Monday, May 19, 2008

"The World's First Entrepreneurial Nation"

MICHAEL S. MALONE has an essay in the WSJ that really captures the spirit of entrepreneurship as a larger social phenomena that I have been trying to articulate in many of my posts. I have said again and again that we live in a time of great opportunities. That entrepreneurship is the creative force in civilization. That classical liberals need to recognize the cultural moment that is arising and to prepare to take advantage of it. Classical liberalism provides the political, legal, economic framework that is optimal for a thriving, dynamic entrepreneurial society. This is our moment and we need to creatively articulate the classical liberal worldview for our 21st century entrepreneurial age (all emphasis mine):

And the United States, once again at the vanguard, is on the verge of becoming the world's first Entrepreneurial Nation.
What Turner couldn't guess was that the unexplored prairie would become the uninvented new product, the unexploited new market and the untried new business plan.

Entrepreneurship is the never-ending frontier and the entrepreneur is the ultimate frontiersman.

The great new American frontiers proved to be those of business, science and technology.

But also the arts, film, literature, glass blowing and other successful efforts to entrepreneurialize human creativity.

Yet it is becoming increasingly apparent that the cultural underpinnings of these activities have changed in some fundamental way.

Yes, there are underlying cultural changes underway that will transform our society. We need to both encourage these changes for their own sake but also as classical liberals to see the wave that is coming and ride it to reform our existing institutions and invent new institutions.

We still have schools, but a growing number of our children are studying at home or attending private schools – and those in public schools are doing ever more amounts of their class work on the Internet.

We still have companies and corporations, but now they are virtualized, with online work teams handing off assignments to each other 24/7 around the world. Men and women go to work, but the office is increasingly likely to be in the den. In 2005, an Intel survey of its employees found that nearly 20% of its professionals had never met their boss face-to-face. Half of them never expected to. Last summer, when the Media X institute at Stanford extended that survey to IBM, Sun, HP, Microsoft and Cisco, the percentages turned out to be even greater.

Newspapers are dying, networks are dying, and if teenage boys playing GTA 4 and World of Warcraft have any say about it, so is television. More than 200 million people now belong to just two social networks: MySpace and Facebook. And there are more than 80 million videos on YouTube, all put there by the same individual initiative.

The most compelling statistic of all? Half of all new college graduates now believe that self-employment is more secure than a full-time job. Today, 80% of the colleges and universities in the U.S. now offer courses on entrepreneurship; 60% of Gen Y business owners consider themselves to be serial entrepreneurs, according to Inc. magazine. Tellingly, 18 to 24-year-olds are starting companies at a faster rate than 35 to 44-year-olds. And 70% of today's high schoolers intend to start their own companies, according to a Gallup poll.

An upcoming wave of new workers in our society will never work for an established company if they can help it. To them, having a traditional job is one of the biggest career failures they can imagine.

This is the "perfect storm" of opportunities for classical liberals. The classical liberal philosophy is the philosophy of an entrepreneurial society. We need to articulate classical liberal ideas in terms relevant to our time, that will appeal to this "upcoming wave of new workers".

Much of childhood today is spent, not in organized sports or organizations, but in ad hoc teams playing online games such as Half Life, or competing in robotics tournaments, or in constructing and decorating MySpace pages. Without knowing it, we have been training a whole generation of young entrepreneurs.

And who is going to dissuade them? Mom, who is a self-employed consultant working out of the spare bedroom? Or Dad, who is at Starbuck's working on the spreadsheet of his new business plan?

In the past there have been trading states like Venice, commercial regions like the Hanseatic League, and even so-called nations of shopkeepers. But there has never been a nation in which the dominant paradigm is entrepreneurship. Not just self-employment or sole proprietorship, but serial company-building, entire careers built on perpetual change, independence and the endless pursuit of the next opportunity.
Without noticing it, we have once again discovered, and then raced off to settle, a new frontier. Not land, not innovation, but ourselves and a growing control over our own lives and careers.

Exactly. This frontier is about creativity and actualizing our potential as human beings. The American Experiment is at its core an experiment in individual self-realization. It is not about selfishness, it is about exploring the vast untapped potentials inherent in each individual.

And why not? Each step in the development of American society has been towards an ever-greater level of independence, freedom and personal liberty. And as the rest of the world catches up to where we were, we've already moved on to the next epoch in the national story.

The American story is the story of expanding the inclusiveness of securing individual autonomy. It has been a long and hard process. But we have been struggling against the inertia of pre-modern humanity. This is the great story of America.

But liberty exacts its own demands. Entrepreneurial America is likely to become even more innovative than it is today. And that innovation is likely to spread across society, not just as products and inventions, but new ways of living and new types of organizations.

