The real problem with Davos: not enough focus on small business

It’s interesting the tweets I’m getting.

@semipro writes: “@Scobleizer have we not come to expect way too much out of those meetings? They never produce anything and are a waste of time and money!”

@spotcher writes: “@Scobleizer davos is for the good times. there are no solutions to this mess. it has to play itself out.”

I disagree with both viewpoints. Davos has many excesses (at least last year. This year things are much more somber) but when you bring many of the world’s politicians and rich people together you can get lots of changes. On the bus ride here I met a few non-profits who say that Davos is invaluable for them to make new contacts and convince the world’s rich to support their efforts. Bill Gates’ foundation got mentioned several times on the bus ride in.

But, to me, I still haven’t heard much about how we’ll really get out of this mess: create tons of new small businesses. Big companies will NOT pull us out of this mess. They won’t hire people in big numbers until AFTER the economy starts turning around.

For me this all came to a head after reading Andrew Field’s pleas for help. Who is he? He runs Printing for Less. I interviewed him three years ago for PodTech. Back then his business was a growing one and was the darling of Montana’s rebuilding economy. Today? His business is under severe strain and might not survive the next few months, he wrote in Forbes.

Everyone should read his letter asking for a new kind of bailout
.

His pleas should be heard. It’s small businesses like Printing for Less that will pull the economy out of its problems. The problem is that small businesses are getting slammed. Here’s why:

1. Rich people have had their assets decimated by both the stock market and by Bernie Maddoff’s ponzi scheme. That makes them far less likely to invest in new, small, unproven businesses. Venture capital was down quite sharply last quarter, which proves this trend too.
2. Housing prices are way down in many communities. That means entrepreneurs can’t pull equity out of their homes to keep businesses running short term. My mom, to buy a bookstore, took a loan on her home. That would be impossible if she were alive today.
3. Customers have disappeared — maybe even permanently — as we all slow down our spending, start saving for the future. That means that many small businesses are struggling to make ends meet.

So, as I walk around the World Economic Forum I’m asking people “how will you help out Andrew Field?”

So far I’m not hearing a lot of answers and THAT is the real problem with Davos.

I’ll report if I hear any good ideas. Do you have any?

By the way, I’m tracking all Davos news over on the friendfeed Davos room.

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. I think a fundamental problem with ‘small business legislation’ (because I work with small businesses every day) is that the definitions are not flexible enough. What about ‘micro businesses’ (what an awful term) and businesses who are localised in a community and benefit it as well? We need to go above and beyond just number crunching and see the knock on effects that micro-small-medium businesses have on other issues as well such as community, employement, environment etc. Blanket measures rarely benefit everyone in those categories so I think it’s high time to look into them with a bit more flexibility.

  2. I think a fundamental problem with ‘small business legislation’ (because I work with small businesses every day) is that the definitions are not flexible enough. What about ‘micro businesses’ (what an awful term) and businesses who are localised in a community and benefit it as well? We need to go above and beyond just number crunching and see the knock on effects that micro-small-medium businesses have on other issues as well such as community, employement, environment etc. Blanket measures rarely benefit everyone in those categories so I think it’s high time to look into them with a bit more flexibility.

  3. I can’t imagine that people who attend Davos are in touch with what is really going on in the world. I would be surprised if they come up with anything that is helpful. Yes, various rich attendees lost money in various investments, but they have no idea what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck, or bootstrap your business until it hurts and keeps you up late at night. They have a little less than they started with. I view Davos as a write-offable ski trip and a way to hob nob with the rich. Let me know if you come away with something world-changing. I’d be shocked.

  4. I can’t imagine that people who attend Davos are in touch with what is really going on in the world. I would be surprised if they come up with anything that is helpful. Yes, various rich attendees lost money in various investments, but they have no idea what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck, or bootstrap your business until it hurts and keeps you up late at night. They have a little less than they started with. I view Davos as a write-offable ski trip and a way to hob nob with the rich. Let me know if you come away with something world-changing. I’d be shocked.

