Business worries pile up
Here are 10 confidence-killers. Every business person must be worried about at least one of these. Maybe all 10.
• Obamacare. A big cloud over 2014. The Affordable Care Act kicks in fully six months from now, Jan. 1, and business still can't weigh all its unaffordables. Socializing medicine for millions by way of layers of insurance “exchanges,” taxes and penalties poses a storm of costs and confusions. And doesn't spending more on health mean spending less on other stuff, such as what your company might make?
• Quantitative easing, officialese for the Federal Reserve's binge-printing of dollars. Stimulating the economy is the stated aim. Holding down interest payments on a horrendous national debt is a suspicious convenience. But spinning $85 billion out of thin air, every month, poses a wicked inflation down the road, with all the agony of curing that someday.
• So quit the quantitative easing then? Not so easy. It would signal higher interest rates, wider budget deficits, lower bond prices and reversal of the bull market in stocks. Goodbye to the “wealth effect” that's spurring consumer spending.
• Internal Revenue Service scandals. The IRS got caught. It was targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups for special hassles on their tax-exempt status. Which drives the latest nail in the coffin of citizenly trust in government. Too bad there's no sign yet that disgust with the IRS might lead to abolishing the tax for which it stands. Income tax reform would be wind under the wings for U.S. business.
• The regulatory state. Where Congress doesn't act, regulators rush in. The Environmental Protection Agency and National Labor Relations Board, to name two, radicalize rules that should be set by lawmakers.
• Civil war in Syria. We help the rebels, the Russians and Iranians abet tyrannical President Assad. But war always poses dangers of getting sucked in deeper and costlier. The harvest of deaths so far: 93,000, and all Arab vs. Arab, with no America to blame — yet.
• Man-made global warming. This fear, perhaps a computer-modeled illusion, haunts and hobbles U.S. energy and industrial development. Coal-fired power plants are doomed with incredibly faint protest. The 1,700-mile Keystone pipeline spanning the country north to south is stalled year after year, nevermind its vast potential-in-waiting for jobs and steel pipe sales.
• A dream of U.S. energy independence can't be pursued full-throttle. Fears of rock fracturing, “fracking,” to get at deep layers of shale oil and gas are whipped up by environmentalists and even the movies. We mustn't need the gas anyway, say economics-challenged critics. Aren't companies planning to export the stuff? Yeah, like we don't need timber, soybeans or software either, all dollar-earning exports.
• China's chronic theft of U.S. technology and spying in cyberspace. What more does this “trading partner” want from us, with only the mildest of diplomatic protests against its own high barriers to U.S.-made goods and services?
• Shortage of manufacturing job skills. A perennial problem, even as parents and teachers slavishly point young people toward college as the passport to middle-class incomes.
• Failing public school systems ... oops, but that's an 11th worry.
Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist for Trib Total Media. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.