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Opinion: What if our politicians were more like entrepreneurs?

The contrast between entrepreneurs seeking to delight customers and politicians seeking to lock in power is too stark to ignore

Politicians struggle mightily when addressing the kinds of challenges entrepreneurs face every day
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Politicians struggle mightily when addressing the kinds of challenges entrepreneurs face every day. As political leaders ignore how entrepreneurs create value for consumers, jobs for employees and returns to investors, I can’t help longing for an entrepreneurial intervention — and soon.

Having taught thousands of would-be entrepreneurs, I can attest to how well the successful ones prioritize actions, assemble limited resources and engineer outcomes for which they expect to be held accountable.

Faced with similar uncertainties and constraints, politicians tend to prioritize their own reelections. Dividing the body politic at a time most Americans long for unity, they stoke outrage around divisive narratives. By cobbling together voter coalitions (by race, age, gender and ideology), they seek reelection. And why not? Such a formula is known to keep incumbents in office 95% of the time.

The contrast between entrepreneurs seeking to delight customers and politicians seeking to lock in power is too stark to ignore. By simply asking “cui bono,” for example, no entrepreneur would prioritize “defunding the police,” “dismantling the nuclear family,” or “paying reparations” for past grievances. Nor would any entrepreneur permit the enrichment of cartels for sex trafficking, importing fentanyl and transporting unaccompanied minors into American cities struggling to recover from a pandemic.

So, rather than amplify grievances, promote victimhood or sow division, entrepreneurs, would prioritize action where the value of benefits vastly exceeds their cost. Presently, this would lead to four areas of focus, each of which already enjoys significant tailwinds:

  1. Universal school choice: As the 21st century’s most pressing social justice issue, entrepreneurs would get all our kids back in school, pay our best teachers more, retire our bad ones, eliminate tenure and make it easier to develop charter schools. Indeed, entrepreneurs would see as malpractice the continuing failure to fix what is so clearly at the heart of social injustice.
  2. Expanded opportunity zones: With inner city economic growth likewise a source of social ills, entrepreneurs would secure tax-advantaged capital for inner-city development and provide police protection for poor communities. While beyond the scope of this editorial, practical entrepreneurs would know that without both, economic development — with all of its social implications — will remain elusive.
  3. Affordable housing: Because housing shortages are largely derivative of governmental meddling (see Thomas Sowell’s “The Housing Boom and Bust,” 2010), street-smart entrepreneurs would relax rent controls, regulations and restrictions to allow free market efficiency to reassert itself. This would not only expand available housing stock; it would also begin to address the corruption that afflicts mismanaged cities.
  4. Jobs: Since “reshoring” manufacturing activity has enormous potential for job formation (as it increases our national security), savvy entrepreneurs would move immediately to repatriate strategic supply chains.

To avoid a replay of the grandiose and ill-conceived $22 trillion 1960’s launch of the War on Poverty, numerate entrepreneurs would insist on best practice disciplines. Starting with understanding the mistakes of failed attempts at social engineering, they would replace seeking to address any injustice suffered by past generations with providing opportunity for their descendants. Thus, they would prioritizing schools, inner-city neighborhoods, housing and jobs.

Setting great objectives is only the beginning, however. Delivering superior results depends on honoring time-tested management disciplines, including:

  1. Treating inflation as an unfair tax on those least able to pay it.
  2. Understanding that debt is a mortgage on future generations.
  3. Accepting that local direction works better than “central” control.
  4. Requiring that outcomes be measured by on-time and on-budget deliverables.

In other words, entrepreneurs, unlike those politicians who have neither met a payroll nor managed a project, would avoid today’s misguided instincts to borrow and spend as if it were an answer to society’s issues and opportunities.

Sending to Congress those with an entrepreneurial mindset may be America’s last hope for fixing education, the job market, the economy and housing. If citizens want a sustainably free, safe and prosperous society as our population grows, becomes more diverse and is increasingly interdependent, identity politics must give way to the practical disciplines of entrepreneurial leadership.

And this can’t come soon enough.

Joel Peterson is the author of “Entrepreneurial Leadership: The Art of Launching New Ventures, Inspiring Others, and Running Stuff,” the Robert L. Joss professor of management and the former chairman of JetBlue Airways.