  5. Perhaps you missed this from The American via. SA Insider:
    http://www.american.com/archive/2009/entrepreneurship-the-start-ups-we-don2019t-need

    “This is bad public policy. Encouraging more and more people to start businesses won’t enhance economic growth or create a lot of jobs because start-ups, in general, aren’t the source of our economic vitality or job creation.”

    Worth a read. Their basic point: If you can start a Google sure startups and small business help create jobs, but how many start-ups actually help the economy in the short term.

  6. Perhaps you missed this from The American via. SA Insider:
    http://www.american.com/archive/2009/entrepreneurship-the-start-ups-we-don2019t-need

    “This is bad public policy. Encouraging more and more people to start businesses won’t enhance economic growth or create a lot of jobs because start-ups, in general, aren’t the source of our economic vitality or job creation.”

    Worth a read. Their basic point: If you can start a Google sure startups and small business help create jobs, but how many start-ups actually help the economy in the short term.

  7. The elites you’re mixing with don’t even like small companies. They’re run by peole who are too willing to think for themselves, and ponder the actual costs of increasing regulation. They like large companies, because they’ll cheerfully sign up for more regulation, so long as it means fewer small companies nipping at their heels.

    Bottom line: you couldn’t possibly be in a worse place to discuss your idea. Not only do the elites not care, they have active disdain for that kind of thing.

  8. The elites you’re mixing with don’t even like small companies. They’re run by peole who are too willing to think for themselves, and ponder the actual costs of increasing regulation. They like large companies, because they’ll cheerfully sign up for more regulation, so long as it means fewer small companies nipping at their heels.

    Bottom line: you couldn’t possibly be in a worse place to discuss your idea. Not only do the elites not care, they have active disdain for that kind of thing.

  9. Govts can help small companies through the bad times & boost startups in one easy move – put all small business taxes onto long 6-12 month payment terms. The mechanisms exist, it could happen and take effect immediately and it won’t cost much.

  10. Govts can help small companies through the bad times & boost startups in one easy move – put all small business taxes onto long 6-12 month payment terms. The mechanisms exist, it could happen and take effect immediately and it won’t cost much.

  11. @Lincoln:
    “start-ups, in general, aren’t the source of our economic vitality or job creation.” That is dead wrong. small businesses employ half of all workers, and created 60% to 80% of ALL new jobs over the last 15 years. And it’s not the Googles of the world: it is the sole proprietor, or two people in a psare bedroom, who then need a sales person, and more people to make/deliver the product, and customer service, marketing, etc, and pretty soon they employ 10 people or 30 or 100. We have tens of thousands of customers who look exactly like this.

    In every recession, it is small businesses who start hiring and investing first, leading the way out of the recession. By the time the dinosaurs catch on, things have already turned around.

  12. @Lincoln:
    “start-ups, in general, aren’t the source of our economic vitality or job creation.” That is dead wrong. small businesses employ half of all workers, and created 60% to 80% of ALL new jobs over the last 15 years. And it’s not the Googles of the world: it is the sole proprietor, or two people in a psare bedroom, who then need a sales person, and more people to make/deliver the product, and customer service, marketing, etc, and pretty soon they employ 10 people or 30 or 100. We have tens of thousands of customers who look exactly like this.

    In every recession, it is small businesses who start hiring and investing first, leading the way out of the recession. By the time the dinosaurs catch on, things have already turned around.

  13. severe strain and might not survive the next few months

    But that happens to everyone you point cameras at…grand overhyped miracle to flameout.

  14. severe strain and might not survive the next few months

    But that happens to everyone you point cameras at…grand overhyped miracle to flameout.

  15. @ Andrew Field

    That’s exactly what I thought until I read the article. Now I’m not so sure.

    Did you read it?

    p.s. I’m part of a small business starting small businesses.

  16. @ Andrew Field

    That’s exactly what I thought until I read the article. Now I’m not so sure.

    Did you read it?

    p.s. I’m part of a small business starting small businesses.

  17. The bailout itself was a bad idea, throwing bad money after worse, and now everyone wants their fingers in. Me too. Me too. We want bailouts too, just add another doomed bureaucratic layer, to the already failing SBA, just apply some Soviet-styled economic voodoo tricks, and bingo, Printing for Less gone Marx.

