Renewing our entrepreneurial democracy

Capitalism is in the doghouse. And who is surprised? The papers are full of billionaires behaving badly, dodging taxes, and squeezing wages while the doomsayers reassure us, the worst is yet to come.

The alarmists cheerfully forecast a ‘robo-revolution’ to wipe out the last of well-paid work, while former US Treasury secretary, Larry Summers, says we are mired in an age of ‘secular stagnation’. The author Robert Gordon has even written a big book called: ‘The Rise and Fall of American Growth’. Its message is plain and simple: our best days are behind us. The golden era of wealth changing inventions is gone, never to return. Who can blame the voters desperately searching for radical answers, from Donald Trump to Brexit?

Our problems run deep. The last twenty years of globalisation has produced a world of rich elites and remote elites. Neither serve us well. Giant corporations, bigger than countries, now dominate the commanding heights of the global economy. Yet big companies in Britain are sitting on an unbelievable £522bn in cash – sitting there, doing very little. Even Larry Fink, head of Black Rock, the world’s largest investment firm, says the world’s mega-corporations are failing to invest in new jobs and new industries.

Now some, like writers Paul Mason and Jeremy Rivkin reassure us ‘post-capitalism’ is coming; sunlight uplands of 3D printers and the ‘internet of things’ where we can live as techno-hunter-gatherers. I think there is a better lesson from our history. We need a better capitalist – and they are called entrepreneurs.

In my epic new history of British capitalism, Dragons, published today, I show how this country was built and rebuilt by some of the greatest innovators on earth. Today, theirs are the ‘animal spirits’ we need to power an entrepreneurial surge that creates new industries – in big data, cyber-security, genetic science, and the internet of things ­– new jobs, new wealth and new possibilities.

This will not happen by magic. Down the ages, entrepreneurs do best when institutions are strong and government is helpful. In Britain, we have got some good foundations – but we have some big challenges too. Over one million people have left Britain’s enterprise economy in the last three years alone.

So in the next Queen’s speech, we need a plan to boost Britain’s enterprise economy. We need more help to teach our children enterprise skills at school. We need new answers to the old problem of start-up finance. And crucially, government needs to step up to supporting high-tech firms with contracts. We need big increases in science investment.

The key lesson from the past is simple. Entrepreneurs make history by inventing the future. So, let’s not to ‘sack the capitalist’. Let’s encourage new ones.

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Liam Byrne is member of parliament for Hodge Hill. Dragons: Ten Entrepreneurs Who Built Britain by Liam Byrne is published by Head of Zeus today.

You can also watch the Royal Society of Arts debate Liam took part in about entrepreneurialism to launch Dragons here.

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