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The True Story Of Capitalism.

Many people today are skeptical about capitalism. Suspicious of it. In some cases, downright hostile. These people believe – or have been led by others to believe – that capitalism is bad for society overall. They believe that capitalism is extractive – it extracts work and effort from masses of people to produce financial reward for a narrow few, with limited benefit (or maybe a net deficit) left for those who do the work. A particular sliver of the financial elite has some specific techniques for extracting the vast bulk of available value for themselves via special tools such as hedge funds, currency trading, and all kinds of esoteric instruments. They believe the biggest corporations extract wealth for shareholders and executives to self-reward themselves with stock awards, stock options, share buybacks, and dividends. They believe that there is monopolistic control over markets exerted by these large-scale corporations. They believe that first-world countries and corporations take value from less-developed countries via resource extraction, cheap labor, and short-term economic activities that don’t leave behind long-term infrastructure or institutions. They believe the inequality of wealth and income in capitalism is deliberately and malevolently manipulated.

But none of this is the true story of capitalism. There are two good places to start in telling the real story. The first is 19th-century America. After the Civil War, the US was in economic expansion mode. The population was growing, supplemented by immigration, and was economically mobile, moving West, establishing cities, starting businesses, learning how to enjoy new lives. Technology was evolving, bringing new enablements for those new lives, including affordable illumination (from oil refining), rail transportation (from steel making and steam engines), better clothing (from sewing machines and new fabric technologies), better food (from mass manufacturing and mass distribution made possible by factory organization) and more. It was in this environment that great entrepreneurs invented customer capitalism. They identified the unstated, unmet needs of customers – such as affordable light for families at home at night for a better quality of life and extended productivity, safe and nutritious food, soaps for more hygienic washing, better communications – and designed systems of unprecedented scale and complexity that could be implemented to meet those needs. Factories, production lines, precision machines for manufacturing, international supply chains, secure packaging, mass distribution and mass marketing – these were all innovations of the times to serve customers in better and better ways. The energy behind these innovations came from a new invention, unique to America at the time: the corporation and its managerial methods. The entrepreneurs invented the managerial corporation because it was necessary to do so to harness the vast potential for value creation of their machines, factories, supply chains, and transportation and distribution networks. The challenge had never before been encountered, but the coordination enabled by new decentralized corporate management systems solved the problem. 

Customers were learning what they could want in the new world of technology, manufacturing, and economic expansion. Those corporations that were able to fulfill those new wants were the ones to thrive and grow into powerful commercial entities of a new type, size, and form. They became the engines of capitalism, doing far more to advance the capacity and achievements of the new country than anything than government could. 

At the same time, in the heart of Europe, a group of researchers in economics were discovering the principles that would guide the further development of customer capitalism as a system of organizing the economy. First, they established the principle of value that guides all economic production: value is in the mind of the customer. It’s not a number or a price, it’s a flow of life enjoyment, a flow of experiences becoming better and better over time, satisfying ever more needs and fulfilling ever more wants. The job of the corporation is to facilitate and sustain this flow.

The method of doing so, identifying value (what the customer is learning to want), and designing new and innovative ways to enable them to enjoy the future experience they are anticipating via a method called entrepreneurship, was another discovery of these economists. Another of their principles, a crucial one, is that entrepreneurial value generation is an adaptive, experimental and creative activity, and can’t be planned in advance or from the top down. This excludes government, as a central planning agency, from any role in customer capitalism, and also guides the private corporation in the design of their organization and processes to make them adaptive to feedback from customers and markets. Those that become bureaucratic and unresponsive are condemned to fading and failure. Continuous innovation is the only route to sustained success.

The early research came from the University of Vienna and has inherited the name Austrian economics over time. But the research tradition has continued in the US after many of the pioneers fled Europe to do their work in universities in the US. The continued further development of Austrian economics in the USA nurtures and enhances the innovative free market traditions of customer capitalism.

These two parallel streams of corporate commercialism in the US, harnessing technology and organization to profitably serve customer needs, and the continuous refinement of free market economic principles and institutions to make that commercialism viable, combine in the true story of capitalism. Capitalism is for the benefit of all: first and foremost for consumers, whom corporations and other producers are aiming to serve and please. The economic activity of doing so creates jobs and meaningful employment for many. Corporations aim to gain the support of the communities in which they establish offices and factories, improving community life, especially for the families that live and work and school their children there. And for investors, the success of corporations in serving customers can result in the profits that pay dividends and spark stock appreciation. And the system requires the institutional support of a prevailing set of economic thinking to strengthen the culture and mindset that attracts the best people to roles as entrepreneurs, managers, investors and workers.

