Saturday, August 18, 2012
"Without Gov't. Help ...."
I saw this picture on FB yesterday--and nearly commented. But didn't. I knew what would happen. A flurry of "Likes" and assaults with no one's opinion really doing anything but hardening. I'd been through it before ... And, of course, I don't even know if the sign is legitimate: Did someone really put this up on a business? Or is it just some kind of meme that's whirling away on the web like something about to go down a drain?
Also, I've written about this before, in various ways, and I wasn't sure I wanted to get back into it again.
But a couple hours afterwards, I started reading a book I'm going to review next month for the Plain Dealer. It's a book about an important American historical figure from the early 19th century. Interesting stuff, really--all kinds of echoes today. A deeply partisan, divided press. Branches of government duking it out. Powerful personalities clashing. And more.
But what struck me at the time was something that's a feature of most books, especially nonfiction--the Acknowledgements. You know? Those pages, usually at the beginning, that you tend to skip? (Nothing really important there, you know?) Anyway, I always read them carefully, especially in books I'm going to review. Sometimes some interesting connections pop up.
But yesterday there were no real connections for me; instead, there was a graceful reminder about how most authors know that they couldn't have done "their" book without a lot of help. This particular writer had about three-and-a-half pages of acknowledgements that included: his editor, employees at the press, the designer of the maps and illustrations, the book's overall designer, his current and former university colleagues, a former student who did some research for him, other scholars and researchers, legal scholars, historians, authors of previous publications relating to his subject, many librarians and archivists (all named) who helped him along the way, his wife, his family.
But, of course, he wrote it by himself. His name is on the title page. In a way, his book is his business. But instead of the arrogant look-what-I-did-all-by-myself! attitude that seems so prevalent now, he credited those who contributed. And I'll bet he could have added a lot more folks to that list, too, if he'd had the space.
So, sure, small businessmen and -women "wrote their books," but they had lots of help--government help, too--and maybe they ought to be required to post some Acknowledgements on their websites--or right inside the front door. Here's a series of ten "starter" questions that might prompt folks to think of ways the government has helped and is helping them. I say "starter" because I'm sure there are myriads of others that are relevant, as well.
1. Did anyone at your business attend public school? Public university?
2. Did anyone receive guaranteed student loans?
3. Does your business ever use local, state, or interstate roads?
4. Does your business receive any police and fire protection?
5. Do any of you eat federally-subsidized corn, beef, or other farm products?
6. Do you use municipal water supplies? Do you breathe air that's been cleaned, courtesy of the EPA?
7. Do you ever use a public library? The Internet?
8. Do you benefit in any way from our country's security assured by our large military presence?
9. Has the Small Business Administration helped you in any way?
10. Do you benefit at all from laws that assure fair trade and that prohibit unfair competition?
I would say this: If your answer is "No" to all ten of these, then I've got some more for you. And if you answered "Yes" to any, well, you didn't do it all by yourself, did you? No one does.
And--just for fun--here's a few others to get you thinking?
1. Are you white? If so, the government has fiercely protected your rights since Jamestown. They helped your ancestors take lands occupied by others; the government sanctioned slavery of non-whites; it made sure that you could vote (if, of course, you were male and a property-owner; see next question).
2. Are you male? If so, governments have been advancing your rights since, oh, since forever.
3. Are you Christian? If so, our government has made it safe (and very profitable) for you since Jamestown. Not Christian? It's been a little harder, hasn't it?