Help small biz by not favoring big biz

What is small business and what can government do to help? An analysis by small business trackers Carolyn Ockels and Steve King of Emergent Research  suggests that current policies are skewed toward Silicon Valley startups rather than Main Street bootstrappers.

“We think policy makers need a better understanding of not just high-growth firms and their founders, but also the less glamorous businesses and business owners that make up the vast majority of small businesses in the U.S. economy,” they recently wrote.

Agreed. But what policies might emerge from such a better understanding?

Since their blog entry was silent on that point  so let me suggest that one way to even the score is already underway — California and other states  are starting to require online merchants to collect sales taxes just like their Main Street counterparts.

I don’t like the sales tax. I have collected it and I do not think it’s the fairest levy in the land. But I do think it’s absurd to give online giants like Amazon a free ride while forcing corner merchants to become revenue agents.

And it is absolutely ludicrous for online vendors to argue that they can’t figure out how to collect sales taxes when they’ve made an art out of tracking purchasing patterns and up-to-the minute locations in order to  sell consumers more stuff.

Populous states like California have some incentive to stand up to online vendors and level the sales tax playing field for brick and mortar merchants within their borders.

But Congress has become a lobbyists’ playground. The Senate is dominated by big empty states that have few consumers and are less reliant on sales taxes in any case.

Let us be alert for a move at the national level to preempt state laws regarding Internet sales tax collection — and if there is, hope that Republican lawmakers adhere to their states-rights beliefs and let California try to even the score for local merchants.


About Tom Abate

Tom Abate is a former small-press publisher, businessman and newspaper reporter who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. A Brooklyn native and U.S. Navy veteran, Tom is a UC Berkeley graduate who earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. During his career he has worked in public relations, graphic design, typography and business journalism. As a journalist he specialized in science, technology, biotechnology, economics and the business culture of Silicon Valley. He has taught writing through UC Extension and was briefly a junior college instructor. He can work with spreadsheets, presentation software and some multimedia tools. In addition to his paid work, he wrote a blog (, 2005-2010) that explored the business models, techniques and practical concerns of new and independent media. He is on the advisory board of the Society for New Communications Research ( The father of three children, Tom loves to garden and build things. His intellectual passions include political theory, globalism and the struggle of the individual against bureaucracy.
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