109: Desmond Ng: Entrepreneurial Empowerment and the Austrian Approach to Value-Generating Organizational Design

Austrian economics offers a wide range of knowledge and applications for better business performance. One of them is the design of high-value organizations

Download The Episode ResourceEntrepreneurial Empowerment – Download

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

Austrians understand the function of entrepreneurial businesses in the economy is to pursue and generate new economic value. That value is subjective, experienced by individuals as an improvement in their feelings of well-being. We also understand that subjective value applies not only to consumers but also to producers, including employees in firms whose purpose is value facilitation.

To fully realize the skills and talents of their employees in the pursuit of the organization’s visions and goals, entrepreneurial businesses look for the best ways to empower employees to utilize their Hayekian individual knowledge for the innovation and adaptation that leads to marketplace success.

Dr. Desmond Ng uses the term Entrepreneurial Empowerment to describe this approach to designing an organization that best unleashes the creativity of its entrepreneurial employees.

Austrian economics is particularly suited to addressing the organizational challenges faced by today’s entrepreneurial firms.

Businesses understand that they need to be more responsive to customers and the market. Firms are moving from a top down decision-making structure and searching for ways to move to a more decentralized firm structure. They are aiming to take advantage of all the different knowledge experiences that may be inside the firm, to be more adaptive to changing market environments and to acknowledge the importance of empowering employees.

Austrian economists like Friedrich Hayek fully recognized the benefits of decentralization in adapting to changing market processes. Today, Austrians can apply that same understanding at the firm level, in the pursuit of unleashing the subjective experiences and individual knowledge of each employee to greatest economic effect.

The organizational design tool to achieve maximum decentralized value generation is Entrepreneurial Empowerment (EE)

A firm that organizes using Entrepreneurial Empowerment focuses at the leadership level on clearly defining the ends of the company (which can be packaged in the form of vision or mission or goals or objectives) and on ensuring that internal communications are strong enough and effective enough to ensure complete and fully distributed understanding and buy-in among the employee base.

The means for each individual to contribute to the achievement of these ends are left open to employees; they are not dictated or bound with managerial or administrative constraints. Leadership in an entrepreneurially empowered firm is non-interventionist, free of the strictures of central planning.

EE has two components: the first is structural empowerment (SE).

The structural empowerment element of EE refers to the communication structure that delivers employee empowerment. Se informs them about their opportunities for taking action and making decisions, and provides support for them to utilize their own knowledge in doing so.

Professor Ng used the example of design firm IDEO, which provides a fully-available repository of all the firms designs and ideas from all its engineers and teams, along with information about how past teams tackled the solutions to design problems, with what outcomes. Designers on today’s teams can utilize this shared knowledge, learn from the pooled experiences, and enjoy the freedom of embarking on new design paths by combining their own knowledge and skills with the corporate knowledge repository.

Structural empowerment also requires a policy to regard failure as an acceptable part of the innovation process, in order to foster greater risk-taking behavior among employees, and a greater willingness to experiment with new and unproven ideas. SE is a process that leaders and managers must actively and persistently support. The danger is that leaders may succumb to the temptations of power and control, and to seek to centralize their authority. This can be fatal to entrepreneurial empowerment and negate all its benefits.

The second core component is psychological empowerment (PE).

Employees perform best, innovate best and contribute the most creativity when they enjoy psychic rewards from their work. One important aspect of psychic reward is the search for and successful achievement of meaning and purpose. Research is clear that these high values are found in work when it is conducted in an environment that encourages their development. Professor Ng used Chick-Fil-A as an example where, because the company subscribes to a set of values, employees in what might appear to observers as the simplest and most repetitive service and production jobs can find meaning in their work. The result is unrivaled customer service ratings. Psychological empowerment comes from leadership conveying a set of principles.

Monetary incentives, rewards, and the awarding of titles can not match psychological empowerment in terms of effectiveness for motivating employees. The Austrian perspective delivers some quite revolutionary policies and approaches for organizational design.

Rethinking the concept of leadership.

In recent years, business schools have commanded a lot of attention by marketing and selling leadership studies, with products ranging from executive education to books and online courses. However, Austrian economics suggests skepticism about the underlying concept of leadership in business. Firstly, structural empowerment and psychological empowerment are the antitheses of business school style leadership — they suggest non-leadership, letting go of control, and abandoning hierarchy.

Secondly, as Professor Ng pointed out, the centralized authority suggested by business school style leadership tends to lead to the corruption of seizing power and control, clouding the ethical considerations that are at the heart of entrepreneurship, and undermining the trust of employees lower down the hierarchy. The results can be both a loss of legitimacy for the bosses and a loss of business performance for the firm.

The Austrian perspective on organizational design and management can lead us to a higher-performing firm, a more innovative firm, a firm that facilitates purpose and meaning for those individuals who work there, and trust and legitimacy for founders and executives.

Additional Resources

“Entrepreneurial Empowerment” (PDF): Download Here

Professor Ng’s Research Paper Entrepreneurial Empowerment: “You Are Only as Good as Your Employees” (PDF):- Download Here

The Austrian Business Model (video):

Start Your Own Entrepreneurial Journey

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102. Dale Caldwell: Entrepreneur Zones Will Drive Accelerated Growth For Cities

Can entrepreneurship be a collaborative undertaking across multiple firms? Entrepreneur Zones are an idea from Dale Caldwell to boost the economic performance of cities, and represent one form of collaborative entrepreneurship. The business platform the Mises Institute is building — Economics For Business — represents another: an online collaboration of entrepreneurs to share knowledge, experience, and practices, while competing individually to be the best at serving customers.

