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Robert Whaples

Cool Capitalism

In praise of entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneur. The word evokes heroic images. A creative, hardworking risk-taker with a vision for a new and improved product, an innovative marketing strategy, a revolutionary technological or organizational breakthrough that allows us to do more with less. Someone with the judgment, the ingenuity, the leadership skills, the networking abilities, and the courage to overcome obstacles and put a plan into action. A fierce competitor beset by opponents in a contest to serve customers.

In recent decades, this conception of the entrepreneur has begun to reemerge as the benign face of business, the paragon of the free market—even the essence of cool capitalism. There is good reason for this recent celebration of entrepreneurship. A growing body of evidence links entrepreneurship to the one thing that modern society seems to want most: rising material standards of living and the elimination of absolute poverty. But what makes some societies more entrepreneurial than others? How can a society become more entrepreneurial? Unfortunately, economists have found it nearly impossible to answer these questions. Our standard approach is to develop mathematical models of economic interaction and to use statistical firepower to estimate the size and impact of each relevant variable. Entrepreneurship—which is all about the dynamic interactions between people with keen, unexpected insights—has proven too subtle and slippery for this approach. Some of the actions of entrepreneurs are quite predictable and easy to model, but the important ones aren't. Moreover, the heterogeneity of entrepreneurs means that they can't be easily quantified, counted, and added up. When theory and statistics fail, economists turn to the underused third tool in their bag of tricks: history.

The Invention of Enterprise is a bold, exploratory attempt to answer our most important questions about how entrepreneurship has evolved and what makes it flourish. The volume brings together a stellar cast ...

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