Right to Work 2.0
Over the past three decades, new business creation and economic growth in the United States have stagnated. We've now come to believe that 2 percent annual economic growth is the "new normal." Accepting this malaise is neither consistent with the American spirit nor healthy for the country. We need to devise a new system in which entrepreneurs thrive on the merits of their ideas, not fail because an outdated system dooms them to the dustbin of history.
That is why today, Lincoln Labs, a liberty-focused technology and thought-leadership group, is releasing an economic study — "Lobbying for the Future." In the paper we examine the reasons American growth has ground to a halt and what we can and should do about it. We believe there are three core reasons for the sclerotic nature of our economic system:
1. Entrenched Interests: It is no secret that large companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in the halls of power — be it the statehouse or Capitol Hill. More often than not, armies of lobbyists are deployed not to crack open a new market or pave the way for innovation, but to protect a product or service from competition. The status quo is too often seen as the preferred and proper state, for lobbyists, legislators, and bureaucrats alike.
2. Resting on our Laurels: The United States has been responsible for more technological innovation and economic growth than any other nation in recorded human history. But after more than a century of leading the way on new, different, and better ways to do things, we've become complacent — allowing our past success to satisfy us. We need to recapture the entrepreneurial and creative spirit that made America an economic engine for so long.
3. Sunk Costs: In the process of creating modern America, government and industry alike have made untold amounts of investment in infrastructure, from the Federal Highway System to the ubiquitous telephone polls that still dot the American landscape. Having spent billions upon billions of dollars, it is often difficult for old-line entities to accept that there are new, better, cheaper and more efficient ways to operate.
We want to create Right to Work 2.0. Where traditional right-to-work refers to whether or not an employee must join or pay fees to a union, our concept expands this idea to entrepreneurs and individuals with new and innovative ideas.
Right to Work 2.0 would allow people to start a new business without permission from government regulators, thereby reducing costs to both the state and the operator, saving workers money, increasing freedom of choice, and fostering innovation. There are three fundamental components of making this concept a reality.
State, local, and federal government spending represents an estimated $6.2 trillion marketplace. As they produce no goods or professional services on their own, governments are constantly in acquisition mode. However, the way in which government bureaucracies operate is long overdue for an overhaul.
Unlike the private sector, which is always looking for more efficient and cheaper ways to do business, governments operate singularly inefficient systems to provide services to its customers (citizens) and obtain necessary hardware. Few companies in the private sector would tolerate, or be able to afford, a procurement system that rewarded a solid lobbying effort over the best, most cost-effective product available. This is a daily occurrence in government.
Similarly, the American intellectual-property system is in desperate need of updating. This system is failing in its constitutionally mandated role of promoting the "progress of the sciences and useful arts."
Instead of issuing patents for only new and useful ideas, the system is being clogged by legacy market participants first and foremost concerned with maintaining their primacy. This was not the reason the Founders enshrined patents in the Constitution, and we should return to their original vision. Doing so would allow high-quality patents to facilitate innovation while preventing "patent trolls" from wreaking havoc on the innovation economy.
Long a rallying cry of conservative politicians, regulatory reform is an essential component to moving the United States economy into the 21st century. We should immediately create a National Innovation Commission, to study the entire (and enormous) body of regulation and administrative rulemaking. Everyday, federal agencies issue new guidelines, with the force of law, that make it more difficult for startups and entrepreneurs to realize their vision. Like the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) before it, the Innovation Commission would assemble a voluminous list of laws and regulations to be repealed and then put it before Congress for an up or down vote.
The recommendations we make today are designed to upset the status quo in Washington and state capitols around the country. As members of the technology community, we know what it takes to take an idea from inception to execution. We've seen what outdated regulation and disinterested bureaucrats can do to a new concept. We believe that now is the time to begin implementing significant reform, and thereby unleashing the power of small businesses around the country — the group that has always been the backbone of the American economy, and should continue to be into the future.
Chris Abrams, a software engineer, is a co-founder and chief technology officer of Lincoln Labs.