I know what it is to build a company. I have done it a couple of times. In the early 1980’s, I had a small start-up fine and decorative arts auction house with four full-time and a half-dozen part-time employees. We brokered some direct sales for clients who no longer wanted a painting or other decorative arts piece, but also didn’t want any notice of their deaccessioning of the work. We’d go to see some amazing things and met some really interesting people, auctioning work to the Cooper-Hewitt, High, Metropolitan, and Milwaukee Art Museums. There were really zany dealers, some coming from New York and San Francisco with shopping bags of cash. It is still fun to see some people on Antiques Road Show whom I met here in Milwaukee so long ago.
Though not quite a company, I also started a public health program in a large vertically integrated health care system. Because the program was an academic and community partnership, it felt very much like a separate business that employed 10 full-time staff and had another dozen people with part-time involvement in our work.
More recently, I took a program that spun out of this larger public health program and made it into its own non-profit, public-benefit health promotion organization. This agency I led for 20 years, employing a staff of 24 with another 120 public health promoters receiving stipends to defray costs associated with their community work.
Each of these organizations had paid staff, a board of directors, by-laws, operating expenses, policies and procedures, tax records, and products or services. Each consistently broke even and had some cash reserves. My teams and I developed job descriptions, posted them, interviewed candidates, and selected people to hire. In addition to fulfilling the requirements of the work for which we received money, we also worked to develop the performance and careers of the people in the organization.
But I am not a job creator.
Just as some evangelicals use the umbrella term Pro-life to label their anti-choice position on abortion rights, so too do others use the term Job Creator to label their anti-taxpayer position in state legislators and executive offices. To be clear, these folks are not creating jobs any more than I did. I was employing people to do the work that needed to be done in a business that needed to happen. There are plenty of jobs to be done and to go around. I have been working for pay for 55 years and there is still a job to do. No one needs to create jobs. The real challenge today is to employ people in work that is satisfying and rewarding through a combination of achievement, wages, and benefits. But that is not job creation. Putting themselves in the role of Creators is presumptuous and overstated in my opinion.
It is grating to hear the expression used so regularly in the news. Instead of thinking, “Wow, these really great companies and people are like fairy godparents,” I am thinking “OMG, these corporations are creepy, acting like victims who need tax relief because they have it so tough.” Unfortunately, I feel like I am in the minority when I notice the emperor is naked.
Many employers are not putting enough money into the economy through their employees to provide any lasting growth in the economy. Like a constipated child, they hold onto their money and resources, becoming impacted and needing to be pushed through. Until they actually release something, these employers will continue to feel peevish, feverish, and victimized, complaining about everything that stands in the way, without recognizing that their own retention impulses are keeping them stuck.
It would be interesting to see what would happen if the billions spent by corporations in support of restaurant associations, chambers of commerce, manufacturers’ associations, and trade groups for franchisees — all groups expressly committed to keeping wages low and profits high — to see if these billions actually paid in wages would make the economy hum. Then the work to be done would be translated into jobs. And no one would need to pretend they are creating them.