Customer-focused corporations and the economics of entrepreneurial value creation are the true story of capitalism.

This Is Value Entrepreneurship – The Business Method Fueled By Entrepreneurial Economics.

Entrepreneurship is the business driver – of revenue and growth, of the customer base and customer loyalty, of innovation, of cost reduction, of everything about business that constitutes success. It’s true of businesses of every scale – every firm must be entrepreneurial to succeed.

Value is the purpose of entrepreneurship. On the Mises Institute Economics For Business (E4B) website you’ll learn deep insights about value – that it’s not a thing but a feeling, that it’s the outcome of a learning process, that you can’t put a price on it, but people will pay for an expectation of value. There’s a lot to learn about value.

Combining the two in Value Entrepreneurship provides you with an understanding and a toolset to pursue new value for customers at every scale, in every firm, via every project, process and job. Value Entrepreneurship is the business system fueled by entrepreneurial economics.

Let’s first examine and prepare for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is action. While MBA programs may focus on strategy and planning and finance, E4B’s alternative approach emphasizes action. Entrepreneurial action can be broken down into two components – the decision to act and the action itself.

The decision is a hypothesis. There is more uncertainty in business than can ever be resolved. You are never certain. The most you can expect is to narrow down your choices of possible actions to a small number. You develop a hypothesis of what could work based on two inputs. First, an analysis of whatever information or data is available to you that tells you something about prevailing market conditions and constraints. And second, the synthesis of your data-based conclusions with your instinct and intuition, your assessment of dynamics and what might change in the future, as well as your creativity and ideas. From analysis and synthesis, you generate hypotheses of all the things you could do that are aligned with your intent, and choose as many of those as you’re capable of implementing – that’s your capacity, which might be governed by available funding, staffing or capital goods such as your AWS service agreement.

With the decision made, you act. Decisions are hypotheses and actions are experiments. The purpose of an experiment is to generate learning. Find out what works and what doesn’t, so that you can do more of what works and abandon what doesn’t. If you run as many experiments as possible, the fittest business strategy will emerge. Complex systems theory refers to this process as explore and expand. That’s what entrepreneurship consists of: exploration followed by expansion.

We learn because action generates interaction – with customers, retailers, markets, competition, media, and the entire business ecosystem. Interaction, in turn, generates a feedback loop. Customers buy or don’t buy. They enjoy their experience, or they don’t. Or, most likely, they partially enjoy it but there are some drawbacks that the entrepreneurial business can respond to and rectify if they can properly gather the right knowledge.

That brings us to the second part of Value Entrepreneurship – the value part. We just referred to the customer’s experience. That’s what value is – an experience, subjectively felt and evaluated by customers. Value is formed and experienced entirely in the customer’s domain. As you’ll appreciate as you enter more deeply into this way of thinking, the customer is the driver of your business. Customers are the sole determinants of business success or failure. They determine what gets produced by buying or not buying – by not buying, they ensure that production stops and business resources are redeployed to new uses. 

Customers are always evaluating, and thereby producing value. They do this from the context of their own system. Let’s take an example of a consumer household and its systems (although we must emphasize that the value entrepreneurship model applies equally to the world of B2B, not just B2C). Let’s take one sub-system: food and nutrition for the family. There’s a system of deciding what to eat and drink, there’s a system of shopping, whether online or offline or both, there’s a system of storage, perhaps involving freezing, refrigeration, and room temperature. There’s a system of preparation and cooking, involving a lot of home appliances. There’s a system of cutlery and place settings, and another for washing these. Taken altogether, it’s a complex system. And it may be continuously changing. What if the family Is becoming more conscious about healthy eating? What if they start substituting lower-calorie foods for higher-calorie versions? What if they start reading ingredient labels? What if they buy more fresh food and less manufactured food? What if they discover new preparations like blenders? 

We can see the physical manifestations of these changing experiences in the market. The periphery of the supermarket where the fresh foods are sold becomes bigger and the center contracts. Healthy cookbooks appear on amazon and social media. Fresh fruit appears in more convenient packaging and new varieties flourish. New brands of healthier crackers and desserts abound.