    Treating jobs as “assets”, novel idea, but strong-arming Unions thought of that strategy long ago, pad the stocks, take more in, but it eventually such is no longer sustainable, esp. when the monies are no longer coming in, cue up the Big 3 here. Make widgets to keep people employed, give loans based on number of people, doesn’t matter if a market, sustainability, or any ability to repay. The whole reason we are in this mess is because of bad loans, Fannie and Freddieized, and now he’s proposing throwing out any form of accountability, and just making “employing people” as the sole basis for getting credit? That’s literally crazy.

    You can see where that will lead, companies not timed to the market, just ‘employment factories’ of low-paying jobs, kept going just to keep the loans coming in. It keeps the steam pressure inside, no layoff value, so eventually the whole thing will implode. Sub-prime, throwing out all reason, as had “compassion” for those not able to afford the American Dream (itself raw emotional blackmail), then quick profit it out, and pass the buck. Here bad loans chasing “good people” in “small companies” (lifeblood of America, more emotional blackmail) that need to remain “employed”. Implosssssioooon.

  18. The bailout itself was a bad idea, throwing bad money after worse, and now everyone wants their fingers in. Me too. Me too. We want bailouts too, just add another doomed bureaucratic layer, to the already failing SBA, just apply some Soviet-styled economic voodoo tricks, and bingo, Printing for Less gone Marx.

    Treating jobs as “assets”, novel idea, but strong-arming Unions thought of that strategy long ago, pad the stocks, take more in, but it eventually such is no longer sustainable, esp. when the monies are no longer coming in, cue up the Big 3 here. Make widgets to keep people employed, give loans based on number of people, doesn’t matter if a market, sustainability, or any ability to repay. The whole reason we are in this mess is because of bad loans, Fannie and Freddieized, and now he’s proposing throwing out any form of accountability, and just making “employing people” as the sole basis for getting credit? That’s literally crazy.

    You can see where that will lead, companies not timed to the market, just ‘employment factories’ of low-paying jobs, kept going just to keep the loans coming in. It keeps the steam pressure inside, no layoff value, so eventually the whole thing will implode. Sub-prime, throwing out all reason, as had “compassion” for those not able to afford the American Dream (itself raw emotional blackmail), then quick profit it out, and pass the buck. Here bad loans chasing “good people” in “small companies” (lifeblood of America, more emotional blackmail) that need to remain “employed”. Implosssssioooon.

  19. In a small business people are more involved, and should be more productive. And al the small or micro business owners aren’t counted amongst the unemployed, even if they hardly make enough money to live.

    Not short-cuts, but time is the only way out of this recession/depression.
    It took 20 years to recover after the 1873 recession in Europe partially caused by faulty loans for building great buildings and houses.

    This recession/depression means also a change in powers: in 1873 the power went from Europe to the USA.
    No clue where the power will be after this.

  20. In a small business people are more involved, and should be more productive. And al the small or micro business owners aren’t counted amongst the unemployed, even if they hardly make enough money to live.

    Not short-cuts, but time is the only way out of this recession/depression.
    It took 20 years to recover after the 1873 recession in Europe partially caused by faulty loans for building great buildings and houses.

    This recession/depression means also a change in powers: in 1873 the power went from Europe to the USA.
    No clue where the power will be after this.

  21. @ Christonpher:
    You are making the only legitimate argument against my plan, which is the libertarian argument: government should keep the heck out of the private economy, and stick to defense and roads.

    I essentially agree with that core principle, BUT — that horse is long out of the barn, so yes, it becomes a matter of who gets access to the capital that the folks in DC are determined to spend.

    The plan includes $200 million to re-sod the national mall, which would probably maintain a couple dozen jobs. (It’s not really all that many acres.) Or, at $20,000 credit per job, it could preserve/create 10,000 jobs with my plan. Oh, and there is zero payback for the re-sod, but most likely all the loan principle from Loans for Jobs would be paid back, making the actual cost about zero.

