An Entrepreneurial Life
Pictures from struggling, wonderful California

Richard Spencer (Roman Genn)


Here is a regulation that may be coming soon, a regulation in the pipeline: Say a kit fox wanders into your orchard and defecates near a tree. You have to quarantine off a sizable area and destroy the trees within it. You can’t keep Mr. Fox out in the first place — because he’s an endangered species. The government can tie you up in knots, in myriad ways.

Back to Dennis Woods, the banker — and more than a banker, a business impresario. He has started about 40 businesses, of various types. He is a banker who hates bankers, he says: They are risk-averse, practiced at saying no. And you can’t build anything with no. Woods likes to say yes, helping entrepreneurs get started. He lends them money and guides them through regulations, to the extent one can. The biggest barrier to entrepreneurs today, he says, is not taxes — though we could argue about tax policy. The biggest barrier is access to capital (a lack thereof). That and the morass of regulation.

It bothers Richard Spencer that men such as Tony Campos have to bow before regulators, and be yanked around by them: people who have no relevant experience, no relevant knowledge, and no accountability. Businessmen rise and fall, but a regulator is seldom fired.

But Spencer does not want you to feel sorry for Campos, or Dennis Woods — or Spencer. They’re all doing great. They’re big boys, well established, and they can hold their own with government, at all levels. Nor do you have to worry about their children, says Spencer. (He and Karen, his wife of 46 years, have six children.) They have resources. They also have resourcefulness. They have seen entrepreneurship in action, and they’ll figure out a way.

Spencer worries about those without resources, or with few resources: “the entrepreneur who never was,” as he puts it. The guy who could never get going, because the barriers were too high. “That is the sinister and obnoxious effect of overregulation,” he says — stopping people before they can get started, choking dreams in their cradle. If he were starting out today, he says, he could not accomplish what he has. The environment is too forbidding.

On top of everything else, businessmen have to put up with being demonized — with being the villain in countless movies and countless politician’s speeches. Spencer especially objects to the insinuation, or outright assertion, that people like him came by their money dishonestly. He belongs to “the rich,” I suppose, or “the 1 percent.” But he has also worked his tail off, paid millions in taxes, given millions to charity, provided goods and services that people need or want, and employed thousands.

He doesn’t mind paying taxes, by the way. “Happy to do it.” He does think that a welfare state may not help the people it intends to help.

Despite the unpleasantness of recent years, Spencer is optimistic. His California is in bad shape, as everyone knows. But it is still a golden state. “There’s still magic here,” says Spencer. And magic across America. “People from all over the world want to come here, and invest here, and have their children educated here. We’re tarnished, but we’re not through.”

Spencer may be nothing special, as he says — “Please don’t make a big deal out of me” — but, again, the type he represents is special. If we who are not entrepreneurs dump on the entrepreneur, and overtax him and overregulate him, we are only harming ourselves.

March 25, 2013    |     Volume LXV, No. 5

Books, Arts & Manners
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .