Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Briefing on the State of Small Business

March 01, 1982

We just made another mistake we make too often in there—that's why I'm late. I apologize. We scheduled a meeting with Members of the Congress that was then to end in time for me to get here on time. And I have learned in this year and few months here that we should always leave an empty space behind a meeting with the Members of the Congress, because it'll always run over. [Laughter]

Well, thank you very much for a very warm welcome, and we're delighted you could all come for these briefings and for the signing of this first report on the state of small business. We'll be urging the Congress to read and act on the report, not bury it, and you have my pledge that small business will never be relegated to a back seat, not in this administration.

We're not members of that Washington fraternity that believes that profits for business are dirty, but profits for government should be guaranteed. Nor am I a pessimist, as you can see in the report. I happen to believe that with help from our program, small business will not only survive, but you'll lead us to economic recovery, and you will make this great country number one again. I have confidence in you and in our program, because I think the two of you were made for each other. Our program is about rebuilding America, and America is small business.

You know, I said last year that those who claim America has no heroes just don't know where to look. I think entrepreneurs are the forgotten heroes of America. Most of them contribute far more to this country than they get back, and they rarely receive the recognition they deserve. When you're talking about the strength and character of America, you're talking about the small business community, about the owners of that store down the street, the faithful who support their churches and defend their freedom, and all the brave men and women who are not afraid to take risks and invest in the future to build a better America.

Entrepreneurs have always been there as nation builders and community builders. From the beginning it was little people with big dreams who sparked the revolt against taxation and regulation and led the fight for our independence. They and future generations pushed back the frontier and developed our incredible land of plenty.

You know, when you stop to think, when we opened the West, it was a people that were willing to hitch up that wagon and start out across those prairies, bet the house and farm and all the family on the outcome. They didn't have an area redevelopment plan or urban renewal going for them, they just headed out there and said they'd make it. And always they were striving to create, to build, to succeed, and excel. Sometimes they failed, but in America you could pick yourself up and try again, a little wiser than you were the first time.

We got into trouble when we started turning our backs on this great heritage. We forgot that government should work for us rather than the other way around. Winston Churchill, I think, summed it up. He said that "some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot at, others as a cow to be milked. But few are those who see it as the sturdy horse pulling the wagon." Well, I believe the business community's been milked and shot at long enough. It's time to go back to common sense and set you free to do what you do best.

I just have to interject here a little incident that happened to me in the first real ranch that I ever—after dreaming of it-owned. So, I had 50 head of steers, grazer cattle there. And one day I got a notification from the State that I was to get them all in a corral, because the State veterinarians were going to come in and check them. I was in a brucellosis area.

Well now, brucellosis is a disease that affects cows' milk, none of which steers have. [Laughter] And so, at great effort and sweat we got them in the corral. And then they came, and every one of them had to be run into a squeeze chute for the examination and the shot. And I was kind of curious about this— [laughter] —and I said to the doctor, I said, "Well, tell me, if you found brucellosis here in any of them, what happens?" Well, then, he says, "You have to sell them." And I said, "Have to sell them?" He says, "Yes." He said, "It doesn't affect the beef. So," he said, "you'd sell them." And then he said, "You'd get $75 in State and Federal bonus for having to sell them."

And I said, "Wait a minute, let me get this straight." [Laughter] I said, "I sell them, and I get to keep the money I sell them for, plus $75 a head for every one that I sell?" And he said, "Yes." And I said, "I only have one more question. Where can I find a lot of cattle with brucellosis?" [Laughter]

You know, it's small business—to go on with my remarks—not the Federal Government, which creates four out of every five new jobs, employs more than half the work force, provides the livelihood for some 100 million Americans, and gives us new technology and real hope for our future—and that's not bad. It's small business, not the Federal Government, which can best rebuild our inner cities and help those at the bottom of the ladder begin their climb to the stars. And that's what the enterprise zones are all about.

Small business people produce big progress, and they deserve a "must-be-given priority" consideration in the making of economic policy. You and I know the root cause of our problems—government has been spending and taking too much of the gross national product for itself. Savings on the part of individuals have been lower in America than in any other industrial state. So, we haven't had the capital pool we need to finance government spending and still make funds available for home mortgages and business investment. We resorted to more and more borrowing, financed by too much easy money. Inflation and interest rates zoomed, and growth' sputtered. The entire business community has been hurt. But small business is most vulnerable and has been hurt the most.

