By CHARLES R. SCHWAB, WSJ
In his speech before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8, President Obama said, "Ultimately, our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers."
He is right. We can spark an economic recovery by unleashing the job-creating power of business, especially small entrepreneurial businesses, which fuel economic and job growth quickly and efficiently. Indeed, it is the only way to pull ourselves out of this economic funk.
But doing so will require a consistent voice about confidence in businesses—small, large and in between. We cannot spend our way out of this. We cannot tax our way out of this. We cannot artificially stimulate our way out of this. We cannot regulate our way out of this. Shaming the successful or redistributing income won't get us out of this. We cannot fund our government coffers by following the "Buffett Rule," i.e., raising taxes on Americans earning more than $1 million a year.
What we can do—and absolutely must—is knock down all hurdles that create disincentives for investment in business.
Private enterprise works. I founded Charles Schwab in 1974, when America was confronting a crisis of confidence similar to today's. We had rapidly rising inflation and unemployment, economic growth grinding into negative territory, and paralyzed markets. The future looked pretty bleak.
Yet I had faith that our economy would recover. My vision was simple: Investors deserve something better than the status quo. I launched the company with four employees, a personal loan on my home, and an audacious dream. I didn't know exactly how we were going to do it, nor could I foresee that over the decades we would end up building a business that serves over 10 million accounts. But we went for it.
What's the potential power of the entrepreneur's simple leap of faith? The success of a single business has a significant payoff for the economy. Looking back over the 25 years since our company went public, Schwab has collectively generated $68 billion in revenue and $11 billion in earnings. We've paid $28 billion in compensation and benefits, created more than 50,000 jobs, and paid more than $6 billion in aggregate taxes. In addition to the current value of our company, we've returned billions of dollars in the form of dividends and stock buybacks to shareholders, including unions, pension funds and mom-and-pop investors.
The wealth created for our shareholders—a great many of them average Schwab employees—has been used to reinvest in existing and new businesses and has funded a myriad of philanthropic activities. We've also spent billions buying services and products from other companies in a diverse set of industries, from technology to communications to real estate to professional services, thereby helping our suppliers create businesses and jobs.
That's the story of one company. There are thousands more like it, and a consistent supportive voice from Washington could enable thousands more ahead.
The simple fact is that every business in America was started by an entrepreneur, whether it is Ford Motor Co., Google or your local dry cleaner. Every single job that entrepreneur creates requires an investment. And at its core, investing requires confidence that despite the risks, despite the hard work that will certainly ensue, the basic rules of the game are clear and stable. Today's uncertainty on these issues—stemming from a barrage of new complex regulations and legislation—is a roadblock to investment. We have to clear that uncertainty away.
As we did after 1974, our country can and will thrive again. But the leaders of both parties, Republicans and Democrats alike, must lend their voices to encourage and support private enterprise, both for what it can do to turn our economy around and for the spirit of opportunity it represents.
They need to review every piece of existing legislation and regulation with a clear eye to what impact it will have on business and growth. If something is a job killer, put a moratorium on it. Stop adding to the litany of new laws and regulations until we've had time to digest those in place and regain some certainty about the future. Proposed laws and regulations should be put to a simple test: What will this do to encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to invest? What will it do for jobs?
Mr. Schwab is founder and chairman of the Charles Schwab Corporation.