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Last Friday, I had the opportunity to join an extraordinary group of women entrepreneurs mostly from Saudi Arabia for a lunch at the home of the Honorable Esther Coopersmith. All were both proud of their higher education in Saudi Arabia and had started companies in a wide range of businesses from construction to IT. I should not have been surprised. Starting a business in Saudi Arabia is relatively easy. Its “ease of starting a business” rank is 13 out of 183 economies, according the World Bank’s Doing Business 2010 data. This is not surprising. Saudi Arabia is widely recognized as a leader in promoting and enabling entrepreneurship and innovation.
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.
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.
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.
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