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Chamber Music




One of our goals at the Frying Pan is to question the recurring assertions made by certain business leaders who claim economic recovery can be achieved with the same strategies that led us into the Great Recession in the first place. My fantasy is that we can go beyond merely challenging the usual laissez-faire myths to create a debate with business leaders that becomes a real exchange of ideas. But before this can happen those persistent myths must be examined.

One case in point is the August 30 blog by L.A. Chamber of Commerce president Gary Toebben, who criticizes the job creation plans of California Governor Jerry Brown and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom – plans that stress small-business tax relief and business competitiveness.

“What is missing from both of these plans,” writes Toebben, “is a strong acknowledgment that streamlining California’s regulatory environment is absolutely essential to preserving the jobs we have and encouraging new investment by private sector companies. We expect a ‘Hail Mary’ pass for regulatory reform to be introduced this week. Its passage would not be a game changer, but it may be the first down we need to achieve more progress in the future.”

Football analogies aside, Toebben offers no specifics in his blog post, which I think requires a translation into plain English. According to the chamber, what California’s elected leaders need to do to get us out of the current economic mess is to reduce or repeal workplace, consumer and highway safety protections. Then, with all the money saved on such useless things as food inspections and employee protective gear, businesses will invest in the creation of more jobs.

Okay, perhaps my “plain English” translation is skewing Toebben’s statement. But let’s be honest. We hear this kind of chamberspeak a lot. It’s the same anti-regulatory mantra that businesses have been chanting since the dawn of modern capitalism: Rid us of those nasty government rules and regulations and we will have more money to spend on our businesses.

So here is where I want to get to a real debate about this subject, because so many business leaders get a party pass from the media when it comes to seriously inspecting their claims. Where, for example, is the evidence to back up the assertion that “streamlining regulation” in California will lead to economic recovery? Which rules and regulations would the chamber like California policymakers to eliminate and how do they think the elimination of those rules will create more jobs? (For that matter, when has the elimination of a government regulation led to the creation of a significant number of new jobs?)

I have been working with local government agencies and officials on different projects for the past 25 years and, to be completely honest, I agree that sometimes too many layers of rules can make it hard for a business to get things done efficiently in this state. But regulatory red tape is not what’s behind the Great Recession or the 30 percent unemployment that haunts parts of South Los Angeles.

How we honestly get to a real economic recovery is the debate that I want to have with the chamber. So, for my next blog, I will be talking about rules and regulations that have actually resulted in the creation of jobs. Think of a regulatory reform that means more rules, more regulations and more jobs. Oxymoron or common sense? You’ll be the judge.

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