It takes money to make money. But why?

What if you don’t have money? In this economy, you may be screwed.

Government fees are part of the problem for would-be entrepreneurs who have been closed out of the economy elsewhere. The District of Columbia charges people roughly $325.50 at a minimum to open a legitimate general business before they can legally earn a cent. And more likely it will cost a few hundred more to clear regulation. Why?

It’s damaging. This just a privileged barrier to entry of the haves keeping down the have nots, even if unintentionally. We should be ashamed, but moreover we should fix it.

This situation is not unique to DC, but with our position as both city and state, DC is uniquely poised to break down this barrier to entry.

To start a legitimate business today one needs start up capital just to pay the city their cut up front. But start up loans are generally only available if you already have some wealth, so what does someone do of they do not have that money? Particularly given what we know about racial wealth disparities nationally and locally, DC’s regulatory fees simply deepen racial economic divides.

If someone cannot get a job or the job fails to pay for the basics of life, what then? The up by your bootstraps model of capitalism we like to mythologize includes a government imposed block to anyone who is already locked out of the economy. Is that because DC would rather someone facing such barriers just leave the city? Arguments to the contrary are undercut by this simple reality.

To operate legitimately in DC it costs a few hundred dollars to get corporately registered, have a zoning approval certificate, and get a business license.

It smacks of classist privilege. And it smacks of other biases woven into how we think about who business is for. I constantly hear people who are full of entrepreneurial hope receive the message, “if you do not already understand X” then you are just not ready to be in business. How long does someone have to train before they can start? What can they do to sustain while they learn?

Worse, major institutions are peddling the idea that there are “innate” characteristics that make someone capable of business. The idea that one needs “grit” or that there is an “innate” set of traits that make someone capable of business is…

That’s ridiculous. Moreover, that sounds a lot like a biology argument, and those are rife with racism and sexism.

Don’t let anyone tell you that business is somehow special and only special people can hack it. It isn’t special, it is exclusive. Right now, business success is based on biased social constructs.

People have been operating basic businesses since the beginning of society. Think barter. Think trade.

Entrepreneurship can be for everyone. As a base concept, all it means is keeping some profits instead of the profit from my labor going to someone else.

I would argue that trade is a more fundamental human trait than labor. We have allowed ourselves to be tricked, however, into the idea that business is something special that only those with grit can pursue.

Read: only those with the resources and networks can pursue. But is needing “grit” or, as some might say a rich uncle and the privilege of education, the only way to get into business these days?

Perhaps. So let’s change that. Flawed premises lead to incorrect conclusions and negative outcomes.

New premise: Business is for anyone, but we get by with a little help from our friends (and neighbors).

Let’s build structures for supported entrepreneurship. Let’s make stone soup. In doing so, our society will be all the richer with both structural and cultural wealth.

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