Is America at an entrepreneurial crossroads?
A post by Jonathan Ortmans, president of the Public Forum Institute, at Entrepreneurship.org led me to reflect on the changes we are seeing being ushered in America. Ortmans made the following observation:
"We have long been aware that American education is struggling to stay competitive. We also know that the development of entrepreneurial skills, such as opportunity recognition and prudent risk taking, are not prioritized in most U.S. educational institutions. Developing tomorrow's talented, capable innovators is a challenge that will require entrepreneurially-driven improvements in education at all levels.
"Programs that introduce students to the possibilities of business creation are few, but they have proven that they can open up new horizons for talented kids and unleash an entrepreneurial drive would otherwise lay dormant."
But just where does the American entrepreneurial drive that we take for granted come from? What is the source of the entrepreneurial flame that burns so brightly in the students who come to programs like ours at Belmont? The answer is our culture.
Since our founding, our culture was fostered by our freedoms. We created an economy based on economic freedom that rewarded self-reliance and ingenuity, rather than family power and birthrights as had been so common in the histories of our founding fathers and mothers.
Ours was this economic system that shaped our values over the generations. We celebrated those who succeeded, holding them up as icons of what was possible for all of our citizens.
Even recently we added the likes of Hewlett and Packard starting an industrial empire out of their garage into the stories that informed our culture. Even more recently the stories of technology companies like Dell that started in college dormitories to our folklore.
But now our public policy is moving toward the next stage of a fundamental shift that threatens this part of our culture. We are seeing self-reliance being replaced by entitlement. We are seeing the creation of wealth and economic success being vilified. Property and wealth are no longer things created out of nothing by entrepreneurial individuals seeking opportunity in the market, but public goods to be doled out by government and its armies of bureaucrats.
I fear that the current generation coming into the workforce -- the so-called Entrepreneurial Generation -- may be the beginning of the end.
The children being born today will know an America where society and government are expected to provide for them and to solve their every problem.
I truly fear that the entrepreneurial flame that has burned so brightly in this country will begin to dim.
Those of us who teach entrepreneurship cannot ever teach the entrepreneurial drive and the spirit of free enterprise. I am only successful because those who come to our program have that drive deep in their core values.
I can teach how to evaluate opportunities in the market, but I cannot instill the drive to do so. I can teach how to assess and manage risk, but I cannot build a class to train students to have the entrepreneurial spirit that seeks the rewards that come from risk-taking.
Entrepreneurship will not go away, but it will not be the fundamental part of our culture and our economy that it has been in the past.
There is still time to protect the entrepreneurial flame, but it is already beginning to flicker.
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