On May 2, The Wall Street Journal will publish my article “What Entrepreneurs Can Teach Us All About Life.” Here’s a snippet:
“We often think of entrepreneurs as larger-than-life characters. They take big risks. They make their own rules. They innovate and experiment, questioning things everybody else takes for granted.
“It can almost seem like entrepreneurs are a breed apart. But they’re not. All of us are born with the ability to take risks, think creatively and challenge the everyday way of doing things. And as hokey as this can sound, we would all do well to tap into those traits in both our lives and our careers, whether we work for ourselves or not …”
On Monday, I’ll update with links to the published piece.
Rape is among the most horrific of crimes. Sex should be a fun and beautiful thing — but rape takes that most personal of experiences and turns it into a degradation.
There is moderately good news about the number of rapes in the USA. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rape rate has declined by over 60% in the last two decades.
That’s welcome news, of course. But no matter what the rate is, it is too high. The vast majority of human beings are already perfectly capable of living their lives without ever raping anyone, so eliminating rape entirely should be the standard we aspire to.
Country comparisons are useful in setting expectations. Sweden, for example, has a shockingly high rape rate of 53.2 per 100,000 people. In comparison, the United States has a low rate at 28.6. But before we issue congratulations, let’s also consider Canada, the USA’s near neighbor both geographically and culturally, where the rate is 1.5. Significant progress is still possible.
Controversy has been running high recently over how best to lower the rape rate on campuses. Progress should especially be possible in colleges and universities, which are populated by young people with higher-education aspirations, and statistics do show that fewer rapes and other violent crimes are committed on campuses.
But in California, recent legislation attempts to lessen the problem by mandating explicit verbal communication prior to sexual activity. The initiative’s slogan is “Yes means Yes.” The idea is that the absence of resistance is not enough to make initiating sex acceptable. “No” does mean “No”, but the lack of a “No” does not mean “Yes.” So an explicit positive acceptance of sexual initiative will henceforth be necessary before any student can make a sexual move. Those who fail to demonstrate that explicit positive consent was given will accordingly be more easily found guilty of rape.
The initiative has generated a firestorm of debate — with two fascinating features.
One feature is that the debate shows our shifting political fault lines, which increasingly are not conservatives versus liberals, but rather both conservatives and liberals against the new authoritarians. Here for example is liberal columnist Jonathan Chait, writing in New York magazine, on how the initiative undermines one foundation of liberalism — the presumption of innocence. He is joined by conservative columnist Charles Cooke, writing in National Review, who similarly lambasts the initiative’s willingness to jettison due process of law. And both are opposed to new authoritarian Ezra Klein, who wrote in Vox defending the new law despite its “overreach” and the fact that it will be cause “a haze of fear and confusion” on campuses and “create a world where men are afraid.”
The second fascinating feature is the largely-positive response to the initiative within higher education circles. The authoritarian impulse is always a natural response to a problem, and very often professors and administrators find it easier to use their power to impose their wills and micromanage their students’ thoughts, feelings, and activities. That impulse is the opposite of the ideal of liberal education.
So in the spirit of that ideal, let me suggest that a better solution to the problem of rape lies in the opposite direction: What students need is to be treated less like semi-responsible, semi-competent children who need oversight, direction, and control; and what they need is more self-responsibility and power. Especially in institutions of higher education, where every moment is a teaching moment, the lesson we should be teaching about sex is that free and responsible men and women can take charge of their sex lives and make them meaningful — and prevent most problems from arising in the first place.
So some advice about how to solve the rape problem to everyone involved — young women and men, professors and administrators, and intellectuals and policy-makers.
All of that is common sense — though we know that common sense and the sex drive are often not on speaking terms. But that is part of education: developing those habits of ahead-of-time thinking and action that will serve us well. The same principles apply whether you’re in college or going hiking in the woods or driving through a big city at night — there are wild animals there, so beware.
