 countries.
The quick review seems impressive. A Libertarian mayor cut crime 40%. In another city they doubled services while halving taxes.
In the US, Libertarians began a series of initiatives to reach out to several groups. in Pinellas, they go to local businesses, hand out flyers pointing out what Libertarians have done for the business climate (for example, they led a coalition that defeated a $6 Billion service tax). Then they listen to the small businessperson's problems.
Small business people are listening back, and coming to the seminars, where they also interact with the Libertarians other growth demographic, interestingly enough, government bureaucrats and officials. far from being worried about Libertarian calls for limited government, many see the Libertarians as " Offering both an idealistic and practical approach to public service problems. You entered public service because of ideals, and the Libertarians speak to that,": says Barbara, a retired social worker who serves on a local government advisory board. She points out that under Florida law, government officials cannot discuss specifics except during work, but "What I learned about quality control was plenty. I think the Libertarian pledge is quality control, what they call building in. Government trys to inspect it in, and that fails. I never knew that until I met the people here."
"Regulating 21st century business with 1st century assumptions," nods another participant, "Punish people into shape "
"I'm sick of the taxes, the regulations, the intolerant political correctness, " agrres Andre, an African-American businessman who almost lost his business after a mistake in a tax assessment that took two years to correct, only to be hit again by the Florida smoking ban. But like most in the seminar, anger is not his main motivation, he says. "Libertarians treat government as a business, and they solve the problems like business people, respecting people's rights, thinking about all the consumers, not just the majority," he says."Most of their solutions are the reverse of everything we;ve been taught, just like many business insights that are the opposite of what you might expect."'
Libertarian voluntary solutions sound at first odd to many people. Privatize roads. Cut police to cut crime. Abolish taxes. Open borders. The Libertarian facilitator reserves 20 minutes to invite people to challenge the ideas. Surprisingly, he justifies little, instead asking the group to figure out what problem it solves based on their experience.
At first the responses are halting. "You mean we're supposed to think?" says one of the group ,to gales of laughter. Then a middle aged man starts talking about how he almost lost his business some years ago when over-schedule road repairs blocked access to his store, repairs later shown to be unneeded. "If we had some say over the roads in front of us, that would make sense," he suggests."As it is, orgnized crime runs the show, or people with an axe to grind."
Open borders? "Don't orders just prevent politicians from confronting the problems?" Says Kim, "The real problems are economic and cultural, aren't they? How come we have an open border with Georgia? Aren't they just another program to excuse politicians from doing their job?"
"They're problem solving tools versus problem expanding tools" Says another," I think the idea is that forbidding something doesn't solve the problem, it hides it. I see that in my business all the time. What if I told my employees the border was closed to complaints?"
. The workshop, in Libertarian fashion, is structured, but around an array of choices so participants change it as it goes along. It wraps up in small brainstorming sessions, and a short book report on the classic 'Economics in One Lesson' by Henry Hazlitt, a 1940's era Libertarians who edited the Wall Street Journal.
As the participants finish, they agree to stay in contact as networking groups, typically 4 businesspeople and 2 government officials. The Libertarian Party facilitator lists what participants feel is the best part of the workshop.
"Opening your mind"
"Seeing new ways"
"Talk like an adult"
"The lemonade," and several laugh.
One computer vendor gives a short speech. "It's about freedom. Freedom creates order. The Libertarian pledge-- really makes you think. I give people their change honestly. That’s moral. That comes from within. Morality is what my business is about. The government says I’m just greedy. But it can’t give me the same answer twice on the taxes it wants. There’s even a law to exempt it from being bound by answers to tax questions. That’s immorality. Immorality governs. I feel in here I can say the obvious. "
“I liked Hazlitt’s book,” Says Andre, “That speaks to me. Government breaks the window, Then, it keeps on fixing it wrong telling you how lucky you are for all this stuff they’re doing. And soon we argue about fixing windows. Pretty soon we think Government is there to break windows and punish people who break windows without a license. Instead, don’t break the window.” The group nods.
As they break up, a few huddle to the side and then announce they're arranging a workshop on property taxes.
Asked what she liked about it, Kim says it’s a lot to digest and she's not sure about everything the Libertarians suggest. There's one thing she does like.
"I like the people, the attitude. This is about politics where you don't hurt people, but help, and express yourself. That's why I went into business," She says. "That’s why I stay in business, though it seems so much in this country is trying to get me out."
The 2 hour workshop is over. But most of the attendees keep talking in small groups for 4 more hours, until it’s time to close the room.