How will this work? We can answer this question using our “5 Cs Framework”.

Download The Episode ResourceThe 5 C’s of Entrepreneur Zones – Download

Key Takeaways & Actionable Insights

1. Consumer Sovereignty / Customer First

The first principle of entrepreneurship is that value is subjective, and one way to express that principle is that consumers determine value. Entrepreneurs facilitate value for consumers. That principle is never relaxed. Deviation from it is fatal for entrepreneurial businesses. Therefore, even in circumstances where we see opportunities for entrepreneurial collaboration, it is never in violation of consumer sovereignty. Any collaboration is directed towards the facilitation of consumer value, and does not detract from it.

2. Collaborative Efficiency.

In an Entrepreneur Zone, as envisioned by Dale Caldwell, there is the opportunity for a group of entrepreneurs (geographically co-located in a city in his case, but potentially grouped along other dimensions) to search for shared advantage. To speculate, the shared advantage in an Entrepreneur Zone might be found in shared services, reducing unproductive overhead for all firms and releasing resources for exploration, innovation, and customer service. It could be found in shared or pooled marketing.

In the case of Economics For Business, we aim to provide shared knowledge (reducing search and knowledge acquisition costs and overcoming knowledge constraints), processes and tools that can be applied by all for greater effectiveness, and shared experience that can speed up learning.

3. Competitiveness

“Collaborating to compete” sounds contradictory on the surface, but is the essence of capitalism. While firms look for shared advantage where it is available, they equally search for individual advantage through innovation, better ideas, better customer service and stronger relationships. The rivalrous drive to serve customers better and therefore enjoy the resultant revenue streams is primary. It’s the energy of economic growth. Success can be replicated by imitators, which is one of the ways the system works for all. By that time, the innovators have advanced to the next stage of competitive advantage. The system never stops and progress never ends, because of the competitive drive.

4. Creativity

Behind competitiveness is creativity. New ideas and new knowledge, the result of new experiments, provide the fuel for continued growth. The collaborative entrepreneurial group can share ideas, bounce ideas between them, pursue their own ideas, ask for help, and merge ideas into new combinations. Creative ideas remain the original source for all entrepreneurs.

5. Cumulative Improvement

Entrepreneurship is a journey, with many twists and turns. It calls for learning, which might often require abandoning a path that once looked promising and taking up another. Success comes over time, via more and more learning, more and more feedback from the marketplace, more and more experiments run and recorded, more and more customer experiences logged. Improvement accumulates over time. For a collaboration such as Entrepreneur Zones or Economics For Business, participating entrepreneurs can anticipate long term success without any certainty about the length of the timeline.

Free Downloads & Extras From The Episode

“The 5 C’s of Entrepreneur Zones” (PDF): Download the PDF

White Paper: “New Jersey Entrepreneur Zones” by Dale Caldwell (PDF): Download the PDF

“Dale Caldwell Believes that Jobs Can Drive Societal Change”: Read the Article

“Healing Divided Country with Entrepreneurship”: Read the Article

“Opportunity Zones… We Need Entrepreneur Zones”: Read the Article

“Trauma in Employment” (PDF): Download the PDF

“The Austrian Business Model” (video):

Start Your Own Entrepreneurial Journey

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79. Steven Phelan on the Many Different Entrepreneurial Journeys

Steve Phelan has spent a lifetime in entrepreneurship, as a student, a researcher, a teacher, an investor, an innovator and a practitioner. He found that people today — especially young people — are over-focused on the Silicon Valley / Venture Capital / Become A Billionaire model. That’s pretty rare (and may not even be a good model).

He decided, therefore, to classify all the different kinds and flavors of entrepreneurship, to help people think through all the business and lifestyle options. The result is a book called Startup Stories: Lessons For Everyday Entrepreneurs. It’s full of interesting personal interviews and experiences, analysis, data and insights. We’ve drafted a summary of the six levels of entrepreneurship Steven identified below, and in this downloadable Knowledge Map.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Level 1: The Personal Entrepreneur

We’re all capable of entrepreneurial behavior because we all have resources: our brain, our body, and our time. If we apply those resources to pursue valuable experiences for others and ourselves, we are personal entrepreneurs.

career entrepreneur is one who takes personal responsibility as the custodian of their own human capital — the economic value we derive from our own stock of personality traits, knowledge, skills and experience, all of which can be developed. Career entrepreneurs invest in their own human capital and chart a path through life to achieve the highest long term return. Personal responsibility lies at the heart of entrepreneurship.

Being an intrapreneur is another way to exercise personal entrepreneurship. An intrapreneur is an employee who acts entrepreneurially — identifying customers’ desired experiences, designing innovative services and introducing new offerings into the market. While the incentives may be lower-powered than for entrepreneurs, they can nevertheless be attractive in the form of bonuses and stock options. It’s a good route to fulfillment for many.

Level 2: The Nascent Entrepreneur

This is the more conventional classification of an entrepreneur starting a business. An embryonic entrepreneur’s business is pre-revenue. They’re engaged in the exciting phase of customer discovery — which can include value proposition development, securing funding, hiring initial employees, assembling a team, planning launch activities, assembling resources, and testing prototypes. They key is action: ideas are plentiful, action is scarce. Embryonic entrepreneurs are action-oriented doers.

