A longtime downtown leader was bid farewell Wednesday at a luncheon that featured an evangelist for free market economics.
About 500 people attended the annual Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber event at the down town convention center, where chamber president and CEO David Graybill was praised and cheered for his 27 years of work.
Graybill announced last month that he will retire at the end of the year.
“I can think of no better calling or career than serving business men and women who are serving their communities and trying to make them better,” he told the crowd after a standing ovation.
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Mike Hansch, interim chamber head, said Port of Tacoma commissioner Don Johnson is leading the search for a new president and CEO. Hansch was the incoming board chairman, but now that he’s interim president, last year’s board chairman Toby Murray has agreed to stay on a second year.
Chamber staff presented flowers to Graybill’s wife, Kortney. A representative from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce read a congratulatory letter from Tom Donohue , the national group’s president and CEO. The letter itself, though, was stuck on a Fed Ex truck somewhere between Washington, D.C., and Tacoma.
“It’s our American free enterprise system that allows us the success we enjoy. We should all be allowed to dream big,” Graybill said, providing an apt introduction to keynote speaker Barry Asmus , an economist and author.
Asmus took the crowd through his rollicking history of free markets, starting with the Magna Carta. Limited government and private property rights are the common thread of economic success, he said.
“Not one of you got up this morning and said, ‘Thank you God for titles, deeds and articles of incorporation,’ ” he said.
He emphasized that private ownership matters: “When’s the last time you washed a rental car?”
America’s success with free enterprise has led to a country with a fraction of the world’s population producing a large part of the world’s wealth. But politics can complicate things.
“Fifty-one percent can take what forty-nine percent have produced,” he said by way of defining democracy. Put another way, “democracy is two wolves and one sheep voting on what’s for dinner.”
Asmus said he wouldn’t talk much about the recent recession, saying economists are terrible at predicting them and that this one is the logical result of giving $2.5 trillion to millions of unqualified borrowers.
As for the future, he said the world is on the cusp of a big payoff from globalization. “Don’t start making waves” regarding free trade, he said. “Don’t act like we’re going to start pushing (foreign countries) around. A big trade war would be an international global killer.”
Part of Asmus’s speech was a general rant against Kensyian economic theory and U.S. tax and spending rates. He said the 1930s-1980s were a terrible time in U.S. economic history. The November elections will help clarify some of what Asmus says is stalling business growth today: uncertainty over tax rates, regulation and healthcare expenses.
One thing is certain, he said: You can’t make the poor richer by making the rich poorer. Making the rich poorer only makes everyone poorer.