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VOL. 132 | NO. 42 | Tuesday, February 28, 2017

New Book From Former AutoZone CEO Offers Public Policy Goals

By Andy Meek

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AutoZone has national cachet in part for its status as a leading retailer of car parts and accessories. Lately, though, the Memphis-based company has been part of the national discussion as its leadership works toward political ends as much as commercial imperatives.

One of the latest examples: former AutoZone chairman and CEO Steve Odland has co-authored a new book, “Sustaining Capitalism: Bipartisan Solutions to Restore Trust & Prosperity” that was published earlier this month. He helped write it in his capacity as president and CEO of the Committee for Economic Development, a nonprofit and business-focused public policy organization.

Its premise is that the myriad political and economic challenges confronting the U.S. demands input and leadership from the business community as much as it does political leadership in Washington.

“We wrote this book for a simple reason: We want to see a return to the long-term growth trajectory that made the United States the most prosperous nation in the world,” Odland and co-author Joe Minarik write. “But as we survey the economic and political landscape, we see troubling indicators that suggest the principles underpinning our prosperity are fraying: plunging trust in business, diminished confidence in the fairness of our economic system, and a loss of faith in capitalism itself.”

Unless the country finds a way to reverse those trends, one result will be that the “dynamism” that has propelled the U.S. economy will be replaced by “stagnation and sclerosis,” they wrote.

Frustration at the status quo was arguably one of the forces behind the presidential win of businessman Donald Trump. His policies and the assumption of his administration’s pro-business stance has led companies and CEOs from around the country to contribute their input.

AutoZone, for example, recently came out against a tax proposal from U.S. House Republicans mentioned as one mechanism for financing Trump’s proposed wall along the country’s southern border. Lining up alongside AutoZone against the idea is a group of more than 100 retailers that are part of a new group called Americans for Affordable Products.

An AutoZone spokesman, explaining the retailer’s support of the group’s motivation, called the so-called border adjustment tax “harmful” and “untested.”

AutoZone’s CEO, Bill Rhodes, also joined a group of retail industry business leaders who met with Trump in recent days to speak against a border tax.

Odland’s new book is another example representing a continuation of that same theme – businesses, he writes, “must do more to help restore U.S. prosperity.”

They can do that, according to the authors, both as listeners and contributors of input. The book’s prescription for addressing the country’s challenges is long and includes fixes like:

Encouraging businesses to move away from an “excessive” focus on short-term results, which the authors see as a threat to capitalism when it comes at the expense of longer-term value.

Among other suggestions, the book wags a finger at Congress and presidents that have “failed to adequately address the persistence of large budget deficits” and the continued growth of the federal debt.

The book also says Congress needs to get serious about reining in discretionary spending and work to put Social Security on sounder footing; that the country urgently needs tax reform that cuts and simplifies rates for individuals and businesses; consumers need more choice in health care; and that U.S. immigration policy should be reformed “to maximize economic benefits.”

The current system is inefficient, the authors write, because it puts arbitrary constraints on types of visas by country of origin. “Instead, visas should be allocated to drive an increase of immigrant supply by those occupations that are in greatest shortage.”

PROPERTY SALES 21 82 6,474
MORTGAGES 7 53 4,088
BUILDING PERMITS 240 353 15,714
BANKRUPTCIES 38 58 3,328