The Invention of Enterprise: Reviews

6 May 2010 at 9:31 am 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

If you haven’t yet had a chance to read Landes, Mokyr, and Baumol’s 600-page baby, The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times, here are reviews by Mansel Blackford and Reuven Brenner. Blackford is impressed; Brenner, not so much. Brenner is worth quoting at length:

[L]arge chunks of the book are more about the topic of inhibitions to enterprise and both the variety of ideas people came up with to rationalize them and the institutions rulers and governments put in place to enforce these ideologies. . . .

Unfortunately most of the chapters dealing with the topic of inhibitions miss the forest from the trees, as not one addresses what is to me the basic issue when examining “the invention of enterprise.” There is nothing more threatening to an established order — any order — than opening up, deepening, democratizing capital markets — accountably, allowing people to leverage their inventive, enterprising spirit. True, this would also disperse power — political power in particular. The deeper capital markets would also threaten established industries and commerce. Entrepreneurs, brilliant and ambitious as they might be, are not a threat. They can be sent to Siberia, forced into complacency by the Maos of this world, and the opportunistic ones will channel their ambition through the established powers.

But entrepreneurs with access to different, independent sources of risk capital — now that’s threatening, be they Brin and Page, Jobs or Milken at the time (quickly taking away much of the banks’ bread and butter of providing loans). Understanding this, even if not wanting to articulate it, provides enough incentives for those in power to subsidize, spread, and promote ideas and institutions inhibiting the deepening of capital markets under a wide variety of jargons, and thus inhibiting the invention and reinvention of enterprises. With time, people get accustomed to these institutions, their origins lost in the mist of time, inhibiting entrepreneurship and business for centuries. Today this may be happening a bit before our eyes. Suddenly, everything becomes a “bubble” — Internet, oil, houses, gold, bonds. Guess what: if everything is — why have capital markets to start with? If pricing no longer offers guidance to allocate capital; if stock and bond markets are not there to help correct mistakes faster — why should they continue to exist? And if they do not exist, who else remains but politicians, bureaucrats and the academics surrounding them — none of whom ever worked in a business even one day in their lives — who would then tax and borrow and subsequently allocate capital and “invent enterprises” based on — well — whatever.

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Entry filed under: - Klein -, Business/Economic History, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Institutions, Public Policy / Political Economy.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. David Hoopes  |  6 May 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Both reviews make good reading. The reviewers hold wildly different world views. I found this comment by Blackford interesting. He quotes and comments,

    ‘ “China and the Arabic Middle East” offering “pungent case studies” of “resistance to innovation”(p. 2) — surely an outdated assertion.’

    I’m in no position to judge how well China and the very broad category of “The Arabic Middle East” have developed capital markets.

    Nice post.

  • 2. David Gerard  |  6 May 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Blackford doesn’t seem that impressed, either.

    Wow, that’s a scathing review.

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