Despite defeat of a proposed agency to represent consumer interest, it is obvious that activists outside the government or in existing offices of the federal bureaucracy plan to keep business on the defensive.
Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.'s attempt to seek contempt citations against federal officials, following the release by a consumer group of a previously secret Department of Transportation study that it critical of Firestone steel-belted radial tires, is but one example of an environment of confrontation.
State another way, "Government regulation of business continues to be one of the growth areas of the American economy."
That's the conclusion of Robert DeFina and Murray L. Weidenbaum of Washington University in St. Louis, who have studied the fiscal 1979 budget and tabulated federal expenses of $4.8 billion to run 41 agencies - more than double the outlays in fiscal 1974.
"Clearly, the cost of operating federal regulatory agencies is rising more rapidly than the federal budget as a whole, the population of the country, the gross national product or any other applicable basis for comparison," they said. And compliance by business with government regulation could cost 20 times the outlay by government, they said.
Given this trend, it might seem unlikely that an organized Republican group would call for creation of a new agency. But the Ripon Society, a research and policy organization whose members are GOP business, academic and professional persons, has done just that.
Although the Ripon Society bills itself as progressive, its new proposal is not all radical.
The new agency's basic concern, expressed in a policy paper developed by John C. Topping Jr., former chief counsel of the Commerce Department's Office of Minority Business Enterprise, would be small business.
Firestone and other Fortune 500 companies may have the resources to stand on an equal or even superior footing in endless litigaticn and regulatory hearings. But what can a small business do to challenge what it might regard as unfair or needlessly burdensome regulation?
The Ripon Society and Topping have come up with a proposal that may have a responsive audience in the small business community - transforming the Small Business Administration from a financing agency often troubled by political influences to an advocacy agency for entrepreneurs. Thus, there would be a new agency but it would replace an existing one.
"Our enterprise economy faces 'a death of a thousand cuts' in which a series of often uncoordinated public policies will further shift the balance of risks and rewards against entrepreneurship," the society states in the April issue of Ripon Forum.
Overall, the current structure of federal regulation is described by the Ripon Society as a spur to market concentration. Regulation has increased the cost and added to the time required to start a new business, placed a disproportionate burden of regulation on modestly capitalized firms, which makes innovation difficult in markets dominated by huge corporations, and reduced available venture capital, the society contends.
And the end result has been to discourage self employment and entrepreneurial activity in favor of those who derive their principal income from someone else's payroll.
To help reverse this trend, the Ripon Society suggests:
Establishments of a new SBA, acting as small business advocate in much the same manner as consumers would have been represented by a new agency, to review all proposed major federal actions before they are implemented. The transformed SBA would have an economic analysis staff similar to that of the Federal Trade Commission.
Spinning off most SBA financing activities to private lending institutions with development of automatic loan guarantee programs or interest rate subsidies administered by banking institutions, thus reducing political influence over the loan process.
Changes in capital gains tax laws to encourage investment in new and small business.
Amendments to the Small Business Investment Company legislation to provide favorable financing for small businesses engaged in marketing new technological products.