Small business owners are presumed to be more heavily invested in economic issues -- taxes, spending, trade -- than voters at large, but these topics provided little red meat for our group. Early on, panelist Steve Boers spoke about the country's "overwhelming debt -- such a deep hole that it will take generations to dig us out." But while he drew support from a couple others and nods around the table, I didn't get the sense that most of our group considered this a pressing issue. The same goes, as you'll see, for taxes and trade.
INC.COM: I've read various polls that suggest taxes are pretty low on the list of important issues. How important are taxes to this group?
WAYNE HANSEN: They're important to me, but I didn't mention it because some of the other issues are more important. Let's put it this way: I would not want to see an increase in taxes.
JOSH MORE: I don't want to see an unnecessary increase in taxes, but it does appear as though certain portions of our national infrastructure might be starting to fail. The bridge collapse in Minneapolis is pretty much a direct result of the state choosing to not raise taxes to pay for that type of maintenance. So I would not mind an increase if I knew what it went to and it was justified.
WAYNE HANSEN: Why would a tax increase be necessary if it's essentially tied to inflation anyway? We shouldn't require any more taxes, because the taxes are going up as inflation goes up, as people make more money.
INC.COM: Anyone feel their taxes are too high? [Nobody raises their hand.]
INC.COM: Anybody feel that their taxes are too low? [Ditto]
JOSH MORE: I think it's inevitable that we're going to see a federal tax increase, largely to pay for the debt we're incurring due to the war. So I don't necessarily view that as a voting issue because I don't see anyway to change it. That's where we are.
ROBB SPEARMAN: Josh is just 100 percent correct. We've got to pay for the war somehow.
JOSH MORE: There's two ways to pay for a debt. You raise the money to pay off the debt, or you devalue your currency. Unfortunately, it looks like the latter's happening, but hopefully it won't go too far.
INC.COM: Do you think that what you're paying is fair relative to what other people are paying?
WAYNE HANSEN: I think the whole taxing system needs to be thrown out and start over.
HANK EVANS: Yeah.
WAYNE HANSEN: We need some type of a flat tax. I'm not sure that's the exact answer, but it's got to be something very simplistic that everybody can understand. There are so many loopholes -- getting back to the oil companies -- that by the time they spend their money on the accountants and lawyers, they're paying less taxes.
ROBB SPEARMAN: The flat tax is a great idea, an awesome idea, and maybe there should be a way to opt out of Social Security.
HANK EVANS: When it takes a forklift to carry the tax code, you know damn well it's broke and it needs fixing.
WAYNE HANSEN: But God bless America. We live in the best country in the world, and, you know, the pendulum does swing both ways. The more it starts swinging one way, citizens swing it the other way. We're all sitting here talking about what needs to be fixed, but we also need to remember what's good about this country that allows to be in the businesses we're in and do the things we're doing.
ROBB SPEARMAN: And Iowa is just a great, great state.
INC.COM: Well, what should be the role of government? Does it do too much in our society?
WAYNE HANSEN: A lot of things we used to do locally we've shifted to the federal government, and I hate to see that happen. As far as I'm concerned, education should be at the very lowest local level we can get, though maybe with a few regulations in place to make sure people aren't trying to avoid addressing the real educational issues. But all the dollars that flow to Washington so they can flow back to us how they want -- that's crazy.
JOSH MORE: One of the things I've noticed is a shift in the government from being there to protect us to more of a parental role, and I think that's wrong. A government's job is to protect the people, but I don't think that extends to making the entire country so risk-averse that they live in fear.
HANK EVANS: The government's got its nose in virtually everything, and the more the federal government gets in, the more people they hire and the less efficiently it gets done.
INC.COM: A recent story in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the ambivalence about foreign trade in Iowa, where exports are up 77 percent over the last four years. Even Republicans are split pretty evenly on how much benefit trade brings. How important is trade to your businesses, and is the way we trade right?
HANK EVANS: I'm extremely concerned about that we are exporting a lot of our manufacturing base. As a manufacturer, I look at what we used to make in this country and what we don't make in this country any more. [He pounds the boardroom table.] And, you know, we once actually made this table right here in Des Moines -- we hauled it up, and put the glass on it. At Boeing's new corporate headquarters in Chicago, the tables were all made in China, and shipped over in container loads. We hardly make steel anymore. That's what built this country, the steel mills. Try to find a toy for your kids this Christmas that isn't made in China. You could look forever.
JOSH MORE: My business is based on a free exchange of information; that's how information technology works. Having that free and global with no restraint at all is excellent for my business. That said, it is stupid for a country to invest the entire national economy in one industry, and that's what's going on. A service-based country can only exists as long as there are people there to service. And if all we're doing is servicing ourselves, we're building a house of cards.
WAYNE HANSEN: Our company is service-based; we write software and we purchase a lot of cable and we purchase a lot of devices that might be made overseas. But I worry about what would happen if there's a major war. In World War II, the United States went from a peace-based economy to a war-based economy almost overnight because they had the John Deeres and the large companies that could immediately begin to create munitions and vehicles and airplanes. I don't know what would happen if we had some type of emergency like that again. Given another 20 years, there just aren't going to be the factories there to do that type of thing.
In the final part of our discussion, the panelists consider how well the candidates are addressing the entrepreneurial agenda.
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