Sunday, October 19, 2008

Entrepreneurial Connections

One thing leads to another...
Purpleslog links to the kind of article that I really love reading.

"If you have a good product that you can produce, or that someone else can produce within the appropriate margins, you have access to a worldwide network for promoting it," Welytok said.

Welytok is pounding on that message with what she says are more than 100 clients of the Milwaukee law firm she started in 2005, Absolute Technology Law Group LLC. She's also hammering out her message at monthly meetings of three inventors and entrepreneurs clubs that meet in Mequon, West Bend and downtown Milwaukee.

Welytok has been facilitating the Mequon and West Bend groups for two years. She formed the Milwaukee group last month with some prodding from David Linz, southeast regional director for the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Network.
Since returning to work, she's started her law firm and the three inventors groups, and she's written two more books.

The books cover a range of topics, with titles such as "The Entrepreneur's Guide to Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks, Trade Secrets and Licensing." She says she has another book scheduled to come out in February, which she is writing with Louis Foreman, creator of the PBS invention series called "Everyday Edisons."

"Jill should be the celebration of this town. She understands innovation, entrepreneurship and how moms and pops can take their dreams and convert them into real businesses or markets...

"If you get this groundswell of grass-roots entrepreneurial activity, you're going to get some winners."
Whipple organized Wisconsin's first inventors and entrepreneurs club in Juneau County in 2001 to create a "contagious" entrepreneurial environment where people could investigate ideas with group support.

The kind of meta-entrepreneurship Welytok is engaged in can also be adapted to serve a role in our post-war operations as Tom Barnett points out in a recent column:

The only exit strategy is jobs.

Soldiers and aid workers don't know anything about entrepreneurship and can't possibly build a national economy - only businesspeople can. The most crucial handoff is to the private sector, not the United Nations.

Creating private sector enterprises to foster "contagious entrepreneurial environments" can be a significant component in our counterinsurgency and post-war planning, as well as in shrinking the gap more generally, especially where the local community already has an entrepreneurial culture as in Najaf:

The boom also is strengthening ties between the Supreme Council — al-Sadr's main rival — and Najaf's merchant class, which takes pride in the city's famous entrepreneurial spirit.

It is that spirit, say residents, that has cost al-Sadr support here back in 2004 when his militiamen controlled Najaf, driving visitors away and forcing most businesses to shutter down.

Identifying communities with this kind of entrepreneurial spirit should be part of our human terrain research and we should already have a plan in place for dealing with them when we find them.

It is also something that should be part of our strategic communications operations by both government and private actors. In another post PurpleSlog looks at the glamour of the jihadi and how that contributes to attracting recruits. In addition to an effort to de-glamourize the jihadi, we need to offer an alternative. One of the advantages that we have is that there are long-standing commercial cultures throughout the Middle East. Therefore we should be able to champion the entrepreneur as the hero in the story of the liberalization (economic and otherwise) of the Middle East. The entrepreneur serves as a bridge from the pre-modern commercial culture to the modern commercial republic.

This includes Europe as well. The Europeans have long been prejudiced against economic liberalism. I think it is essential that we should wage a campaign in Europe (customized to the different countries of course) to further an entrepreneurial liberal economic order and the entrepreneur offers the best symbolic vehicle to do this. But we are going to have to overcome some very weird European prejudices:

Europe could use more people like Ehssan Dariani. The 26-year-old entrepreneur runs a hot Internet start-up called studiVZ—Europe's fastest-growing social network for university students. Since setting up in a cheap Berlin loft only last fall, he's already hired 25 people. Yet when Dariani looks back at his high-school days, a decade ago in the west German city of Kassel, he remembers his teachers warning against exactly what he's doing. "They taught us the market economy was a dangerous wilderness full of risk and bankruptcy," Dariani says. "We never learned how prices affect supply and demand, only about evil managers and unjust wages." If he'd listened to his teachers, he'd be among the vast majority of German students who dream of becoming civil servants or fitting into the comfortable hierarchy of a traditional corporation. Instead he set out and created some desperately needed jobs.

