Small Business Optimism Is Plunging, Belying Biden’s Feel-good Economic Claims

Amazingly, small company chief executives are even more fearful of the future today than during the Covid pandemic, when most businesses were shuttered.

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Small business owners are in a pessimistic mood. Getty Images

If the economy is so good, why do small business leaders feel so bad?

The latest Small Business Optimism Index from the National Federation of Independent Business could hardly be more depressing. It finds that the men and women who run our 33 million small businesses and hire more than half of American laborers are in a somber mood. The survey finds that small-business confidence has reached its lowest point in 12 years.

Amazingly, small company chief executives are even more fearful of the future today than during the Covid pandemic, when most businesses were shuttered. The confidence numbers have decreased every year President Biden has been in office. Here are the numbers, according to NFIB: 

March 2020 – 102.0
March 2021 – 98.2 
March 2022 – 93.2
March 2023 – 90.1
March 2024 – 88.5

Why are small-business owners feeling so dour even at a time when the GDP is growing? I asked that question to a former World Bank president and U.S. Treasury undersecretary under President Trump, David Malpass. Mr. Malpass has observed all over the world what factors make small businesses successful and put their owners in a frame of mind to expand.

“Smaller businesses are being crowded out by complex regulations and direct competition from the $35 trillion national debt,” Mr. Malpass concludes. “The Treasury borrowed $23 trillion in 2023 alone, much of it in the expensive short maturities needed by smaller businesses for working capital.”

The NFIB data are merely a survey, and sometimes business owners and investors act differently than they say they will. Only there is more real data on how small companies are expanding.

The latest Federal Reserve data through March shows that commercial and industrial loans, a key resource for small business dynamism, fell more than 5 percent in the last year in nominal terms, down more than 8 percent after adjusting for inflation. Yikes. Without investment, it’s hard for businesses to grow. 

I asked the president and chief executive of the Job Creators Network, which represents tens of thousands of small-business owners, Alfredo Ortiz, what he sees in terms of the business climate. 

“Our members feel as though Biden has declared war on small businesses,” Mr. Ortiz says. He also mentioned they’re worried that a second Biden term would mean higher taxes, more regulations, and a continuation of high prices.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration seems frustrated and even indignant that more businesses aren’t supporting the White House program. Only remember: neither Mr. Biden nor nearly any of his top officials have ever started or even worked for a small or medium-sized business. They don’t have any feel for how their own policies impact the nation’s employers.

As an example, the Biden administration wants to put in serious jeopardy the franchise model where thousands of small entrepreneurs can start their own McDonald’s, Arby’s, or retail store representing well-known and trusted brands.

They want the parent companies to be on alert that they can be sued for violations of labor laws, EPA edicts, or federal “diversity” requirements, or can be on the hook for lawsuits against their franchises.

This could be the death of thousands of small, independent-owned franchises. The Labor Department wants small businesses to allow unions to run their stores.

What is so sinister here is that the franchise model for opening new businesses is an almost entirely unique American model of business growth. Entrepreneurial immigrants can come into the country, pool money as a family, then own and operate a Popeyes or a clothing store.

Mr. Biden also wants to nearly double the capital gains tax, which will scare away angel investors in small startup companies. If owners of a small or medium-sized business put the profits back into the company so it can expand, Mr. Biden would tax the “unrealized capital gains” on that investment.

Meanwhile, Mr. Biden is happy to give a big head start in the form of billions of dollars of grants and low-interest loans for large corporations such as General Motors and chipmaker Intel so they can expand their operations on the taxpayers’ dime. These corporate welfare programs tilt the playing field in favor of the sharks, not the small-business minnows.

It’s no wonder that men and women who put their life savings on the line to build their businesses from scratch feel they’re under assault. They are being taxed and regulated to death while too often inflation eats away their modest profits.

No one at Washington is going to be “forgiving” their loans when the business conditions get rough and high interest rates make it tough to get emergency loans. There is no safety net — and no “too big to fail” aid package — for the heroes of our economy, who have become the punching bag of big government.

The New York Sun

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