My article published in The Wall Street Journal

wsj logoMy article “What Entrepreneurs Can Teach Us All About Life” has been published by The Wall Street Journal. Here is 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 …”

Read the article at the WSJ site here.

My article in The Wall Street Journal

wsj logoOn 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.

Terry Noel on The Virtuous Entrepreneur — transcript

Interview conducted at Rockford University by Stephen Hicks and sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.

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?noelterry

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?Steve_Jobs_Headshot_2010-CROP

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.

Noel: Absolutely.

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.

Noel: Exactly.

Hicks: Thanks for being with us today.

Noel: Thank you for having me.

[The original interview with Professor Noel follows.]

Robert Salvino on entrepreneurship and public policy — transcript of video interview

Interview conducted at Rockford University by Stephen Hicks and sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.

Hicks: Hi. I’m Stephen Hicks. Our guest today is Professor Robert Salvino, who teaches Economics and Entrepreneurship at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina. He spoke with us today on entrepreneurship and public policy. robert-salvino

One of your initial themes was the importance of entrepreneurship as a driver of the economy. Innovation, business startups, employment, and so forth. And you were pointing out what we actually do know about entrepreneurship. What are the traits that go into entrepreneurial success?

Salvino: Right. When we think about entrepreneurship, we think of a very positive-oriented type of person’s behavior, somebody who is a problem-solver, who sees obstacles and is already thinking about ways to get around those obstacles and accomplish things in spite of barriers that might seem to be very big for the rest of us.

Hicks: Right. And then the question then is: if we want to encourage entrepreneurial behavior, what kind of institutional framework is going to make that happen — or retard it? In your lecture, you made a distinction between a more active approach to public policy, when government is trying to foster entrepreneurship by picking winners and losers, so to speak, and a more indirect approach, where the government sets very general conditions within which entrepreneurship can flourish. What is the difference between these two approaches?

Salvino: An active public policy approach would be literal programs, if you will, that would maybe subsidize start-ups. If you start a small business, there will be credits that will be given to you or job training will be provided, or these types of things, trying to get people to start things. A passive approach to public policy would simply just to allow things to happen. So, have a very favorable business climate in the first place without somebody having to check the regulations and licenses and requirements and see what kind of things they could do. And maybe if you are in this type of industry, you can get better subsidies or things, so, taking that away and letting things just kind of run their course.

Hicks: So the argument there is: you take away particular types of policies, and you create an environment in which entrepreneurship will flourish. Whereas the other is to have that plus particular programs directed to stimulate entrepreneurship. In your talk you also in passing contrasted some regimes around the world that seem actively to discourage entrepreneurship. North Korea is an example. And then the example of cellphones was very striking. What was that?

Salvino: Just a few years ago, Eric Schmidt with Google and, I believe, Josh Cohen went to over to North Korea. They’ve got a book coming out that talks about technology and its role in the spread of prosperity and the changing of oppressive regimes. Just a few years ago, you were not allowed to have a cellphone in North Korea without some sort of authorization. The majority of population did not have a cellphone. Then, they later allowed a million people in a very large country to have a cellphone, but it was a controlled cellphone.

Hicks: If we try to evaluate, then, the two entrepreneurship-friendly approaches, where we assume that entrepreneurship is a good thing and we want to foster it, how do we evaluate whether a more active hands-on government fostering of entrepreneurship works better than a more relaxed government approach?

Here you took us through some history, asking us to look at some of the great entrepreneurial success stories, Google, Apple, AT&T earlier, Standard Oil, and so forth. What is the lesson that we learn from those examples, on your reading?Steve_Jobs_Headshot_2010-CROP

Salvino: Right. Those companies, those technologies — nobody would ever predicted the emergence of these new industries. Ford Motor Company, you would not have been able to identify a group of people whom might have been more likely to be successful. Try to take a group of people from MIT and put them in a room and say: ‘create the next big thing’. People like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates — nobody would have ever identified them as people likely to create the things that they did.

Hicks: So the argument there is just having a culture in which creative, innovative people can do what they want to do, you’re going to get entrepreneurship. And then on the negative side, you had examples like Solyndra, where active public policy trying to promote certain kinds of entrepreneurship blows up in our faces with a huge price. Stay more with that one.