To young men: We do have in our midst, even in higher education, a surprising number of sub-human males. But every young man who arrives in college or university knows that rape is wrong. And the vast majority will never rape. So the problem is the minority of males who have not yet decided to become real men. What kind of man can only get a woman into bed if she’s drunk? What sort of loser can only get sex by brute force? The message that should be inspired in all young men is the opposite: You want to become a real man, a manly man in the serious sense — one whom women genuinely find attractive and respond to romantically.
To campus administrators and policy-makers: Campus life is a microcosm of life in general — but with a specialized focus: helping young men and women further develop the knowledge, skills, and character they need to pursue their life goals. Every policy we adopt should foster that mission, and none should undercut it. Becoming authoritarian ourselves is always a mistake, however tempting.
That doesn’t mean there is nothing administrators can do to help solve the problem of rape. One standout aspect is the influence of alcohol: In 71% of all American cases of rape, either the perpetrator or the victim or both had been drinking. Yes, 71 percent.
So why not work to change our alcohol policies? The current legal drinking age in the USA is 21, while it is 18 in most other countries in the world. Some of those countries have lower rape rates and some have higher.
But consider what the drinking age means to the average American college student, most of whom are under 21. Drinking becomes a symbol of independence and getting drunk a rite of passage. Alcohol becomes a deliciously forbidden fruit, since administrators frown upon it and try to police it, which drives student drinking into semi-secret parties in frat houses and dorms. So the effect of our current policy is to couple drinking with rebelliousness and independence — and the sex drive — and drive it underground.
I contrast this, anecdotally, to my experience as an undergraduate student in Canada, where we could drink legally and pubs on campus were among the most popular social spots. The drinking was mostly social, in public, and not demonized. Social scientists will tell a more detailed causal story, but it’s worth noting that alcohol consumption in Canada is moderately lower than in the USA and the campus rape rate is much lower.
So if we really want less sexual violence on campus, why don’t we try more self-responsibility and freedom? We currently have one authoritarian rule (We need to control your drinking) contributing to another authoritarian policy (We need to control your sex life).
Instead of a vicious cycle of imposing more controls on students and demanding their compliance, let’s create a virtuous cycle based on encouraging student self-control and personal responsibility.
“What happens when you mix politics, bathrooms, and sexuality? Let the joking begin.
“A politician walks into a transgender bar. [Fill in the blank here.] Afterwards, he tries to explain: “I really only wanted to use the bathroom.”
“Ha ha. But the serious business is the busybody politicians in North Carolina and Tennessee who have floated legislation specifying genitalia requirements for bathroom use.
“Much of this is political tit-for-tat. Some petty authoritarian politicians, mostly Democrats, passed legislation forcing Christian bakers to make cakes for gay couples’ weddings. So now some Republicans — in the best tradition of political small-mindedness — retaliate with legislation barring transgendered persons from using the bathrooms of their choice …” [Read more here.]
After beating up on some “left” icons (here, here, and here, for example), it’s time to give some grief to the “right.”
American political vocabulary tends to sort people into liberals on the left and conservatives on the right. All are big-tent labels, and we argue continuously about how to place libertarians, progressives, socialists, theocrats, and others.
But one regular claim in the arguments is that conservatives favor free-market capitalism. Progressives and socialists are hostile to capitalism, and they are on the left, so the capitalists must be on the right with the conservatives.
It’s a claim with a grain of journalistic truth. Yet it has a big problem: for a century the deep thinkers on the conservative side have, almost without exception, argued that conservatives cannot be capitalists. And the deep thinkers on the free-market capitalist side have, again almost without exception, gone out of their way to explain why they are not conservatives. And both sides are correct.
Let’s start with the big-name conservatives. In the American context, there are several sub-species — religious conservatives, neo-conservatives, traditional conservatives, and middle-of-the-road conservatives. So let’s sample what representatives of each sub-species have said about free-market capitalism.