The point about value is that it is formed in the customer’s system, that system is complex, and it’s always changing. The role of the value entrepreneur is to observe the system, understand the system, fit into this system and make a contribution. It’s possible to identify gaps, maybe gaps the customer is not even aware of. Most importantly, there’s the potential to identify the system the customer will prefer and move to in the future, ideally before they get there themselves. This is value innovation – imagining and inventing the future. Whether in the present or the future, the entrepreneur’s contribution is to help the customer to feel satisfied that they’re making the best choices within their own system. Their system is life, and entrepreneurs help make the system work for them.

Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial businesses facilitate this feeling of value – make it possible, make it robust, make it repeatable. They are rewarded by customer purchases, and value flows back to the firm as cash flow, to be reinvested in more production and more innovation. The value entrepreneurship loop is continuous. 

191. Allen Mendenhall: Putting Humanness and Ethics Back Into Business Economics

We are living through a particularly bad moment in history for free markets and capitalism. Government, not business, is promoted as the solution to all problems. Young people have never known any other environment, and one of the consequences is the skepticism about capitalism that they learn in school, college, and university. One solution to this problem lies in better business education — shaping how young minds think about business by shedding light on the social and individual benefits of capitalism that might otherwise be deliberately shadowed by misinformation and misdirection.

Allen Mendenhall is leading the way with a new business curriculum at Troy University.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

There are unmerited concerns among young people today about the ethics of capitalism and business.

Business is too often cast as the “bad guy” in the movie of life. Business is portrayed as exploitative and greedy, and businesspeople as self-serving. Historical scandals like Enron and WorldCom are cited as case studies. But this presentation is a caricature; there’s no evidence to support it. Business is the essential component of the capitalist system that has raised standards of living and quality of life all over the globe and especially in the West, where markets are somewhat freer.

Business didn’t have the same bad rap in the past. In the nineteenth century, there was a great celebration of the civilization-advancing commercial republic powered by the protestant work ethic. The image of the businessperson was a positive trope — it was a good role to be a businessperson creating value for others. Businesspeople were the good guys. They innovated, collaborated and served. We’ve lost that imagery.

A lot of the unmerited concern emanates from educational institutions, especially universities.

Who is teaching young Americans to be skeptical about capitalism and business? A large portion of the blame goes to educational institutions, and especially universities. There’s an anti-business and anti-capitalism bias among the teaching profession in higher education that is communicated to students.

In this academic anti-business campaign, there’s a special role for economists, who have dehumanized economics by trying to make it a mathematical science. All their equations and computer models have the effect of taking humanness — the role of subjectivism, individual preference, and individualized emotion — out of economics. They try to reduce human behavior to a predictive data-driven algorithm.

The heritage of economics is humanizing.

The mathematical approach to economics is not the tradition of the Austrian school approach, which embraces a humanizing perspective. Commerce cultivates virtue; the pursuit of honorable profit leads businesses to act with good faith and integrity in joining with partners to produce products and services that are valued and welcomed by customers because they serve their ends in their search for betterment in their lives.

The concept of honorable profit is often alien to students, and requires new learning: that profit is an emergent result of all the detailed interactions of individuals in a market, sending price signals to producers to indicate what society wants them to produce. Profit is a result of these signals indicating that society wants the producers to continue offering their goods and services.

Understanding value is central to understanding the ethics of capitalism.

The emergence of profit is an outcome of the generation of value for customers. Value is central to the ethics of business, and Professor Mendenhall’s new course at Troy University places it squarely in the center. Value is subjectively determined by the customer, and the purpose of business is to help them realize the value they seek with the right products and services responsive to their wants, preferences and goals.

But here’s where the plot twists. The big corporate business community — representing less than 1% of businesses by count but the biggest proportion of GDP by dollar revenues – has been incentivized by Wall Street to pursue shareholder value (goosing stock prices) and stakeholder value (the diversion of value away from customers in favor of non-customer interest groups). Value for customers and even profit now takes a back seat to supposedly serving constituencies such as climate activists, victim groups, and, of course, government. Stakeholder value can act as cover for the CEO who fails to generate profit: they can claim to be focused on socially more important things.

The generation of value for customers, guided by the confirmation signal of profit, is no longer primary — except in Professor Mendenhall’s Troy University curriculum.

The perspective of entrepreneurship can help students appreciate ethical business.