Salvino: Solyndra was, I believe, awarded about $500 million in subsidies through the federal government because they were in a favored industry working in green technologies. And Solyndra went bankrupt within, I believe, a couple of years of forming. If the company, a start-up, had able to get private investors to back them to the tune of $500 million, it’s very unlikely they would have gone bankrupt in two years. So, the difference is between what went into the development of a company like Solyndra versus a company like Apple.

Hicks: Okay. Are we able to step back and cite statistics and say that here is the more relaxed, entrepreneurial-friendly environment, and in that environment, you get a certain number of entrepreneurial successes — Apple, Google, and so forth — but that we’re also going to have a whole lot of failures?

Salvino: Sure.

Hicks: Contrasting that with a government that is more hands-on and tries to pick entrepreneurial winners and losers, they are going to have a lot of failures, but they also have some winners. Are you able to quantify the relative success rate of those two approaches?

Salvino: I haven’t looked at that in my research, but I think if you look at it just from a theoretical perspective and think about resources that are invested in any and each of those, certainly you are going to have many, many failures in the private market with experimentation. But the difference would be the amount of leverage of that investment and the people who suffered as a result of that. If it truly is a market process, the spread of failure is not going to have the negative impact on all of society that something like many Solyndra-type things would.

Hicks: Okay, so we have one 500 million dollar failure that has to be put against then 500 one-million dollar failures, and so forth.

Salvino: Exactly. It is spread throughout the whole system.

Hicks: Now, you also had one particular example of public policy that seemed more indirect, and that was health insurance, where this is not directly intended to have an impact on entrepreneurship or not. But for various other reasons health insurance is a desirable goal, so the government wants to encourage the greater provision of entrepreneurship. But, nonetheless, indirectly it has an impact on entrepreneurship as the example you presented. How does that work?

Salvino: Okay, if we talk of a different types of entrepreneurs, a self-employed individual as one type. So, employer-provided health care as it emerged over time took years and years to grow and become kind of cemented into our culture as an expectation of a good job were good benefits. And so the rate of self-employment just seems to, over the same period of time, been about cut in half. And so, there is a real cost to acquiring Barack Obama, Chris Gronethealth insurance on your own in this independent market versus when you are with a large company. When you are with a large company that provides the benefit, there are direct policies that make it easier for a large company to provide the benefit to the employee. And so there is a hurdle that is created there, whether it was intended or not.

Hicks: Okay, so the way this works then is health insurance is a desirable thing for individuals. Government creates a policy that encourages employers to provide health insurance for employees. That makes employment with a company that’s providing health insurance more attractive than self-employment, so self-employment rates go down.

Salvino: Right. That’s kind of the idea that I have looked at and to see if there is a causal relationship between the two. Certainly, we can see at least anecdotally this idea that we place a very high premium on benefits. There was a survey done a couple of years ago throughout the world asking adolescents what do they want when they become adults. And most of them said they want a good job with good benefits. So this has been cemented into our culture.

Hicks: Okay, then public policy responds to that directly.

Salvino: And public policy responds and, in some cases, has helped propel that idea, that expectation.

Hicks: Scaling out then: your proposal was that we should have the more indirect, passive approach to public policy by creating general conditions within which entrepreneurs are free to innovate and experiment. What are those general conditions that you think work best?

Salvino: So, for example, just a sound monetary system that allows us to make long-term contracts and have an idea or expectation of what interest rates are going to be, what the rate of inflation might be, and how that affect us. Property rights, so that when we go into an organization, we form a corporation, we conduct business, we know that our rights are protected and that there is a judicial system that is going to help us solve disagreements and such things. Contract enforcement is another example of an institution that helps. When contracts are not going to be enforced, individuals, investors, or entrepreneurs may be very leery of forming partnerships with people that they may not know very well.

Hicks: You gave the example of China, part way through, as a very striking example. One of things we’re interested in is wealth creation. And wealth creation certainly is an important value if we are already comfortable. Nonetheless, we would like to be more prosperous and make sure our kids are more prosperous.

But wealth creation is important when we think about poverty and places in the world that are still ridden with poverty. You mentioned China as a very striking example. In the last generation, something happened that has never happened before in human history, namely, half a billion people were lifted out of dire poverty into a basic minimum standard of living. Can you track China’s success in doing so to public policy changes in China? And if so, what do you think those were?

