The first Democratic debate of 2020 is next week: Guess what won’t be talked about?

The DNC, and most of the candidates, choose to ignore entrepreneurship

Photo by Laurie Shaull

by Dane Stangler, PPI Director of Policy Innovation

The Democratic presidential field continues to be in flux, with Julian Castro dropping out and Michael Bloomberg ramping up his campaign. Participation in the January 14th debate is, as of yesterday, limited to just five candidates. Those five — Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders — have hit the polling and donation thresholds to qualify.

The narrowing is unsurprising, but unfortunate in many respects. The biggest is that it means the debate likely won’t include much mention of one of the most important economic issues facing the country. What’s that?

Declining business creation and overall economic dynamism.

Next week, the Progressive Policy Institute will release a report that reviews the entrepreneurship policies (such as they are) for every remaining candidate. Of the five candidates who, so far, will be taking the stage next week, only Sen. Klobuchar receives high marks. This is largely based not on rhetorical promises but her demonstrated commitment to action. Klobuchar has been one of the most active legislative advocates for entrepreneurship in Washington the last few years.

Some of the other candidates have policy plans on their websites that pledge to help entrepreneurs or small businesses. But they have mostly competed to bash business as much as possible — not exactly an encouraging signal to an aspiring entrepreneur in Dayton or Des Moines. If “wealth” is consistently mentioned on the campaign trail not as something to be created by startup firms but as something to be attacked and taxed, would you start a new company?

During the December debate, the word “entrepreneurship” was spoken only once — by Andrew Yang in reference to himself. Sen. Warren did mention the need to reduce student debt so Americans could “start a small business.” And … that’s it. Exacerbating this near silence is exclusion from the debates of those candidates who actually appear to be the most pro-entrepreneur. Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. John Delaney, for example, have spoken the most about entrepreneurship, but they were not allowed to participate in the December debate.

Why does this matter?

Because the United States is enduring what some researchers call a “startup deficit.” Business creation, by most measures, is at historically low levels. High-growth firms — which contribute disproportionately to job creation, productivity, and innovation — have grown rarer. And those high-growth firms that do exist are not growing as fast as their predecessors in prior decades. Other indicators of what economists call “business dynamism” also show declines. (Next week’s report will canvass the relevant data and research — as well as the potential causes.)

Perhaps many of the leading Democratic candidates are engaging in some sort of clever method acting stunt: “if business creation is diminished, we can convey our concern by just not talking about it.”

Here’s an idea the Democratic National Committee might want to consider. Instead of limiting participation and visibility to polling and donation thresholds, create a debate stage that includes those who actually recognize the importance of entrepreneurship and talk about how to encourage more of it.

Who wouldn’t make the cut? Here’s a hint: some of the purported frontrunners.

Progressive Policy Institute

Written by

Radically Pragmatic. We seek to advance progressive, market-friendly ideas that promote American innovation, economic growth, and wider opportunity.

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