Small Business Focus: Chickens run home to roost

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 2, 2002


“When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”

That old saying, although meant to be humorous, unfortunately describes the hysteria being generated by non-stop attention to corporate accounting chicanery. CEOs are invoking the Fifth Amendment, politicians are calling for their heads and the public, unable to avoid around-the-clock coverage, is beginning to scream and shout.

Asked by the Gallup Organization which major American institution they believe is the biggest threat to the nation’s future, nearly two-out-of-five of those surveyed pointed fingers at big business, a stunning increase in less than two years and the highest level since the question was first asked 37 years ago.

Don’t expect things to get better anytime soon. The hunt is on.

The quarry, however, may not be corporate executives or their accountants. Oh, they’ll probably be indicted and brought to justice eventually. But the game afoot now will come to a grand climax on Nov. 5 -Election Day. The true quarry being stalked is that most elusive of all animals, the undecided, registered voter.

This is not to make light of the current crisis. It’s bad. It’s very bad. The end result can be severe harm inflicted on our free enterprise system. Today’s crisis of confidence in business can not only undermine our economy, it can deter future generations of entrepreneurs from pursuing their versions of the American Dream.

The Wall Street Journal recently quoted a college professor as calling Enron “the private sector’s Watergate,” and noted that three decades after that political scandal arose, a deep cynicism over politics remains prevalent in the public’s mind.

To condemn all business is wrong, just as it is wrong to condemn all politicians because a few bad apples come along now and then.

And what about the millions of small-business owners who could be tarred with the broad brush now being sloppily applied to American business?

While some mega-corporations have played fast and loose with generally accepted accounting practices to show ever-greater profits and boost their stock prices, Main Street businesses are still trying to cope with cash flow problems – a continuing challenge for one-in-five small-business owners, according to an NFIB National Small Business Poll.

With unemployment still an issue, Congress must not lose sight of the concerns of the small firms that today hire more than half of all people on private sector, non-farm payrolls. It is imperative that small-business owners send Congress a clear message: Put the nation’s economic health above political gain.

The free-market system is not perfect. We make mistakes and we learn from them. Still this is the best system known to man. It provides opportunity for all, employs millions of people and offers the highest living standards in the history of the world.

Our leaders must work together in a bipartisan manner to shore up confidence in our free enterprise system instead of running in circles, screaming or shouting to frighten confused citizens into the voting booth.

JACK FARIS is president of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.