Entrepreneurial Ability as a Latent Variable
| Peter Klein |
It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, so naturally I’m thinking about residuals — not leftover turkey and cranberry sauce, but entrepreneurial characteristics and behaviors as residuals, as latent variables that leave traces in outcomes that we can’t otherwise explain. I’ve argued before that common measures of entrepreneurship such as startups, self-employment, patents, venture funding, etc., while related to entrepreneurship, are epiphenomena, manifestations of an underlying, unobservable attribute or behavior such as judgment, alertness, innovation, or adaptation. (These are difficult, if not impossible, to measure directly; asking survey respondents, for instance, “How many opportunities did you identify this month?” is not quite the same thing as measuring Kirznerian alertness!) In a recent musing on strategic entrepreneurship I suggested that
many of the entrepreneurial capabilities we’re really interested in are latent, and best captured as residuals — e.g., something heritable and not explainable by other observables. . . . Mike Wright talked [at the CBS strategic entrepreneurship conference] about mobility, both across firms or projects (habitual entrepreneurs, spin-outs) and across countries (immigrant and returnee entrepreneurs, transnational entrepreneurs). From the perspective of research design, some of these movements may be useful for isolating the “entrepreneurial” essence, such as it is.
Seth Carnahan, Rajshree Agarwal, and Ben Campell have an interesting new paper, “The Effect of Firm Compensation Structures on the Mobility and Entrepreneurship of Extreme Performers,” that takes this kind of approach, measuring entrepreneurial ability as the residual in a wage regression. Most of the variation in wages can be explained by age, experience, race, gender, education, and other observables; what remains is partly measurement error, but can also include a latent ability parameter. Seth, Rajshree, and Ben use this parameter, along with the wage structure of an employee’s existing firm, to explain which employees tend to leave to join new firms, particularly startups. Check it out!