Really, Joe, do you think your new friends understand plumbing? or small business?
I'm sure your bus trip has been pleasant so far. And it is entertaining to think of opening an outlet in DC.
But I think you need good advice. Not from me, mind you. I'm only a priest, and I cannot help but think of economics as a "dismal science."
This morning, I dug out some dusty old print* and discovered some people who will help you a lot more than the Republicans (and probably the Democrats as well).
G. K. Chesterton, in The Outline of Sanity, suggests the following ideas for your situation:
- large businesses should be boycotted in favor of your small business.
- bigger plumbing outfits should be taxed specifically when they try to buy out little shops like yours (I am keeping in mind the likelihood that you will never approach $250,000).
- if you are truly small in scope, you should receive free legal services (since you might be dragged into court by litigious insurance companies or bigger plumbers).
- your little town (near Toledo, yes? anywhere near Hamler where I used to preach?) should enact "local tariffs" to protect your little business (and other local little businesses) from big out-of-town businesses (think Wal-Mart).
- get hold of and use the best plumbing technology available (GK was no Luddite).
In The Restoration of Property, Hilaire Belloc says that you have been snookered by the Republican corporate culture for no less than seven reasons. Big monopolies and bigger concerns have an unjust -- and truly unChristian -- advantage over you because
- their proportional cost of operation is cheaper than yours;
- they are better able than you to purchase technology, information, and advertising (which Belloc calls "one of the worst plagues of modern life");
- they can procure credit a lot better than you can (oh, and btw, did you know that the subprime mortgage crisis is really your fault, Joe, because didn't you -- and all the "irresponsible" poor -- land a mortgage that you really can't afford?).
- they can undersell your services until your business is bled dry. This is what WalMart does everyday, and calls it the American Way.
- they can acquire capital investment and sell stocks: no one will want to invest in your business outside of a high-interest loan.
- they are intertwined incestuously with the legislature: they have lobbyists, you don't (and don't even think that your bus friends will lobby for your little shop).
- they can -- and do -- dun their accounts-receivable mercilessly just like Scrooge: you, however, actually know the people who owe you money ... you fixed their furnace because you didn't want the kids to go cold at night, even though you knew that you would never settle that account ... and because you're kind of stupid like this, the big plumbing outfits -- who have successfully rid themselves of that pesky conscience thing -- will thumb their nose at you from atop the profit pile
Sorry Joe, Hilaire is cranky like that (though his beer-songs -- which you would probably get a kick out of -- are much more hilarious). But he does suggest some positive ideas:
- bigger plumbing companies should be taxed more because they are bigger ... single shop guys like you should be taxed less, if at all (I continue to remember that you, as a small businessman, will never go past $250,000).
- you should be encouraged to team up with other local plumbers into a "guild" arrangment, where you could actually set your prices together at a responsible level, and where you can share the burden of community emergencies and needs (like that poor family whose furnace went out).
- large corporations would be encouraged, through differential taxation, to create the largest number of shareholders, and to prevent the accumulation of large blocks of stock.
- the land should be occupied and owned by the people living there and working upon it ... your customers should be families who care for their land, live off their land, and are not taxed by the state, and are protected against the ravenous interests of large powers, whether they are capitalist corporations or the socialist state.
- and remember that "guild" idea in the second point? your "plumbing guild" would also seek out and train young men in the plumbing "art," for that is what plumbing really is -- a "craft."
You, Joe, have probably forgotten the art and craft side of plumbing. There should be, at the core of what you do, something essentially aesthetic and pleasing. If not, then you ought to be doing something else.
But I think there is, since you don't mind being called "Joe the Plumber." There is some virtuous pride in that self-identification. So you know, Joe, that there is "art" at the center of your job, and you also know that your job cannot be boiled down to mere dollars and cents.
You want to be paid, for sure, and you want to make a living. But a wage is only part of living. And your current bus ride misses that point altogether.
Oh, and Joe, if that nice lady is on the bus with you -- you know, the one who was snubbed on the other bus -- tell her that you know where the real America is, and here's a triptik on how to get there:
Robert Frost put his faith in the "insubordinate Americans," throaty dissenters and ornery traditionalists ... those Americans who reject Empire; who cherish the better America, the real America ... who will make the land acrid and bright with the stench and flame of burnt national ID cards when we -- should we -- cross that Orwellian pass. This is still our country, you know.**
*I am indebted to Allan C. Carlson for this discussion. He provides a nice summary of distributism in the first chapter of his book Third Ways: how Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen created family-centered economies, and why they disappeared.
**Bill Kauffman (of course), in Look Homeward, America.