Ask any European what he learned at school about how the economy works, and you'll likely hear a similar story. A recent study of German high-school textbooks by the Institute for the German Economy, in Cologne, found entrepreneurs—instead of getting credit for creating jobs—taking the blame for everything from unemployment to alcoholism to Internet fraud and cell-phone addiction. Some high-school social-studies textbooks teach globalization as an unmitigated catastrophe; students are advised to consult the radical anti-globalization protest group Attac for further information. In France, books approved by the Education Ministry promote statist policies and voodoo economics. "Economic growth imposes a way of life that fosters stress, nervous depression, circulatory disease and even cancer," reports "20th-Century History," a popular high-school text published by Hatier. Another suggests Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were dangerous free-market extremists whose reforms plunged their countries into chaos and despair.

Such blatant disinformation sheds new light on the debate over why it is that Europeans lag so far behind Americans in rates of entrepreneurship and job creation. It also helps explain widespread resistance among Europeans to accepting even the smallest reforms of their highly regulated economies. But recently there appears to be a small but growing backlash against the popular vilification of capitalism. Unthinkable only a decade ago, business associations, think tanks and a whole slew of capitalist and libertarian activists, many only in their 20s and 30s, are leading a tiny but noisy counterattack. Their common goal: making sure the next generation of Europeans is less in tune with Karl Marx and more with Adam Smith.

Fighting windmills? Maybe not. In Germany, the Banking Association is helping change attitudes by supplying instructional materials explaining markets to more than 20,000 teachers. "A few years ago the Education Ministry would have kicked us out," says the association's Wilhelm B├╝rklin. One participating social-studies teacher, Christel Stoldt at Winkelmann High School in the town of Stendal, reports rising interest among students about how the market economy works. "I have to overcome a lot of prejudice against companies and entrepreneurs," she says. In France, the Centre de l'Entreprise has sent several hundred teachers on internships to companies. Director Jean-Pierre Boisivon says they often return astonished that the corporate world isn't the Darwinian struggle between bosses and workers they'd been taught it was. Junior Achievement, a U.S. organization promoting student entrepreneurship, now has three dozen European chapters and plans to reach 5 million students by 2010. JA Europe chief Caroline Jenner says that 30 percent of the kids who participate in its programs later start their own companies, compared with just 7 percent in the general population. "How else are we going to get jobs for 19 million unemployed Europeans if we don't teach kids that entrepreneurship is OK?" she asks.

You don't win this competition of ideas with a lot of theory, rather you win it by appealing to people's aspirations, imagination, and visions of what they can be. The entrepreneur is the hero of the modern liberal democratic order.

An Army of Boyds

There was an interesting discussion recently on John Boyd at the Small Wars Journal. A few comments on Boyd's role within the defense bureaucracy caught my eye and got me thinking that what we need is an Army of Boyds in every department and agency, every branch of government, federal, state and local, in the universities, at GM, indeed throughout our entire society:

Mark of Zenpundit:

On a serious note, the highest value that I see in Boyd's work was modeling the ethic of being a continuously learning, adaptive, thinking, competitor in a dynamic environment. Something that was very much against the cultural, organizational, grain of the U.S. military at the time, not to mention society at large.
Much of Boyd's work is modeling a process of dynamic synthesis, of continual learning and adapting competitively and reaching to fields further and further away from "pure" military concerns in order to generate new insights.

Another commenter said:

I respect Boyd because he took on the system from the inside...His genius lay in his ability to be a governmental guerrilla, an insider insurrectionary, a bureaucratic insurgent...

The kind of role that Boyd played within the DOD is played in our economy by entrepreneurs. By creating new competitors, products, services, techniques etc. entrepreneurs are constantly challenging existing businesses to remain competitive and to be learning institutions. Like Boyd, entrepreneurs are "modeling the ethic of being a continuously learning, adaptive, thinking, competitor in a dynamic environment." This is one of the many reasons that I think that advocating entrepreneurship is so important for our society: by celebrating entrepreneurs and championing entrepreneurship we are reinforcing values, attitudes, and behaviors that are necessary for our society to remain innovative and adaptive.

We also need a political movement that can play the Boydian role more generally throughout our society. That is, a political movement whose vision of a 21st century America is "modeling the ethic of being a continuously learning, adaptive, thinking, competitor in a dynamic environment". This would be a dynamist alternative to the collectivist left's stasist vision. What would that kind of a movement look like? What would its symbols and imagery be? What kinds of stories would it tell? What would be its vision of the American Experiment?

