President Obama's Disappointing Economic Speeches
BY Gene Marks
The business environment has been difficult for a while, and owners like me are reluctant to take risks, invest, and grow. Here's what would help to hear from the President.
During the past week President Obama has been talking about the economy.
"Washington has taken its eye off the ball," he said to a crowd at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. "And I am here to say this needs to stop." The President re-affirmed his belief that our "...top priority must be to reverse trends like economic inequality, weakened middle-class security, and global competition." He lamented that Washington had "lost focus on the economy" and vowed that "...the rest of my presidency is for working-class America."
And here I am, a business owner, watching a man that I voted for five years ago, and wondering what made me do that. I do like President Obama. But his presidency has been a huge disappointment for business owners. And his recent "pivot" on the economy, his speeches, his radio address, his interviews, are proving once more why. Any business person will tell you that his approach to growing the economy is wrong. And it will fail. Why? Because the President is not saying what the business community wants to hear. And what is that?
Here are four things I'd like to hear from the President:
"I am as much to blame as Congress for not resolving our budget issues. I will compromise with them and I promise that we, as your leaders, will get a budget deal done."
The President singled out Republicans in Congress as the root cause of Washington's problems, warning them not to create another budget "fiasco" this fall that could knock the country off course yet again. "In sharper and more traditionally partisan terms than many expected," the web site Politico reported, "Obama took credit for helping to shepherd the economy back from the brink while attacking Republicans, particularly in the House of Representatives, for engaging in an "endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals." Business people know this is not how negotiations are done. We deal with unreliable vendors, customers who want more for their money, and employees who let their own distractions get in the way of doing their jobs.
We don't blame these people. (OK, maybe just a little, but it's behind closed doors.) Instead we work things out. We agree on a lower price than we had hoped so that we can get the deal done. We move around delivery dates even though we know a customer may be annoyed. We let that employee take some extra time off because it's the right thing to do. The people that rely on us, our customers, our suppliers, our workers, our families, are expecting that we will do what we need to do to lead our companies, generate profits, and meet our obligations. We don;t blame, complain, or criticize. We expect our President to do the same.
"We don't need more middle class people. We need more rich people. And I am going to help more people get rich."
Ask any person working in a warehouse if he'd like to be as rich as Jay Z and the answer will likely be "you're d-mn right I would!" And that's a good thing. Wealth is good. Being rich is good. Wealthy people (and, yes, I'm including all of you who are making more than $400,000 per year even though you don't feel wealthy) create jobs. They employ contractors. They build homes. They invest in other businesses that in turn create jobs. Rather than trying to close the gap between rich and poor by "focusing on the middle class" as the President suggests, business people would prefer to be celebrating the rich as job providers and wealth creators (and of course there's no excuse for excess and abuse).
But blaming the rich on our economic and social problems, as the President does, only creates more conflict and anger. Helping the middle class isn't very inspiring. Most people don't want to be middle class. People want to be as rich as the Kardashians, the Housewives of Beverly Hills, the Shark Tank panel, and all the other rich people seen all the time on reality TV. And don't tell me you're not watching the Kardashians. I know you are.
"Government doesn't create jobs. Businesses create jobs. Take a minute and thank your employer for your job. And let me step out of the way and let him or her go out there and create more jobs."
It's all about work, isn't it? Not welfare, not food stamps, not government assistance. It's about having a job. I've employed 10 people over the past six years. I haven't hired a single new person. My company hasn't grown. We've been profitable. But I'd love to employ 20 or 30 people. I'm constantly battling to find more work in an economy that's been expanding at an average of 2 percent per year. It's tough. Why? Because it's a difficult environment for business people. And it has been for a while. There is an anti-business sentiment. Business owners are reluctant to take risks, invest, and grow. We're paying more taxes. Some are facing more regulations. But it's not just the taxes and the regulations. It's the overall feeling that we're the bad guys.
Every time the President attacks the Republicans, the financial community, Wall Street, and "the rich," he's creating an atmosphere of distrust and even hatred towards anyone who's making lots of money. "Sometimes I feel nervous walking around my own shop floor," one client told me recently. "I see my own employees looking at me with contempt." I am not making this up. When business people are confident, comfortable, and upbeat, we invest, we grow, we take risks, and we create more jobs. We are not comfortable or upbeat. And speeches like the ones the President has been making do not help.
"I have no business picking the winner of next year's NCAA tournament."
Let's admit it. This President's picks are terrible. He picked Indiana to win it all last year? Please. Just give it up already.
Unfortunately, I doubt the President will change his tune on the economy. Which means that the die has been cast and the business community has three more years left in the President's term. And for the next three years we will be viewed with mistrust. Our middle class will be fashioned as heroes while our wealthy will be designated the villains. Getting rich will be frowned upon. And if you take that away then where's the incentive for the business community? There is none. And that's what disappoints me about the President's recent speeches. He's not saying what business people want to hear.
GENE MARKS is a columnist, author, and small-business owner. He oversees the Marks Group, a 10-person technology consultancy to small and medium-size businesses. A certified public accountant, Marks has also worked in the entrepreneurial services arm of KPMG. He writes for The New York Times, Forbes, and The Huffington Post. @genemarks