Emerging entrepreneurs’ businesses are post-revenue, pre-profit — they are pursuing a scalable and profitable business model. By definition, this stage is temporary — the emerging firm is designed to search for that sustainable model. Constant tweaking and experimenting is the dominant mode. Eventually, emerging entrepreneurs become growth entrepreneurs.

Level 3: The Lifestyle Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle choice for many — often driven by the desire for autonomy: to personally direct how to work and how to live. One form of lifestyle entrepreneur that Steven identifies is the craft entrepreneur.

Craft entrepreneurs have a highly developed individual talent, skill or expertise and they find a way to capitalize it and apply it entrepreneurially in the marketplace. They’re always trying to improve the quality of their product or service, and to reinforce their own mastery. If they can add some sales and marketing hustle, business can be very good.

A 21st Century version of the craft entrepreneur is the virtual entrepreneur. This is an individual, team or small business that takes advantage of the modern day digital-driven opportunity to interconnect, build online supply chains and download infrastructure. A virtual entrepreneur can run a business from anywhere where they can connect a device with a screen to the internet. There are plenty of challenges — especially in the fragility of the supply chain and finding trusted partners, but many profitable businesses follow this model.

Level 4: The Employer Entrepreneur

There is a major change in responsibilities, operations, management and personal experience when an entrepreneur takes on employees. Startup Stories explores two examples: family business owners and small business owners.

Family business owners have the advantage of built in trust and loyalty with their employees, which can result in greater stability. However, it may come with more complexity and tensions in inter-family member relationships.

Small business owners who are employers must delegate some authority and decision-making to employees, and therefore must become experts in identifying, hiring, managing and nurturing. Hiring employees can take your business to a new higher level, but poorly managed employees can damage your business in areas like lost productivity or damage to brand and business reputation. Successful small business entrepreneurs must overcome these challenges.

Level 5: The Growth Entrepreneur

Growth entrepreneurs experience the exhilaration of escaping the confines of small business. They can also start thinking about becoming rich if they can sustain the growth. Expansionary entrepreneurs expand to multiple locations, or multiple products line, or to millions of customers on the internet. There are plenty of challenges with managing growth — it may require business model revision; it may consume cash at such a rate that finance management becomes a problem; it may require continual organizational revisions. It can be personally exhausting, as Steve depicts in one of his interviews. But it can also be tremendously rewarding.

Gazelle entrepreneurs, in Steven’s terminology, are those growth entrepreneurs who take venture capital funding to boost growth rates and business acceleration. VC funding enables firms to fly faster and higher. Venture capital is rare and hard to get. It can also be destructive, especially to founders who can lose control of their companies (Steve explained how in the book). Term sheets set up these potentials. Securing venture capital is an exciting and energizing moment and a milestone of achievement. It’s important to read the fine print and think ahead!

Level 6: Super Entrepreneurs

This is the peak of the profession. Steve picks out Mavericks and Heroes. The discussion about mavericks is structured around the question: “Are entrepreneurs born or made?” Researchers have tried to establish whether or not there is an entrepreneurial personality, but the consensus is that there are no common traits that predict entrepreneurial success. But some personality traits may be more common in the entrepreneurial community than outside it. The maverick personality is one of them — willing to think and act differently from others, to pursue a distinctive imagination, to bet on a hunch. And the good news is that personality traits are not fixed — habits and behaviors can be acquired over time, through acting and learning. Entrepreneurs are made through action.

The second classification of Super Entrepreneurs that Steven considers are Hero Entrepreneurs. He makes the link between hero status and PR, and from there to the power of heroes to raise funding. It is possible to craft a hero persona, shaping the perception of others through “impression management”.

At E4E, we believe all entrepreneurs are economic heroes. They aim to better the lives of others, bringing new product and services to the market and responding to the preferences of customers based on their positive or negative response. They sacrifice in the short term, while designing their new solutions, in order to benefit in the long term if they serve customers well. This short term sacrifice for long term gain is not only economic, it’s the essence pf morality. We aim to continue to serve this community of heroes.

Free Downloads & Extras From The Episode

Six Levels of Entrepreneurship: Download Knowledge Map

“The Austrian Business Model” (video):

Start Your Own Entrepreneurial Journey

Ready to put Austrian Economics knowledge from the podcast to work for your business? Start your own entrepreneurial journey.

Enjoying The Podcast? Review, Subscribe & Listen On Your Favorite Platform:

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John Tamny On How The Entrepreneurial System Maintains Its Energy And Momentum.

Hunter: John, welcome to Economics for Entrepreneurs.

John: Hey Hunter. Thanks for having me on.

Hunter: You make economics relevant and interesting and you’ve been doing it for a long time. You’ve written lots of articles, and several books. You have a very distinctive style, and so we’re going to talk about economics today and maybe get your help in making it palatable to people.

Economics Is More Interesting Than Charts And Graphs.

John: You know, I make it relevant and interesting simply because it is. I think it was Ludwig von Mises in Liberalism, his brilliant book, who made exactly that argument. That he said it’s not a dismal science, it’s a beautiful study of people and he put it better than I did. I never understood why economists have the need to turn into charts and graphs what is so easily described by the world around us. It’s as though they’re striving to make something unintelligible so they can avoid revealing how little they understand.