Book: Freedom's Power

A book I finished reading over the summer that I have been intending to recommend is
Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism by Paul Starr. In my experience most left-liberals don't know the history of liberalism. If you talk about classical liberalism they think you are referring to FDR and Truman. Which is why I found this book interesting. Starr is a left-liberal who does understand this history and he tells the story of liberalism from his perspective without being hostile to classical liberalism. If you are used to conservative and libertarian narratives of this history you won't agree with every aspect of his interpretation but I think it is useful to get outside of your usual perspective and this book does offer that opportunity even if you end up disagreeing with him.

Liberalism is notoriously difficult to define. The term has been used to describe a sprawling profusion of ideas, practices, movements, and parties in different societies and historical periods. often emerging as a philosophy of opposition, whether to feudal privilege, absolute monarchy, colonialism, theocracy, communism, or fascism, liberalism has served, as the word suggests, as a force for liberation, or at least liberalization--for the opening up the channels of free initiative. But liberalism in its oppositional and even revolutionary moments has not necessarily been the same as the liberalism of established parties and governments. In different countries, depending on their particular histories, parties bearing the name "Liberal" have variously ended up on the right or left and thereby colored the understanding of what liberalism means as a political philosophy. This book primarily reflects the understanding of liberalism in Britain and the United States, though it has been conceived in substantially different ways even in the Anglo-American world.

Two conceptions of liberalism chiefly concern us, as they help organize the argument in this book. In its broader meaning, liberalism refers to the fundamental principles of constitutional government and individual rights shared by modern liberals and conservatives alike, though often differently interpreted by them. This tradition of constitutional liberalism--classical political liberalism--emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, culminated in the American and French Revolutions, and continues to provide the foundation of the modern liberal state. The classical liberals themselves were a diverse group, but they generally stood for freedom of conscience and religious liberty, freedom of thought and speech, the division of governmental powers, an independent civil society, and rights of private property and economic freedom that evolved in the nineteenth century into the doctrine of laissez-faire. This cluster of ideas is the principle subject of the first part of this book. The second part turns to modern democratic liberalism, which has developed out of the more egalitarian aspects of the broader tradition and serves as the basis of contemporary liberal politics. The relationship between liberalism in these two phases has been predominantly cumulative: while rejecting laissez-faire economic policy, modern democratic liberalism continues to take the broader tradition of constitutional liberalism as its foundation. that is why it is possible to speak not only of the two separately, but also of an overarching set of ideas that unites them.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Working through the Wish List

A few more books to add to the reading pile arrived this week:

Lightning Strike: The Secret Mission to Kill Admiral Yamamoto and Avenge Pearl Harbor by Donald Davis

I'm hoping to produce a few audio documentaries over the winter and this mission is one of the topics I'm looking into.

The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World by Peter Schwartz

I've been very eager to read more about scenario planning. What intrigues me is the use of storytelling and the focus on intuitive and imaginative thinking.

Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution by Joseph Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin

Until I came across this book I did not know that the Oneida had fought on the Patriot side during the American Revolution. This is something that deserves to be more well known.

Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity by Baumol, Litan, and Schramm

This book has been favorably referenced by PurpleSlog, Tom Barnett and other people whose views I respect and I can't wait to dive in given my interest in entrepreneurship and the kinds of institutions required to sustain an entrepreneurial economy.

Monday, October 6, 2008


One morning I woke up early and saw that the light in the valley was interesting and so grabbed a cup of coffee, a hat, my camera, and my dog and raced up to the top of the mountain (the hang gliding launch site) to make some pictures. It was a chilly fall morning and the wind was howling over the ridgeline and was making my eyes water and so most of my pictures were out of focus but a few came out ok.

An 1850s vintage county courthouse.

I don't adhere to any religion but I love religious architecture. I'm a big fan of red sandstone.

