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    Dont’ worry ’bout my recovery

    Unlike Eric, I don’t feel much pressure to live-blog the State of the Unions…er…Union address, and therefore plan to give it a dyspeptic listen in private. I will just note here, re. the Wall Street Journal article Eric links to, that this drives me bananas:

    The point people for the small-business initiatives will be embattled Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Small Business Administrator Karen Mills, administration officials say. Thursday, Mr. Geithner will travel to Minneapolis to tour a Honeywell factory and have a roundtable discussion with local business leaders.

    In the poll, just 11% of Americans feel positively about the Treasury chief. Nearly one in five have negative feelings about him, while more than half said they didn’t know his name or weren’t sure.

    Melissa Sharp, a spokeswoman for the National Federation of Independent Business, the small-business lobby, said the Hatch-Schumer proposal may be a step in the right direction. The organization, though, would like to see a broader measure—one that doesn’t just apply to the longterm unemployed.

    Hiring tax credits have been controversial. Some economists worry businesses could fire then rehire workers to claim the credit, or divide a full-time job into two part-time jobs.

    Yes, the best way to encourage entrepreneurship is to make the tax code more complex. People with big dreams and modest means love that, because there aren’t already enough little decision-distorting little rules plaguing their lives to begin with.

    I mean, don’t misunderstand: I’m for lower taxes as much as I’ve ever been. The part that drives me wild is that this is yet another example of the government-as-handyman approach, in which it’s assumed that Washington’s role in the economy is to push through yet another set of micromanage-y dicta to “help” enterprises of this or that description. I suppose I should be grateful that Sharp’s lobby isn’t powerful enough to wangle a bailout for its more luckless members. And along those lines, how is it we hope to help small businesses by visiting a Honeywell [!] facility and talking to people who are already business leaders in a major urban area? I’m aware of the distinction between long-running small businesses and start-ups, and I suppose the discussion could be intended to elicit ideas about what small businesses need in order to succeed. But, as Virginia Postrel was pointing out around the time of our last health-care policy-push fiasco, it’s hard for even economists to figure these things out in a way that produces “helpful” policy:

    Small business is, apparently, the opposite of the weather: Everybody praises it, and everybody does something about it. But all this posturing is based on bad economics and worse politics. Contrary to endlessly repeated conventional wisdom, small companies do not account for the vast majority of new jobs.

    That notion stems from the work of David Birch, a former MIT researcher who now runs a consulting firm called Cognetics. In the 1980s, Birch claimed to show that most new jobs came from small companies. His findings were trumpeted by small-business advocates, notably the Small Business Administration and my former employer, Inc. magazine. It seemed impolite to subject Birch’s research to normal scientific checking.

    But Birch has now recanted. He says, “The relative role of smaller firms in generating jobs varies enormously from time to time and place to place … Most small-firm job creation occurs within a relatively few firms–the Gazelles.” These “Gazelles” are, quite simply, high-growth companies. That growing companies hire more people than non-growing companies is hardly surprising. The “Gazelles,” says Birch, represent every sector of the economy and are extremely unstable.

    As a celebration of a dynamic, entrepreneurial economy, Birch’s vision is appealing. It holds up on anecdotal grounds. Birch cites such Gazelle successes as AST Research and Federal Express. But his research has absolutely no predictive value. You identify a Gazelle by looking at its past growth, not predicting its future prospects. The implication of Birch’s research is that no one, including David Birch, knows where new jobs will come from.

    Not that that’s going to stop them from pretending they do.

    Speaking of big dreams and the inability to engineer the future, Sarah Hoyt has another guest post up at another blog, this time discussing whether current science fiction deserves more readers than it gets:

    The other part of this is that no one can cast a future world without thinking through things like economics, sexual roles, politics, mass movements. No one can write a world no matter how bubblegum—oh, all right, maybe seventies French sci fi porn (I only read it for the spaceships)—without putting his or her thoughts into it. If you don’t believe me, go and analyze Star Trek. Or even better read one of several volumes of serious analysis that already exist. Messages are not what you think. Moral fables with pre-determined outcomes are rarely entertaining and besides, if you have children, go and look at what they read in school. They’re immersed in these “the world is unjust and we must wallow in it” screeds. Full up. If anything this turns them off reading. Why should they go looking for more of this boring stuff on their own time?

    I’d like to say these are my very reasonable and reasoned suggestions, but I feel more like all this has been simmering for years (and panels) untold and now it’s 1517 and I’m Martin Luther, nailing my theses to the door. I fully expect a storm of excommunication. But some things are worth saying.

    Relax your grip around science fiction, gentle ladies and kind gentlemen of science fiction publishing and critique. Allow writers to dream and they will. Allow stories to inspire dreams and the readers will come. And perhaps one of those young people attracted by the “impossible” FTL process will be one who invents a way to travel almost painlessly to and amid the distant stars. Because his high school teacher will say it’s impossible and our reader will be mulish enough to prove it all wrong. Perhaps one of the young women who just missed out on reading another screed on how she is oppressed for being female, will create bio-wombs that will free women from the physical hardship of pregnancy. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

    Stop trying to push people toward dreams you’ve envisioned for them, yes.

    On a not-entirely-unrelated note, the three youngest kitties in Mark Alger’s household were born a year ago last week, at the very dawn of this era of hope, change, and promotion to executive-branch positions after non-payment of taxes. Happy birthday to them.

    On a bizarrely not-entirely-unrelated note, here’s Olivia on rejecting high-handed attempts to help with “Recovery”:

    Added later: Combining the themes of Sarah Hoyt, not pigeonholing people, and kitties, Sarah has a post up about cat names. Priceless sentence: “Dead cats aren’t particularly safe.”

    Added on 29 January: I knew I had a photograph of my parents’ Romeo and Ludwig in full superiority-complex mode:

    The dryer wasn’t even running, BTW.

    3 Responses to “Dont’ worry ’bout my recovery”

    1. Eric Scheie says:

      Thanks for the link, Sean. I guess you know by now that repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has suddenly loomed to the center of the SOTU stage….

    2. Eric Scheie says:

      I’d have called it the “DADT SOTU” but, IMHO, these abbreviations are getting as tedious as the subjects they’re abbreviating.

      So I should STFU.



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