The Chris Dodd Strangle Entrepreneurship Act, or, Where’s Creative Destruction When You Need It?

5 April 2010 at 8:40 pm 2 comments

| Craig Pirrong |

Back in January, Tool Time star Tom Friedman lamented that Mr. Cool had turned his back on the “amazing, young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots movement he mobilized to get elected.” Friedman all but begged Obama to spur entrepreneurship and innovation:

Obama should launch his own moon shot. What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more stimulation. We need to get millions of American kids, not just the geniuses, excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again. We need to make 2010 what Obama should have made 2009: the year of innovation, the year of making our pie bigger, the year of “Start-Up America.”

How’s that working out for you, Tom? With all the taxes on capital in the health care law, and the implicit tax on business expansion in the law (e.g., insurance mandates on companies with more than 50 employees), and all the taxes to come (there are murmurs of a VAT), it is becoming the year of Shut-Down America. The whole Obama program is poison to entrepreneurship.

And that’s just the start. Dodd’s banking bill explicitly targets startups:

Dodd’s bill would require startups raising funding to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and then wait 120 days for the S.E.C. to review their filing. A second provision raises the wealth requirements for an “accredited investor” who can invest in startups — if the bill passes, investors would need assets of more than $2.3 million (up from $1 million) or income of more than $450,000 (up from $250,000). The third restriction removes the federal pre-emption allowing angel and venture financing in the United States to follow federal regulations, rather than face different rules between states.

And just what are the apparatchiks in the SEC going to do in that 120 days? Just what knowledge and expertise can they bring to bear in evaluating the funding plans? The question answers itself; this adds costs and delay, for no perceivable benefit. And what reason is there to restrict the free flow of capital from consenting adults with over $1mm to startups?

The American system of financing entrepreneurial startups is one of the world’s wonders. It has played a central role in stimulating amazing technological innovation that has brought us amazing new products and contributed to substantial productivity growth in the 1990s and 2000s. It is in no way implicated in the financial crisis.

So if it ain’t broke, why mess with it?  [That’s the family friendly version.]

As Mrs. SWP says, this is so European, which makes it part of a trend.

The most fascinating question is the political economy one: whose interest is served by this provision? The most likely explanation is that incumbents — including, no doubt, one-time startups — having made theirs prefer to make it harder for others to displace them.  They liked creative destruction on the way up, but the idea of being swept away in some future gale is far less appealing. So hobble potential future competitors, future creative destroyers, by increasing the costs startups incur to raise capital. This pernicious provision also gives advantages to big investors, venture capitalists, and existing companies who would face less competition in supplying capital to potential startups.

As Lily Tomlin said: “No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up.”

Entry filed under: Bailout / Financial Crisis, Entrepreneurship, Financial Markets, Former Guest Bloggers, Innovation.

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