A Pennsylvania sunset.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Liberal Developmentalism

I've become very interested in the role of American ideology in our foreign policy. It is interesting to go back and look at what ideas were animating Americans in the past and though it's not a surprise since those ideas are still current in some form they don't necessarily conform to the narratives propagated by conservatives and progressives. Last week I finished reading Robert Kagan's Dangerous Nation which was excellent and looked at the role of ideology in foreign policy from the colonial days up to the Spanish-American War. Now I'm reading Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890-1945 by Emily Rosenberg:

The American Dream of high technology and mass consumption was both promoted and accompanied by an ideology that I shall call liberal-developmentalism...Liberal-developmentalism merged nineteenth-century tenets with the historical experience of America's own development, elevating the beliefs and experiences of America's unique historical time and circumstance into developmental laws thought to be applicable everywhere.

The ideology of liberal-developmentalism can be broken down into five major features: (1) belief that other nations could and should replicate America's own developmental experience; (2) faith in private free enterprise; (3) support for free or open access for trade and investment; (4) promotion of free flow of information and culture; and (5) growing acceptance of governmental activity to protect private enterprise and to stimulate and regulate American participation in international economic and cultural exchange.

To many Americans, their country's economic and social history became a universal model. In order to become a modern society, a nation needed extensive capital investment generated by foreign borrowing and by exports; development of educational, transportation, communication, and banking institutions; a steady supply of cheap labor; maximization of individual initiative for people deemed most efficient; wide-open land use and freewheeling enviromental practices; and a robust private business sector solidly linked to capital-intensive, labor-saving technology. This blueprint, drawn from America's experience, became the creed of most Americans who dealt with foreign nations.
Central to the developmental process were tenets drawn from nineteenth-century liberalism...

Encouraging individual initiative through private enterprise was an important canon of nineteenth-century liberalism. Liberalism, of course, grew up in opposition to artificial, statist monopoly or government-conferred privilege. Freedom, in the American tradition, meant absence of the autocratic state and the full play of competing individual initiatives through private ownership. Private enterprise was free because it was not shackled by an overbearing governmental structure. And celebrants of the American system generally credited private business, above all, with producing rapid industrial development and increasing abundance. To be sure, nineteenth-century government, particularly states and localities, did not remain aloof from the process of economic growth. But government intervened in the economy primarily in order to release the energies of the private sector. Government kept the pump of American business in working order, but it did not raise and lower the handle.

"The perfectly organized event, Saul Alinsky style"

So this is how a war of ideas is fought. Who would know better than the son of Saul Alinsky:

ALL THE elements were present: the individual stories told by real people of their situations and hardships, the packed-to-the rafters crowd, the crowd's chanting of key phrases and names, the action on the spot of texting and phoning to show instant support and commitment to jump into the political battle, the rallying selections of music, the setting of the agenda by the power people. The Democratic National Convention had all the elements of the perfectly organized event, Saul Alinsky style.

Barack Obama's training in Chicago by the great community organizers is showing its effectiveness. It is an amazingly powerful format, and the method of my late father always works to get the message out and get the supporters on board. When executed meticulously and thoughtfully, it is a powerful strategy for initiating change and making it really happen. Obama learned his lesson well.

I am proud to see that my father's model for organizing is being applied successfully beyond local community organizing to affect the Democratic campaign in 2008. It is a fine tribute to Saul Alinsky as we approach his 100th birthday.


Via Melanie Phillips

"It was not a miracle at all. It is very easily explained."

One of the most frustrating things over the past few years has been the Bush administration's failure to challenge the lies and misinterpretations propagated by the media, activists and its political opponents. So it is good to see that Gen. Petraeus is willing to directly correct the media's spin:

SPIEGEL: One of the great miracles in all this is the behavior of Moqtada al-Sadr, who for some time now has kept his Mahdi Army quiet.

Petraeus: It was not a miracle at all. It is very easily explained. The Sadr movement’s reputation was tarnished badly by the actions of the militia that bear the Sadr name. The Shiite population came to reject the militia as it no longer needed militia protection from al-Qaida. Elements of the militia were extorting money from shopkeepers, they were kidnapping for ransom, they were linked to the killing of two southern governors and three police chiefs and they caused reprehensible violence in the whole city of Karbala in August 2007. Al-Sadr realized that his movement was on the verge of the worst possible situation -- popular rejection -- and he declared a cease-fire. The same followed the violence precipitated by the militia and so-called special groups in March and April of this year, when those elements sustained very significant losses in terms of leaders and fighters -- and was, again, in jeopardy of being rejected by the people. Al-Sadr really had no logical alternative.