Yes. Again this is why classical liberals need to update our ideology to be in harmony with this age. This is a perfect time to champion our ideals. This is an era of institution building, of establishing rulesets, if we want those rulesets to be established upon classical ideals then we need to do what is necessary to make that happen.

The economy will be much more volatile and much more competitive. In the continuous fervor to create new institutions, it will become increasingly difficult to sustain old ones. New political parties, new social groupings, thousands of new manias and movements and millions of new companies will pop up over the next few decades. Large corporations that don't figure out how to combine permanence with perpetual change will be swept away.

The people who create new institutions are entrepreneurs. Our time offers the opportunity to create these new institutions and we need to embrace this and develop a rhetoric and reality of entrepreneurial activity that represents the spirit of the age.

This higher level of anarchy will be exciting, but it will also sometimes be very painful. Entire industries will die almost overnight, laying off thousands, while others will just as suddenly appear, hungry for employees. Continuity and predictability will become the rarest of commodities. And if the entrepreneurial personality honors smart failures, by the same token it has little pity for weakness. That fraction of Americans – 10%, 20% – who still dream of the gold watch or the 30-year pin will suffer the most . . . and unless their needs are somehow met as well, they will remain a perpetually open wound in our society.

Our challenge is recognizing the spirit of our age and developing a worldview and social-cultural-political movement that can champion our ideals in our time.


Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Big challenge.

Entrepreneurial Frontiersmen are the Transnational Progressivists worst nightmare.

The Tranzies and the Left control the institutions, academia, MSM. They have coherent organization and ideological orthodoxy to promote with no hesitation to crush unorthodoxy within their ranks.

The other side, the "classical liberals," libertarians, and the conservative survivors of the Republican shipwreck are independent cats who will not be easily herded. Who can lead such a crew in political warfare?

Palimpsester said...

I wonder if the entrepreneurs of tomorrow be generation y'ers who will have transnational mentalities. If their venture has anything to do with commerce on the internet their world will be much flatter than ours was. Facebook and World of Warcraft players may pay much attention to lines drawn on maps than their parents do. My kid wonderful is working on three languages in college, and has hopes of adding some more as she goes along. She talks about world cities or global cities as though she's going to be a citizen of a lifestyle instead of a country. She tells me that there are about fifty or so cities that pretty much channel the flow of cultural and monetary capital around the globe. She doesn't think of them as city states like Venice in its glory days, but as though together those urban entities are some kind of global urban community. An entrepreneur like John Robb isn't bound to a particular piece of real estate. Didn't the investor Jim Rogers just relocate to Singapore? Can entrepreneurs and investors afford to be single-country-centric these days.

Palimpsester said...

my typing, arghh

will be generation y'ers

pay much less attention

phil said...

Hey Cannoneer,

Entrepreneurial Frontiersmen are the Transnational Progressivists worst nightmare.


The Tranzies and the Left control the institutions, academia, MSM. They have coherent organization and ideological orthodoxy to promote with no hesitation to crush unorthodoxy within their ranks.

Yup. My opinion is that we should think of this as an insurgency--a non-violent insurgency. How do we apply all that has been learned about insurgencies to waging one to win control of the "institutions, academia, MSM"?

The other side, the "classical liberals," libertarians, and the conservative survivors of the Republican shipwreck are independent cats who will not be easily herded. Who can lead such a crew in political warfare?

In politics I don't have a lot of confidence in leaders, since they tend to be followers who get out in front of where people are heading. That means that the true leaders are the ones who influence where people are heading. But the people don't head in random directions. Our challenge is to focus on the techniques of persuasion to get the people heading in the general direction we want and the "leaders" will appear. Funny how that happens.

phil said...

Hey Palimpsester,

I wonder if the entrepreneurs of tomorrow be generation y'ers who will have transnational mentalities.

Yes and Gen X'ers like myself too. We don't spend a lot of time talking about how radical it is to live life as an individual who is free to build relationships with any other human being. But this truly is as radical and revolutionary as it gets. And this is the essence of individualism: that we as individuals have complete freedom to build our own social networks, to choose for ourselves with whom we will associate. We must remember though that this is not mankind's status quo. This is the anomaly. We are able to champion and live out this ideal only within the framework of societies that guarantee individual rights and it is the Anglosphere societies that are the core of this framework. And the United States is and has been for a long while now the core of the Anglosphere's unique culture of individualism. And so we must stoke the fire of individualism within the US in order to maintain the transnational framework within which people can build relationships around the world. It sounds like a contradiction, but it's not. Championing America and it's ideals and institutions is not the same as some kind of ethno-linguistic nationalism. Rather it is the antidote to nationalism. And so yes I believe that our individualistic and entrepreneurial culture will lead to a kind of transnationalism, but not the collectivist kind promoted by transnational progressives.