While young people express disdain and distrust for capitalism, they often have a more positive attitude about the concept of entrepreneurship. They realize that entrepreneurs are problem solvers, and that they add value to people’s lives. People benefit from the risks entrepreneurs take and the personal sacrifice they make. Entrepreneurial innovation makes lives better.

Students appreciate this, and can even identify some corporate CEO’s to whom they are willing to grant ethical approval — individuals such as John Mackey or Richard Branson. And many young people see entrepreneurship as aspirational — they want to start their own businesses and make a lot of money (i.e., profit!). Looking at business from an entrepreneurial perspective generates more positive attitudes, and we can show that all businesses started entrepreneurially, and are sustained by their continuing entrepreneurial performance, i.e., profitably delivering value for customers. If there are questions about corporate ethics, they relate to their non-entrepreneurial functions — such as HR (whence a lot of corporate wokeness emanates), legal (the people who write the opaque and deceptive terms and conditions that justify surveillance), finance (directing activities like stock buybacks that divert value from customers), and compliance (keeping corporations closer to government and more distant from markets).

Part of Allen’s approach to his students is to teach the entrepreneurial mindset — not just for business, but for life in general. He calls it “unleashing the inner entrepreneur” and includes what he calls “the economics of your dreams”, the secret of win-win, the creativity of the market, the entrepreneurial principles of career building, starting a profitable business, and character and leadership.

He also covers personal finance skills — developing knowledge of stocks and bonds and mutual funds and other financial instruments, insurance, retirement planning (even at age 18!), investing, spending, and, of course, personal management of student loans. It’s the entrepreneurial approach to life.

We should develop a new value proposition for business schools as humanness schools.

Business schools today are part of the problem. They don’t focus enough on how business can be the catalyst for positive change. They should be committed to solving problems affecting not just business, but humanity as a whole. But reading business school leaders’ and graduates’ speeches and their books demonstrates that they’re not trying to help humanity as a whole but a few selected businesses and a few particular industries. They’re not dedicated to helping ordinary people, as they should be.

Allen’s new curriculum aims to redress that imbalance.

Additional Resources

AllenMendenhall.com

“Corporate Wokeness Hurts The Groups It Purports To Help” (AEIR) by Allen Mendhall: Mises.org/E4B_191_Article1

“Troy professor: Students ‘very enthusiastic’ over anti-woke business scholars program” (Yellowhammer News) by Dylan Smith: Mises.org/E4B_191_Article2

Allen Mendenhall on Fox Business—”Ending Wokeism in the Corporate World”: Mises.org/E4B_191_TV

189. James Kent: Carving A Differentiated Growth Space In A Well-Established Market

Entrepreneurs always generate new value for customers; that’s what they get paid for. It’s not always necessary to create a new market; there are many creative ways to expand the value potential of established markets and carve out a territory in the new expanded space.

James Kent, founder of the innovative apparel brand Rogue, White and Blue, talks to E4B about the entrepreneurial value creation method he pursues in growing a distinctive and differentiated brand in what might look to outsiders like a crowded market, but which to him looks like unbounded opportunity.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Entrepreneurs start with what they love — it’s the first source of differentiation.

James is a lover of open-air experiences — of walking and hiking and exploring trails and off-road lands, of snowboarding in the mountains, and enjoying all the freedoms of exploration and everything to do with the great American outdoors. “What do I love?” is one of the first questions an entrepreneur asks of themselves, and James is certain of his answer.

Adding knowledge and experience fortifies the entrepreneurial recipe.

All experience and most knowledge are individual. What we pay attention to, and how we learn is always unique to us personally. James picked up some valuable experience by working in sporting goods retail stores, both interacting with customers in stores and working his way up the corporate ladder into management positions. This commercial experience in sporting goods was highly complementary to his love of the outdoors, and the two became a productive combination in James’ entrepreneurial approach.

James was able to gain some even more fine-tuned experience by working as the first employee of a start-up, running an office in a location removed from the head office. This provided exposure to the entrepreneurial experiences of risk-taking, autonomy, maximizing the use of limited resources and using business development tools like Google AdWords — all directly useful for a future business journey.

A third layer of relevant experience came from joining the National Guard in a patriotic spirit of service. The service ethic is fundamental to all entrepreneurial endeavors.

The stage is set: what kind of business to launch?

James asked the entrepreneurial questions. What do I love? The outdoors and outdoor recreation. What do I know? Apparel and apparel retail. What are my resources? Passion, the genuineness and clarity of commitment, design ideas, and a small amount of savings. Who are my customers? People who share the same passions.

