The Devastation Wrought on Small Business

June 5, 2020

The coronavirus lockdown – the costs of the virus itself are dwarfed by comparison – and its consequential damage to the world economy has been shocking. Whether you’re a blue collar worker pushed out of work by tyrannical governors and the media’s incessant provocation, or an upper class retiree whose assets rest on the Fed’s hyper aggressive influx of debt-based cash into the market, your perspective on the near future is probably very unclear.

In my case, I’m currently considered to be an essential worker by my state administrators in Massachusetts. How kind of them. During a recent business trip to my company headquarters in Great Barrington, I along with several of my colleagues were lucky enough to take a roadtrip across state lines to a small brewery in nearby Connecticut, which surprisingly is a fair bit more liberal in reopening their economy compared to neighboring states in the Northeast.

Facemasks and limited capacity certainly depreciated the mood usually expected when sipping a cold flight with friends on a sunny porch. There was even a Burger Truck that hand-delivered what felt like the best sandwich I’ve ever had, right to our table. Both of these amazing, talented human beings, whose highest calling that day and every day is to bring service, value and joy to total strangers, are heroes.

I’d give them a shout out in this article if I wasn’t worried that compliance officers and corona justice warriors would seize upon their operations. Better right now to let small business owners work peacefully without media attention; and we made sure to reward them with a handsome bonus upon signing the check. Anything to express the level of gratitude we felt that day.

This may sound like a happy story to a very grim title, but the Brewmaster and Mobile Burger Chef are lucky. These particular SBO’s have the good fortune of being in a business and area with high margins, little overhead to operate, and a relatively healthy flow of clientele. Plus the blessing of the lords in City Hall to open up. But for most, keeping the lights on is a painful financial and emotional burden.

In my resident city and hometown, Atlanta, Georgia, my barber, which in Atlanta is about as essential as Georgia Power, has moved from renting a chair in the local barbershop to exclusively doing home appointments. For him, it makes better financial sense to work from home, where he can practice responsibly, but doesn’t have to deal with the overbearing surveillance and media-induced social stigma of the public barbershop.

It’s okay to feel morally justified and take rational precaution by practicing home isolation, face covering and maintaining distance from non-supermarket crowds. But the state’s enforcement of these should be voluntary decisions. Coercion and lockdown need to be vocally and passionately opposed by anyone who sees commerce and work as pillars of good in society.

The brutalism of the initial coronavirus lockdown orders, as well as the soft extension of the quarantine disguised as “Phased Reopenings,” have put SBO’s in an inhumane position. It’s neutered their ability to attract not only patrons, but employees. The financial strains alone must be hard to cope with, but it becomes unbearable with the additional physiological toll that comes from constantly being afraid of the Sheriff slamming you with fines and compliance violations.

In a recent report conducted by The World Bank-OECD and Facebook, the study found that of the nearly 86,000 small or medium-sized business owners surveyed, roughly 35% said they do not plan to reopen, with many citing inability to pay bills, and either not receiving, or simply not being able to shoulder their employees, family, and investors with more and more government debt on the speculative chance that they might recover. And who knows, even though we’re reopening now, who’s to say the government won’t revert into another panic and close society again in the Fall, or Winter?

In America, many of us just see the surface of economic activity. There’s resources out there, we pay a middleman (retailers, restaurants, delivery apps) to craft and offer to us a useful product or service. And this exchange also supports the wholesaler of the goods needed to make that product (farmers, miners, engineers). Free trade is the fundamental way we as a country contribute to each other’s happiness and survival.

You can feel this right now if you’re lucky enough to still be receiving a paycheck uninterrupted by the lockdowns. But otherwise, if you’re deemed to be one of the nearly 40 million nonessential workers, or one of the millions of sick/impaired Americans now forced onto a multiyear backlog of elective surgeries that have been deemed nonessential, or the owner of a startup whose hope of recovery is being stunted by the government’s vicious and uncomprehending meddling in labor markets, I can only imagine how difficult it must be.

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