130. Eamonn Butler’s Primer on Entrepreneurship and Its Social Good
Entrepreneurship is the great force for social good — in fact, the greatest force for good in the history of civilization. It’s the system of continuously improving the lives of others so we can improve our own lives. Through entrepreneurship, we can achieve greater and greater levels of community, collaboration and societal advance. Eamonn Butler, Co-Founder and Director of the Adam Smith Institute, has written what he calls a Primer for understanding and appreciating the wonderful institution of entrepreneurship. He highlights some of the key points on the Economics For Business podcast.
Innovation and improvement.
To continuously improve people’s lives, we need new things. We need people to invent things that haven’t been thought of before. And we need innovators, people who improve those things and find new purposes for them or new ways of producing and distributing them. And we need entrepreneurship, the marshalling of resources to produce these better things faster and more efficiently and get them into more people’s hands.
Entrepreneurs are those unique people who organize the marshalling of resources, and who risk their own capital and their investors’ capital in this pursuit of a better future for all.
When entrepreneurs undertake this act of discovery, and especially when they succeed, they trigger cascading development. One innovation and entrepreneurial initiative leads to another. They are all aimed at making people’s lives better — easier, healthier, more convenient, more affordable, more efficient. And, eventually, knowledge spreads, and people’s lives are transformed, so that Indian peasant farmers can check produce prices on their smartphone and get the best offer from the market. Development cascades from individual to individual, firm to firm, market to market and country to country. It’s never-ending improvement.
Long-termism and ethical behavior.
The outcome is long term uplift and benefit for all. Entrepreneurs are long term thinkers. They are focused on the lifetime of their company and their products, and perhaps to passing them on to the next generation (Politicians are the opposite — they can only think in election cycles).
Entrepreneurs don’t want to just make a short term profit and then leave the market. They want long term revenues and long term profits. That means creating reliable, returning customers who love the entrepreneur’s product. That requires delighting those customers, serving them impeccably, never letting them down or breaking a promise. There are few other, if any, institutions that are constituted in this way.
This Long-termism is ethical. Entrepreneurship is ethically driven.
A small firm can trade on a global stage, and if they can, they will. It’s easier than ever before in the digital era. New and better ideas quickly spread around the world. But it has always been the case, since the earliest of times. Politicians establish borders to divide people, and then violate them in invasions and wars. Entrepreneurs see no borders between people. Political borders can’t divide markets.
Entrepreneurship achieves more for social good than any other institution. Entrepreneurial innovation in goods and services enhances life and opens up new possibilities. Customers flock to entrepreneurs because of the tremendous service they deliver. The constant improvement delivered by entrepreneurs constitutes civilizational progress. The competitive pressure to improve quality and utilize resources more efficiently generates more and more value for the world.
It’s an error to see business as extractive — extracting and using up resources. Business is generative, putting life-changing inventions at the disposal of the global population. What’s seen is the dirt and smoke left over from mining or manufacturing. What’s not seen, and is often unappreciated, is the huge amount of good that comes into the world via entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is the application of property rights at every scale.
It’s another error to think of entrepreneurship as small business or young and immature business. Ray Kroc of McDonald’s was a great example of an entrepreneur who worked out how to operate a hamburger restaurant at global scale with continuous improvement. Entrepreneurship requires property rights; people need to have control over their property in order to transform it into marketable innovations and services. But that does not limit the scale of entrepreneurship. Property rights are a principle that supports global scaling.
The entrepreneurial method.
Probably the best way to define entrepreneurship is as a process or a method. It’s akin to — and as important to civilization as — the scientific method, but different. They both involve trial-and-success, coming up with ideas and testing them. The scientist tests against reality, looking for a law, a repeatable outcome that will never vary. The entrepreneur tests against consumer approval, looking for acceptance that might be repeatable until conditions change, such as new competition arriving. Entrepreneurs can’t predict the future as scientists can, and they can’t exert control in the form of unchanging laboratory conditions. Yet they still are challenged to build a business that lasts.
Can we nurture this institution?
Yes. In school, via literacy and entrepreneurially-oriented education, teaching young people about profit, and uncertainty and the requirement for supportive environmental elements such as property rights and flexible labor laws, and the value of trying multiple different initiatives before discovering a winning proposition. We might not be able to teach successful entrepreneurship, but we can create the conditions for learning.
A selection of books by Eamonn Butler
Entrepreneurship: A Primer: View on Amazon
Austrian Economics: A Primer: View on Amazon
Classical Liberalism — A Primer: View on Amazon
Ludwig von Mises — A Primer: View on Amazon
Friedrich Hayek: The Ideas and Influence of the Libertarian Economist: View on Amazon
The Condensed Wealth of Nations: View on AdamSmith.org
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