I started out as a secretary for a small business that employed nine people. Most Americans start the same way. Women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and wave after wave of immigrants have begun their ascent on the ladder of the “American Dream” in a small business.
And while every small business doesn’t turn into a Google, the local car dealerships, restaurants, real-estate brokers, auto-repair and dry-cleaners are the foundation of our communities. Small businesses are responsible for the net new job creation of our nation over the last 40 years. America was built by innovators, risk-takers, entrepreneurs and dreamers.
So when we examine the health of our economy, we must start by asking how small business is faring. The answer: not well. More small businesses are failing and fewer are starting than at any point in the last 40 years. We are slowly undermining the entrepreneurial foundation of our country. Why? Because our tax code and regulatory structures have been written, negotiated and gerrymandered by big business, big labor, and big government.
The thicket of complexity has become too impenetrable to navigate for too many. We should lower all tax rates (we now have the highest business tax rate in the world), close all loopholes (which will raise revenues and increase the effective rates for the wealthiest 1 percent) and make sure that anyone can fill out a tax return for their business without the help of a professional accountant, lawyer or spreadsheet for hire. We should systematically go through every regulation on the books and eliminate every one that harms small business creation. Our whole perspective in Washington should change to one which starts with the entrepreneur in mind.
Over our history there have been two other fundamental lynchpins of American prosperity: rising levels of education and leadership in key industries. America continues to lag in both the quality and quantity of education we provide. The result today is many employers with jobs to fill cannot find enough qualified Americans to fill them. With 5.5 million Americans unemployed, this is a tragedy.
We can only solve this problem by taking a long-term view and fundamentally overhauling our educational system to bring it into the modern, 21st century world where any job can go anywhere to find a qualified employee. The vested interests that fight to maintain the status quo of our education system are costing too many Americans a chance at a job.
Finally, we must lead in the industries that will define our times and create the best jobs of the 21st century: information technology, health and bio-technology, energy and space. This requires government investment in basic research, a regulatory environment that encourages risk-taking and innovation in these sectors, and the political will to achieve American leadership.
Budget reform and entitlement reform are fundamental pre-requisites to any “built-to-last” recovery. These reforms will be both hugely difficult and hugely important. But neither will help lift an American out of poverty. Neither will help build our middle-class. Only a job, an education, and American economic leadership can do that.
Carly Fiorina is the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and co-chair of Mitt Romney’s California campaign.