Where will differentiation come from? It came from a reservoir of genuine feeling and the combination of two streams of thought: recreational love of the outdoors and patriotic love of country. The combination became the brand Rogue, White and Blue, described by customers as “the patriotic version of Patagonia”. It’s wild and unexpected like the American landscape, and it embodies patriotic design ideas, both in visual look-and-feel and in functional attributes such as Made In America.

The commitment to a differentiated brand platform creates a differentiated supply chain, differentiated production, and differentiated presentation.
Entrepreneurs design their production infrastructure and supply network backwards, starting with the brand and then identifying the system components that will bring it to life.

James had design ideas in his mind. He self-taught himself Adobe Illustrator to get them from his mind into digital documentation, occasionally hiring outside designers on Fiverr at low variable cost for some specific refinement tasks. Modern technologies ranging from design software (and the training videos and additional user content available online for new adopters) to digital printing to internet-enabled collaboration sites like Fiverr can be combined to create a complete value network with limited fixed cost investment.

The next step down the supply chain was to find screen printers and James tested alternatives until he identified the best craftspeople in that specialized profession. He made them his business partners, which enabled him to benefit from their expertise in identifying the right Made-In-America apparel manufacturers and the right high-quality fabrics. By ordering garments through the printers, he was able to give the printers a more profitable business model while offloading some risk (e.g., of misprinting) onto them. The shared value space was big enough for everyone in the network.

The integrated platform of a differentiated brand and a differentiated supply chain is the result of entrepreneurial commitment: to brand integrity, quality, style, and consistency.

Finding customers through entrepreneurial action.

At the outset, there wasn’t any marketing budget for Rogue, White and Blue. How does a brand get customers in those circumstances? Not by advertising but by entrepreneurial action: by meeting customers personally. James had a good instinct for who his customers would be based on input from like-minded friends and family. So, he went out to meet similar people by setting up a sales table at selected events where they might congregate. The first one was a gun show, and then more broadly outdoors-themed events. James vividly remembers the excitement of show attendees stopping by his booth, immediately bonding with the “patriotic version of Patagonia” brand feel — they didn’t need to be told, they understood it without prompting — and paying cash for the products. Rogue, White and Blue started with a batch of 96 T-shirts which quickly sold out.

Growth is funded by cash flow and there is no shortage of growth drivers and growth ideas.

Cash flow is the most important financial indicator of business performance and it’s the most important source of growth capital. Profit is an accounting notion, and debt-financed development has its own set of risks. Cash flow is a pure indication of customer approval and customer value. Therefore, it provides the best funding source for both working capital and investment capital — turning the value experienced by consumers into the funds that enable expanded and enhanced value experiences in the future.

Rogue, White and Blue has expanded into more designs, new apparel items, a strong website to drive sales, and a reinforced brand presence.

Customer feedback loops ensure continuous improvement and progress.

Meeting customers face-to-face or getting their feedback via the internet — these are feedback loops that help entrepreneurs refine their offering. The feedback may concern product quality, design, or brand imagery; it’s all positive input for an entrepreneurial business that is open and not defensive whenever there is criticism.

The entrepreneurial life is exciting.

How are we all going to share in the productivity of the economy? The old way was to take a job and participate as an employee, hopefully ascending the hierarchical ladder of a firm or translating increased experience and skill in a profession for higher wages.

As the digital economy unfolds, and more of the work is being performed through algorithms and A.I. and machine learning that’s translated into process automation, the traditional ways of sharing in economic production will be blocked.

The better alternative is economic participation and reward through entrepreneurship. James Kent describes the entrepreneurial life as exciting and fulfilling. It requires a thorough commitment and it’s hard work — he described the long nights he’s devoted to the Rogue, White and Blue brand — which he finds energizing and motivating. There’s a commitment and a service ethic, and a consequent freedom.

Additional Resource

Check out James Kent’s website: Rogue, White and Blue.

188. Jordan Lams on Finding and Patiently Developing Your Entrepreneurial Focus

We define entrepreneurship in terms of people working creatively to make others’ lives better. That’s a very broad statement, of course, so it’s instructive to observe how individual entrepreneurs choose to make some customers’ lives better in some specific ways by applying special skills and knowledge. Let’s call it finding an entrepreneurial focus.

Economics For Business talks to Jordan Lams, founder and CEO of Moxie, an industry pioneer in manufacturing, branding, and distributing cannabis products.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights.

