My Next Career Move: Professional Rent-Seeker
It may be time for a career change for me. Although I enjoy working at the Show-Me Institute very much, I am beginning to think that I would be better off if I became CEO of a mega-corporation and tilted the playing field to my favor with the help of my friends in Jefferson City. I will attempt to have more benefits concentrated on me, and more costs diffused away from me.
As the first part of my strategy, I would hire a team of lobbyists in order to enact rules and regulations that discriminate against products from other states that compete with mine. If I could keep firms from other states from entering Missouri, I would not have to work as hard to compete with them. I would try to get the state government to impose strict licensing requirements in order to keep others from entering the industry and trying to compete with me. In doing so, I could charge a higher price to consumers living within the state because this protectionist policy would reduce supply, thereby raising my profits.
Protectionist policies may have high cost to society, but as a self-interested CEO, the profitability of my firm is my only concern. Of all business activities, lobbying has one of the highest rates of return. The Washington Post reported in April 2009 on a study finding that a single tax break in 2004 earned companies $220 for every $1 that they spent on the issue. That is a 22,000-percent rate of return!
I could invest a lot of money in research and development in an attempt to improve my product, only to have my efficiency copied and replicated by my competitors. On the other hand, I could contract with a lobbying firm to convince the Missouri state government to give me financial incentives, and then enjoy an artificial competitive advantage for a long period of time. I wouldn’t have to worry about competing with smaller companies that do not have my lobbying power. As an added benefit, by keeping these firms out of the market, Missouri workers can ensure the security of their jobs. Consumers will have the satisfaction that they are consuming products that were made by a worker in Missouri, not in another state — even if they have to pay more for their products in order to subsidize those jobs.
If this strategy doesn’t work, I could use a different one: pitting states against each other to see which will give me the most money. I’ll tell each state government that other states are offering me huge incentives to invest there, and that they must meet or exceed these offers in order for me to stay. Ford is an expert at this, and I’d definitely follow its example.
All of the large companies in Missouri engage in lobbying activities, so my firm would be at a disadvantage if I didn’t. It doesn’t matter how big or profitable the company is — they’re all doing this! Just in my recent memory, Scottrade secured $2.6 million, Ford secured $150 million, IBM secured $31 million, Mamtek got $17 million, and other, large, private developers secured TIF and tax credits.