Last week I signed the Startup Europe manifesto, “A manifesto for entrepreneurship & innovation to power growth in the EU”, put together by a group of leading tech entrepreneurs in Europe. I did it because I am convinced that we need to fundamentally change our mind on how wealth is created and people get access to wealth, and because I think that in Europe –in the so called old continent– we need to fundamentally rethink the way we are doing certain things. Employment is one of them.
When talking about growth and employment, politicians stick to the same old recipes and continue to make the same old speeches and promises. This is frustrating. Many people still need to believe in those messages. They unconsciously think that when the dust of the present crisis settles, everything will be the same as before. Multinationals will flourish again to create millions of jobs, and governments will increase public spending to raise public employment. That won’t happen. A crisis is a turning point. After the crisis, the world won’t be exactly the same. Jobs in particular will not be falling from the sky. Neither government nor large businesses will create jobs enough for everyone for reasons that are reasonably well understood(1)
The days of relying on large businesses or the government for job creation are over. Many of the millions of jobs lost over the past five years will never return in their old form. Entrepreneurship, which has been the engine for growth in the United States, has not been cultivated in an effective or systematic way in Europe. To create more businesses and more startups requires more than a change in policy. It requires a change in mentality, (The Startup Manifesto)
You may well feel disappointed, feel that your older generation has betrayed you, that your government has failed. And yes, we have all failed to a certain extent and governments have failed to a large extent. However this is not the whole story and, as the saying goes, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Because if you think carefully, why do we want jobs for? We want a life, an aim. A job can be both a means (to earn a living) and an end (a way to fulfil your life), but make no mistake: most jobs are but a means to an end.
And who wants a meaningless job? A job created because employment is the only means by which humans can earn the right to live? A job created because it is the only way we have to share wealth? Do you actually want a nega-job? As Anaïs Nin wrote:
There is an ugliness in being paid for work one does not like, (The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944)
We have now a unique opportunity to change the way young people and anyone who’s young at heart, create and gain access to wealth; the opportunity to imagine our own contribution to society, and to capitalize directly on the value we create: the opportunity to be entrepreneurs, owners of our own business. The internet economy is certainly making this possible for a much greater number of people. However, in Europe it is not happening enough yet:
Entrepreneurship, which has been the engine for growth in the United States, has not been cultivated in an effective or systematic way in Europe. To create more businesses and more start-ups requires more than a change in policy. It requires a change in mentality, (The Startup Manifesto)
I want to be clear: entrepreneurship is no silver bullet. Today, entrepreneurs are seen as global heroes, and entrepreneurship as a sort of modern-day philosopher’s stone. Governments and political leaders on the left and on the right, support it. And certainly a shortage of entrepreneurs in Europe can help explain why Europe is losing ground to other economies. However, the required change in mentality is by no means an easy to swallow pill. Entrepreneurs thrive on disruption and inequality. The wealth they generate in America makes the country more unequal. Wealth and inequality go hand in hand. There are winners but also losers. “One size fits all” capitalism has not yet invented. (Joseph Schumpeter warned that the bureaucratisation of capitalism was killing the spirit of entrepreneurship.) Entrepreneurship and innovation are powerful transformation forces, yet difficult to tame. Policy-makers who genuinely want to foster entrepreneurship should focus on removing barriers and stay aside, and they must recognise the importance of the profit motive. An entrepreneur is not exactly the same than a philanthropist. This is not the story politicians love to tell.
So let me then tell you why I ultimately think we need more entrepreneurs: I personally know young and not so young people who are working in their own projects, starting their own businesses. When you look into their eyes and feel their energy, you understand that there is no match to what it means to have an idea and the determination to make it bloom. I look back at the moment when I was young, and I wish I had had the know-how and the proper environment to have had entrepreneurship as an option. I did not even consider that possibility simply because it was not “in the air”. Today, I consider myself fortunate because I love the work I am doing, but I would have liked to have pondered just one option more when I was starting myself.
I now see this opportunity and I wish it became a real option for everyone. Then, we need to ask our dear governments and political leaders: please, stop making void promises about jobs and employment and do your homework. No more job creation programmes by employers of last resort. No more meaningless jobs. Go create the conditions to make it possible for me to start my own way of living.
Can you imagine that? No more bosses, no more autocratic and rationed access to wealth. There is no match for this. Let’s overcome a Marxian fate of alienation! And let’s start building a new and better Europe. It is high time.
(1) Recoveries are increasingly becoming “jobless” due to firm restructuring, skill and geographic mismatches between workers and jobs, and sharp decline in new start-ups, (McKinsey Global Institute “An economy that works: Job creation and America’s future”). You can also see, for example, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee “Race Against The Machine“, Digital Frontier Press, October 2011.
Featured Image: The Leaders Group