Here is Robert Bork, representing a religious conservatism. Bork was the legal scholar whom the U.S. Senate rejected for a seat on the Supreme Court. This is from his best-selling book Slouching Towards Gomorrah:
“Because both libertarians and modern liberals are oblivious to social reality, both demand radical personal autonomy in expression. That is one reason libertarians are not to be confused, as they often are, with conservatives.” Bork goes on to argue that “free market economists are particularly vulnerable to the libertarian virus” and cites errors about ethics and human nature as the root problem — too often the free market economist “ignores the question of which wants it is moral to satisfy” and fails to recognize that “unconstrained human nature will seek degeneracy often enough to create a disorderly, hedonistic, and dangerous society.”
Note the strong language: the free market unleashes degeneracy and is like a virus.
Next consider Irving Kristol, “godfather” of the neo-conservatives, from his contribution to Capitalism Today: “The inner spiritual chaos of the times, so powerfully created by the dynamics of capitalism itself, is such as to make nihilism an easy temptation. A ‘free society’ in [Friedrich] Hayek’s sense gives birth in massive numbers to ‘free spirits’ – emptied of moral substance.”
Strong language again: capitalism leads to chaos, nihilism, and moral emptiness.
Now let’s turn to a traditional conservatism, taking Russell Kirk as representative. As one sympathetic commentator at the conservative Heritage Foundation site puts it: “To Russell Kirk, ‘true conservatism’ — [Edmund] Burke’s conservatism — was utterly antithetical to unrestrained capitalism and the egoistic ideology of individualism.” Kirk himself, in criticizing Ayn Rand’s free-market advocacy, wrote that “we flawed human creatures are sufficiently selfish already, without being exhorted to pursue selfishness on principle.” Under ruthless capitalism, Kirk argued, a man becomes “a social atom, starved for most emotions except envy and ennui, severed from true family-life and reduced to mere household-life, his old landmarks buried, his old faiths dissipated.”
So a conservative must be opposed to capitalism’s individualism, atomism, and selfishness.
At the heart all of these conservatisms is a recognition that capitalism threatens traditional morality. As the conservative columnist George Will nicely put it, we have to make a hard choice between two alternatives: “One is cultural conservatism. The other is capitalist dynamism. The latter dissolves the former.”
From the capitalist side, the most prominent advocates of free markets have returned the favor and vigorously critiqued conservatism.
Milton Friedman, the Nobel-Prize-winning economist and powerful advocate of free markets, favored both legalizing drugs and gay marriage, thus earning enmity from many conservatives. Friedman was also fiercely opposed to the military draft, a cause often close to conservative hearts. (Recently, middle-of-the-road conservative David Brooks, writing in The New York Times, argued for reinstating a mandatory civilian draft.)
Friedrich Hayek, another leading free-market economist and Nobel-Prize winner, wrote an essay on “Why I Am Not a Conservative”, in which he describes himself as a principled liberal. The problem with conservatives, Hayek argued, is that as their label suggests they been concerned with maintaining the status quo and avoiding the extremes of both freedom and authoritarianism. As a result, Hayek pointed out, “it has been regularly the conservatives who have compromised with socialism.”
And the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, in her warrior-like way, characterized conservatism as intellectually brain-dead and attacked its core positions in “Conservatism: An Obituary.” Rand described herself as a radical for capitalism and argued that we need a modern, rational morality to replace the musty old moralities of obedience and faith that many conservatives long for. It’s striking that as harsh as the criticisms of Rand’s views have been from the political left, the harshest criticisms have come from the conservative right.
So we have a pattern: leading conservatives oppose capitalism and leading capitalists oppose conservatism. And we have a puzzle: in popular language, conservatism and capitalism are often confused.
The popular-language issue is easier to explain. There’s a pigeon-holing tendency that leads some to look for simple ideological dualities — liberal versus conservative, left versus right. In the USA, that tendency is reinforced by a two-party system that makes politics seem like only two options are possible. And within the two-party system, the ongoing big-tent efforts can lead factions to overlook or ignore significant differences.
The more challenging problem is philosophical, as the conservatives-versus-capitalists debate reveals two conceptions of morality in collision — one more optimistic and modern, and one more pessimistic and traditional.
