In case anyone is still wondering, President Obama cannot save the economy. No other president has, and none will. The best he can do is buy time and create the environment in which solid, profitable businesses—especially small ones—can thrive.
Besides, we can’t rely on big government to protect us greatly. It is far too influenced by big business. Past government insiders like Brooksley Born, formerly a federal regulator serving as Chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, recognized the unhealthy threat of Wall Street lobbyists more than a decade ago: She warned as early as 1998 of an economic meltdown.
Born testified before Congress that without real regulatory changes and stronger financial constraints, derivatives—the financial products that primarily resulted in the 2008 credit crisis and recession—would destroy the money of the American public. By design of those who were against her—those influenced by big business—Born’s informed and wise advice fell on deaf ears. In 1998, she was vilified, discredited and dismissed. Unfortunately, in 2008, she was vindicated when the economy tanked.
Despite what we’ve been through, and much to my dismay, the financial industry and big banks continue to get off easy and the government still doesn’t get it. Just a few days ago, on August 10, the FDIC decided that it would eliminate credit ratings for banks and is looking, it says, for an alternative to credit ratings for banks because it wants to make sure financial institutions are properly vetted for bad assets. That’s akin to saying that because some people “fix” their credit, we can no longer rely on credit scores, so we’ll just eliminate them all together. I’m sure there will be no elimination of credit ratings for everyday folk. But that’s the way this cookie crumbles.
These various acts during this ongoing economic drama leave us with three choices: One, do nothing. Two, look to the president, big government and big business—with baited breath—to create jobs and turn the economy around. Or, three, get started today: Investing in small businesses, starting small businesses and patronizing them. Throwing money at the problem, which has understandably been the federal government’s solution so far, will only work for so long.
The answer for the rest of us is number three. Everyone should be involved in the economic revival process either growing a business or helping to fund a business, and certainly buying from businesses owned by people we know. On average, every American household spends more than $30,000 per year on consumerism. What if we all committed 10 percent of our spending to small businesses, particularly those owned by entrepreneurs we know? What if instead of a new flat screen—or some other material item that could wait—folks invested tax refunds in starting a business or making a loan to someone else for their start? If we made these simple changes, small businesses wouldn’t have to rely so heavily on a financial system hamstrung by greed and impaired by lack of integrity.
Billions of dollars have gone into the bailout. That money came from us. Trillions of dollars are still circulating in the economy. Again, that’s our collective economic clout. Corporate America is flush with cash. In fact, non-financial companies are sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash, yet they are not hiring robustly and won’t be any time soon. It’s simply a matter of fact when it comes to a lasting economic turnaround: If it is to be, it is up to you and me.
Felicia Joy is an entrepreneur. She is the founder of Ms. CEO Incorporated, a multimedia and merchandise company that emboldens women entrepreneurs to achieve their greatest potential; and Joy Group International—a business development and consulting firm. She is the author of “Hybrid Entrepreneurship: How the Middle Class Can Beat the Slow Economy, Earn Extra Income and Reclaim the American Dream.”