SMALL BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES

Posted in Quick Hits on February 4th, 2014 by Ed

I'm late to the game on this one – a bizarrely not-terrible NRO piece about Appalachia called the "Big White Ghetto", which any visitor to eastern Kentucky or West Virginia can confirm it most certainly is. It's a good, predictable "Yep, poverty is pretty awful" piece that does a good job of exploring why these areas are so screwed; namely, skilled workers leave because there are no jobs and no jobs will come because there are no skilled workers.

Imagining the average National Review reader walking through this piece is entertaining, as though what rural Kentucky really needs is Mitt Romney and Sean Hannity to show up and tell everyone to hurry up and start a small business. Isn't that always the answer to everything? Well, that and tax cuts. And even Republicans realize that there aren't enough tax incentives in the world to get someone to create a bunch of jobs in a remote, dilapidated coal town. The small business fetish – It's at once a panacea for what is wrong with America and a symbol of all that is great about it – is funny when placed in this context.

If you wanted to open a small business in the town described in that article, what would it be? Are you going to open a restaurant or coffee shop? Clothing boutique? Artisan manufacturing? No, you're not going to do any of that in a town where half the population is living on $500/month in government assistance. You're going to open one of the businesses you see in poor, run-down neighborhoods everywhere: bar/liquor store, pawn shop, convenience store, or payday lender. The only way you could make any money off of a small business in this place would be to do something that exploits the hopelessness, ignorance, and desperation of the people who haven't had the ability or good sense to leave.

Talk about vicious cycles; in the perfect conservative dream world, all of these people pull themselves up by the bootstraps and, since there are no jobs to be had even for the skilled and motivated, start their own businesses. And the only ones who succeed will be those who sell something that perpetuates the world of poverty, substance abuse, petty crime, and hopelessness in which they live. It's unlikely to be a coincidence that the residents just voted to legalize alcohol sales in the formerly "dry" county. Talk about growth industries.