Salvino: Right. If you go to China a generation ago, we think of China as a communist country. And still today people associate China with communist regime. But it is going in a different direction than many developed countries in the world. It is kind of backing down from that and going from a completely communist institution to state capitalism. Maybe it’s state-directed capitalism with capital ownership, but still it’s a step in the opposite direction, towards allowing markets to flourish more than previously had. And if we think about it from the perspective of our country, many American businesses over the past generation have put operations in China. And over the period of a generation it has become easier for these businesses to operate in China, to maintain their own property rights.

An individual came and spoke to a group of business leaders in South Carolina a couple of years ago and talked about an operation when they first went into China. In order to start their company they had to give away majority ownership of this subsidiary in China, so they were very leery to do that. And over the past few years, that went away to where they were not any longer required to give away that type of ownership of their company. And as more companies have been able to go into China, not having to give up certain of those property rights, more companies will go in there and conduct business. So there are jobs created in China by American companies and other companies throughout the world. And over a generation that has been one factor, I would say, that has helped to alleviate some of their problems.

Hicks: So China is moving in the right direction?

Salvino: Right, they are moving in the right direction.

Hicks: Thank you for being with us today. Interesting material.

Salvino: Thank you.

[The original video interview with Dr. Salvino follows.]

Arielle John on entrepreneurship in Trinidad — transcript of video interview

Interview conducted at Rockford University by Stephen Hicks and sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.

Hicks: I am Stephen Hicks. Our guest today is professor Arielle John, who is teaching fellow in the Department of Economics at Beloit College. Professor John was here to speak with us on culture and entrepreneurship with special reference to Trinidad, her native country. arielle-john-500-px

In your talk you gave us some striking statistics about the relationship between culture and entrepreneurship. You started with a breakdown by ethnicity, or the various segments of Trinidadian society. And, to contrast to that, with the participation in self-employment and entrepreneurship. What were those numbers like?

John: Trinidad is an interesting country ethnically. The two majority segments of the population are Indians, who are descendants from Indian indentured servants; they comprise 40% of the population. African Trinidadians comprise about 37%, so they are about equal. Beyond that, about a fifth of the country, or 21% of Trinidadians, report themselves to be mixed; usually that implies they are a mix between Indian and African. And there is a small minority of individuals who are European descendants, also Chinese and Syrian-Lebanese and they comprise two percent of the population. They are the smallest group in the population.

Now, when we look at self-employment statistics we find that within that minority group [European, Chinese, and Syrian-Lebanese descendants], about 35%-36% of those individuals are self-employed — they are business owners. The next group with the biggest category of business owners are the Indians. About 25% of those individuals are considered self-employed. Mixed individuals, perhaps about 20% of that group are self-employed, and blacks in Trinidad have a below average self-employed rate at about 16%. So that’s the breakdown.

Hicks: So, your area of investigation is the effects of ethnic culture, and possibly racial culture, on the widely varying self-employed entrepreneurial ranges.

You also spoke about entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship is complicated in some respects, but you broke it down into two basic moments that you call the Kirznerian moment or the Schumpeterian moment. What are those?

John: Obviously, the decision to become an entrepreneur involves many factors over time and place. For Israel Kirzner, the defining moment of being an entrepreneur is the moment when you discover an opportunity, and usually that happens in a surprise fashion. You are going about your way, and suddenly you realize there are needs that people want met and you know exactly how to do that. So for Kirzner the defining moment is identifying the opportunity.

Hicks: He is emphasizing the cognitive elements in entrepreneurship.

John: Absolutely. For Joseph Schumpeter, what defines an entrepreneur is the doing. For Schumpeter, exploiting the opportunity and actually bringing a product to market or changing how a supply chain works or changing some aspect of production — that is what makes you an entrepreneur. So, in doing something creative, destroying the old way of doing things, the doing aspect of entrepreneurship is what Schumpeter focuses on. So there appears to be two moments of entrepreneurship, the moment when you identify the opportunity and the moment when you actually exploit the opportunity.

Hicks: Okay, so the next question is about culture and those two moments of entrepreneurship. So, in trying to figure out how well or not well a culture fosters the identification of opportunities and the exploiting, right, of those opportunities. joseph_schumpeter You also had a definition of culture earlier, an explication of what culture is. What is culture?