    The only problem with my plan is that nobody cuts a fat hog courtesy of the government, which means nobody in DC gets greased. The only way it will gain traction is if regular people let their voices be heard. The plan can be downloaded for sending to your congressperson using the link at the bottom of the page: http://www.printingforless.com/pressreleaseStimulusProposal.html

  22. @ Christonpher:
    You are making the only legitimate argument against my plan, which is the libertarian argument: government should keep the heck out of the private economy, and stick to defense and roads.

    I essentially agree with that core principle, BUT — that horse is long out of the barn, so yes, it becomes a matter of who gets access to the capital that the folks in DC are determined to spend.

    The plan includes $200 million to re-sod the national mall, which would probably maintain a couple dozen jobs. (It’s not really all that many acres.) Or, at $20,000 credit per job, it could preserve/create 10,000 jobs with my plan. Oh, and there is zero payback for the re-sod, but most likely all the loan principle from Loans for Jobs would be paid back, making the actual cost about zero.

    The only problem with my plan is that nobody cuts a fat hog courtesy of the government, which means nobody in DC gets greased. The only way it will gain traction is if regular people let their voices be heard. The plan can be downloaded for sending to your congressperson using the link at the bottom of the page: http://www.printingforless.com/pressreleaseStimulusProposal.html

  23. @ Christopher:
    You are making the only legitimate argument against my plan, which is the libertarian argument: government should keep the heck out of the private economy, and stick to defense and roads.

    I essentially agree with that core principle, BUT — that horse is long out of the barn, so yes, it becomes a matter of who gets access to the capital that the folks in DC are determined to spend.

    The plan includes $200 million to re-sod the national mall, which would probably maintain a couple dozen jobs. (It’s not really all that many acres.) Or, at $20,000 credit per job, it could preserve/create 10,000 jobs with my plan. Oh, and there is zero payback for the re-sod, but most likely all the loan principle from Loans for Jobs would be paid back, making the actual cost about zero.

    The only problem with my plan is that nobody cuts a fat hog courtesy of the government, which means nobody in DC gets greased. The only way it will gain traction is if regular people let their voices be heard. The plan can be downloaded for sending to your congressperson using the link at the bottom of the page: http://www.printingforless.com/pressreleaseStimulusProposal.html

  24. @ Christopher:
    You are making the only legitimate argument against my plan, which is the libertarian argument: government should keep the heck out of the private economy, and stick to defense and roads.

    I essentially agree with that core principle, BUT — that horse is long out of the barn, so yes, it becomes a matter of who gets access to the capital that the folks in DC are determined to spend.

    The plan includes $200 million to re-sod the national mall, which would probably maintain a couple dozen jobs. (It’s not really all that many acres.) Or, at $20,000 credit per job, it could preserve/create 10,000 jobs with my plan. Oh, and there is zero payback for the re-sod, but most likely all the loan principle from Loans for Jobs would be paid back, making the actual cost about zero.

    The only problem with my plan is that nobody cuts a fat hog courtesy of the government, which means nobody in DC gets greased. The only way it will gain traction is if regular people let their voices be heard. The plan can be downloaded for sending to your congressperson using the link at the bottom of the page: http://www.printingforless.com/pressreleaseStimulusProposal.html

  25. Create 10,000 jobs with a plan that requires 12? Man, even the Teamsters were never THAT lucky. But that’s obviously a temp job, a hand-out, and really just the mere coordination and assembling, of 10,000 people trying to do a 12 person job will be a logistical nightmare, and create extra costs beyond what the loan itself will take. Congratulations you have just created a bureaucratic governmental agency.

    The libertarian argument was lost anything post-Jefferson, I am not really taking that philosophical core, just saying that “employment” as the sole basis for loans, is suicidal. You make loans to be paid back ABOVE INFLATION, and to develop a market which drives itself. We are in a “credit crunch” precisely because everyone was too nilly-willy with sound economic principles. And loans based on “employment” is the very definition of unsound, with the “socially necessary, labor time” becoming the pricing outcome. Which is essentially what your argument is, the Labor Theory of Value, applicable to governmental loan policy.