Hunter: Well, you coined the phrase, in the title of one of your books, Popular Economics, and that talked about LeBron James and Downtown Abbey, and I think Taylor Swift and I think you also mentioned Michigan State football at the same time. You found a way to talk entertainingly about popular economics. How did you come by that title?

John: I think, I think my initial title was “Economics Is Easy”. It’s the one time in the history of my writing career, at least of books, that the publisher I thought came up with a better title. At one point they had water cooler economics, and I said you’ve got to be kidding me. They finally happened on popular economics which I kind of liked. Again, my view is that economics is 1st grade material. The only people that really don’t understand economics are economists who try to make, who make confusing what is easy to understand, what can be explained by athletes and TV shows, movies and famous people. I just don’t get their use of charts and graphs and so on. In many ways Popular Economics and all my books are subtle middle finger to economic profession that’s made boring what’s endlessly interesting.

Hunter: You chose to keep the term economics, I was talking to a marketing guru this morning about marketing Austrian economics, and he said there’s no place for the word Austrian and no place for the word economics, which was a bit discouraging. But do you think you’ve been able to make progress towards a popular realization towards the benefits of thinking economically?

John: I’d be lying if I thought I made huge inroads. Clearly I haven’t. I haven’t changed the way so many people continue to see things. I long ago said it’s going to be my life’s work is discrediting the laughable notion that economic growth causes inflation. Yet to pick up a Wall Street Journal, New York Times or an Economist magazine or anything you constantly see economists say, well you know, if we get the economy moving fast it’s going to cause inflation. And so, clearly there’s a lot of work left to be done, but it’s very heartening to come across people, and I do with great regularity, people who say, you know, you’re book changed how, or your books changed how I view the world, how I saw, you made clear what would have been confusing So that’s an uplifting thing.

Why Are Economists So Negative?

Hunter: Yes, I was reading the Wall Street Journal this morning, and I just came across the phrase at the end of a sentence that said, “economists warned”, and it struck me that that’s what economists do. They’re all negative and warning and it’s going to be bad.

John: Yes, isn’t that true? They are always looking for some awful scenario and if we do this and this, we’ll get to this. What frustrates me is, they are never right. Okay, so it’s easy to pick on the Fed. The Fed employs more economists than any other entity and they’ve always been incorrect. And of course they always have been; and let’s add that, when I was at Goldman’s Sachs, the economist there were so notoriously incorrect that the clients of the firm would know it was a profitable endeavor for them to just bet against whatever the Goldman’s economist thought was going to happen. Just take the opposite position and it really is shooting fish in a barrel based on the opposite of what the economist thinks about something. Okay, so some individual thinks he or she can model the infinite decisions taking place every second among hundreds and millions and billions of people around the world, of course they’re wrong. What fascinates me is that any people ever took them seriously to begin with. The pretense is just remarkable.

Hunter: Yes, in fact the whole premise is wrong, that the goal is to predict. We understand from our Austrian view of economics you can’t predict, the future is uncertain, and you can’t predict the future.

The Economy Is Just Individuals – And Freedom Works.

John: That’s right. We just know that freedom works. That free people with barriers to their productivity removed from them tend to do very well. That’s not to say that there’s not some extraordinarily productive people who do very well with more barriers put in front of them. Look at New York, and California, two heavily regulated, heavily taxed states and that have got the most innovative brilliant people on earth populating both. But generally speaking, if you remove barriers you get more productivity and this shouldn’t be a mystery; yet economists try to model behavior, which is just an obnoxious waste of time.

Hunter: We’ve tried to go through that other door John, the individual door – specifically entrepreneurship. Academically, that’s called microeconomics, but I don’t think that’s a useful differentiation. You said in one of your books, the economy is just a collection of individuals, and you also talked about an intense entrepreneurialism that defines the American economy. So paint that picture for American entrepreneurialism, I hear you linking individualism and entrepreneurship in one system.

John: Oh, what a great question. Okay, so let’s start with the economy is just individuals. The person who most vivified that for me was Henty Hazlitt. I think that the most important sentence ever written in the economics book ever written was Hazlitt’s in Economics in One Lesson. He wrote, quote, what is harmful or disaster to an individual must be equally harmful or disastrous to the collection of individuals that make a nation, end quote. And so what was Hazlitt saying, it was so brilliant, of course probably most people glossed over it, it’s not a knock, but Hazlitt was saying the economy is not some living, breathing blob that you can touch. It’s just a collection of individuals. Break the economy down to the individual you can then see why economic growth is so simple. You can also see why, why you’ll never lose an argument, an economics argument ever again because I don’t care what someone’s ideology is on an individual level you can’t say an individual’s improved economically if he’s taxed more. No individual’s improved economically if he spends more time complying with regulations rather than creating something. No individual’s improved by money that’s constantly being devalued by the US Treasury. No individual is improved if talented people from around the world are barred from moving to and living in another country by putting tariffs on these other people. And so when you break the economy down to the individual everything becomes clear. What improves the individual improves the economy. Why are Americans so entrepreneurially focused? To me it’s fairly obvious. We descend from the crazies. We descend from the other thinkers from around the world who said this isn’t good enough for me, I’m going to risk my life crossing oceans and borders, in order to get to a place that offers me no security but offers me freedom. We got all the nut jobs. How could Steve Jobs, he’s of Syrian decent, could he have started Apple in Syria? No. in the United States people who think differently can very often be funded and so they keep doing amazing things. It’s no mistake that our entrepreneurs are known around the world. We descend from the people who took the ultimate entrepreneurial leap. They left what was in some sense, comfortable, in search of just freedom. So I love the American story and I, one of the reasons I’m so for open borders is I want more and more people to come and participate.