Individuals are weak, the conservatives argue, and they will destroy themselves and others if they are left free. Legalizing drugs and alcohol means widespread intoxication, sexual freedom means promiscuity, and lifestyle choice means that individuals won’t belong to meaningful social units unless they are subtly or overtly coerced into them. Human beings need structure — a structure that they do not choose but rather is imposed upon them by family conditioning, the weight of tradition, and backed up by law.
Individuals are competent, the capitalists tend to argue in response. They can handle freedom and use it productively. Yes, some individuals abuse it and fall into addiction and isolation, but most seek meaningful romantic and family relationships and learn to use intoxicants responsibly. Through free experiment and exploration, all individuals can rationally improve their lives. But to enjoy the dynamism of modern liberal societies we need to be willing to modify or even reject the old ways.
Politics depends upon philosophy is another way to put it. The great debates in contemporary politics are, at root, debates about human nature and morality.
Hicks: I’m Stephen Hicks. Our guest today is Professor Terry Noel, who teaches Entrepreneurship and Management at Illinois State, here today at Rockford College speaking on the theme of the virtuous entrepreneur.
Interesting title, but your broader context is the newer entrepreneurial economy that we live in and that you think is accelerating, particularly for younger people. What do you mean by this, new and accelerating entrepreneurial economy?
Noel: We’ve seen a change in the last 30 years certainly, in about 1980, we started to see a big shift in the economy from one which was driven largely by Fortune 500 companies. In 1980, we had about one in five people were employed by a Fortune 500 company. Now, a little less than 20 years later, in about 1998, that had dropped to one in fourteen.
Hicks: I’ve seen that number, yes.
Noel: So we really became more of a small business and entrepreneurship economy than a large-company economy. Now, since 1998, we’ve had many more changes. The pace of change ha really accelerated, because, if you recall, the Internet was really established as a commercially viable entity only in 1994, in January. When we take that shift that was already happening and then add a radical transformation of how information is handled, and who has access to it, and we start to see a great deal of turmoil in the economy. So, in my view, I think that we will continue, in some cases, to see large companies, but by and large, I think we are going to see an economy where we have more startups dealing with new technological issues, and we are going to see such rapid change that the idea of a large organization staying in place for decades, I think, it’s going to become more rare.
Hicks: And this is going to impact younger people. Fewer of them will be working in organizations that are traditional large corporations. They will be working in smaller organizations, or more entrepreneurial organizations, and many more of them themselves will become entrepreneurs. And that means a different kind of set of character traits are going to be more important, right, for younger people and this takes us to the virtue part of your talk. Now, before you plunge into entrepreneurial virtues per se, you made a distinction between positive ethics and negative ethics. Say something about that.
Noel: Usually when we talk about ethics in the context of business, we are largely talking about refraining from certain types of behaviors. Don’t cook the books, don’t misrepresent your product. Don’t sell things under false pretenses or things that are dangerous.
Hicks: OK, so they’re all “Don’ts.” There is nothing wrong with that; it’s just that that’s only one half of business ethics. I think it’s important also to recognize that there are positive virtues. I would put on the list things like, say, courage, the ability to try something new. If we are going to live in an economy where new ideas and innovation are kind of the mainstay of growth, then it requires people who are willing to take a chance and to do something brave. Ethics is not simply about refraining from doing damage to other people or lying to them in various ways, but actually doing positive and creating value in the world. Then, we need to shift ethics away from simply not doing to a focus on the positive.
Noel: Oh, I think so, absolutely.
Hicks: Right, and then you connected that to the entrepreneurship discussion, because, if we are to be more entrepreneurial, or outright entrepreneurs, then what are the character traits that go into being an entrepreneur or being entrepreneurial? Now, you have mentioned being courageous, being creative, right, and so forth. What other key virtues do you think are critical to success?
Noel: I think the top one I would put at the very top of the list is independence of mind. I think that, in order for someone to succeed as an entrepreneur, he or she has to be willing to trust that his or her convictions are sound. That doesn’t mean you get it right every time, and doesn’t mean being mule-headed about things. It just means having the confidence to think that I am in the minority on this idea, and I am okay with that. I can survive in that kind of climate. And that is not a virtue that we talk about a lot. Much of virtue it seems to me is founded in a sense on conformity. So, I think independence of mind hits the top of the list.
