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.
And the Irish do like to drink. When big beer companies do their taxes each year, they claim Ireland as a dependent. I am not sure if drinking is the cause of Ireland's economic woes or the response, but it is a centerpiece of Irish life.
Starting a business takes faith, gumption, imagination, innovation, and being willing to take risks. It quickly allocates talent to opportunities and capital where it is needed. The results help any economy.
History proves over and over that, even though it is bumpy and occasionally flawed, free market capitalism has done more to improve the lot of people than any government program ever. It does not result in equal outcomes for all, but it is ultimately fair and works for everyone. Dampening that capitalistic spirit will eventually hurt us all.
After an economic downturn like we just experienced, the real risk is that a charismatic, populist politician will step up and blame things on the few entrepreneurs in order to get elected. Then the capitalists, the engine of our economy and our way of life, are slowly marginalized. Their numbers and influence are diminished.
When intellect, initiative and intuition mesh to form a successful business, the entrepreneur should be rewarded. Instead, regulations proliferate. Five percent of employers in the 1950s had to get a government license to do business; now 29 percent must obtain licenses. It is a sad day when those who want to produce must get permission to do so from bureaucrats who produce nothing.
Politicians do not understand that wealth is not a zero-sum game and that productivity is exponential, not finite. Did the Google guys create their company that allows users free access to data to the detriment or benefit of others? Do Apple’s products hurt or help people?
Government is based on the circular pick-pocketing of the productive in the name of “fairness.” When it runs out of people and businesses whose pockets it can pick, it runs up debt. Big government politicians are about as concerned about citizens as ticks are about people.
From Greece to Ireland, Europe’s soul-crushing governments are destroying free market entrepreneurship. And the malaise is coming our way; instead of decreasing business barriers, our politicians fail miserably by spending $11 million per “green job.”
At least the Irish have a tradition of drowning their sorrows. We just drown our nation in regulation, debt and crony capitalism instead of Guinness.
Ron Hart, a libertarian syndicated op-ed humorist, award-winning author and TV/radio commentator can be reached at Ron@RonaldHart.com or visit www.RonaldHart.com.