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Colin McNickle: 'Progressive' Pittsburgh & entrepreneurs

| Thursday, March 8, 2018, 8:55 p.m.
The city skyline from the West End Overlook on Thursday, May 26, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
The city skyline from the West End Overlook on Thursday, May 26, 2016.

Not heard much these days, “confusion worse confounded” is most apropos in describing the City of Pittsburgh's devolving relationship with those doing business in it and with it.

Perhaps the phrase's most famous use came in John Milton's epic 1667 poem “Paradise Lost.” Simply put, it means disorder made worse than before. The Allegheny Institute for Public Policy's Jake Haulk says the city's continuing meddling in private business operations, often to promote specific social outcomes, is a textbook case.

Ironically, the same City Council that has pushed to require businesses to offer sick leave, supported small-business minimum-wage hikes, mandated safety training for security guards and favored many politically correct rules and regulations now proposes a taxpayer-financed effort to underwrite small-business startups.

Beyond the irony of council members who've disrespected free-market principles suddenly embracing the private sector, the “Entrepreneurial Support Fund” raises serious questions.

“First,” asks Haulk, the Pittsburgh think tank's president, “why would the city set up a fund to make grants to businesses so they could pay the city for permits or licenses? If a startup cannot afford ... a license, how can it afford ... equipment and supplies, or even contemplate hiring employees? Then, too, if the city is eager to help startups, why not waive the cost of permits and licenses for them and after a year, if they are successful, then ask them to make the payment?”

Equally troubling is support for “select new businesses,” which means qualifying criteria likely based on efforts to regulate businesses, force certain outcomes and comport with new zoning guidelines not compatible with a competitive free-market economy.

“Businesses that have a hint of not being politically correct will not qualify,” predicts Ph.D. economist Haulk. “And it will be interesting to see what repercussions the city will attempt to impose on businesses that make pledges but do not honor them.”

City efforts to require businesses to adhere to its philosophy will not attract the true entrepreneurs most likely to succeed.

There is, of course, a better way: “(A)ppreciate the benefits of free markets and real entrepreneurism and the dynamism they create. After all, they once made Pittsburgh an economic colossus. Lip service and grants to cover license costs are not the answer that is needed.” The most effective prescription is the most tried and true, thus fundamental, Haulk stresses: “Cut business taxes and abandon government's anti-business mindset that tries to impose social goals. Good jobs are a far superior socially desirable outcome. And stop treating industry as if it is not welcome. Manufacturing is enjoying a resurgence nationally. Those are the jobs it would be good to have with their multiplier effects and high wages.”

Absent a reversal of Grant Street's oxymoronic, “progressive social justice” groupthink, Milton's “confusion worse confounded” will only grow like an aggressive cancer, relegating true economic renaissance to a quaint historical footnote.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (

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