Hunter: We’re aligned about improving individuals economically and one of the themes that we use in thinking about entrepreneurship is the ethic of entrepreneurship which might be a bad word to use. It sounds a bit serious, but that the purpose of entrepreneurship is to improve other people’s lives and that’s a benefit. It rolls up to a better society and we should think of entrepreneurship as a service to others. Is that a useful theme do you think?

Entrepreneurs Lead Us To A Better Place.

John: I would say maybe, turn a phrase a little bit differently. I would say entrepreneurs lead. They lead us to a better place because, never forget , to me the definition of an entrepreneur is someone who’s got a vision that everyone else thinks is ridiculous, yet they do it anyway. Because they think the way things are being done now: nah. So they quite literally lead us to a better place. I’ve heard it’s apocryphal, but Henry Ford’s genius was realizing that the, you know, horse drawn carriages weren’t enough. So he would give people something different. Steve Jobs looked at the Blackberry phone and he thought, “Oh! Come on!”. Yet that’s what everyone wanted at the time. He thought, oh we can improve on that, and let’s never forget he was ridiculed at the time the iPhone was coming out. Most people thought it would be a niche product that most people wouldn’t buy. I’m fascinated to look at Elon Musk right now, his new SUV, the design of it came out and he said something along the same lines that this is something in the future and that’s what Mises said in liberalism. He said entrepreneurs, every entrepreneurial act is speculation. You’re doing something you’re not sure people are going to want and that’s what’s so important about entrepreneurs. They take us somewhere else. They don’t just meet our needs, they exceed them. They take us to a new place.

Hunter: Jobs had another phrase, which is a real challenge when you think about what it takes to be an entrepreneur. We’ve got to read what’s not on the page, and you know, it hasn’t been written down yet. We’ve got to be able to read it. That’s why he rejected consumer research and that kind of thing. So they lead but they also imagine things that other people don’t imagine. Is that how you see it?

John: Oh, without question. They are the outside thinkers. They envision things that only become obvious after the fact. Let’s never forget that Silicon Valley is littered with VC’s that turned down Facebook, that turned down Amazon. I remember in the year 2000, 2001, if you owned Amazon shares you were ridiculed. Remember Amazon was Amazon dot org. These are people that think so differently and have a vision that is so outside the norm and it’s one reason, I don’t want to get, I promise I won’t take us to much off subject, but I’ve, one of the people I think who’s needlessly facing trouble right now is Elizabeth Holmes. She had a vision for something different, and it attracted a lot of attention and now because it didn’t work on time they’re thinking about, they want, some people want her imprisoned. What these creative types who want to do something differently, I want them out creating. Michael Milken, decade ago, because he did something so differently and upended the norm of investment banking, put him in prison and you think about what did we lose? Here was the guy who said MCI is a nothing company, I’m going to find funding for it so that it can take on A T and T, which at the time employed 1 in 500 Americans. And then he saw the future of mobile phones. Mobile phones cost 4,000 dollars. No one could afford, it was seen as this weird luxury bauble for the rich and he thought, there’s a way to get that funded. How could we live without it? I not only think entrepreneurs are important in taking us to new places. I also elevate investment bankers and the Wall Street types that so many people keep criticizing. They figure out a way to get financing to these brilliant people.

Hunter: Yeah, so socially we should be encouraging all of that craziness, that imagination and getting them capital as you say. The barriers are often governmental; you write a lot about barriers and regulation and how the government is taking away our production. I love that term that you use. It makes things very clear. Is that the only barrier in society to the entrepreneurs?

Failure Of Imagination Is As Damaging As Regulation.

John: They’re broadly governmental. I also think that there can be a failure of imagination on the part of people. Let’s be clear, it’s hard enough, there’s no reason investment bankers are paid so well. They are because it’s enormously difficult to track capital to one’s venture, and so it’s hard enough for a business and so investment bankers are paid enormous fees, rightly, for getting capital. Imagine if you’re someone who has an idea that totally upends how things have been done in the past. Let’s be clear, there’s someone out there right now whose going up in Amazon, but imagine trying to get funding for that. So there are nongovernmental barriers for sure. One of them is failure to imagine what could be, entrepreneurs see that. But generally I think there governmental.

Hunter: You’ve written that it’s actually a good thing because it forces the capital to find the best ideas, it forces the best ideas to find the capital. I like the chapter about Hollywood. All the lights are always red in Hollywood. It’s hard to get financing. That’s why the movie industry’s so great.

The Scarcity Of Capital.

