[Note: This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis. DLH]
Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial
Research shows that when governments provide citizens with economic security, they embolden them to take more risks.
By WALTER FRICK
Mar 26 2015
In 1988, Ronald Reagan traveled to the Soviet Union and gave a speech at Moscow State University, making the case for capitalism. America’s secret, he argued, was its entrepreneurs, whose “courage to take risks” was responsible “for almost all the economic growth in the United States” and much of its technological edge. This risk-taking was made possible, he continued, by economic freedom, which he associated with “limited, unintrusive”government.
Reagan was right about the link between startups and growth, but wrong in assuming that small government was the way to encourage them.
His belief in a tradeoff between taking care of citizens and promoting innovative new businesses is at odds with the evidence. In fact, one way to get more people to start companies, according to a growing body of research, is to expand the welfare state.
Pundits and researchers often note the negative correlation between government spending and entrepreneurship, both within the U.S. and internationally, and conclude that growth requires trimming social welfare programs. Jim Manzi of the National Review, for example, a thoughtful commenter on economic policy, wrote last year that, “we must accept some amount of social dislocation in return for innovation.” But correlations can be misleading. A series of more recent studies challenge the view that larger or more activist government necessarily threatens entrepreneurship. In fact, that may get the relationship precisely backwards.
Entrepreneurs are actually more likely than other Americans to receive public benefits, after accounting for income, as Harvard Business School’s Gareth Olds has documented. And in many cases, expanding benefit programs helps spur new business creation.
Take food stamps. Conservatives have long argued that they breed dependence on government. In a 2014 paper, Olds examined the link between entrepreneurship and food stamps, and found that the expansion of the program in some states in the early 2000s increased the chance that newly eligible households would own an incorporated business by 16 percent. (Incorporated firms are a better proxy for job-creating startups than unincorporated ones.)
Interestingly, most of these new entrepreneurs didn’t actually enroll in the food stamp program. It seems that expanding the availability of food stamps increased business formation by making it less risky for entrepreneurs to strike out on their own. Simply knowing that they could fall back on food stamps if their venture failed was enough to make them more likely to take risks.
Food stamps are not an isolated case. In another paper, Olds looked at the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which offers publicly funded health insurance for kids whose families don’t qualify for Medicaid. By comparing the rate of entrepreneurship of those who just barely qualified for CHIP to those whose incomes just barely exceeded the cutoff, he was able to estimate the program’s impact on new business creation. The rate of incorporated business ownership for those eligible households just below the cutoff was 31 percent greater than for similarly situated families that could not rely on CHIP to care for their children if they needed it.
The same is true of recent immigrants to the United States. Contrary to claims by the right that welfare keeps immigrants from living up to their historic role as entrepreneurs, CHIP eligibility increased those households’ chances of owning an incorporated business by 28 percent.
The mechanism in each case is the same: publicly funded insurance lowers the risk of starting a business, since entrepreneurs needn’t fear financial ruin. (This same logic explains why more forgiving bankruptcy laws are associated with more entrepreneurship.)
A 2010 study by RAND found a similar effect with Medicare. American men were more likely to start a business just after turning 65 and qualifying for Medicare than just before. Here again, government can make entrepreneurship more appealing by making it less risky. By this logic, Obamacare doubles as entrepreneurship policy by making it easier for individuals to gain health insurance without relying on an employer.