SPIEGEL: And the Sunnis, on the other hand, were bribed into cooperation, as Bob Woodward writes in his new book "The War Within"?

Petraeus: That's not completely accurate. I will tell you what we have done. The Sunni Arabs began to realize that they had made a huge mistake by not voting in the election of 2005 and by not being part of the new Iraq. They had reasons for this: They were effected by the disestablishment of the military and by de-Baathification (the dismantling of Saddam Hussein's party) in winter 2007-2007. They increasingly recognized that their future lay in being part of the solution rather than a continuing part of the problem. But they couldn't reject al-Qaida without our provision of security. So we took care of their security, we moved into their neighborhoods, we protected their tribal leaders who led the rejection of al-Qaida. And then we cleared many of their towns and cities and rural areas of al-Qaida Iraq and other insurgents, sometimes with their help, but often without it. And once their areas were clear, many of them sought to help us keep them secure -- and, over time, we began hiring them to man checkpoints and help keep their areas clear. You know, we had money for emergency reconstruction programs, and this seemed a wise investment -- as reconstruction is not possible without security -- and they helped to maintain it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

"Small-scale work"

We seem to be in an anti-liberal moment both at home and abroad. Although the advice on a course of action below was written for Russian liberals, it applies reasonably well to what we need to do in the US.

Russian liberalism is not just in crisis, politically speaking. It has ceased to exist. It is not represented in the parliament, it has disappeared as a focus of public debates, even among intellectuals, and its claims to be a credible and politically attractive ideology now seem vain if not preposterous. I use the term "Russian liberalism" as an umbrella concept embracing the political practices and mechanisms, both the neoliberal and social liberal types, which identified the Russian "exit from communism" with the establishment of the rule of law, political and ideological pluralism, the market economy and an openness to the West.
The same liberals today castigate the regime, and with good reason. The absence of an independent judiciary, severe limitations of the freedom of the mass media, rampant corruption in all branches of bureaucracy and the systematic harassment of nearly all opposition are genuine ills. It is one thing, though, to articulate all these grievances and quite another to set out an attractive and politically mobilizing ideology. Russia's liberals have to send forth a message that resonates with the broader public, and this resonance can't just be some sort of rehearsal of people's "superstitions." It means coming up with a compelling alternative.
If the opposition liberals want to escape from their confinement to the political salons of Moscow and St. Petersburg, they must come to grips with the country's new political and economic realities. They must disclose the present system's inherent tensions, and they must address actual grievances by proposing feasible and popular political courses of action. It is not enough to recycle the mantra of human rights violations because grassroots actions are required. Russia's liberals might find it worthwhile to begin with what former Czech President Vaclav Havel dubbed "small-scale work" when discussing how communism in the Soviet bloc could be resisted. It was a strategy of very concrete small deeds which although seemingly unambitious politically enhanced an alternative public morality, promoted independent networks of cooperation and steeped the reform movement's would-be leaders in a realistic and nonelitist democratic culture.

Four Photographs

A few pictures from my time up in Pennsylvania.


Well, I've been pretty busy the past 6 weeks or so helping the school I attended last winter open a new branch. While it has been only temporary work it has offered the opportunity to get some quality time with an HD digital video camera and learn more about Final Cut Pro, Pro Tools, Audition, Motion. I really love working with these programs and equipment. It's been exciting the past few years as I've discovered a passion for audio and video production that did not exist before.

But while I have been enjoying learning and exploring a new-found passion, I've been increasingly enraged and depressed by the actions of our political class, regardless of party. Is it going too far to conclude that our political class is a greater threat to America than Al Qaeda? Yeah, but it's hard to see how whatever good they do outweighs the bad. I guess the only consolation is that as I read more political history I realize that this is not a unique problem of our time and that the US has done pretty well for itself despite our politicians. Nevertheless I'm completely disconnected from this presidential election. I'm still waiting to receive my voter registration card even though I registered to vote in August. Not that it will matter who I vote for since my state, Maryland, will be won overwhelmingly by Obama, regardless of whether I vote for him or McCain.

I'll have some more posts up throughout today as I try to get caught up.