John: Of course capital is scarce. There’s this idea out there, and I think sometimes modern Austrians promote it, that there’s such a thing as zero interest rates. There never has been, never will be. The idea is that capital is always scarce. It always has been because when you borrow money, you’re borrowing what money can be exchanged for. You’re borrowing access trust, tractors, computers, desks, chairs, movie scripts, movie cameras, movie directors, and so it’s always going to be difficult to get access to these kinds of resources. And so what I usually say with that in mind is: how dangerous is government spending? Government spending shrinks the availability of what’s going on, what’s accessible out there. But I think this is important, I’m so glad you his on this because I think too often modern Austrians, once again, I don’t think Mises ever would have really fallen for this, from what I’ve read of him and I’ve read the vast majority of books, this idea of easy money, I find that so insulting and stupid. Easy money? Really? No such thing. Implicit in easy money that oh, yeah, here, line up, zero percent rate, one percent and you can get access to the economy’s resources. I’ve never met an entrepreneur who’s ever had an experience like that. I’ve never met a businessperson, who’s had an experience like it. In Hollywood as I wrote in my Who Needs The Fed book  – credit is incredibly expensive. In Silicon Valley it’s so expensive that, if you want to fund a business, you’re going to give up a big percentage of it to a venture capitalist. Michael Milken got rich precisely because the availability of credit and capital of businesses is exceedingly hard to get. So he found it for businesses that, in past times could never really get it. So I think our side does so much damage to itself when it talks, oh yea, you know the fed went to zero and money’s easy. No such thing. Let’s not insult the entrepreneurial function by pretending that the fed, just by printing dollars can make access to resources easy. That insults the entrepreneur.

Hunter: Yes. I’m with you and you would have enjoyed a recent episode we had on the FinTech industry. Financial technology I guess its short for. The point we made is that it’s all these new emerging online lenders like Kabbage and GoFundMe and those kinds of apps are a brilliant way to match capital to entrepreneur sand entrepreneurial projects, and in fact, because there’s so much competition there, we’re probably approaching on those platforms what Mises would have called the originary interest rate – the right interest rate for society in respect to regulation. So actually, FinTech embodies entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs in getting to the right understanding of interest and the cost of capital.

John: Yeah, but, I think Mises would also agree that the interest rate is different for everyone. And of course it is. If I go into a bank and want to borrow money for a business there’s probably no rate at which they’d lend to me. Jeff Bezos can give away all his worldly possessions today, but he can still walk into banks in any city in the US and he can walk out with billions. Credit is what you bring. Or I think JP Morgan said that. This idea that I think too many Austrians promote, “oh yeah, the fed went to zero and suddenly it was easy money” is so divorced from reality. Everyone’s got a different rate, as I keep arguing based, you talk about Fintech, is just a reminder that the feds influence on the economy is theoretical. The fed projects its influence through a banking system that is antiquated and yesterday. It represents, what, 10 to 15 percent of total lending. It’s the least intrepid of lending of all. Most intrepid lending takes place well away from the banking system and for obvious reasons. There’s this view that the fed is why banks pay so little for deposits. Banks pay so little for deposits simply because they’re not taking any risks. If they were taking risks they would pay more and so you see through these fintech functions. That’s where you can get a higher interest rate simply because the capital allocations that they’re making are more risk focused. Banks are in business to not lose money. Other non-banks are in the business of doing different things and so the rates they pay for those who put money with them reflect that reality.

Hunter: Our expert on that show, Dusty Wunderlich, said it’s the best priced capital market for entrepreneurs.

John: I believe it because, let’s not forget, an entrepreneur can never go to a bank. And again, it just, this is not, I love the Austrian school, but I’ve never understood the modern focus for the fed. The fed deals with banks which are so unimportant. Does anyone seriously think that banks have anything to do with what happened in Silicon Valley? Banks can’t touch innovation and they can’t because as you and I know entrepreneurs fail over 90 percent of the time. Banks have to make loans to entities that are going to pay back. Entrepreneurs are in the business of experimenting, failing and trying again. What the fed and banks do has nothing to do with economic progress. So the focus on it has always been a mystery.

Entrepreneurs Are The Driving Force.

Hunter: Yes, we focus much more on the parts of human action that talk about the entrepreneurs being the driving force of the system. And that’s the other genius of Mises is having identify that and described it and understood how it works.

John: Yeah, without question. Entrepreneurs lead, they take the risks to move us forward and that’s why I make such energetic arguments in favor of reduced government spending, reduced taxation, ideally no taxation on capital gains. I do want it to make it as easy as possible for those with unspent wealth, those with unspent wealth arguably being the most crucial people in the economy to match their unspent wealth with entrepreneurial, and what’s important about this is the less we take away their unspent wealth the more they can be intrepid with it. They can try new things. If I ‘ve got a billion dollars I can take a lot of risks. If I got one million, I’m probably not going to take many risks at all. So when we tax away the wealth of the richest, we tax away the most important wealth of all. That which has the highest odds of being directed towards new ideas, that while they look promising sometimes have very high odds of failure.

Hunter: You said in one of your books, I don’t have the quote with me, John. Maybe it was an article, entrepreneurs will always be able to innovate around politicians and it reminds me of another book that just came out Cato Institute called Evasive Entrepreneurs. I’m not sure I like the title but was the same sentiment. That the entrepreneur is smarter, faster and more agile than the politician. Do you have anything specific in mind when you wrote that?

John: Oh yeah. Thank you. I love that. Thank you for bringing that up. It was an April 13th column I wrote where I said that despite this political disaster that we’re enduring, whereby politicians apply command and control, we will nevertheless roar back. And my point is and the point I made in it is you, the entrepreneurs are just, this goes back to 2009 I asked a rich entrepreneur in Houston, hey what’s going to happen? Things are looking pretty bleak. And he said oh, come one. I am way too smart for Obama and I was way too smart for George W. too. These guys mean nothing to me. I can innovate or around them and I always have. And never forget with entrepreneurs they stare death in the face every day. Phil Knight, one of the greatest entrepreneurs who ever lived spent the first 18 years of Nike’s existence kind of gently telling his wife each night, oh no, we’re going to make it. And his line, his wonderful memoir Shoe Dog, I was telling her something I didn’t necessarily believe. Nike nearly died so many times. And that’s true entrepreneurs. All they know is near death, or they built a company that died, and so the idea these clowns in Washington and around the country just tragically shut down the economy. This is nothing to these guys. They’ll innovate around them. It’s what they’ve always done.