Hicks: Okay, closely related would be creativity of mind. You mentioned that earlier.
Noel: I think creativity is, with some qualifications. Creativity is often emphasized in entrepreneurial ventures, and that is good. And because almost, by definition, an entrepreneurial venture is creative in the sense that it kind of disrupts normal routines. But, creativity can be overrated. Very often, successful businesses we know are not those that are necessarily radically creative, but they often put an interesting tweak or twist on an existing idea. So, I think creativity makes a difference, but not for its own sake.
Hicks: This distinction between incremental innovation or incremental creation vs. disruptive innovation and so on.
Noel: And both can be valuable.
Hicks: Fair enough. Then you mentioned courage. What else would be high in your list of traits?
Noel: I think resilience, absolutely, has to be near the top of the list. Because, the simple fact of the matter is most entrepreneurs fail, they just fail marvelously. Failure is a virtue, but not if we fail for reasons of being careless, or not doing our homework, not paying attention to reality. But, sometimes we can do our homework, do all the “quote” right things and still fail. I think probably the biggest factor that separates successful entrepreneurs from those that die on the vine is that they just decide they will do it, no matter what. Now, they may have to change their approach to an idea, but they have to be resilient enough to get up, dust themselves off and go at it again.
Hicks: All right, so that’s four so far. Five is a nice rounded number. So one more.
Noel: You know, I am going to put on the list that I’ve just being thinking about recently. And so, I think compassion. One has to remember what the real root of entrepreneurial activity is. And that is, I want to achieve something for myself, and that is noble motive. It may be to satisfy a drive to create something beautiful or useful, and we can do that, say, as an artist or as a performer, and not really think in a business context. When we are entrepreneurs, though, we are creating a value that can be enjoyed by other people, for which we receive an honest trade in exchange. Value for value exchange. Without some type of compassion, that is, the sense of understanding what other people need and how to make their lives better, it’s very hard to be a successful entrepreneur. So, compassion not in the sense that we usually think of it in just charitable causes and things like that. But being able to understand and empathize with people and how to make their lives better.
Hicks: So it’s not necessarily understanding what people themselves think they want, or being just doing your market research and being tuned, but being able to understand and feel for how people could live.
Noel: Yeah, I think Steve Jobs is a great example. Because, at the time, if you had asked, me and most other people, do you need a computer in your home?
Hicks: This being the 1970s or earlier, actually?
Noel: We’d have looked at you, like what? But Steve Jobs recognized what we needed and what the world needed before any of us did. Now, interestingly, and this is why I think there is no contradiction between self-interest and the service of others entrepreneurially. Steve Jobs has a marvelous quote in which he says: “We didn’t create this for everybody else. We created this for us. We wanted to create the neatest computer that had ever been invented.” Now, you think about that. He is saying outright we didn’t do it for everybody else, yet millions benefited. So, I think sometimes we have a convoluted view of what is good for us and what is good for others.
Hicks: The win-win is natural and normal, if you are an entrepreneurial value creator.
Hicks: Not to put words in your mouth.
Noel: No, no. That’s a very good way of putting it, in fact.
Hicks: Now, this list of trait takes us to the issue of why some people — and it seems to be a minority — are successful as entrepreneurs. Other people fail as entrepreneurs, but a lot of people also just aren’t interested in it or frightened by entrepreneurship. Are entrepreneurs made or are they born? From your talk, I got the impression that you think that they are made, or that at least we can train ourselves to become more entrepreneurial. So, how does one do that?
