In his address last night President Barack Obama tried to rally support for his health care reform agenda, and announced for the first time that he would consider raising taxes on families earning more than $1 million a year, which is a scaled-back version of an earlier proposal that would have imposed a surcharge on households earning $350,000 or more.

Rita McGrath, associate professor of management and author of Discovery-Driven Growth, worries that the cost of health care reform could still take an overwhelming toll on small businesses.

“I’m concerned with the plans for funding it,” says McGrath. “It seems disproportionately aimed at smaller businesses and small business owners.”

McGrath argues that the taxes hikes needed to underwrite the reform program will fundamentally alter the “structure of incentives” (a term borrowed from William J. Baumol’s “Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive and Destructive”), for small business owners.

She points to several ways that could happen: high taxes will diminish the amount of working capital companies have available; the tax structure places artificial constraints for the number of employees (fewer than 25) for small businesses to remain in a lower tax bracket; and small business owners’ energy will be diverted from innovating products to innovating ways to not pay more taxes. Ultimately, she argues higher taxes will diminish a strong spirit of entrepreneurialism in the United States. She writes in her blog:

With the small business growth having led us out of most recessions in the past, get ready for this sector to add jobs far more slowly and with far greater caution than it had previously — a big blow to an economy that desperately needs a vibrant and growing small business sector.

At the macro level, the effects of higher individual taxes on rates of entrepreneurship are without an exception, negative. It is well accepted, and has been for decades, that the desire to have a vibrant entrepreneurial economy is at odds with the desire to operate a welfare state, due in large part to the way in which welfare states allocate resources. When the upside to undertaking the risks of entrepreneurship decrease, and the downside of not doing much at all are limited, it becomes hard to justify making the effort. If it is possible to live quite a comfortable life without too much bother, why take on the long hours, the worry and the headaches of small business ownership?

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