Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Sanctity of Small Businesses

I have written previously about the concept of the “middle class” and how it is strategically used by politicians to create divisions and distort reality. The concept of the “small business” works in a very similar way, and I think it is important to highlight its function in political rhetoric. This is on my mind particularly because pretty much every political discussion I have heard lately has had some sort of appeal to the effects of various proposals on small businesses.

If anyone were unfamiliar with American society, a few hours watching any cable news channel would be enough to show them the great reverence in which small businesses are held. In fact, it seems that the most effective attack one can launch on any proposed policy or regulation is to demonstrate its negative impact on small businesses. One would think that small businesses must be the engine of the American economy.

They are not. Of course, it is not hard to see why everyone likes small businesses: they are the exemplars of entrepreneurialism, individualism, and free market laissez-faire capitalism. They stand in opposition to the corruption, human rights abuses, and political finagling of large corporations. Even the most die-hard capitalist apologists have a hard time defending those evil multinational corporations who ship American jobs overseas. Thank goodness there are small businesses to salvage the ideals of capitalism.

So part of the political usefulness of the concept of small business lies in its very appeal. People see capitalist virtue embodied in small business. The “small business” is a loaded ideological symbol which, as a discursive element, conjures up associations with cherished values and some old-timey nostalgia to boot. This can be compared to the appeal of the “middle class,” though the latter also draws its discursive power from the fact that most everyone identifies themselves as members of the middle class.

However, like the concept of “middle class,” the notion of the “small business” serves an important ideological purpose in addition to those more immediate and practical ends. The constant references to small businesses bolster false images of capitalism. It counters the reality that capitalism’s nature is to increasingly centralize capital, to nourish monopolies, to exploit and dominate. It discounts the importance of mega-conglomerates in economic, political, and social spheres. Moreover, it reroutes conversations away from analyses of the ways in which corporations secure their wealth and manipulate social structures, and focuses discussion instead on misguided notions about the inherent conflict between government and business.

The truth is, that capitalism has been the greatest threat to free markets and small businesses.

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