RON HART: Economic lessons from the Emerald Isle

Published: Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 05:19 PM.

DUBLIN, IRELAND — During a trip to Ireland, one thing stood out to me that explains most of Europe's high unemployment and slow economic growth: a lack of entrepreneurial spirit. It has led to economic malaise, and it has spread to the United States.

Our bus driver in Ireland was an affable, fiftyish gentleman. He had worked union jobs in NYC and been taught a structured, static system of economics. He knew all the golf courses in Ireland, arranged everything, and drove us in a rented bus.

Most of the guys on the trip were successful venture capitalists who had made themselves and many others rich. Upon assessing that our driver was central to a simple tour business, they offered to buy a bus and put him into business for himself.

Even as it became clear that it was a good business proposal, he continued to balk, listing regulations, insurance costs and licenses as obstacles. It seemed any entrepreneurial inclination had been bred out of him and, I am afraid, out of others as well. Taking a measured risk was no longer appealing. If he took our capital, got the bus and expanded his business, he would hire people as he grew and he would bring much-needed revenue to Ireland.

When I saw the teeth of women there, I suggested that an alternative business opportunity might be introducing rudimentary dentistry to Ireland. Our driver dismissed the idea by saying, “Och lad, you don’t look at the mantle while poking the fire.”

Ireland is mired in economic malaise. GDP is down; the rate of unemployment is twice what ours is. Imagine what a vibrant group of capitalist entrepreneurs, unfettered by an entrenched government, could do for the economy if they were willing to take the risks to start businesses.

The country's debt-to-GDP ratio is unsustainably high. The International Monetary Fund has warned that Ireland has “an acute unemployment crisis,” citing a broad market unemployment rate of “a staggering 23 percent” — a number higher than the drinking age.

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