An old conservative characteristic the next conservatism should revive is a suspicion of bigness. Many conservatives remain suspicious of big government, as well they should. But we should favor small scale in many other things as well. Small scale is critical to local life, to the ability of local people to control what happens where they live. In general, small, local schools teach better than big, regional schools; small towns work better than big cities; and small business provides communities a better economic base than does big business. Big businesses care little, if at all, what effects their actions have locally. Small businesses do care, because their owners and managers live in the local community. If they injure that community, they hurt themselves as well.
Small businesses are also an important part of something America does relatively well – namely, creating economic opportunity and new jobs. A major reason we do that better than much of the rest of the world, including Europe, is that small businesses and especially new start-ups face fewer government obstacles. In much of the world someone who wants to start a new business faces a huge, hostile government bureaucracy. It can take him months or years (and often bribes) to get the many permissions he needs.
The next conservatism should work to build on this American success. The lesson is not that we should rest happy in our superiority to other places but rather that we can benefit even more if we make establishing a new business even easier.
At present, while starting a new business is less difficult than in most other places, it can still be daunting. Immediately, the person who wants to set up shop faces an array of federal, state and local rules and regulations. He is deluged with pieces of government paper, many of which begin, “Under penalty of law.” The many forms he must fill out are obscure and confusing. If he makes an honest mistake he may be legally liable.
If we really want to promote small businesses, the next conservatism should work to reduce this burden. Some of the rules and regulations should simply be abolished. Others, such as public health requirements for new restaurants, are clearly necessary. But where government imposes a requirement, it could and should also offer the help people need to meet that requirement, especially help in dealing with government paperwork.
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