John: Culture is one of those words that is ambiguous and hard to make concrete because it’s so abstract. But I think there is a very good definition of culture from the anthropologist Clifford Geertz. He refers to culture as an historically transmitted pattern of meanings, a system of inherited conceptions. So culture is essentially defined as the shared meanings individuals have about the objects and about the people and about the actions in their lives. They share meanings together, and those differ from culture to culture.

Hicks: So one then asks what meaning, so to speak, entrepreneurship has within a group of people, and to what extent there is a history; those will be connections that we want to make.

Coming to Trinidad in particular, you had three hypothesis about the intersection. One was about Kirznerian entrepreneurship — the identification of opportunities and how that is in Trinidadian culture. What is your hypothesis there?

John: Well, my hypothesis there is that Trinidadians across all of the ethnic cultures are fairly prolific in identifying opportunities. I confirm this by doing interviews with Trinidadians, and I sat them down and asked them: Tell me about your job, or your dream job, and instead of people identifying opportunities to be technicians, to be doctors, to be educators, people identified specific entrepreneurial activities. So they saw themselves as being self-employed one day, and not only did they know that they wanted to own trucks and rent trucks, or start restaurants, or start hairstyling businesses, they had actual plans for how they were going to achieve these businesses. They had a diverse number of reasons, but what really struck me was that they were good at discovering gaps where consumers had demands that were not being met. They were very good at identifying opportunities.

Hicks: And that was across all of the different ethnic cultures that you identified earlier?

John: Yes.

Hicks: With respect to Schumpeterian moment in entrepreneurship, what is your hypothesis there for Trinidad?

John: Well, clearly according to the statistics I mentioned earlier, the ethnic cultures are not equal exploiters? According to the data, the white, Chinese, and Syrian-Lebanese Trinidadians are the best exploiters, and the blacks are not necessarily good exploiters. Indians are seen as the emergent business class.

Now there can be several cultural reasons for that. When I looked at the history of the different groups, I realized that there could be some historical, cultural reasons for these disparities. White, Chinese, and Syrian-Lebanese, to some extent, brought their cultures with them, from where they came from, e.g., from China, from Syria. They brought with them their entrepreneurial attitudes.

Not only that, once they arrived in Trinidad they kept close kinship ties and they formed business associations. So, an individual who belongs to that ethnic group has a support system, has a group of people who are aware of what it takes to be a good exploiter. They have technical advice, they keep their kinship network close, and that’s fairly true for Indian Trinidadians as well. But when it comes to black Trinidadians, they don’t have those close kinship ties. They never developed them across their history.

Hicks: Is that because they were largely brought in as slaves?

John: They were.

Hicks: And that destroys kinship connections?

John: That destroys kinship connections. Over the years blacks, as opposed to Indians and Chinese, have given different meanings to certain jobs. Public service, education jobs, and professional jobs are highly valued in the African culture in Trinidad. So an individual who is trying to climb the social ladder or make something out of himself, you know, chases prestige, is not likely to use business to exploit those dreams. They are likely to become more educated and avoid business altogether.

Hicks: Professional jobs in established institutions. You also mentioned some dimensions of dependence versus independence in post-colonial history of Trinidad. Trinidad became a country, you mentioned, in 1962. So this is within a couple of generations that we have a new culture, but nonetheless, dependence and independence are not equally distributed. What are the issues there?

John: I believe that coming out of colonialism, more people started to see business opportunities as something that they could do, they could take charge, they could aspire to be anything they wanted to be, which is why, I think, across cultures, Trinidadians are opportunity identifiers. But they are not necessarily, in terms of the ethnic groups, all equal opportunity exploiters, for these dependence reasons. So blacks and Indians coming out of independence were more dependent on the state, even after Trinidad was not a colony anymore.

There were social programs to try to get them to become businessmen, to take care of them, and I think that decreased their incentive to try to make it on their own. Within those families, living with your family well into adulthood and relying on your parents for money, that is still seem as normal in those ethnic groups. And so, again, that diminishes the incentive to become an entrepreneur and to make one’s own way through life. So, these cultures’ dependence transmits across generations and determine who actually, even though they may have ideas, feels a sort of real need to exploit the opportunities. And those who are more dependent don’t feel that need strongly.

Hicks: They are striking — the statistics on differences in entrepreneurship participation across ethnic groups and racial groups. Also, according to the degree of education.

