I spent last week in Denmark at a conference dealing with International Law Business and Technology issues. (You can access the website here: http://iblt.eu) I had some great times with friends, met some new friends, and learned much. Over the next few days, I intend to share a few observations.
Let me begin with an observation about the European Union. One of the benefits that this conference offered was the opportunity to hear from policymakers and advisors in various E.U. commissions. One of them spoke on the topic of policies designed to promote the business environment.
One of the chief aims of the E.U. was to provide economic advantages to its members by developing a broader economic market, as well as by helping its members to compete abroad. Just as we are concerned about job growth and global competition, EU members are also concerned. The EU economy has grown at a tepid rate since 2001, and they are concerned about keeping up with their competitors. Growing the economy and the standard of living of its citizens requires economic growth, and that is focusing attention on a number of measures.
Small and medium sized entitites (SMEs) get a lot of attention, as there is the belief in the EU that these enterprises offer much hope for economic growth. Just as job growth in the United States has benefitted from entrepreneurial spirit, EU officials are seeking to cultivate that spirit in their people. Barriers include such matters as government regulation, high tax rates, and more stringent bankruptcy laws than found on the U.S. Where businesses are already formed, some conference participants expressed concerns about succession, including inheritance taxes.
Thus, I found myself quite at home with these folks seeking to cultivate entrepreneurialism and risk-taking. However, I return to the United States with the reality of a newly elected Congress that seems less concerned about cultivating an environment of risk-taking and rewards, to one which is regressing. Prospects of higher tax rates and more regulation are on the horizon. Instead of free trade, we are experiencing political rhetoric about protecting U.S. jobs and restricting trade. Query: which world view will win out? Can the EU successfully generate entrepreneurial investments and attitudes? And can the U.S. resist the desire to be more like the Europeans, at least as they once were?
Some readers will find it encouraging to note that the book I heard mentioned most frequently among conference participants -- which spanned some 38 countries -- was Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat". People are recognizing that trade is going to occur, and that there is little that can be done to change that. Thus, the shakers and movers in society are thinking about how to adapt and succeed. Keep that in mind as the new year unfolds.