The Chamber of Commerce announced this week it is opening a second office in Silicon Valley. The Chamber is no doubt in the hunt to expand its membership base, but will it lobby for policies that encourage the next generation of garage discoveries and creative destruction—or lock in the market positions of well-established players?
It’s a fair question to ask. And based on the group’s recent track record, it’s uncertain.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Chamber’s chief operating officer, David Chavern, will head up the new venture. The WSJ reports: “Chavern said he hopes that the Chamber’s pro-business, low-tax, minimal regulation views will fit the sensibilities of technology companies.”
But those “small and midsize tech firms…venture capitalists and other investors” Chavern says the Chamber is targeting should judge the group on its actions, not its words.
Perhaps the most recent example was the Chamber’s support for The Marketplace Fairness Act (Internet Sales Tax). The Chamber was on the side of big business, such as Amazon.com, which could easily survive the plethora of tax laws and regulations that would ensue if the law was enacted. But the bill was not and is not a good deal for the thousands of individuals and small companies who make a living selling their products and services online—and who don’t have a room full of accountants and tax lawyers just down the hall.
And then there is the Export-Import Bank. If past support is any indicator, the Chamber will be on the wrong side of the forthcoming debate on this issue. In this corporate welfare scenario, the U.S. government gives loans to foreign companies to purchase products from U.S. businesses. A good deal for Boeing selling aircraft to foreign airline companies like Air China? Yes. A good deal for taxpayers who are on the hook if any loans go unpaid or for U.S. airlines like Delta and other American companies competing with foreign airlines? Not so much.
The Chamber has also supported other initiatives that pick winners and losers in the marketplace.
It testified in favor of the Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA), which would act as a “green bank,” providing loan guarantees to energy and automotive projects that Washington deems worthy. Even though it never got passed into law, it mirrors Solyndra-style programs.
Not only do such programs, again, put taxpayers on the hook when the propped-up businesses fail (a la Solyndra); they also steer resources, capital, and labor away from more competitive projects. As Darryl Siry, former head of marketing at Tesla Motors (a loan guarantee recipient), said, “The existence of an 800-pound gorilla putting massive capital behind select start-ups is sucking the air away from the rest of the venture-capital ecosystem.” That ought to be a warning to those entrepreneurs who need private investors to make their ventures a reality.
America needs policies that encourage creative thinkers—in tech and other industries—to innovate and start new businesses. It doesn’t need more big government-big business partnerships.