How the decline in civility affects small business advice

I read much about how an overall decline in civility is evident in many parts of our modern life. I commented on this theme in my earlier blog post reviewing the 2005 book “Collapse” by professor Jared Diamond. Increasing tension between government and its citizens has always been an observed corollary of a declining society. I see this decline of civility more often now in small business client interactions. More often than ever before I see government officials acting in an unprofessional, unethical or outright criminal manner. Yet there is little I can do about it.

In just the past month, for example, I’ve observed shocking behavior by an IRS agent, an elected local government official, and several unelected state officials. These citations do not even consider the greater number of observations of pure neglect or incompetence. For example, one case the local prosecutor’s office simply misplaced a file and therefore failed to prosecute an admitted criminal. Each case is an outrage in its own. Yet there is little that my clients or I can do about it. I do spend a substantial amount of time investigating solutions, reaching out to various whistleblower agencies, elected officials and the red tape task force. In the end, though, I see no solutions or change in the pattern of behavior.

How do I deliver this type of advice to a client? “I agree that you are being treated unfairly by government. But I can not recommend that you continue to fight for a just solution because: 1) the projected cost/benefit relationship the legal process, 2) the historical patterns raise doubt that the court system will work effectively to uphold the law in this case, and 3) my overall lack of confidence in a fair outcome based on overall decline in civility of the individuals involved. The urge to fight might lead to further retaliation by government and put you in a worse position”.

This month I find three clients in this same sorry situation.

Recently I heard a comment that my own expression of skepticism in government’s functionality is, in itself, unprofessional and somehow unpatriotic. It may be, but this situation is a sad but significant aspect of properly advising small business owners today.

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