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Monday, March 20, 2017

Adam Smith and the Role of Limited Government

Adam Smith, the father of economics taught us in his book The Wealth of Nations, that laissez-faire approaches to the market encourage the highest levels of growth. Government is limited in its role and provide the greatest freedom to business without unnecessary restriction. As we experienced during the advent of globalization, companies regularly choose nations with lower input costs and fewer restrictions. Newly formed clusters will need to offer something more than simply "cheap" costs and instead push for maximum growth opportunities through cultivating environments that supersede advantages of low cost manufacturing localities.

The market system will determine where companies will invest in operations, where they will hire employees, and how they will contribute to the global economy. Low cost copycats will be drawn to cheaper locations, while innovators will be attracted to places that spark the greatest opportunities for the development of new services and products.

One seeks to to focus on a low cost strategy that uses available technology. The other seeks to dominate the market by leading it through transitions with new products and services. Companies that seek innovative strategies will inherently look for locations that have the right elements that foster knowledge accumulation and intellectual capital.

A cluster exists within a local economy with inherent benefits that allowed these clusters to form in a one location over another. Governments create market conditions by attracting or deterring business investments through government policy making. Business-minded global companies do not invest locally out of patronage or loyalty but because they believe they can achieve the greatest advantages by doing so.

Adam Smith states, "Its not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from the regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages (Smith, 1776)."

As a profit oriented enterprises, governments should move beyond traditional approaches to economics by thinking from the perspective of would be corporate interlopers. What are they looking for, what type of environment are we providing and how do we provide it are essential questions to strong cluster management.

Of course we have choices, and one of them is to not change or adjust our governance to a global marketplace. We can use the same methods, continue to lose corporations, and watch our national debt rise and incomes decline. The role of government is to create polices that are in the best interest of their citizen stakeholders and thus have a responsibility to adjust their thinking when necessary.

Proper cluster management offers opportunities for government to be an environment creator but not seek to fight against the forces that allow are swirling through the global economy. Fighting these forces leads to greater decline. However, they can create local advantages by rethinking some policies that are hurting the ability of business to flourish while at the same time still protecting the needs of citizens.

Nationalism and loyalty are powerful motivators for local businesses but international companies have options where countries are often seen more as tax and cost incentives than believing in a particular national causes. While it is difficult to calculate the amount gained or lost due to corporations moving operations overseas, the amount is likely in the trillions of dollars in tax revenue. Creating strong market driven clusters helps to draw these businesses back to the U.S. because it is their best interest to do so to maintain their profit margins.

Smith, A. (1776). An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. London: W. Strahan. Book 1, Chapter 2.

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