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What if politicians meant it when they said they wanted to help small business?

August 29, 2012

Derek Thompson of The Atlantic asks a good question. If the Republicans weren't just treasonous, racist, hypocritical and incompetent posers, what would a political platform that puts entrepreneurs first actually look like? Well, this is what:

  • Health Care. We need universal health care for everyone, provided by, or at least coordinated by, the federal government. The last thing employers want to worry about is providing health care for employees, let alone themselves. And providing health care for yourself as an entrepreneur, even with a college degree, is no small feat. Many (but not all) states require that a "group" plan involve at least two people.

    Now that individual health care plans cannot as easily reject applicants on the basis of pre-existing conditions, this isn't as much of a problem, but it's still absurd that entrepreneurs in one state should have to work more or less hard to secure basic health care than entrepreneurs in another, or bring on other individuals too soon.

  • Taxes. A progressive scale that favors small businesses would be nice (people should have incentives, after all, to start companies), but what would be even nicer is a drastic simplification of the tax code. Want to start a company? Great. Right now, you'd better hire a lawyer and choose between an S Corporation, C Corporation, and/or LLC. Maybe you want to register that company in Delaware. Maybe not. Maybe it shouldn't matter at all!

    Once you've figured all that out, don't forget to pay your sales tax, use tax, state payroll taxes, federal payroll taxes, state franchise tax, federal income tax, mandatory (except when they're not) workers' compensation premiums, and state information filing fees—all on different calendars coordinated by different agencies that require different forms, none of which can be filed electronically in the same place. If you have an S Corp then your corporate income tax is actually your personal income tax, which means your rate is different and you'd better not pay yourself too high of a dividend. Oh, and if you own more than 2% of the company, then your health care costs are now "wages" that you have "earned"—but not wages you pay Social Security on or anything like that. And good luck with those loopholes!

  • States' Rights. It's a good thing that not every policy affecting us comes down from Washington on high. But there are so many infuriating differences from state to state when it comes to running a business, it's hard to believe that things could be coordinated any worse than they already are. If states want to charge different tax rates, that's fine. But does that really mean that they need to use different forms? Or draft your bank account 50 times? Better coordination of state revenue flow through the federal government would save businesses millions of dollars in wasted time and fees.

    Nor should state bureaucrats be able to shut down innovative companies for years on end due to state laws or regulations written by lobbyists for large companies. Coordination at the federal level should help startups cut through red tape.

  • Education. In order to build a business you need skilled workers, and it's no secret that workers with modern skills are hard to come by these days. The solution isn't paying smart students to skip college, whatever Peter Thiel might like to believe. It's paying attention to students as individuals, instead of applying cookie cutter templates to wide swaths of people. So if a student is making great progress and is capable of running circles around Google's top engineers after three years, if that student wants to, what's the harm in letting him or her graduate a year early? Or if an elementary student with disabilities is having trouble with writing or any other basic skill, are there resources available to help that student get to the required baseline, or will an arbitrary standardized test dictate that he or she will never make enough progress to live an independent life? These issues are surprisingly simple to solve; they just require funding.

  • Gun Control. In the past, I've hired at least one employee with documented severe mental illness that I was unaware of at the time of hiring. I later had to fire that same employee, and he was noticeably upset. For a time I was worried that he might come back to the office with a gun, and I was glad when we moved to an office with a double-locked entry. Should entrepreneurs really have to worry that their employees' lives might be at risk due to a bad hire? I'd argue no. Given the unending examples of gun-related violence in the United States, I'd like to see some gun control laws.

  • Defense. The nation's federal IT infrastructure is in shambles. Government agencies should be required to post contact information to anonymously report security concerns in a standardized fashion on every web site. Then, government employees or contractors should be hired to actually fix the problems, instead of blaming and investigating the people reporting them.
  • Transparency. One agency that does seem to be ahead of the rest, to an alarming extent, is the NSA. More about the NSA's domestic surveillance activities needs to be made transparent.

    When doing business with other companies, it's always helpful to be able to do a background check. That's made far more difficult because the Administrative Office of the Judiciary [illegally, in violation of the E-Government Act of 2002] forces the public to pay $0.10 per page for PACER data. PACER records, like all government records, should be available on-line free of charge.

  • Jobs. United States Government web sites are among the ugliest and least user-friendly digital creations on the planet. The utter lack of user interface guidelines and graphic design rules makes them generally impossible to use and navigate. Small businesses and startups should be hired by the dozens to help remake the face of the government on-line according to pre-defined standards.

  • Intellectual Property. As much as meaningful patent reform is sorely needed, so is reform concerning the way in which patents can be enforced. Patent holders should be required to prove that they are using their inventions in commerce in order to file a legitimate infringement claim in court. This single change would drastically reduce the number of frivolous patent applications coming into the USPTO, cutting down processing times for legitimate ones. The treble damages rule should also be amended to avoid incentivizing entrepreneurs to file "blind," only to learn that the same invention has been patented several times over.

  • Campaign Finance. Money isn't speech, and no entrepreneur should want it to be considered as such. Otherwise, it's virtually guaranteed that your much larger competitors will be able to buy off politicians with much greater ease, skewing the meaning of competition.

  • Immigration. We shouldn't be making it so difficult for people to immigrate, especially when we need skilled workers.

  • Travel. Sometimes it actually is necessary to travel for business, and that means going through airport security. The TSA has got to go, or if it stays, it needs to be turned upside-down. As the Israelis (and Bruce Schneier) have known for a long time, it's about people, not stuff.

  • Gay Rights. Successful businesses don't treat employees differently because of arbitrary distinctions.

  • Aaron Greenspan is the CEO of Think Computer Corporation and author of Authoritas: One Student's Harvard Admissions and the Founding of the Facebook Era. He is the creator of the FaceCash mobile payment system, ThinkLink business management system, and PlainSite legal transparency project.

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