  26. Create 10,000 jobs with a plan that requires 12? Man, even the Teamsters were never THAT lucky. But that’s obviously a temp job, a hand-out, and really just the mere coordination and assembling, of 10,000 people trying to do a 12 person job will be a logistical nightmare, and create extra costs beyond what the loan itself will take. Congratulations you have just created a bureaucratic governmental agency.

    The libertarian argument was lost anything post-Jefferson, I am not really taking that philosophical core, just saying that “employment” as the sole basis for loans, is suicidal. You make loans to be paid back ABOVE INFLATION, and to develop a market which drives itself. We are in a “credit crunch” precisely because everyone was too nilly-willy with sound economic principles. And loans based on “employment” is the very definition of unsound, with the “socially necessary, labor time” becoming the pricing outcome. Which is essentially what your argument is, the Labor Theory of Value, applicable to governmental loan policy.

  27. Seems easier, if part of the bailout, is funneled, and allocated with riders, via the SBA itself. As quite odd that the people making the mistakes are getting all the safety nets, banks, insurance, mortgage brokers, investment firms, big 3. But they rushed this bailout plan thru without much foresight, so trainwrecks like leaving out SMBs, are all but insured.

  28. Seems easier, if part of the bailout, is funneled, and allocated with riders, via the SBA itself. As quite odd that the people making the mistakes are getting all the safety nets, banks, insurance, mortgage brokers, investment firms, big 3. But they rushed this bailout plan thru without much foresight, so trainwrecks like leaving out SMBs, are all but insured.

  29. You’re exactly right. Big corporations can’t pull us out of this economy. It’s up to us, the true small businesses to make a difference. 2009 will be the year of the Entrepreneur. Those willing to roll up their sleeves and go to work will be heavily rewarded.

  30. You’re exactly right. Big corporations can’t pull us out of this economy. It’s up to us, the true small businesses to make a difference. 2009 will be the year of the Entrepreneur. Those willing to roll up their sleeves and go to work will be heavily rewarded.

  31. > I think a fundamental problem with ’small business legislation’ (because I work with small businesses every day) is that the definitions are not flexible enough.

    Try again. The problem is any time that small biz spend dealing with govt is expensive. Maybe they get some money, but in the end, they’d have been better off making stuff and sales.

    To help small biz, reduce the amount of time and money that they have to spend with govt. If your “help” involves a form, it isn’t help. Help consists of eliminating forms and requirements.

  32. > I think a fundamental problem with ’small business legislation’ (because I work with small businesses every day) is that the definitions are not flexible enough.

    Try again. The problem is any time that small biz spend dealing with govt is expensive. Maybe they get some money, but in the end, they’d have been better off making stuff and sales.

    To help small biz, reduce the amount of time and money that they have to spend with govt. If your “help” involves a form, it isn’t help. Help consists of eliminating forms and requirements.

  33. > Seems easier, if part of the bailout, is funneled, and allocated with riders, via the SBA itself.

    What fraction of biz have any involvement with the SBA?

    The number is small enough that tripling it wouldn’t make much difference.

    The SBA is dumb and slow money and often has a political stench.

  34. > Seems easier, if part of the bailout, is funneled, and allocated with riders, via the SBA itself.

    What fraction of biz have any involvement with the SBA?

    The number is small enough that tripling it wouldn’t make much difference.

    The SBA is dumb and slow money and often has a political stench.

  35. The SBA is dumb and slow money and often has a political stench.

    Agreed. But better than the loans-per-employee method, and was thinking ideal case, if rule provisions erase some of that snails-pace smoke-filled room hankering. But too perfect world.

    better off making stuff and sales.

    Agreed again, but when the credit market is dry, you can’t do any development, but forcing the credit markets open circles around and lands you right back into a meltdown.

    Not sure of the answer…but the 1981 model seemed to work pretty well back then, and that was with killer inflation and triple the unemployment.

  36. The SBA is dumb and slow money and often has a political stench.

    Agreed. But better than the loans-per-employee method, and was thinking ideal case, if rule provisions erase some of that snails-pace smoke-filled room hankering. But too perfect world.

    better off making stuff and sales.

