I am a job creator.
I am not a job creator in the sense that I actually create jobs. I have never knowingly created a job, and my long-term business plan, approved unanimously by my board of directors, does not call for the creation of a single one.
But I am a job creator in the sense Republicans mean when they say “don’t tax our job creators more” (House budget committee Chairman Paul Ryan) or “we cannot increase taxes on the job creators” (House Speaker John A. Boehner). This is because, in the eyes of the government, I am a small business — and, as the House Republicans like to say, “small businesses are the job creators.”
Like the overwhelming majority of small businesses, I am a one-man operation. And, like most small businesses, I would not hire anybody even if the government dropped my tax rate to zero.
According to Small Business Administration statistics, based on 2009 Census data, 21.1 million of the 27 million small businesses in the United States are “non-employer firms,” which have no workers other than the owner. Of those, 18.7 million are “sole proprietors,” more than 950,000 are partnerships and 1.4 million are corporations, like me.
When lawmakers talk about small businesses as the engine of growth, they bring to mind entrepreneurs building start-ups from their garages. But when officials talk about protecting the “job creators” from tax hikes, they are mostly protecting a bunch of doctors, lawyers, freelancers, contractors and the like.
On the advice of my accountants, I formed a “C corporation,” which means that, as a legal entity, I am pretty much the same as General Motors and Google. But I run a lean operation. While my business, Ink-Stained Inc., produces the occasional book, TV appearance and speech, it is probably not going to win any best-practices awards.
Disagreement is rare during board meetings at Ink-Stained Inc. world headquarters (my house), because I am the chairman, chief executive, president, treasurer, secretary, chief technology officer and mailroom clerk. Occasionally board members complain about environmental regulations, not because these regulations affect us but because that is what we have heard corporations are supposed to do.
We administer a modest pension plan for our sole employee, and we reimburse a few health care expenses. We have big, professional-looking checks, and we attempt to keep our accounts balanced, although our chief financial officer (also me) is a lagging performer.
We once considered hiring our wife as a consultant to help us organize our finances, but the HR department was unable to come to terms with her. We have so far repelled all attempts at unionization.
I should add that I am in no danger of being caught in the net of President Obama’s proposed millionaires’ tax. I pay the accountants a few thousand dollars, and they make sure I am not paying more in taxes than I should be. (Note to the IRS: They do this in ways that are conservative, entirely above-board and so innocuous that they should not attract your interest in the slightest.)
While there is something absurd about being a one-man corporation, it’s a rational response to an irrational tax code. If lawmakers got serious about tax reform that removed loopholes, the money spent on accountants and actuaries (valuable though they are) could instead be used to grow the economy or to pay the federal debt. But that’s a matter for another day.
At the moment, the Ink-Stained Inc. case study, should the Harvard Business School wish to study it, is a reminder to be skeptical of the “job creator” argument in the tax debate.
“It’s a good example of the murkiness of what we mean by small business and the connection to jobs,” William Gale, co-director of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center, told me. “There’s sort of this notion of small-business innovation and job creation that just doesn’t necessarily hold.”
That’s even more so with Obama’s “Buffett Rule,” under which millionaires would have to pay a higher tax rate than a typical middle-class worker. As a practical matter, most already do. Gale said the rule would raise the taxes on only a few thousand people, perhaps as few as 1,000.
In a nation of more than 300 million, that’s not going to make a dent in job creation. Even the data analysts at Ink-Stained Inc. could figure out that one — that is, if we had any data analysts.
Dana Milbank’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.