Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Greater Houston Partnership

The Greater Houston Partnership (GHP) is a local business organization. According to their web site

The Greater Houston Partnership is made up of 2,000 of the top business and community leaders in this region. The annual sales and other receipts by firms and organizations represented on our Board of Directors alone is more than $1.92 trillion.

To put it that number in some perspective, it is larger than the Gross Domestic Products of all but six nations and equivalent to nearly one-fifth of U.S. GDP.
It is pretty clear the the GHP is a high-powered organization. Given its high profile, as well as that of its members, the organization can exert considerable influence on local policies. One would expect (perhaps naively) that its members and leaders would be outspoken advocates of free markets.

While the GHP is certainly more pro-business than the Democratic Party, it ultimately undermines many of its own positions. Its positions are very mixed, ranging from the almost heroic to the pathetically appeasing. For example, GHP CEO and President Jeff Moseley said last year when talking about the loss of Texans in Washington (specifically President Bush and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson):
But the reality of politics is this: When you lose seniority, you lose clout; and when you lose clout, you lose money. It goes someplace else – to another program, in another district, in another state. So until time and the electoral calendar restore our seniority, we may have some uncertain years ahead of us.

Unfortunately, this attitude is common among businessmen. They accept the fact that politicians can dispense favors, and with it, make or break a business. They embrace the status quo and scurry to develop political clout and win those favors. When you have clout, you do well. When you don't have clout, you develop a plan to get it.

But business should not be about winning political favors. It should be about producing values. It should be about having a vision and winning the voluntary support of consumers and investors, not about sucking up to politicians and bureaucrats.

The GHP attitude is best summed up by the expression, "You can't fight City Hall." It regards the edicts of politicians as a metaphysical fact that cannot be altered or changed, unless one wins favor with those in power. It is, as Ayn Rand pointed out many, many times, a complete surrender.

Government's proper purpose is the protection of individual rights, that is, the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Government's purpose is to protect the rights of each individual to pursue his own values without intervention from others, so long as he respect their mutual rights. Each individual has a moral right to take the actions necessary to sustain and enjoy his life, and it is government's purpose to protect that right.

More than any group, businessmen make it possible for all of us to obtain life's necessities with ease. And they make life increasingly enjoyable by introducing new products and services, such as cable television, cell phones, and DVD players. Government cannot and does not produce these values. Government can only stand aside and protect the rights of individuals to produce such values, or it can place obstacles in their way. But the GHP--like so many businessmen--accepts those obstacles, and simply tries to minimize their impact by influencing politicians.

To its credit, the GHP has not caved to the anti-immigration fervor that was once sweeping the country:

To that end, we have already taken a number of policy-related steps:
• The Partnership Board has passed a resolution that calls for a rational, probusiness,
pro-growth plan for immigration reform.
• We formed a national coalition – Americans for Immigration Reform – to advocate the positions of the region’s business community.
• And we joined in lawsuits seeking to prevent the government from sending “no match” letters that threaten actions against employers who do not resolve workers’ mismatched Social Security numbers. These letters amount to a weapon against undocumented workers, while imposing unreasonable regulatory burdens and unfair costs on businesses. Under pressure like this, the Department of Homeland Security last month abandoned its efforts to enforce the no-match regulation.

This is certainly a commendable position. But even in taking the correct side of the issue, the GHP fails to do so for the right reasons. Rather than defend the right of individuals--both employers and employees--to engage in voluntary transactions, they appeal to the economic interests of the community. They do not oppose the "no match" program because it is immoral and coercive, but because it is impractical.

GHP's "politics as usual" approach accepts regulations and government controls as a given. They oppose those regulations that "go too far", never realizing that they have conceded the principle and can only bicker over the details of implementation. By then it is too late.

The GHP has surrendered their most potent weapon against the politicians who seek to control and stifle business-- the realm of morality. They accept the premise that they must acquiesce to the "public good", that regulations are an appropriate means to achieve that "good". The GHP--and its members--must reject this premise. They must declare their moral right to act without the arbitrary constraints of government.

The GHP has a ten year goal to attract and create 600,000 new jobs in the Houston region. Their marketing program--Opportunity Houston--has raised more than $30 million to promote the region and attract capital investments. This program is appropriately named, for Houston arguably offers more opportunity than any other American city.

Opportunity is a consequence of freedom--the absence of coercion. Houston erects fewer obstacles to business than other cities, allowing the members of GHP and thousands of other entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and visions. But those opportunities will not endure if the GHP--and Houstonians in general--continue to sanction government regulations.

Much more is at stake than influence in Washington. Indeed, it is the entire idea of needing influence in Washington that must be rejected. Business--and all individuals--does not need government favors to be successful. What we need is for government to get out of our way. What we need is a new Declaration of Independence--independence from government dictates. That would truly create opportunity.

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