Man-Up, Simon: Allowing small businesses to pick their employees’ pockets only encourages New Zealand’s SMEs to remain unproductive. Rather than pandering to SME demands that the state hobble the unions with legislative leg-irons, Bridges should steadfastly repeat the criticism of Labour Minister, Iain Less Galloway. If employers are too lacking in business acumen to pay their employees a decent wage, then they deserve to – and should – go bust. Capitalism carries no passengers.
YOU CAN’T BEAT THE RUSSIANS for pithiness. On the subject of revolution, for example, Vladimir Lenin was unequivocal: “[I]n a capitalist country, he declared. “it is possible to stand for capital and it is possible to stand for labour, but it is impossible to stand for long in between.” Not that New Zealand politicians have ever shown the slightest inclination to heed his advice. National’s and Labour’s urge to position themselves squarely between the extremes of capitalist politics is apparently irresistible.
Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) for example are wooed ardently by both major parties and all the small ones. NZ First’s Shane Jones may wax eloquent about the shortcomings of big businesses and their CEOs, but you will never hear a peep of criticism from “The Lion of the Regions” concerning the shortcomings of small businesses. Labour’s Stuart Nash is equally enamoured of the small businessperson – as is National’s leader, Simon Bridges. So enamoured, in fact, that he is embarking on yet another nationwide tour to elicit from the SMEs some thoughts about how their own fortunes, and the fortunes of the wider economy, may best be secured.
In getting to these stalwart representatives of the petite bourgeoisie (as Lenin called them) Bridges will first have to elbow aside Act’s David Seymour and the Greens’ James Shaw. In the eyes of both of these minor party leaders the SME’s represent not simply ‘The Little Engines-of-Growth That Could’, but also a social class with sufficient demographic heft to keep both parties in Parliament.
But, if the enthusiasm of Messrs Seymour and Shaw is readily understood, the eagerness of National’s leader to court small business is much more difficult to fathom. Bridges is, after all, a capitalist; and the defence of capitalism has always been the National Party’s raison d’être. Mollycoddling SMEs and devising new ways of propping them up does not, however, serve the interests of capitalism in any way at all.
“All big businesses were small businesses once.” Like all clichés, this is true – but insufficient. Because, if the SME sector is the nursery of larger, better-capitalised and more successful enterprises, it is also the blood-soaked battlefield from which only the strongest and/or the shrewdest competitors emerge on two legs. Offering to replace the jagged blades of competitive endeavour with the wooden swords of undeserved state support is the very last thing a genuine capitalist would do.
There is a reason why most SMEs fail within their first 18 months of existence. Mastering the vagaries of the marketplace isn’t easy. Most people can’t do it, and those who can do not remain SMEs for long. They seize the share of the market vacated by their defunct competitors and, through their relentless expansion, see off the ones that remain. It’s brutal. There’s absolutely no room for sentiment – only for the quick and the dead. Capitalism is red in tooth and claw. That’s how it works.
New Zealand’s small businesses are currently bleating about the Labour-NZF Government’s plans to restore trade union rights in the workplace. They expect Bridges to be their shining knight when it comes to employment relations; emulating the National Opposition of Jim Bolger who promised to drastically limit the power of the unions – and was as good as his word.
Bridges should refuse – point blank.
Allowing small businesses to pick their employees’ pockets only encourages New Zealand’s SMEs to remain unproductive, lacking in creativity and lazy. Rather than pandering to SME demands that the state hobble the unions with legislative leg-irons, Bridges should steadfastly repeat the criticism of Labour Minister, Iain Less Galloway. If employers are too lacking in business acumen to pay their employees a decent wage, then they deserve to – and should – go bust. Capitalism carries no passengers.
The unions would be doing Labour and the Greens a very big favour if they reminded them that for every SME proprietor who succeeds there are dozens more who suffer devastating losses. Homes, redundancy packages, inheritances, reputations: and not one of their big businesses creditors will show the slightest species loyalty to a fellow capitalist in distress. The “Big Four” Aussie banks don’t repatriate $5 billion per annum in profits by forgiving small Kiwi businesses their debts.
Bridges’ message to the SME sector should be clear and unequivocal. There is no sentiment in business. Survive or die.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 September 2018.