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A growing economy constantly creates new job opportunities in new sectors, but also displaces and even destroys existing jobs. The workforce in an entrepreneurial economy must always evolve as well. Government efforts to protect jobs are often misguided, hindering growth and new job creation. Pro-growth workforce rules should instead focus on developing worker skills, allowing maximum hiring and layoff flexibility, and focus adjustment efforts on getting displaced workers into new jobs as soon as possible. Small firms employ half of all private sector employees and create 60-80 percent of net new jobs in the U.S., according to the SBA. Labor rules are one of the largest barriers to entrepreneurial ventures. The World Bank’s cross-country comparison of labor regulations shows lower job creation where workplace rules are more rigid. Labor rules must move beyond the early 20th century framework of management versus labor and encourage new firm formation as well as a dynamic, not static, worker.
America’s heritage as a nation of immigrants is a source of tremendous economic strength, and current research confirms that immigrants who have been attracted to the U.S. for its pro-growth culture and excellent universities often stay and create valuable, fast-growing startup firms. High-skill immigrants in particular have two significant positive impacts on growth – first as critical engineering and science talent at U.S. companies and second as potential entrepreneurs of new U.S.-based companies. Despite the nearly universal bi-partisan support for high-skill immigration, the existing system of immigration into the U.S. has become a disaster. Visas and green cards are bureaucratic, the number of high-skill migrants to the U.S. is capped at an artificially low level, and security laws have made travel to the U.S. after 9/11 difficult. America now risks losing its attraction as a “brain magnet” in contrast to other nations that are reforming in order to compete for the critical resource known as human capital.
The creation of new ideas being essential to a growing economy, the U.S. government has continuously reformed rights of Intellectual property (IP) to maintain the most entrepreneurial climate possible. Recognized in the Constitution itself, patents for new inventions and copyrights for new artistic creations provide an incentive for people to both create and publicize their intellectual property. However, rules, protections, and the adjudication process surrounding IP requires constant reforms to keep up with challenges of the digital revolution. Piracy has become much easier, while at the same time patent laws in the U.S. are increasingly cumbersome. In many cases, innovation is being hindered by overly broad and specious court and agency decrees. This brief is on U.S. patents; copyrights will be treated elsewhere.
Cost-effective “infrastructures” – both physical and legal – provide the essential platforms for the activities of all economies. In the physical realm, for example, it is hard to imagine life without roads, communications networks, airports, ports, sewer systems and electricity grids. Because of their “public good” nature, government plays a central role in financing, if not operating, such infrastructure facilities. In turn, because so much infrastructure is local, the planning and construction of many projects historically has been delegated to the states (although aided by federal financing).
The crown jewel of the U.S. university system – the finest in the world – is the research university, where knowledge creation is the ultimate goal. Recognition of the centrality of knowledge creation to economic growth makes the efficiency of university innovation a top concern to policymakers, especially since the federal government funds two-thirds of the $48 billion of R&D performed in academic institutions. In too many universities, commercialization of research discoveries is not as rapid or as successful as it could be. The solution provided by Technology Transfer Offices (TTO) has been mixed, as too many have been directed to focus on maximizing revenue through patent licensing, leading to a sub-optimal level of technology diffusion. In the face of declining funding of basic science research, venture capital migration to downstream opportunities, and heightened competition from abroad, the optimal commercialization of U.S. university innovations could not be more important.
For the past five years, the National Dialogue on Entrepreneurship has helped expand the discourse about how to best to advance innovation and catalyze economic growth beyond “small business” to debates on science, technology, engineering and research. While we will continue to advance discussion driven by developments in the all important innovation economy, the initiative will carry a new name - the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship (PDE). PDE will pick up exactly where NDE left off -– broadening attention to the field of entrepreneurship and connecting thought leaders looking to advance it.
Developing the human capital of young Americans is vital to keep America’s entrepreneurial economy growing. Our future entrepreneurs and their workers need the twenty-first century skills and knowledge to create successful ventures and to spur innovation in the economy. Yet education in the U.S. is struggling to stay competitive and fails to provide access to a quality educational experience for all students. Developing tomorrow’s talented, capable innovators is a challenge that will require major, entrepreneurially-driven improvements in education from pre-school through graduate school.
The primary goal of tax policy is to raise public revenues, but policy makers also recognize that the structure of taxation shapes incentives and should be crafted to enhance economic growth. Tax policy should foster new business creation and create a supportive climate for innovative firms. The theory of externalities implies taxes should be highest where activity has negative social costs (e.g. pollution) and lowest where the activity has positive social benefits (e.g. innovation). In practice, the tax code is a thicket of anti-entrepreneurial incentives and a source of red tape compliance burden. Taxes influence ownership structure, job creation, financing structure, and often the very decision to start a business. Simply put, incentives matter.
Congress is considering the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009. This new $825 billion economic stimulus package includes $275 billion in economic recovery tax cuts to individuals and businesses over two years, making it clear that the U.S. is relying heavily on entrepreneurs to jumpstart our economy. And they’re right to do so.
Making what is urgently needed consistent with what is needed for the long-term is not a bad idea. The current House bill on the economic stimulus nicely blends the short- and long-term perspectives, particularly in the way it addresses renewable energy. The challenge now is to figure out how to achieve progress in developing and commercializing green technologies without turning the government into an obstacle to the entrepreneurial innovation needed to end the climate change and economic crises.
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