Local chambers of commerce: tax machines in disguise

The fact that the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce supports a tax increase reminded me of a piece in the Wall Street Journal by Stephen Moore that shows how very often, local chambers of commerce support principles of crony capitalism instead of pro-growth policies that support free enterprise and genuine capitalism.

We may soon have a test of this in Wichita, where business leaders are tossing about ideas for various forms of tax increases. Again, I distinguish between “business leaders” and “capitalists.”

Fortunately, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce is generally unwavering in its support of pro-growth, limited government principles. But that’s not the case for most local chambers. Bernie Koch, a booster of local chambers and their big-government policies, recently wrote an op-ed in which he defended the high-tax corporate welfare state model for Kansas.

Most people probably think that local chambers of commerce, since their membership is mostly business firms, support pro-growth policies that embrace limited government and free markets. But that’s not always the case. Here, in an excerpt from his article “Tax Chambers” Moore explains:

The Chamber of Commerce, long a supporter of limited government and low taxes, was part of the coalition backing the Reagan revolution in the 1980s. On the national level, the organization still follows a pro-growth agenda — but thanks to an astonishing political transformation, many chambers of commerce on the state and local level have been abandoning these goals. They’re becoming, in effect, lobbyists for big government.

In as many as half the states, state taxpayer organizations, free market think tanks and small business leaders now complain bitterly that, on a wide range of issues, chambers of commerce deploy their financial resources and lobbying clout to expand the taxing, spending and regulatory authorities of government. This behavior, they note, erodes the very pro-growth climate necessary for businesses — at least those not connected at the hip with government — to prosper. Journalist Tim Carney agrees: All too often, he notes in his recent book, “Rip-Off,” “state and local chambers have become corrupted by the lure of big dollar corporate welfare schemes.”

“I used to think that public employee unions like the NEA were the main enemy in the struggle for limited government, competition and private sector solutions,” says Mr. Caldera of the Independence Institute. “I was wrong. Our biggest adversary is the special interest business cartel that labels itself ‘the business community’ and its political machine run by chambers and other industry associations.”

From Stephen Moore in the article “Tax Chambers” published in The Wall Street Journal February 10, 2007. The full article can be found at Liberalism’s Echo Chambers.


One thought on “Local chambers of commerce: tax machines in disguise”

  1. Many businesses that derive a substantial portion of their revenue from governmental bodies use their chamber clout to protect their revenue source. That’s a major reason why the chambers seem to act in often economically perverse ways.

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