Recently, an opinion piece by the doughty and redoubtable John McClaughry made the rounds. It appeared in some newspaper op-ed pages, and in the Commentary column of VTDigger.
And it involved a significant, undisclosed, conflict of interest.
McClaughry’s missive was a big sloppy wet kiss on the feet of Charles Koch, one of the infamous Koch brothers. McClaughry regurgitated a few nuggets of wisdom from Koch’s recent book, Good Profit. The book is a self-serving explication of why the Koch brothers are fine, principled businessmen with a strong focus on customer service and an aversion to big gummint.
Except when they can profit from it, of course. Curiously, one Kochbit highlighted by McClaughry concerns Koch Industries’ production of ethanol, which is almost entirely a creation of government subsidy. McClaughry writes with evident approval:
… out of principle, Koch opposes the present government mandate to blend ethanol into gasoline as a political scheme that produces “bad profit.”
Which has not prevented Koch Industries from continuing to enrich itself with this alleged “bad profit.” But somehow McClaughry overlooks the evident hypocrisy and praises Koch for a principle he never acts upon.
But I digress. The point isn’t that McClaughry has blessed the world with a few hundred words of free-market rhetoric, but that his own conflict of interest was not disclosed by VTDigger.
A while back, I proposed that Vermont’s small retailers ought to open their own interest group. I suggested the Vermont Association of Independent Retailers, or VAIR for short.
The idea came to me while reading about their putative Montpelier representation, the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association, helmed by the very effective Jim Harrison. One of his favorite techniques is to bring some mom-and-pop types to the Statehouse whenever there’s legislation that might touch on retail interests, such as the proposed sugary-beverage tax.
Truth is, Harrison gives a lot of lip service to the little guy, but his real clients are in Big Retail — the WalMarts, Hannafords, and Dollar Generals of the world. And quite often, the interests of Big Retail are at odds with what’s best for small business. Guys like Harrison draw a stark divide between the private sector and government; in fact, the real divide is frequently found between big retail and small. I would ask this of real independent retailers: which is the biggest threat to your existience? A change in state regulations, or the big boxes and dollar stores springing up all over the place?
This is also true in the broader business world. And in that field, there’s a thousand-pound lobbying gorilla called the National Federation of Independent Businesses, or NFIB. Which has a Vermont branch, helmed by veteran corporate lobbyist Shawn Shouldice. (Who also, I can’t help but note, does PR for Bruce Lisman.)
The NFIB sounds like a joint effort of all the mom-and-pops. It bills itself as “the voice of small business.”
Well, it’s not.