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Archive for the “End of Entrepreneurship” Category

12303879306_1a8ba9cfa7_oWhen asked his reason for robbing banks, Willy Sutton said, “That’s where the money is.”

Right now our exponentially increasing federal government bureaucracy is where the money is and it worries the hell out of me.  I believe there is an increasing moral hazard here that is even more dangerous than innate governmental inefficiency.  I believe it may have implications for the future of US entrepreneurship and capitalism itself.

I started thinking about this a couple of weeks ago at the Inc. GrowCo convention in Nashville when I noticed an inordinate number of companies were focused on government business—how to get it, how to navigate it, how to penetrate it.  It seems to me this focus has enormous potential for skewing and perverting healthy capitalist business process. This is purely anecdotal, but it seemed to me there was extraordinary concern with the ROI of government ass-kissing.

And why not?  “That’s where the money is.”  But what does this say about the societal efficacy of entrepreneurship?  It says to me that the creative focus of our enormously fecund money generating, job creating community may be being subtly shifted from building better mousetraps to inventing schemes for feeding at the public trough, like a lamprey eel sucking on a big blue whale.

This new bureaucratic bloat is leeching energy and incentives away from the practical problem solving of traditional darwinian capitalism, into a focus on firstly looking for ways to manipulate and win within imposed oligarchic rules.  Once again—“That’s where the money is.”  It is a tax-payer funded moral and economic strangulation of healthy capitalist process.

scorpion_and_the_frogTo cite but one example, look no further than the rollout of Obamacare.  From what I can see from Congressional hearings, it’s pretty clear government IT procurement procedures are idiotic.  The Obamacare IT work went to insider firms whose proficiency was in jumping through hoops of government rules.  Efficient companies like Apple and Google didn’t even bother to bid on it.  What passionate entrepreneurial company wants to vitiate their originality and energy fighting bureaucratic torpor—energy that should be going into creating the new, disrupting the old?  Not only is a bloated bureaucracy a burden on efficient government and the taxpayer, but it also obviates the civic logic of the entrepreneurial process.

Indeed, please note Nicholas Eberstadt‘s best-selling book of 2012 called A Nation of Takers:  America’s Entitlement Epidemic.  Eberstadt holds up Eric Conn as poster boy for a new, destructive sort of mutant entrepreneur/legal con man.  Conn has established a whole new niche for legally snookering government into paying thousands of unworthy people disability benefits by effectively navigating the imprecise, easily abused strictures created by unaccountable and inept government rule makers with too much money and too much power.

Aesop tells this story:

A scorpion and a frog meet on the edge of the river, and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on his back. The frog asks,”How do I know you wont sting me?”  The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die, too.”

The frog says OK and then they set out, but at midstream, the scorpion stings the frog.  As the frog dies he gasps out, “Why?” The scorpion replies, “It is my nature.”

Gore_Vidal_by_Juan_F_BastosJoseph Schumpeter, the Austrian economist and Harvard professor, pointed out that an overweening bureaucratic class is in very much the same relation to healthy business as the scorpion to the frog.  Even if it is ultimately destructive to government itself, bureaucrats will drown free enterprise to create a controlling governmental hegemony.  It is their nature.

Gore Vidal said in his 1968 book Sex, Death and Money, “There is something about a bureaucrat that does not like a poem.” Or an entrepreneur. Thanks, Gore.

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My fellow entrepreneurs:  Go see The Hunger Games right away.

Early last year I saw a good little art movie called Winter’s Bone.  It starred a fantastic parvenu actress named Jennifer Lawrence.  Last Friday I saw she was in a new movie called The Hunger Games, so I skipped out of work early to go see it.

The movie has been marketed as a juvenile adventure entertainment and love story, ala the Twilight series or Spiderman.  Lawrence plays the heroine, “Katniss Everdeen.”   She is (again) wonderful.  But what startled me was that The Hunger Games spoke to my inner entrepreneur.

The story is essentially a dire fairy tale taking place in a futuristic, statist USA that has taken the reality show to its gladiatorial apotheosis.  Once a year 24 boys and girls fight to the death on TV in a computer controlled artificial wilderness.  There can be only one victor, one survivor.

The world has become a cowed and colorless place, tightly controlled and poverty stricken—a drab place without joy and without freedom.  At the top if this Orwellian dystopia is a decadent elite.  The movie doesn’t make clear who this garish group is, but to my mind they represent a bureaucratic plutocracy run amok.

For me the movie is a clear cautionary tale about the final destination of a suffocated society with no place for the unfettered, generative spirit that is the animating trope of entrepreneurship, as well as art, religion, and human meaning.  The reviews I read see The Hunger Games more as a satire on the cosmic emptiness of the reality show format and its dumbing down effect on an enthralled and voyeuristic public. Which it is.  But its philosophic underpinnings are, to my eye, unquestionably libertarian.  Think of it as a mesmerizing crossbreed entertainment somewhere between Lord of the Flies, Atlas Shrugged, and a febrile Roman spectacle.

As an observing small businessman who has found both salvation and succor in entrepreneurship, the mounting statism of the last three years is more than alarming.  It feels like a first, but irrevocable, step into a brave new world of iron-fisted, top-down authoritarianism, that is inimical to the chaotic free enterprise witches’ brew which has nurtured and enabled the emergence of the Steve Jobses, the John Mackeys, the Henry Fords, the Howard Schultzes, the Bill Gates, et. al.—not to mention the plethora of bit players that constitute the vast multitude of creative small businessmen.

For me, The Hunger Games is a potent moral fable warning of the danger of fascism and totalitarianism in its faceless, oligarchic form:  the anonymous tyranny  of seemingly benign, but unaccountable, bureaucrats.  The implication of the current US government’s voracious attempt to gather more and more power unto itself by way of “Czars”  and appointive panels, who know better what is good for us all than we ourselves, could be a first step on the road to a well-intended but ultimately malevolent future.  The philosophic underpinnings of ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank are not too disparate from the assumptions of The Capitol, the make-believe locale where Katnis Everdeen is taken to prepare for her Hunger Games ordeal.

At any rate, as an entrepreneur, I found The Hunger Games to be thought provoking as well as  entertaining.

As Katnis’  friend Peeta says, defining his motivation to fight in the contest, “[I fight] to show them they don’t own me.”  I’m not sure that is too far from the motivation of many entrepreneurs.

Thank you, Katnis and Peeta.  Thank you, Hunger Games.

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