Hunter: So let me switch there and talk about your entrepreneurial journey, John. I read chapter 7 of The End Of Work. You could say your path was uncharted. In the end a little bit you talk about some painful experiences like downsizing, but you found your way to success doing something that you love. You said writing elevates your spirit. We use the journey metaphor, the entrepreneurial journey, is that a good way to think about it from your experience?

John’s Entrepreneurial Journey.

John: Thank you very much. I’m so flattered you read that chapter. I had such high hopes and still have high hopes for The End Of Work. I think the, one of the most unsung, brilliant, beautiful aspects of economic growth that it frees more and more people to specialize and do something that they can’t get enough of that doesn’t feel like work and pays them. Because entrepreneurs work for their work, and certainly I will never put myself in the same realm as, I can’t claim that what I did was Phil Knight Esq. or Jeff Bezos Esq. I’ve always been employed by someone else. I’ve never had the courage to go fully out on my own, but I have had lots of failure. I was laid off by Goldman’s Sachs during the market downturn in 2001. It was devastating. I was, it didn’t make it into the book. It was supposed to because I put it into it, and it didn’t make into the edits, but I was demoted at Forbes back in 2014. I’ve been opinions editor and got on the wrong sides of people and was put out of that job and it was just, it ripped my heart out. But each time it forced me to get better at what I did. I’ve been kicked down, nothing like what Phil Knight did or some of these other entrepreneurs but I’ve been kicked around too, and it does make you better. It’s agonizing but thank goodness we live and we get to operate in an economy where yes, precisely they can fire you and demote you. There’s also lots of opportunities to get to dust yourself off as it were and get back to work and so I’d like to think I keep learning from what I’ve done wrong and I can’t believe how lucky I am to get to write about economics. Every day, and that’s probably why I write so much. Not only do I have so much to say but I feel like I’ve been given the ultimate opportunity to say: wait, someone, people pay me to write what’s on my mind. You better believe I’m not going to skip a day then if they’re going to give me an opportunity.

Hunter: You’ve created some businesses inside of a company – you helped to create Real Clear Markets inside the Forbes empire. So there’s, entrepreneurship can occur inside big companies, in fact it’s important for it to occur inside big companies. So, you’re an entrepreneur of great fame, I think.

John: Oh, thank you.

Hunter: But you’ve also done something else which I saw as entrepreneurial, you created a very distinctive style in your writing. Now let’s try to find some adjectives that would help me describe it. Its contrarian, you say to people, yeah, get real when you talk about the fed, for example. But you also achieve a stylistic individuality with some of your sentences structures and the way you use words. So how did you develop distinctive style and become good at writing. It seems like a pretty hard thing to do.

John: Thank you. Some would say and I would agree with them, I’ve got an angry writing style. I think sometimes people think I write things funny, but I don’t think I’m a particularly funny writer. Some people have that skill. Probably the most distinctive quality to my writing is I’ve got a major chip on my shoulder. I won’t hide from it. I came into this field via fundraising, as you know from my book, for a Think Tank that didn’t think I was worthy of being a scholar there. I must admit there’s, I probably shouldn’t admit, there’s a part of me that wants to prove the people wrong that never took me seriously. So yes, I’m contrarian as can be. I think the generalized assumptions by both sides are frequently incorrect, but there’s also probably, within me there’s a need, there’s a lot of “I’ll show you” – all the people that wouldn’t give me a chance to write, who wouldn’t take me seriously. I’m going to show you.

Hunter: And that seems to me like a perfectly valid motivation within other motivations. One of the things we get mad at to follow in your footsteps there is entrepreneur bashing. I mean at the high level its envy: how can anybody be so rich despite the fact they provided great service to a fantastic number of people all over the world. Generally the pursuit of profit, profit is the devil and we get mad about that, so we try to be contrary about that attitude that seems to be out there in society.

Entrepreneurs Are Heroes.

John: Yeah, it’s a great question. I always say to people if Jeff Bezos had reached the top of his game in 1970 and became the richest man in America and maybe the world – what would have his net worth have been then? $500 million a billion? I don’t know what would qualify as richest back then, but not much more than a billion. So to that I say what a tragedy. That someone so talented can reach so few people relatively. And so now today he’s worth what, $150 billion, and that’s after the divorce. The reason he is, is because he’s touching exponentially more people with his genius around the world thanks to technological advances. Jeff Bezos is in Seattle,  but it can be as though he’s next door to people around the world. And so to me, the greater inequality the greater the progress. Because it’s just the sign that the individuals that you and I elevate are able to attach themselves to capital on the way to meeting the means of people in ways that past entrepreneurs weren’t able to come close to. So I think this needs to be discussed over and over again. I think so often free market types argue that, actually ,if you look at the gini co-efficient, they revert to their graphs and their charts and their numbers, we’re not that unequal. Oh no, we’re very unequal, and in fact we free market types, if we get our way, low taxes and zero out all the regulations, stable money all those things, inequality is going to soar. And it will be a beautiful thing. And why do we run from it? Why do we run from the process whereby brilliant minds innovate for us and transforms our living conditions for the better on the way to becoming really rich? Why that’s perceived as a bad thing is a mystery to me, and again I want to stress so much of what I say goes back to things I’ve learned from Mises. What did he say? Luxury is a historical concept. So much of this was obvious to him long ago that what the rich enjoy is just a preview of what we’ll all enjoy if the economy remains free, because what the rich enjoy they establish as venture buyers. They buy something that’s beyond the reach of everyone. They establish a market use for it at which point entrepreneurs mass produce and I just think for too long our sides run away from this. Inequality is a wonderful thing. The tragedy is when inequality is not increasing.

