A while ago, I blogged on the decline of Microsoft (http://blog.drosenassoc.com/?p=42). Lately, many people have asked me about the current debt crisis, followed by the S&P downgrade of US credit. There are striking similarities.
Until about 20 years ago, for over 200 years, the US has been in a building mode. We have created the economic engine that fueled world growth, established an education system that was the envy of the world, a climate and legal structure that allowed great entrepreneurs to create companies that were the envy of the world. Even when faced with extraordinary challenges, like the great depression or the world wars, we were able to overcome these challenges.
Just as with businesses, in times of plenty, it is incumbent upon a business (or society) to put aside for the lean times. (I won’t cite Biblical references here, but they are obvious.) Since WWII, we have had numerous times of plenty. In the late 40s and early 50s, as a county we hugely increased our infrastructure (think the Interstate highways), invested heavily in universities (which have been the envy of the world and fueled much of our entrepreneurial growth), and through the concomitant consumer spending, created a surge in our standard of living. Many of these improvements allowed us to weather some of the storms that followed. With confidence, we strode into space landing on the moon, created the Internet and countless other platforms that fuel global innovation.
But, our generation seems to have lost sight of what is really important. We have spent with reckless abandon. We have made poor strategic decisions. We, as a society and management team (the political leaders we elected) made bad strategic decisions. If we were a company, our stock would be trading at record lows and our investors would be clamoring for a change of leadership. But we have lacked the will and foresight, not to mention the systemic governance issues that prevent truly innovative leadership from coming to power. We need to make changes in the way we are run.
We are negligent for not having done this in the US. And, despite politicians’ desire for reelection demanding that they give us a silver bullet, there is no silver bullet! It took 20 years to make this problem 20 years of lack of political will to curb spending and live within our means. But, just as I suggested with Microsoft, there are reasonable long-term solutions.
From my point of view, the solution is to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that is embodied in the startups. This is where the economic growth, job creation, and invigoration of our society can come from. In a very specific sense, legislation before congress, like Senate Bill S256 “American Opportunity Act of 2011” (http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-s256/text), sponsored by Senators Mark Pryor and Scott Brown that gives a 25% tax credit to angel investors; when similar legislation was enacted in other places, dramatic increases in angel investing and increased tax revenues have resulted. Another example are the proposed changes to IRS Section 1202, exemption for gains on qualified small business gains, which will give 100% exclusion of capital gains for angel investment.
These actions will spur angel investing in those high-growth startups that will ultimately move the economy. While modest in cost, they could be large in impact.