Entrepreneurs find their focus — or, sometimes, it finds them.

Bruce Lee is reported to have said that the successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus. Entrepreneurs develop focus on particular customers, in order to understand them better, empathize with their wants, and deliver them the experiences that they value. Developing this focus may take time, or it may come early in the journey, but empathy always provides the pathway.

Jordan Lams observed the pain of a family member during a time of illness, and how cannabis products could bring some relief and comfort. From that time, he became focused on the health and medical benefits of cannabis in a broad range of personal circumstances.

From a position of focus, entrepreneurs develop the deep knowledge that becomes their marketplace advantage.

Entrepreneurial focus directs research and knowledge gathering. In Jordan’s case, he gathered academic research, medical literature, and clinical studies, and he talked with medical practitioners about cannabinoid therapies. Networking brought him into contact with researchers and doctors and clinicians and product developers. He established a uniquely robust knowledge platform.

Focus plus knowledge leads to opportunity tension.

Some entrepreneurial theorists have coined the term opportunity tension — that period when an entrepreneur’s focus and knowledge point to a market opportunity, but there remains unresolved risk in the process of seizing it. The entrepreneurial solution, of course, is to take the risk. Jordan executed his commitment by taking a job in the retail sector of his chosen industry — a place to meet customers one-on-one, and look backwards at the supply chain.

Customer orientation is refined by direct contact, conversation, and experience.

Working in retail enabled direct customer contact and unfiltered conversations about customers’ preferences and wants, the benefits they sought compared to the benefits they experienced, and a general deepening of customer knowledge.

In addition, Jordan was able to observe the supply chain, including the interruptions and inconsistencies that detracted from customers’ experiences. Product quality was inconsistent and supply was unreliable. To an entrepreneur, this looks like opportunity.

Knowledge, experience, and customer contact provided the ingredient for a new firm and a new value proposition.

Jordan sums up the firm he founded, Moxie, as knowledge + infrastructure. A status quo of incomplete knowledge, inferior and inconsistent products in unreliable supply chains can be replaced by a new market of shared and distilled knowledge delivered via consistent and trustworthy quality. Customers are able to develop trust and confidence in a brand based on knowledge (“we know what we are doing”) that brings new maturity in the form of scale and process control and quality assurance to an emerging market category.

The company’s knowledge base enables vertical integration because the knowledge is broad and not narrow, the recruitment of strong partners because shared knowledge makes for robust collaboration, and new standards of quality, adherence to which strengthens customer expectations.

The firm’s foundation supports both R&D and open innovation.

All markets are changing at high rates of speed at all times. That’s why innovation is the essence of entrepreneurship. Standing still is a losing option. Jordan invests I R&D in the form of lab research (in pharmaceutical quality labs) exploring new product forms and new combinations, while also participating in the open innovation of knowledge sharing that goes on throughout the industry. R&D supports both specialization (making current offerings even better) and market expansion (new products, new forms).

Brand building will be the patient route to long term growth.

While business environments change fast, one way to invest with patience in a consistent direction is to build a brand. A brand can reflect customer values — the things that matter to them — in a way that creates lasting bonds. On its website, Moxie positions its brand as a force of character: courage, grit, determination, nerve. It provides an emotional connection to customers who value self-realization and self-actualization.

Patient entrepreneurs can see the regulatory maze as a locus of opportunity, too.

Moxie was the first licensed cannabis brand in California, and sees itself as a pioneer in leading institutional and regulatory progress. Instead of viewing regulators as business obstacles, Jordan employs his empathy skills to understand their position, their role, and their needs. He provides them with resources of information, industry knowledge and collaboration, and contributes where he can and where it’s appropriate to help them arrive at decisions and translate them into subsequent implementations.

As in building a company and building a brand, patience can pay off in future strength.

Additional Resources

EnjoyMoxie.com

Jordan Lams on LinkedIn: Mises.org/E4B_188_LinkedIn

The Long Night Of Mathematicized Economics Is Over.

Sometime in the 19th century, economists got the idea that mathematics was an appropriate language for economics. This was a strange turn, since economics is the science of how human beings, pursuing their own desires and preferences, find ways to exchange with other human beings to produce prosperity. Finding ways to exchange involves creativity, ideation, innovation, forming companies, providing services, importing and exporting – activities and processes that don’t lend themselves to algebraic symbols and mathematical equations. 