    Agreed again, but when the credit market is dry, you can’t do any development, but forcing the credit markets open circles around and lands you right back into a meltdown.

    Not sure of the answer…but the 1981 model seemed to work pretty well back then, and that was with killer inflation and triple the unemployment.

  37. > Agreed. But
    > Agreed again, but

    Part of the answer is to not “help” small biz by doing things that end up hurting them.

    The other part of the answer is to stop doing things that hurt small biz.

    The problem is that regulation and programs have advocates and a constituency, folks who are on the teat or hoping to be. Folks who are directly harmed have other things to do and frequently get blindsided. Folks who are indirectly harmed (folks who don’t get jobs or cool products) don’t even see what’s going on.

  38. > Agreed. But
    > Agreed again, but

    Part of the answer is to not “help” small biz by doing things that end up hurting them.

    The other part of the answer is to stop doing things that hurt small biz.

    The problem is that regulation and programs have advocates and a constituency, folks who are on the teat or hoping to be. Folks who are directly harmed have other things to do and frequently get blindsided. Folks who are indirectly harmed (folks who don’t get jobs or cool products) don’t even see what’s going on.

  39. Neither the bailout nor the current stimulus package under consideration do anything for small businesses except raise their taxes.

    And while I can feel for Andrew Fields and the pressures he must be going through, I do not believe his situation is typical of most small businesses and it would be a mistake to assume that. It sounds to me more like circumstances are affecting his particular industry. A lot of independent printers are being squeezed by changes in the industry, such as the lower costs of powerful color inkjet printers that people use for DIY-printing in their offices, the move to electronic and away from print, and other macro-trends.

    The problem if you start bailing out individual industries is that (1) you can’t help every industry, and (2) very likely efforts to help one industry negatively impact others, either by raising taxes, raising prices, etc. Because in the words of Paul Simon, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”

    The best idea I’ve heard so far for helping small businesses across the board directly — and immediately — is waiver of payroll taxes for a 6-month period. That might have some effect on employment and directly benefit millions of small businesses — at least the 6+ million small businesses that have employees. And it may help those 21+ million without employees who may be spurred to hire if it is less costly to hire, via waiver of payroll taxes.

    Good discussion, Robert. Thanks for raising it.

  40. Neither the bailout nor the current stimulus package under consideration do anything for small businesses except raise their taxes.

    And while I can feel for Andrew Fields and the pressures he must be going through, I do not believe his situation is typical of most small businesses and it would be a mistake to assume that. It sounds to me more like circumstances are affecting his particular industry. A lot of independent printers are being squeezed by changes in the industry, such as the lower costs of powerful color inkjet printers that people use for DIY-printing in their offices, the move to electronic and away from print, and other macro-trends.

    The problem if you start bailing out individual industries is that (1) you can’t help every industry, and (2) very likely efforts to help one industry negatively impact others, either by raising taxes, raising prices, etc. Because in the words of Paul Simon, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”

    The best idea I’ve heard so far for helping small businesses across the board directly — and immediately — is waiver of payroll taxes for a 6-month period. That might have some effect on employment and directly benefit millions of small businesses — at least the 6+ million small businesses that have employees. And it may help those 21+ million without employees who may be spurred to hire if it is less costly to hire, via waiver of payroll taxes.

    Good discussion, Robert. Thanks for raising it.

  41. In a small business people are more involved, and should be more productive. And al the small or micro business owners aren’t counted amongst the unemployed, even if they hardly make enough money to live.

  42. In a small business people are more involved, and should be more productive. And al the small or micro business owners aren’t counted amongst the unemployed, even if they hardly make enough money to live.

  43. […] Robert Scoble has been at Davos, one of the most exclusive events in the world. Robert is one of the world’ most well known bloggers. He goes to a lot of events – a lot of geek tech events. But Davos is different. It’s that kind of an event where you get a mix of heads of state and leaders from the worlds of business, non-profits and more so now, the blogging geek, web crowd. (BTW: Interesting post by Mike Arrington about how Davos used Facebook during the conference.) […]

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