published Friday, June 7th, 2013

Hart: Ireland a canary in coal mine of entrepreneurism

By Ron Hart

DUBLIN — During a trip to Ireland, one thing stood out to me, which 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, 50-ish gentleman. He had worked union jobs in New York City 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 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 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 some women there, I suggested that an alternative business opportunity might be introducing rudimentary dentistry to Ireland.

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

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.

Starting a business takes faith, gumption, 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 that, even though it is bumpy and flawed, free-market capitalism has done more to improve the lot of people than any government program. It does not result in equal outcomes for all, but it is ultimately fair and works for everyone. Dampening that capitalistic spirit eventually will hurt us all.

After an economic downturn like we just had, 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.

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.

Europe's soul-crushing governments are destroying free-market entrepreneurship. And the malaise is coming our way.

At least the Irish have a tradition of drowning their sorrows. We just drown our nation in regulation, debt and crony capitalism instead of in 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

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