Guns vs. Guitars

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If I leave here tomorrow Would you still remember me? For I must be travelling on, now, ’Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see.

~ Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Bullying small and medium businesses, sending armed goons to American factories, confiscating private property, closing down production and harassing business owners and their employees; a curious strategy for nurturing domestic job creation, wouldn’t you say?

The above strategies might seem ludicrous, even downright criminal, to we laypeople, but to government officials, it’s “all in a day’s work.” Take, for example, the latest case of The Feds vs. Gibson Guitars.

Actually, it’s not even a case yet, not officially…but that didn’t stop armed agents from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (these guys have guns?) from raiding two of Gibson’s production facilities in Tennessee and its Nashville headquarters last Wednesday. The agents confiscated “nearly $1 million in Indian ebony, finished guitars and electronic data,” according to the company’s CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz.

“It was a nightmare,” fumed Mr. Juszkiewicz after the incident, “We had people sitting there making guitars. We had no weapons.”

This is not the first time the feds have actively sought to bum Gibson’s vibe (a job-creating vibe, let us not forget – Gibson’s Tennessee factories alone employ over 700 people). The feds last crashed the party back in 2009, seizing a shipment of ebony from Madagascar. They claimed they were there – and, again, armed – to enforce the Lacey Act, a century-old endangered species act that was amended in 2008 to include plants and animals.

But before activists get their patchouli incense sticks in a knot, it’s worth noting that Gibson is not your typical – or even atypical – enemy of the planet.

“Agents seized wood that was Forest Stewardship Council controlled,” Juszkiewicz noted, in a quote carried on the company’s website. “Gibson has a long history of supporting sustainable and responsible sources of wood and has worked diligently with entities such as the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace to secure FSC-certified supplies. The wood seized on August 24 satisfied FSC standards.”

Your editor has no idea where the Forest Stewardship Council, the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace stand in this particular case…but we’d bet it’s not on the side of the “greedy, seal-clubbing, old growth-uprooting capitalist pigs.”

“We’ve been importing this wood for 17 years, consistently, on a regular basis, with no problem,” Juszkiewicz told Fox News yesterday. “And our competitors continue to use and buy this wood without any problem today.”

Juszkiewicz says the government won’t tell him exactly how – or if – his company has violated that law.

“We’re in this really incredible situation,” continued Mr. Juszkiewicz. “We have been implicated in wrongdoing and we haven’t been charged with anything,” he says. “Our business has been injured to millions of dollars. And we don’t even have a court we can go to and say, ‘Look, here’s our position.’”

It’s also worth noting that the relevant law doesn’t actually protect the trees themselves…just how – or, more specifically, where – the wood is finished. It’s perfectly legal for Gibson to use the wood, in other words, it just can’t use its own workers to fashion the wood into a guitar. That work needs to be done in India. Call it “mandatory outsourcing”…from the same people who will next week bring you their ideas on how best to create jobs in America.

In response to their…uh… “treatment,” Juszkiewicz and Gibson have mobilized their supporters via social media networks, encouraging people on Facebook and Twitter to write their representatives and demand action. The company also launched a Twitter campaign under the hashtag:

“ThisWillNotStand.”

Tweeted Juszkiewicz last Friday: “Why is big government spending our money to harm ordinary citizens and small businesses?”

For the record, your editors here at The Daily Reckoning have no political dog in this fight. That a “red state” company is being harassed by a “blue state” administration may or may not be a “fluke.” Either way, the politics of it all is of little interest to us. In the end, we are fans of private action and government inaction, not the other way around.

But since the government insists on acting – and acting in the only vulgar, brutish way it knows – we’ll return the favor and harass them a little…peacefully, without guns, in the only way we know.

As you probably already know, next week Obama is scheduled to deliver his much-lauded “Jobs Speech.” We are already getting a flavor of what it might contain as advice from tenured economics professors, leading experts and other well-degreed blowhards begin seeping into the pages of the mainstream press. Unsurprisingly, the proposed solution to having over-spent and under-saved is…you guessed it…more spending!

Here’s a snippet from The Huffington Post:

At the top of many to-do lists is government spending into the tens of billions of dollars to finance large-scale public works projects, a strategy that could address a gaping mismatch: Nearly 14 million Americans are officially out of work, yet a great deal of work needs to be done, from repairing dilapidated roads and bridges, to retrofitting government office buildings with energy-efficient infrastructure.

Gary Burtless, a former Labor Department economist and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, chimed in, “If the government spends the money directly on government-funded projects, that puts people on payrolls.”

And here’s Pavlina R. Tcherneva, an economist at Franklin & Marshall College, echoing Mr. Burtless’ brilliance, “We still have mass layoffs in those [manufacturing and construction] sectors. It seems very obvious that we can absorb large numbers of workers in those sectors for the public good.”

Ah yes…it’s all so obvious! More spending!…More public works!…More government involvement! You know, because all this worked so very well for the country with The New Deal…

Following the above logic, the government ought to spend billions of dollars it doesn’t have undertaking projects it has no demonstrable skill in completing simply to “put people on payrolls.” Heck, why stop at billions? Hasn’t academia heard? Billions are for wimps. Trillion is the new figure du jour. Why not pay every un- or under-employed American a thousand bucks a minute to scrape gum off the sidewalk? Think of the boost to GDP! Think of the payroll numbers! Think of all that “public good!” And think of all the Chinese-made trinkets and Indian-fashioned guitars those people could then buy with their million-dollar bank balances!

One is left to wonder: with thinkers like these, who needs idiots?

N.B.: Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist, Allen Collins, used a Gibson Firebird, and later switched to playing a Gibson Explorer. Starting in late 1977, he also occasionally used a double-cutaway Gibson Les Paul Junior.

Reprinted with permission from The Daily Reckoning.

Joel Bowman is managing editor of The Daily Reckoning. After completing his degree in media communications and journalism in his home country of Australia, Joel moved to Baltimore to join the Agora Financial team. His keen interest in travel and macroeconomics first took him to New York where he regularly reported from Wall Street, and he now writes from and lives all over the world.

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