Noel: Well, I think the first thing we need to remember is we view holding a job for our adult working lives as the norm. When, in reality, that about 100 years ago and before, that was not the norm at all. More than half of people were employed in their own businesses. We had shopkeepers and artisans and so forth. And then, as we learned of the value of large organizations, efficiencies of scale and things like that, we came to have lots of people that found it a better life for themselves to have the predictability and security of a job. There is nothing wrong with that. I think we are probably seeing the end of that era for reasons we talked about a moment ago. And that means that, as we have less of our working lives dictated by an organization, and the goals of management and owners, we have to make up our own minds of what we want to do and the value that we want to create. And that’s a bit different. That’s not a set of virtues about fitting in to the corporate climate, but it’s developing virtues like independence of thought and courage.
Hicks: Does it mean a shift in parenting styles, a shift in education, lower education, higher education?
Noel: Heaven love them, our parents, what do our parents want for us? So we have kids, right, and what we want? We don’t want them to experience all the pain that we experienced. Now, we may say we want you to go out, be adventurous and do these things and be true to yourself. But, in reality, we remember all the lumps and bruises we took, and we think for heaven’s sake, I hope they don’t have to go through that. And I think sometimes, unconsciously, we encourage our kids to be too safe. We encourage them to get a good job with benefits, and then we don’t have to worry that they won’t be able to pay the bills. Instead of teaching them to go out and try micro-businesses, to encourage them to go out and take fifty dollars, invest in something, go resell something, see if you can make some money. Or instead of getting that part-time job while you are going to school and getting paid minimum wage, why don’t you start a micro-business that will support you through college? I think we don’t tend to do that quite enough. So I think parenting does have a lot to do with it.
Hicks: For people who are older adults, and who want to cultivate entrepreneurism in themselves, what kind of advice do you have for them?
Noel: Well, a couple of things. One, as you’ve probably already without realizing it, developed a lot of the virtues that are necessary for being an entrepreneur. Because most people, in their adult working lives, have faced situations where they’ve had to be courageous and maybe even to a certain extent in certain companies innovative. I think the biggest thing, if I were to encourage adult entrepreneurs, say, people that are near retirement age, but they are worried they won’t be able to live well through retirement, is to develop just some fundamental business skills, things that, you know, basic accounting skills, basic marketing skills. I am not talking about going back and getting a college business degree, but just developing those skills. As far as the virtues, I think you just have to take assessment of what your experiences have been like. If you have been in a company that encouraged innovation and risk-taking, it’s probably pretty natural.
Hicks: So, just build on those consciously.
Noel: Build on those. If you’ve been in an environment that has been very staid and very predictable, you set to be honest about that and ask yourself. Are there areas in my life where I have been innovative and being a risk-taker and how can I parlay that into an entrepreneurial venture.
Hicks: All right, so ongoing character training for oneself.
Noel: Exactly, a little step at a time.
Hicks: Whatever age level.
Hicks: Thanks for being with us today.
Noel: Thank you for having me.
[The original interview with Professor Noel follows.]
I’ll be speaking in Curitiba at Saturday’s Students for Liberty conference. My topic is “Progress and Betrayal: The Responsibilities of Latin American Intellectuals.” Thanks to the dynamic Juliano Torres, André Freo, and Matheus Pacini for everything they did to help make this possible.
The Nazi ideologue Ernst Krieck had little patience for the claim that Nietzsche’s philosophy was a forerunner of National Socialist politics.
Nietzsche came up often and positively in Nazi speeches and writings. But Krieck scoffed:
“All in all, Nietzsche was an opponent of socialism, an opponent of nationalism, and an opponent of racial thinking. Apart from these bents of mind, he might have made an outstanding Nazi.”
Well said, Ernst! Très amusant!
But there is the puzzle still of why so many smart Nazi theoreticians and political activists saw themselves as followers of Nietzsche.
My view is a split decision: In Nietzsche and the Nazis I argue that in many important respects the Nazis and the Nietzsche are opposed — but in several equally important respects the Nazis were Nietzschean.
 Quoted in Max Whyte, “The Uses and Abuses of Nietzsche in the Third Reich: Alfred Baeumler’s ‘Heroic Realism.’” Journal of Contemporary History 43(2) (2008), p. 188. Thanks to R. Kevin Hill for the pointer.