Last year, thanks to your support, we began the long overdue reforms that will lead us back to prosperity. The chorus of criticism we're now hearing rings a little hollow when you know the truth. We haven't slashed government spending. We just slowed it's growth by cutting nearly in half the inflationary increase in spending, which was at a rate of 17 percent a year in 1980. Nor have we cut our regulations. But under the leadership of Vice President Bush, I'm proud to say we've cut by a third the increase in new regulations.

And despite everything you hear, we didn't pass massive tax cuts. Our tax program will barely offset a built-in tax increase of some $300 billion condoned by my predecessor. Our tax program provides real help for the small business community, and I believe it will prove to be one of the best things we've done for our economy and our people. It's the first time in nearly 20 years that you've even had the hope of getting ahead.

Americans now have powerful incentives to save, which will replenish our capital pool and help bring down interest rates. The provisions for accelerated depreciation will benefit small business firms ranging from agriculture to construction—retailing, real estate, services, and wholesale. The 25-percent reduction in personal tax rates could easily be called a small business tax cut—at least 85 percent of all U.S. firms pay their taxes by personal rates, not the corporate rates. So, they have a real stake in that part of the program. And of special interest, I would think, to farmers and family businesses, the estate tax exemption will increase to $600,000 by 1987, and of even greater help, there will be no estate tax for a surviving spouse.

Now, some in the media have said the business community doubts the wisdom of our program. Well, since I know they never write or say anything that isn't true- [laughter] —I wondered if I might ask a few questions of all of you.

Federal spending tripled in the last decade alone. Would you agree that by trying to break runway spending, by trying to control the so-called uncontrollables, that we are doing the right thing and that we should stick to it? [Applause] I should have brought those Members of Congress with me. [Laughter]

Taxes on the people doubled between 1976 and 1981 and would have increased another $300 billion between 1981 and '84 except for our tax program. Would you agree that by trying to help working families keep their heads above water and not tax them like millionaires, that we are doing the right thing and that we should stick with it? [Applause]

Our program didn't even go into effect until after the recession had started. Obviously, it couldn't have been the cause of the recession as some would have you believe. The fact is when you compare the economy now with when we took office—inflation down dramatically, averaging about 4 1/2 percent for the last 3 months; interest rates down 20 percent and headed lower; and the savings rate reversing its plunge of the last several years with even stronger incentives to save beginning in just this last January-would you agree that we are on the right road to recovery and that we should stick with it? [Applause] Thanks, I needed that. [Laughter]

We're still not where we want to be, but we're much closer than we were. But now we're asked in the name of compromise to deal away the people's tax cut even before they see it or enjoy it. Well, I believe we compromised enough when we delayed the tax cut to satisfy the Congress. If you'll remember, we originally asked that it start a year ago last January, and we had to delay it first to July and then to October to finally get the rest of the program. We cut it in half, the first installment. It was supposed to be 10 percent, and we cut it to 5. I believe that it's time for you and me and the American people to stand together and to tell the Congress, "No, you may not touch our tax cut."

We'll bring the deficit and the interest rates down, and we'll keep them down, but only by encouraging growth and reducing government's share of the gross national product. If we resort to that moth-eaten argument of raising taxes, we'll only destroy the incentives we need to stimulate savings and give government the excuse it needs to keep spending more than it should. It didn't work in the past, and it won't work now. So, I'm putting—not putting, I should say, my faith in higher taxes. I'm keeping it where it's always been, in people like you out there beyond the Potomac and the principles that you stand and strive for. And it's you who will rebuild America.

President Calvin Coolidge, a man I greatly admire, said, "In all our economic discussions we must remember that we cannot stop with the mere acquisition of wealth. The ultimate result is not the making of money, but the making of people. Industry, thrift, and self control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character." Well, you've lived the meaning of those words; you understand the challenge we face. It's the power of millions like you that will make America great again. We've come so far together, let's not stop now.

And now I have the pleasure of signing this report and transmitting it to the Congress: "The State of Small Business: A Report of the President"—Monday, March 1st, 1982.

Thank God, and bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 2:38 p.m. in the East Room at the White House to a group of small business leaders.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Briefing on the State of Small Business Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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