Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A few thoughts on the entrepreneur and promoting classical liberalism

In thinking about how to shape and style a classical liberalism for the 21st century I've come to believe that the entrepreneur and entrepreneurship can play an important role. The entrepreneur is the active, creative agent in our market economy and so encouraging entrepreneurship we make our society more dynamic and resilient. By championing entrepreneurship we can also champion the political, legal, and economic institutions, ideas, and attitudes that are necessary for a thriving entrepreneurial economy, and they just so happen to be the classical liberal institutions, ideas and attitudes. Entrepreneurship can be a vehicle for transcending political divisions since there are entrepreneurs and an interest in entrepreneurship among people of all political persuasions. It can serve as a means for reaching out to immigrants and of helping immigrants feel themselves to be a part of the American Experiment. Entrepreneurship allows us to frame individualist/classical liberal ideas in forward-looking/future-oriented fashion; but it can also serve to create a sense of continuity with American history by connecting with the entrepreneurs of the past. The entrepreneur is exercising individual initiative, creativity, resourcefulness, and the good old American can-do attitude. By championing entrepreneurship we champion these characteristics and encourage people to seek entrepreneurial solutions to our problems rather than governmental solutions. This is where the Strategic Citizen idea came from: an effort to find entrepreneurial solutions to the government's strategic communication problem. (In fact one of the names I was playing with was Strategic Entrepreneur.) So as we think about crafting a 21st century individualism/liberalism, the entrepreneur and entrepreneurship should play a central role in rhetoric and symbolism as well as in action. It allows us to frame classical liberal ideas in ways outside existing political rhetoric and to connect with people who may not otherwise be open to messages from conservatives and libertarians. And it gives people a mode of action to take on their own, independent of government, thus enriching and strengthening civil society.

2 comments:

Palimpsester said...

Is the main axis of your contrast between the progressives and the classicals the collectivist-individualist divide? I’m not educated on the distinctions between the two groups - is there a book or two that you can recommend on the contrasting mental maps of the progressives and the classicals?

It would appear to me that the only group serious about reigning in the size of government instead of just reigning is the libertarian one. Both US parties are into the power and control mindset in a big way.

Your desire to transcend “existing rhetoric” would certainly help your (5G warfare?) rule reset project. The current liberal/conservative rhetoric has been overgamed to such an extent that there is not much trusted space in the information marketplace of political dialog. A fresh rhetoric would allow ideas to be given some consideration. I would be open to such a rhetoric, while I would have a very difficult time trying to listen to concepts couched in the refrains of American conservatism.

How does an entrepreneuralist view the big transnational corporations? Like other transnational agencies from NGOs and SWFs to the rising regional organizations they cast a big shadow across the globe. Haven’t big business, big government, and big military all grown into a symbiotic collectivist circus?

One area that entrepreneuralists and strategic citizens would be able to stake out a productive claim is in the resilient community domain. Would entrepreneurs be the modern equivalent to the agrarians of yesteryear in the sense of local rootedness and community concern and orientation? Especially if we contrast them to the large corporate-government complex in post-Katrina America.

phil said...

Hey palimpsester,

"Is the main axis of your contrast between the progressives and the classicals the collectivist-individualist divide?"

I don't know if it is the "main axis" but it is a useful distinction. Classical liberalism and individualism are the same thing. It was opposed by a variety of collectivist ideologies: European conservatives, socialists, communists, fascists, authoritarian nationalists, American progressive/liberals and radical Islamists and who knows who will be next. But the real world is often very fuzzy so American progressive/liberals do have individualistic elements within their worldview.

"I'm not educated on the distinctions between the two groups - is there a book or two that you can recommend on the contrasting mental maps of the progressives and the classicals?"

I'm actually looking for that book myself. There are a few that I think are relevant:

Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology by Yehoshua Arieli.

Which is a great intellectual history of individualism in America.

One of my favorite books is Virginia Postrel's The Future and It's Enemies: The Growing Conflict over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress which uses the dynamists vs stasists rather than collectivists and individualists but it explores the same ideas.

"It would appear to me that the only group serious about reigning in the size of government instead of just reigning is the libertarian one. Both US parties are into the power and control mindset in a big way."

Yeah libertarians are serious about reigning in the size of government but they aren't willing to organize to actually achieve it. Libertarians have been making an excellent contribution in areas like legal and economic scholarship, but they are not in any real way a political movement. One of the things I admire about the left is their commitment to their ideals and their drive to organize, become activists, and use every medium available to champion their ideas. Libertarians don't have that same drive, and so you can't build a movement around them. This is why if we want to see the success of the classical liberal worldview then we have to devise a new approach and why we need to emphasize entrepreneurship.

"Your desire to transcend "existing rhetoric" would certainly help your (5G warfare?) rule reset project."

Yes. They are actually one and the same. But this is not about 5GW. I'm trying to think about this at a social-cultural level which informs policymaking and grand strategy which then utilizes the various components of national power which may include warfare in whatever forms and methods are available. But it is also something that bypasses the government middleman with regard to the Strategic Citizen idea which is not warfare at all but more a social-cultural movement.

"The current liberal/conservative rhetoric has been overgamed to such an extent that there is not much trusted space in the information marketplace of political dialog. A fresh rhetoric would allow ideas to be given some consideration. I would be open to such a rhetoric, while I would have a very difficult time trying to listen to concepts couched in the refrains of American conservatism."

Me too. But we have to create that rhetoric for ourselves. That is after all how new movements are created. People find the existing order unsatisfying and they start thinking about a different way of doing things and different way of conceiving of the possibilities and styles and visions of what can be.

"How does an entrepreneuralist view the big transnational corporations? Like other transnational agencies from NGOs and SWFs to the rising regional organizations they cast a big shadow across the globe. Haven't big business, big government, and big military all grown into a symbiotic collectivist circus?"

The way I see it, by promoting entrepreneurship we are promoting the creative source rather than specific institutions. If we create the political, legal and economic framework that is optimal for fostering entrepreneurship then it will act as a check on the efforts of existing businesses to rig the system in their favor. All businesses have an entrepreneurial origin, but big and small businesses too often have the inclination to use government and other means to stifle entrepreneurship and competition. Business rent-seeking is a problem that we have to solve. Promoting an entrepreneurial attitude and culture and building the appropriate institutional framework ensures that we have a never-ending flow of new businesses which should keep existing businesses on their toes otherwise they risk going out of business.

"One area that entrepreneuralists and strategic citizens would be able to stake out a productive claim is in the resilient community domain. Would entrepreneurs be the modern equivalent to the agrarians of yesteryear in the sense of local rootedness and community concern and orientation? Especially if we contrast them to the large corporate-government complex in post-Katrina America."

I certainly think that an entrepreneurial society is inherently more resilient than one that is not entrepreneurial. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "agrarians of yesteryear" but to take a stab at it I would say that we are far more connected than they were and that changes the entire range of possibilities. The opportunities available to us and our social organization are very different. However I do think that the agricultural age societies and our information-entrepreneurial-creative age society both share a tendency towards decentralization and individual autonomy which sets them both apart from the industrial age's tendency toward centralization, and big, hierarchical organizations and individual subordination. Perhaps in the earlier era the independent, self-reliant farmer was the symbol of the age whereas today it is the entrepreneur.