Hunter: Yes, yeah, and in fact another praise from Mises is that entrepreneurs are people who allocate capital to best serve the most urgent needs of consumers and they should be viewed as heroes for that.

John: As heroes and lets all, I’ve used this quote from Mises in at least 2 of my books, maybe 3, he always said that when a business goes out of business it can no longer bring damage in many instances to customers, much more particularly than I have just now. We seem to, Americans, as much as they rate the entrepreneur there’s this need within people say, the small business, oh my God, noble and great and everything. No, I think the big businesses are most noble. Do all businesses start small? Yeah, that’s a given, but there’s this view out there that somehow inequality is bad. No, no. inequality is good. It’s when people aren’t becoming unequal that they’re probably not meeting the needs of very many people.

Hunter: Yeah, in fact you wrote that the best way to help entrepreneurs in small business is to unleash the big businesses because often the big businesses are the customers and they also generate the economic ripples entrepreneurs can feed on.

John: Yeah, and to be clear there are generally no small businesses without big businesses. In a shopping mall, is there any mystery why there are anchor tenants? Yeah, the anchored tenants, the big businesses, the big global brands are what attract people to them on the way to creating a market for the small businesses next to them. Again, conservatives get all mainstream on us occasionally in weird ways and they say small businesses create all the jobs. Even if you believe that, even if you believe job creation is the purpose of the business, they’re able to create jobs precisely because for the most part they cluster around big businesses. So this need within society to noble the small, to noble the average I find very odd. I think I like the big ones. They make the small entrepreneur possible.

Hunter: Let’s pick your brain as chief marketing officer, John. We both favor a movement that would be pro economics, pro entrepreneurs, and pro innovation. We want everybody to be an entrepreneur whether working for a big corporation or a small corporation. We want to have them do that as oppose to be bureaucrats. If you were the chief marketing officer for that movement where would you start tomorrow?

Happy Things.

John: I would start with happy things. I’ve never understood why some in the conservative libertarian movement, they begin with well, if we don’t cut spending we’re going to hit, we’re going to be the Titanic hitting the iceberg. And if we don’t do this, if we don’t get those deficits under control this is going to happen, and Americans aren’t…..the birth rate is not high enough. Talk about the good things. My problem with government spending isn’t deficit. I don’t care about deficits. Let’s ask ourselves the basic question, in the next ten years, which scenario is better? $50 trillion in total government federal spending where all, quote, balance, or $25 trillion in total federal spending after it’s borrowed. I’ll take the deficit scenario any day of the week. The problem is all the money being spent by politicians. Because every dollar that gets to congress means it’s an extra dollar of control Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer and Kevin McCarthy and Barack Obama and Donald Trump have over the economy. So the focus should be on limiting on how much they spend. Don’t worry about how they get it. Limiting how much they spend. And the idea with that is every dollar that remains in the private sector has better odds for entrepreneurs. Less government spending, more Jeff Bezos and more Steve Jobs, because these guys are the odd bods. And so we have to ask the question, we ask it positively. How many great entrepreneurial concepts that will give us new innovations and new forms of transportation –  make flight seem yesteryear. How many will miss out on if government consumes so much of the precious resources it starves the private sector? So I think the focus should always be: do you love Amazon, do you love your Apple iPhone, do you like your Nike shoes? Yes, we all do, and so wouldn’t we like multiples of Steve Jobs, multiples of Jeff Bezos]? Yes, I think we all would. Imagine our standards. Although the only way to get to that point is to match more and more talented driven people with capital. The only way to get to that is to shrink the burden of government. To shrink the taxation. All those things that limit the ability of wealth producers to direct their wealth to future wealth creators.

Hunter: Good, well happy is a good, a good method, good theme for marketing of economics. John, I wanted to thank you for joining us today and I wanted to thank you for your immense productivity in getting this happy message out. You’re incredibly high output when you look at all the articles and the book the podcasts and the webinars and so on like that. You’re getting involved and we thank you very much for who you are.

John: Well, thank you, Hunter, so much. Honestly it was so flattering, getting an email from you. It’s a great show. How lucky am I to have people who are actually interested in what I have to say? So I’ve been thrilled to come on and again, I just feel really lucky to be able to do what I do and so it’s, there’s immense joy in what I do, and that’s, if I can leave it there as I argue in the End Of Work, my 3rd book, the greatest gift of economic growth is freedom from work we despise. I’m so lucky to do what I do. I couldn’t not do it. It would cost a lot of money to get me to not do it because I enjoy it so much and maybe this is the greatest argument for the things we believe, again, freedom from work we hate. So I’ll leave it there. Thank you so much.

Hunter: Thank you, John. See you soon I hope.

John: Yes, please.