Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hurting Small Business

The Occupy Oakland protestors got what they wanted yesterday, they shut down businesses in the city of Oakland. It is not clear whether these businesses shut down because of an act of solidarity or simply because of fear. After seeing video of protestors smashing windows, setting bonfires and spray painting slogans on the side of buildings, I’m going with fear. While the few protestors who are speaking for the movement say that they are trying to shutdown commerce for big business, have they thought about what this does to little business?

Many shop owners in Oakland have felt the decline of business in downtown, simply because there is less business to be had. The few who have spoken out have expressed their concerns that business is down further since the occupation began. They are seeing fewer customers come to the downtown area to do business. Probably because it is a little daunting for most people to face potential mayhem at any moment just to get a cup of coffee. Yesterday banks in the area closed their doors as well as other stores. While the protestors have a grand ideal that they are affecting the flow of money in and out of large corporations’ coffers, they may actually harm the common worker even more.

All those businesses that closed their doors yesterday probably sent workers home for the day. While these workers got the day off, it was probably without pay. The Mom & Pop stores that have seen their income decline since the recession are now facing another day with zero revenue. The stoppage of work at the port of Oakland hurt many independent truck drivers who rely on their per load income to support their families. This slowdown will have a ripple effect on the local economy that will run all the way down to people such as me who sell a product. The recession has been particularly hard because of a prolonged lack of money circulating within the economy. Consumers feel wary because of lost jobs or lowered wages, devalued real estate and the volatile stock market. These further crimps in a system that is based upon capitalism can cause more damage to an already frail economy.

The protestors may have had this plan in mind when they began but I am wondering what will happen if they succeed? If all commerce were to shut down would we be able to get something as simple as food to eat? After all, grocery stores are the most common source of food for many and these operations are extremely complex logistical systems that without the cooperation of other capitalistic systems would cease to operate. It brings to mind a passage from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged:

There were districts that rose in blind rebellion, arrested the local officials, expelled the agents of Washington, killed the tax collectors-then, announcing their secession from the country, went on to the final extreme of the very evil that had destroyed them, as if fighting murder with suicide; went on to seize all property within their reach, to declare community bondage of all to all, and to perish within a week, their meager loot consumed, in the bloody hatred of all for all, in the chaos of no rule save that of the gun, to perish under the lethargic thrust of a few worn soldiers sent out from Washington to bring order to the ruins.

This is not a pretty quote and truthfully a bit scary for business. Most business in America is small business. Those who work for large business are the common man and will certainly suffer if big business closes their doors. Our economy is a complex system that is difficult to understand on the best of day and impossible to comprehend on bad days. With the holidays right around the corner I am hopeful that everyone will calm down so those who work for a living can continue to do so.

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