Why is Shark Tank such a unique big hit for ABC and CNBC? I mean, why is it such a hit other than the fact that the show is brilliantly produced, features great personalities, and is really fun to watch? After all, there are other well-produced shows on TV with great stars and even plenty of suspense. What sets Shark Tank apart is that it captures a key characteristic of the American personality that just about everything else you see in the entertainment and news media misses. I'm talking about the aspirational part of our DNA that seems to reside inside every American, native born or immigrant, that compels us to want to get rich or at least greatly improve our economic fortunes. That aspirational desire takes many forms including the urge to strike it rich quick with little or no effort, which is why this country gets more lottery crazy than other nations with national lotteries. The best thing about that lottery mania is that it at least proves Americans still aspire to achieve massive success, as opposed to our European counterparts who seem half-deadened by generations of socialism and a cottage industry of self-loathing.
But aside from Shark Tank, the entertainment and news media in this country takes a uniformly strange approach to wealth and those who work successfully to achieve it. Think about it, don't most movies and TV dramas usually portray the very rich character as the villain? Or more to the point, when was the last time a movie or TV show portrayed a newly rich or financially rising character in a positive light? That's something that seems to work for Hollywood producers. But the folks at Shark Tank know that most Americans identify with the guy or gal with a great idea who dreams of using that great idea to get rich. And most Americans admire the way people like the Sharks themselves made their fortunes. In that way, Shark Tank is a great tonic for those of us who often get discouraged about the direction our country is taking. Just watching one episode of the show reminds viewers that plenty of Americans are still full of hope and willing to work hard and take risks to achieve great success. The entrepreneurial spirit is still strong in this country. And if the last ten years or so haven't killed it off, I think it's fair to say aspirational America is here to stay.
So here's the question: if we know most Americans still have that aspirational and entrepreneurial spirit, why do our politicians, media elites, and policy wonks excel at ignoring, marginalizing, and even denigrating our small and medium-sized business owners at every turn? They make them pay higher tax rates. They allow them to fall victim to endless regulations without the big corporations' powerful lobbyists or lawyers to turn them into an advantage. And worst of all, when those entrepreneurs dare complain about economic conditions, or warn us about what the latest political policy will do to hiring and the overall economy, no one in Washington or in the TV news seems to want to listen. I mean, when was the last time you saw a round table of small business owners come on a TV news show to discuss the latest Fed decision as opposed to the usual suspects of big fund managers, Fortune 500 CEO's, and egghead economist/former Fed governors?
The folly of ignoring the voices and warnings of the entrepreneurial or small business community is painfully evident these days. Small business owners and franchisees warned us repeatedly last year that big minimum wage hikes in major cities would significantly slow job growth and put their businesses in danger. The experts and the politicians ignored them and often even shouted them down. But sure enough, a new report shows job growth has slowed and there is even some net job loss in six major U.S. cities that implemented $10-an-hour or bigger minimum wage hikes last year.
Small businesses also warned us that Obamacare rules would slow hiring and cut worker hours all over the country. The same experts and politicians ignored them and shouted them down. But late last year the Congressional Budget Office released a new report saying the Affordable Care Act will cost two million jobs worth of work hours over the next decade alone.
Private practice doctors, perhaps Americans most important small business owners, warned us that the new federal requirements for electronic medical records would increase health care costs, boost waiting room times, and wouldn't necessarily lead to better quality care. All of that has come to pass and the result is the high cost of EMR's has become yet another factor in the disappearance of more and more private practices in favor of hospital-owned group practices that charge insurers and Medicare more for the same services.
These are just three examples, but there are many more. And ignoring these important economic voices leads to an angrier electorate. This is just one of the reasons why the angriest presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, are doing so well in the polls. But even if you're not a small business owner, you should listen to this important group a lot more. The first reason is because if you did, you'll probably find that aspirational spark in them that so entrances you when you watch Shark Tank. The second reason is you need them a lot more than you need the big corporate executives. When a big corporation's CEO steps aside or is ousted, he or she is replaced within minutes. But if your local dry cleaner, butcher, and primary care doctor closes up shop because of higher prices, regulations, and taxes, you're at least inconvenienced. And the bigger impact fluctuations in small business have on your life is a big reason why almost all net job growth in America comes from small business.
But as long as small business owners and entrepreneurs remain the Rodney Dangerfield of the media and the political world on every platform other than Shark Tank, the rest of us will remain ignorant of the real economic winds blowing across the country and susceptible to the anger and disappointment that often comes with being unpleasantly surprised.