THE STASH DECEMBER 4, 2009
An absolutely priceless moment from yesterday's jobs summit, courtesy of The New York Times:
Mr. Obama told the chief executives that he wanted to know: “What’s holding back business investment and how we can increase confidence and spur hiring? And if there are things that we’re doing here in Washington that are inhibiting you, then we want to know about it.”
He got a blunt answer from Fred P. Lampropoulos, founder and chief of Merit Medical Systems Inc., a medical device manufacturer in the Salt Lake City area. Mr. Lampropoulos said some in his discussion group agreed that businesses were uncertain about investment because “there’s such an aggressive legislative agenda that businesspeople don’t really know what they ought to do.” That uncertainty, he added, “is really what’s holding back the jobs.”
What a revelation that a manufacturer of medical devices would find the business environment a little uncertain at a time when Congress is trying to stop wasting so much money on medical devices. It's a bit like a toilet-seat manufacturer complaining about uncertainty after the Pentagon decided to clamp down on those $500 toilet seats back in the 1980s.
Obviously ambitious legislation means potentially big changes for the industries directly affected by it. And if you tally up all the legislative fronts where the administration is active, a lot of businesses are potentially affected. Still, the number whose business models hang in the balance as a result strikes me as relatively small. And I suspect a pretty high fraction of that subset makes its money only semi-legitimately at best. (Not just device manufacturers that charge Medicare exorbitant prices, but banks that make gobs of money through outrageous overdraft fees, energy companies whose production costs are exceptionally low because they don't pay the cost of polluting, etc., etc.)
The real problem, as a much more intellectually honest and self-aware summiteer put it, is that the economy is crappy--demand for goods and services from consumers and businesses is still pretty depressed:
But W. James McNerney Jr., the head of the Boeing Company, said in an interview after the president’s forum, “If you ask me what creates the uncertainty I’m dealing with, it’s more the state of the economy.”
As long as that's the case, the administration's efforts to stabilize the economy clearly help business as a class rather than hurt it.