You also had to break down by sex, and there is a marked difference in the participation between males and females in all ethnic groups and all levels of education. What are your thoughts on the gender or sex differentiation stats?Flag_of_Trinidad_and_Tobago.svg

John: There are gender differences in employment across cultures, across nations, across time, and across jobs, right, so not just self-employed versus employed. Most fields, right, you see that choice gap. And I am not clear what the reason is, but I do think sometimes men have different goals. Sometimes women have more family goals, whereas men may aspire to be businessmen or to be very involved in their jobs. And I think there is a fundamental difference when it comes to the actual choices men and women decide to make on their own.

Hicks: The male/female rates in Trinidad aren’t different from male/female rates in other cultures and places?

John: I don’t think that they are, even here in the USA, I don’t think that they are. Well, there may be a higher percentage of women becoming entrepreneurs in the USA, but women here also generally are more self-sufficient and have a higher income.

Hicks: Okay. Toward the end of your talk, after emphasizing various elements of culture, you said your research shows an importance of institutions of certain sorts in fostering or squelching entrepreneurial participation rates. What do you mean by institutions in the Trinidad context? How does that fit in to your research?

John: When I talk about institutions, I am talking about the formal rules of the game within a society. The rules that tell you what you are allowed to do, where you are allowed to participate and not allowed to participate. I am not really talking about informal rules. I am talking about formal, official rules within Trinidadian society.

Hicks: Would informal rules be on the cultural side? And formal rules would be institutions?

John: Yes, informal rules refer to norms. The formal rules, the institutions operating in Trinidad, certainly apply to everyone. Of all ethnic groups in Trinidad, these are rules that are on the books. They don’t apply to blacks any more than they apply to whites or Indians. So there are institutions in Trinidad and Tobago that I believe, and that I think economic theory would predict, that are beneficial to entrepreneurial identification and exploitation in the first place. In Trinidad and Tobago, private property rights are respected and enforced, so if an individual decides they see an opportunity and they want to follow through with it, they can purchase the piece of land, they can purchase the building, and they don’t have to worry about it being confiscated. Private property rights are perhaps not as strong as in more developed nations, but, still, if individuals want to own properties, they could. Also, in Trinidad, I think the rule of law is respected, so individuals aren’t treated differentially. And so I think in Trinidad, as economic theory predicts, this incentivizes people to be comfortable with coming up with business ideas and going after these ideas because they know that, if they do the face the law in any point in their business dealings, they won’t be treated unfairly or differentially,

Hicks: So the law is noble and consistent, and so people can factor that in and that encourages entrepreneurship?

John: Definitely.

Hicks: All right, a fascinating set of issues. Thanks for being with us today.

John: Thank you, thank you very much. It was great to talk at Rockford University.

[The original video interview with Professor John follows.]

William Kline on entrepreneurship and liberty

Dr. William Kline is professor of philosophy and business at the University of Illinois, Springfield. In this 14-minute video lecture on “Entrepreneurship and Liberty” Professor Kline discusses the relationship between liberty and entrepreneurship. He explains how laws, culture, and economic regulation can infringe upon the freedom of entrepreneurs and inhibit their abilities to innovate. He stresses the importance of economic liberty in particular to providing the proper environment for entrepreneurship to flourish.

Professor Kline’s lecture is part of the ongoing Entrepreneurship and Values series, recorded and produced by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship. Other lecturers in the seven-part series include Alexei Marcoux, John Chisholm, Stephen Hicks, Terry Noel, and Robert Salvino.

Related: My interview with Bill Kline on the Philosophy of Business.

Robert Salvino on entrepreneurship and public policy

Coastal Carolina University economics professor Robert Salvino’s 15-minute video lecture on “Entrepreneurship and Public Policy.” Professor Salvino discusses public policy and its effect on entrepreneurship. He contrasts active public policy methods (e.g., subsidies) and passive public policy methods (e.g., lowering taxes) and hypothesizes that passive approaches to public policy often result in more innovation and entrepreneurship.

Professor Salvino’s lecture is part of the ongoing Entrepreneurship and Values series, recorded and produced by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship. Other lecturers in the six-part series include Alexei Marcoux, Stephen Hicks, William Kline, John Chisholm, and Terry Noel.