The Many States of Oregon: Part II

A Three-Part Series: Part II

In September, Oregon Business Magazine hosted an 18-day, 2000-mile road tour around Oregon designed to promote business innovation and share best practices. Included in the tour were elected officials, civic leaders, directors of government agencies, small business owners, corporate executives and, just to make it interesting, the Cascade Policy Institute management team.

We met with researchers, entrepreneurs and politicians and had opportunities to question hundreds of hard-working Oregonians about important local issues, frequently over fabulous dinners served up with great Oregon wines and beers. Here is more of what we learned….

Most entrepreneurs don’t want help from the government; they just want to be left alone.

Business owners complained repeatedly about excess regulation and taxation. Most of them did not say it publicly, but when given the opportunity to let down their guard during social functions, they spoke strongly of the desire for less regulation.

The co-owner of a popular micro-brewery summed up the problem with one story. She explained that during the past session of the Oregon legislature, a bill was introduced to raise the beer tax. She said that she was forced to travel repeatedly to Salem, just to explain the basics of her business. It was evident to her that most legislators do not even understand how profit is created, and she felt extremely frustrated that she had to explain that the proposed tax would have put her entire industry out of business.

Although she was a self-proclaimed liberal Democrat, she said that this experience was so disillusioning to her that she was becoming much more attracted to the free-market policies of groups like Cascade. She summarized her feelings by saying, “Look, we’re not trying to get hand-outs from the government or any kind of special treatment; we just want to be left alone.”

Many business associations are undermining market principles by promoting state-sponsored “economic development” schemes.

At various points on the tour, we met quite a few people working in “public-private partnerships.” The mission of these groups was usually to target certain economic sectors for special treatment.

It’s bad enough when government bureaucrats do this, but it is especially harmful when business associations join in. Supporters of such schemes always think they have unique powers to determine which sectors of the economy are special, therefore deserving of tax breaks or cash subsidies. But no one has such powers, and these exercises inevitably allow the government to pick winners and losers. That is not a proper role of government and will cause a misallocation of capital that ultimately destroys wealth.

Stay tuned next Monday for Part III: Oregon badly needs to bring the state highway system into the 21st century….

Did you miss Part I? Read it here.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.