Mathematics is inappropriate for economics, yet it has become dominant. Why? Precisely because it removed the human component, the creativity, the subjectivism. The new practitioners didn’t want that mode. They wanted cold, hard calculation. They wanted to be seen as “real scientists”, like physicists and engineers, dealing in scientific precision and not the uncertainty and softness that, in their view, characterized the analytics of social science and social interaction. Human-ness is so messy. Math is clean and sterile.

But the hold of mathematics on economics is breaking. Its inappropriateness as a tool of economic understanding is widely recognized, and new alternatives are becoming well established.

The Illusion Of Knowledge

In an essay entitled The Illusion Of Knowledge, Howard Marks, co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, points out that the mathematical models of economics can’t predict and can’t guide expectations. There are too many variables and the most important variables are human and therefore unpredictable in their reaction to changing circumstances. He asks

Can a model replicate reality? Can it describe the millions of participants and their interactions? Are the processes it pretends to model dependable? Can the processes be reduced to mathematics? Can mathematics capture the qualitative nuances of people and their behavior? Can a model anticipate changes in consumer preferences, changes in the behavior of business, and participants’ reaction to innovation? In other words, can we trust his output?

Howard Marks, The Illusion Of Knowledge

His answer is no. 

Economics Of Verbs Not Nouns

W. Brian Arthur is another prestigious economist who rejects mathematical modeling for his science. In a paper entitled Economics In Nouns And Verbs, he observes:

The economy is very much a creation of humans and a very complicated one, so given the liberty of human choices and the vagaries of people’s actions, it is not obvious why algebraic logic and calculus should apply.

W. Brian Arthur Economics In Nouns And Verbs.

The core problem, as he articulates it, is that the algebraic symbols of econometric models exclusively represent nouns:

Economics deals with prices, quantities produced, consumption, rates of interest, rates of exchange, rates of inflation, unemployment levels, trade surpluses, GDP, financial assets, Gini coefficients. These are all nouns. In fact, they are all quantifiable nouns— amounts of things, levels of things, rates of things. Economics as it is formally expressed is about amounts and levels and rates, and little else.

Ibid.

The language of mathematics does not allow actions. It can’t answer questions about how an economy or a firm or a development project emerges in the first place, how innovation works, how economic development takes place, or how structural change happens. Anything in the economy that deals with adjustment— whether it is adaptation, innovation, structural change, or history itself—falls through the algebraic mathematics sieve.

Arthur calls for a language of expression in economics that can describe these actions, changes, and innovations, and thereby develop some resemblance to and understanding of the real world.

Language and Austrian economics

Ahmed Elsamadisi, CEO of the analytical software company narrator.ai says that there is one data model that can cope with all these variables: it’s called language. Data has a role to play, but it’s subsidiary to language. Elsamadisi talks about “having a conversation with data” – it’s human beings using language to ask the right questions who are able to find the most value in historical information.

The economics that Brian Arthur is looking for already exists, but most economists ignore it. The unfortunately-named Austrian economics – its first scholars were in Vienna but the research now is global – uses language and deductive logic from first principles to develop its theories. It has no models. 

As economist Per Bylund writes in How To Think About the Economy, economics Is about people and specifically about what they do to meet their own goals. People’s wants are unlimited but their means are not, so they economize, choosing from scarce means to achieve as much as they can. Economics is life: spontaneously and adaptively doing what we can with the resources available to us. As a consequence, the economy Is unplanned order, always in flux. It can’t be modeled.

Subjective Quantification

Professors Peter Lewin and Nicolas Cachanosky propose a novel combination of thought processes to integrate words and numbers in economic calculation. Their term is subjective quantification. Human beings have the unique ability to turn subjective ideas into numbers that express the idea. We find a particular product or service that we feel has potential value to us, and we turn that feeling into a number via our willingness to pay a monetary price to acquire it. That’s turning the subjective – our idea of value – into the objective – the number of dollars we’re willing to pay. Generally, this is the process of economic calculation. Firms estimate revenues they may receive in the future from customers who perform this value calculus. The firm uses its own estimate – a subjective one, by definition – to make plans for investment and business expenditures.

Models promise prediction and guidance on economic variables. It’s an illusion, as Howard Marks puts it.

With the new resurgence of Austrian economics, and its modern expression in what Brian Arthur calls complexity economics (an economics of verbs not nouns), the dominance of mathematics in economics is coming to an end.