deus ex macchiato

Fabian Bazant-Hegemark's blog

Businesses and Taxes

Yesterday I visited a business I adore that, like many smaller businesses right now, will close it's doors for the last time in the next couple of weeks. Why? Well, we do have an international financial crisis, and I believe that this is one of the effects trickling down to a country as rich as Austria.

The government decided that it has wasted enough tax payer's money and now has to get some new tax payer's money in return: per the first of January, a new law was instituted that makes it illegal for any business a certain size to not have an electronic POS system, so that tax evasion and tax fraud would become a bit harder. Well: why not. Business owners comitting tax fraud should be prosecuted. The added requirement for customers to keep their electronically printed receipt until they have left the premises of the business seems kind of silly and hard to enforce, but why not. The problem is that it wasn't communicated – even I had only stumbled upon that – that you don't need a certified POS computer and software, the software and computer just need to comply with certain requirements.

All of which are by now fulfilled by some Android and iOS POS apps that you can buy or even download for free. A cheap android tablet plus some open source software combined with a receipt printer can easily meet the legal requirements. But of course, the businesses selling POS software don't really want you to consider such hacky solutions. And so there's now in many businesses a ten times more expensive solution present in the form of some fancy touchscreen all in one PC that runs Windows and some proprietary software. All of which can set you back ten to fifty times what the cheapest possible set up with a used tablet and a receipt printer would cost.

Given that many business owners weren't aware of that, a lot of them simply switched to early retirement. There was a lovely organic pet supply store in my neighborhood, the owner said she was happy to have more time for her dogs, but she simply can't afford to dump her existing, non-compliant POS for a new one that would set her back more than she would make with her small, special interest store.

Other businesses are in trouble now because they had indeed not paid the taxes they would have owed and now can't do that anymore - for them I have less sympathy, but still.

So, the shop I went to yesterday didn't have that problem. The two owners had other problems and tough luck that will make them shut the place down in February. Even though I regret this specific instance very, very much – a three table grocery store/bistro that also sells the produce that they used in the meals that they cooked for you, plus offers _insane_ cakes and pies, all of which are vegan, will be missed – it made me realize something.

Because of the well documented effects of austerity, which is instituted in Austria much less hardly as in other European nations, small businesses and new businesses will continue to have it very hard. The government collectively accuse them of fraud to give the illusion of fixing the budget that the same legislation fucked up, while the cost of labor is still comparatively high to fund an ancient city-state/village feudalistic system of counties called federalism.

While I am convinced that we would need to invest much more in education and social development, the opposite is the case. The state (as well as the EU) hand out money to those who don't need it - bigger corporations and "safe bets" - while the very sensible costs for health care are being stemmed by the decreasing middle class and crush smaller businesses. I can't pretend to really know about economics, but there's just some things that seem odd, to put it mildly.

While Austria isn't as antipeople as Germany has become in that regard, which allows unpaid labor as punishment for not having a job, and has a finance minister that thinks people should pay more if they decide to have their wounds treated by professionals, it is still going down a road that doesn't seem to lead anywhere I'd want a country I live in to go. While all of this is happening, the spineless chancellor, who only weeks ago stood by his german colleague Merkel in saying that "yes we can" manage the refugee crisis just chickened out to support human rights violations in prohibiting certain people from requesting asylum. Why did he chicken out? Because the racists and liars of Austrian politics frightened him. So he gives in to their ridiculous selfish and illegal demands. One could almost call it populistic. He doesn't realize though that the racists still won't vote for his spineless paper weight of a party, no matter what tides sweep them away, if there are real, more convincing racist parties available. But that is another issue.

When walking through the streets of one of the hippest (and most expensive) neighborhood of Vienna I noticed a couple of things: many stores were vacant or had recently closed for good, some were completely stuffed with people, even though it wasn't rush hour, and others were just there.

The kind of businesses that seemed thriving were either selling food or imported goods - stuff that you can buy online cheaper. And of the places selling food, many were replaceable chains or franchises.

What this made me realize is that new business will have it ever harder because "success", that is to me the viability of a business to financially sustain all it's employees and of course the owners, can necessarily not come to every single business. If you buy your bread at one place, you won't buy it at another. No matter how fast the population density grows, there will always be a point were you have enough bakers to supply for them. Everything beyond that point won't be viable long term. So either your new bakery is so awesome that it kills off other, less awesome bakeries, or it will be killed off by lack of sales (keep in mind that lack of sales can also mean that your expenses are "too high" - not always something you can control).

Of course you don't necessarily need a superior product to survive in the market: you can also make your inferior product seem more valuable by the power of bullshit. Especially since the difference between better product and seemingly better product is increasingly hard to spot. Often there isn't really a difference between the products, it's just that one seller is better with bullshit to sell it to you. Take, for example, bread. Say you have two bakers making the same bread of the same ingredients, but one of them sells it as "organic vegan artisanal bread" while the other sells it as "the original don't-starve bar" - heck, I'd go for the latter! But the product could be the same. Customers of either would buy and eat the same product, but the bullshit attached to it would influence their purchasing decision.

Even more impressive is the importing of goods. Some businesses still act as if online shopping and international shipping weren't a thing, selling stuff with a surcharge that you can buy directly from the producers without that surcharge. This is also a form of the same bullshit, in my opinion. That doesn't mean that it isn't awesome to visit a store that is well-assorted and presents it's perspective and maybe even views by selecting what to sell and what not to sell: I appreciate such stores immensly. Think book stores. There's a lot of book stores that just sell whatever, but then there's those specialized in certain fields. I'm sure they get the odd customer every now and then that requests the latest bestseller and leaves disappointed, but that sort of spine that it takes to tell them to fuck off, this isn't the store you're looking for (your terminology might - and I guess SHOULD - vary) is what makes me appreciate certain businesses over others. But then of course, with many goods, why bother going to seperate stores when the algorithms and web shops become increasingly sophisticated?

Again, the store front, the products at hand, all of them are, in a certain way, bullshit. Big chains have long known this. Many of the big franchises are highly unprofitable and simply exist - at a huge net loss - to allow people to view goods before they buy them at the online stores those same companies provide. Of course, the problem with this is that the franchise is necessarily unprofitable, and the employees will pay the price for that one way or another. It is the gross yield that they look at, not the net loss. Smaller businesses can't afford that. Or look at the biggest coffee chain and how they steal money from countries by tax evasion, open stores at a loss to destroy competition, and then close them when the competition is gone to have even more workers whose money for welfare, health care, social security and retirement was robbed by the company through the often legal tax evasion mentioned earlier.

All of this means that essentially the survival of a business is up to not only quality, location, efficiency and all these traditional things, but also a huge set of hidden laws that can be summed up as "luck". And those business owners that have convictions, produce with care and put their heart into their products have the same opportunities, the same _chance_, as people who are just into the quick buck.

And all of this is kind of depressing. What are your thoughts on this?