As one looks around the economic landscape I am struck by the devastation. One number stands out above all others. One in five males between the ages of 25 and 55 is out of work! That is a staggering number. The numbers are not going back to anything “normal” anytime soon according to the IMF. Financial crises followed by recessions do not return to normal levels of employment for over a decade. Why you might ask? The answer I guess is that the levels of debt need to be worked down. Everyone owes everyone money and none pay anyone. Second, the recession destroys real capital. In this situation it was housing. It will take years to work off the excesses of the housing crisis.
So what does entrepreneurship have to do with the recession? If we take what we know today, entrepreneurs and innovation play a vital role in the economy. But can they help us in the great recession? In other words, what policy should we be pursuing to move the unemployment rate below 10 percent and back into the neighborhood of 5 percent? We know that new firms are important. They create most of the net jobs. However, only a small percent, perhaps 4 percent, create almost all of the jobs in any given four-year period. And this seems to hold up in different times, different countries, and different industries.
So how do we forge a policy? Two stories are told out there. First we know that age and size are important variables. And we know that age appears to be more important than size. In other words, we should target firms based on age not size. The two stories out there are one by Zoltan Acs and the other by Carl Schramm. In a highly influential study, Acs found that the average high impact firm was about 20 years old and came in all sizes, small, medium, and large. Schramm, on the other hand, using a Census Bureau study, found that firms less than five years old created almost all of the jobs independent of size. They both cannot be right.
However, if we are interested in short-term policy solutions and not real economic growth, we should help stimulate solo self-employed. They have a start-up rate that is three times as large as firms with employees. They start easily but also go out of business quickly. So an effective policy would be to make it easier for them to stay in business longer.
A simple policy would be to cut the self-employment tax, not over 15 percent of all new solo self-employed firms to zero for three years. If they hired any employees we should cut the employer share 7.5 percent for three years also. This would greatly increase the survival rate for these new firms. Of course this is not a long-term solution because many of these firm will contribute very little to productivity, economies of scale, or wealth creation. But they will pull down the unemployment rate.
The impact on the deficit would not be great since many of these people would not have survived to pay payroll taxes anyway. Once the economy picks up the issue of long-run growth can be addressed. But in the short run, let’s get people working.