News that the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce has decided to support the “Vote Yes” campaign in the February 28th Wichita city election should disappoint those who believe in economic freedom, free markets, and limited government as the engine of job creation and prosperity.
The subject of the election is a Wichita city charter ordinance that rebates 75 percent of the Ambassador Hotel’s guest tax collection back to the hotel. In January I made a presentation to a Chamber committee in an effort to persuade it to support the “Vote No” campaign, or to stay neutral.
There was some hope that the Chamber would support free markets and limited government — instead of crony capitalism and corporate welfare — as sound policies for economic development. Many in Wichita thought that the Chamber had turned in this direction of economic freedom about two years ago.
Now the Chamber’s decision lets us know it believes that eight government subsidy programs supporting the Ambassador Hotel are not enough: The Chamber says there must be a ninth.
This decision reminds 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.
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, as we can see in Wichita. 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.