Freedom And The Entrepreneurial Mind!

I have my thought topic for summer break. School is over, I am finishing up some final meetings, and then I am free to prepare for my Fall classes. The cycle doesn’t end. I usually spend my summers doing research that ultimately informs what I teach in my classes, and this summer is no different, and I have found my topic.

As my last blog stated, my trip to Kazakhstan had an immense impact on me. I am still thinking about the soviet hangover I observed in that country. I am still searching for logical reasons for my assumptions, and this process will continue all summer.

I am also quite concerned about our political situation. We have angry people across our land who are not thinking clearly. We have many people that are feeling the Bern while rejecting an economic system based on the excesses of large-scale corporatism, not thinking through the alternative loss of freedom; and the other side, rejecting the inevitable changes of a multicultural experiment that is becoming a reality. The acceptance of a Fascist nationalism also leads us away from the freedom that we have held dear.

The previous paragraph includes initial thoughts on the subject, but seem to express my emotions and not logical thoughtfulness. My logic wants to focus on the relationship of traditional liberalism and entrepreneurial thinking. In essence what all of us as Americans seem to hold dear. The ability to be free, the ability to do what I want within reason, and the ability to work as hard as I want to earn a living.

I guess I should spend a few moments defining terms before I go any further. Deidre McCloskey makes a claim in her book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain The Modern World. She states, “I claim that a true liberalism, what Adam Smith called ‘the obvious and simple system of natural liberty,’ contrary to both the socialist and conservative ideologue, has the historical evidence on its side.” The question in my mind is what is meant by a true liberalism?

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Politics “Liberalism in general, the belief that it is the aim of politics to preserve individual rights and to maximize freedom of choice.” I have also read that as a political philosophy liberalism focuses on the ideas of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, and international cooperation.”

Adhering to classical liberalism means taking seriously the role one plays as a member of a free society. The idea emerged from the age of enlightenment as a rejection of the feudalism and the monarchies of old.

When I stood in Red Square in Moscow, Russia and walked around Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan I observed the modern result of the lack of liberalism and its resulting inability for people to participate as free citizens. I think that many today have forgotten what it means to be free and how the ability to produce, and experience its reward, is central to the ability of people to improve themselves.

McCloskey states in Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital Or Institutions, Enriched The World, that the Great enrichment occurred with a revaluation of the Bourgeois life. This life is observed as a dignity enjoyed by commoners as a result of “egalitarian accidents” encompassing both newfound freedoms and “ideas in the heads of entrepreneurs.” In other words, it was the combination of liberalism and the entrepreneurial mind that brought forth the progressive results of history.

McCloskey discusses this as an antagonistic concept to the nationalism or socialism of an elite clerisy. I will define the term clerisy at a later date. Trumpism and feeling the Bern are both leading us away from the freedom to believe and do what was, and is, critical to our advancement as a country.

I have defined what liberalism is, but what is an entrepreneurial mind? I think we need to first revise what we mean by the term entrepreneur. I know that Henry Ford was an entrepreneur, and I know that his company grew very large. However, at one particular time in history it was small. Jobs was an entrepreneur and Apple is a very large company, but it too began small; as did Microsoft, Google, and other large entities today.

Each of the above examples began as creative endeavors that eventually found a customer base, thus enriching their lives. Therefore, the first thing we need to realize is the entrepreneurial mind is a creative mind. Each of the above endeavors were opportunistic in the sense that the originators observed how people did things and figured out a better way of doing the activity. Therefore, the second element of the entrepreneurial mind is innovation. Entrepreneurs are innovative.

According to Roger Martin and Sally Osberg entrepreneurs have the distinct ability to see how a process is occurring and can create a new, and higher performing, way of accomplishing the task. So, the entrepreneurial mind is creative, innovative, and exploitive. However, most importantly, the entrepreneurial way of thinking is a result of a free system that allows creativity and accomplishment. In other words, a result of a liberal society that believes in freedom.

Is there an example of an economy in the world that demonstrates this powerful relationship? Is there a country that cherishes freedom, but also is entrepreneurial? I think you’ll be surprised at my choice. Sweden is an incredible expression of a free society with a strong free market.

According to the Guardian Social Entrepreneurship is on the rise in Sweden. “Swedes are innovators, especially strong on the digital market.” It is very clear that Swedes trust their government to take care of the social issues facing their country, but there is change occurring. Rather than institutions taking care of people social entrepreneurs are demonstrating the power of individuals taking care of people, in other words the entrepreneurial mind.

Sweden has reformed its economy in a way that it has reduced its national debt, maintained low and stable inflation, and created a healthy banking system. This occurred in response to the financial crisis of the 1990’s. “The road back to stability was not easy for Sweden. But by pursuing inventive and courageous reforms and sticking to them, Sweden has transformed its economy and stayed strong in the face of the new global recession.”

I know Sweden has a smaller population than we do, but I do think there is a lot to learn from the Swedes. A strong free market, social safety nets, and the expression of entrepreneurial thinking all demonstrate that we need to look a little closer at Sweden.

In America we have many more issues that Sweden, but I think we have a lot of entrepreneurial thinkers that could help us create new ways of dealing with these problems. Instead of feeling the Bern or following Trump’s fight, we need to re-embrace our freedom and think of new ways to deal with our country’s problems. This is what the entrepreneur would do, and would be free to do it.

And that is my thought for the day!

Lessons From Entrepreneurs

I have been back in the states for several weeks now, and have had some time to think through my trip to Kazakhstan. I am also going to say a few words about my trip on Friday at the Faculty meeting. Both have motivated me to think about my trip and what I learned.

Also, I am still thinking about the Social Entrepreneur’s competition that just occurred. The winner was a complete surprise to me and the fact that two others tied for second was also a surprise. This too has caused me to think about my trip to Kazakhstan.

What is the ultimate take away from my trip to Ust-Kamenogorsk? What is that one thing that I want to tell my peers on Friday? I have finally come to a conclusion, one that was fermenting while I was walking around with students in Ust. However, to make my point I need to give you some history.

In 1936 Kazakhstan was declared to be Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1991 Kazakhstan was the last of the Soviet countries to declare independence. At this time the country of Kazakhstan emerged. It is not a perfect country, but it has worked to develop its economy. President Nursultan Nazarbayev wants Kazakhstan to be one of the top thirty economies in the world by 2050. A noble endeavor.

According to my research the 1920s and 1930s brought a forced collectivization, and along with that came famine and high fatalities. However, my interviews with people who living during the Soviet days fondly remember the collective lifestyle of the villages. In fact, one person described it as “none of us had anything, so we didn’t know any different. “ The difference may be the era. The person I was interviewing lived in the village in the 1970’s. Others would tell me later that some things were better now and some things were not.

As a result I concluded that Kazakhstan is an economy that is struggling to emerge. It is an economy that is heavily dependent upon oil. Some positive points about Kazakhstan’s economy, prior to 2013 it grew 8% per year, and they were the first country to repay all of its “debt to the International Monetary Fund.” However, falling oil prices have slowed its economy down. The government has had to devalue its currency twice, once in 2014 and again in 2015.

Another positive economic element involves its Natural Resources. The country has an “abundant supply of mineral and fossil fuel resources.” It also has an incredible amount of Zinc, Titanium, Uranium, Chromium, and lead reserves. All of this has led to billions of dollars in outside investment. In Ust-Kamenogorsk there were Zinc, Titanium, and Steal factories in work.

However, with all of the apparent resources I noticed a huge gaping deficiency. A deficiency that can be repaired, and one that I hope never occurs in the West.

In Kazakhstan I saw a hangover from the Soviet era. Maybe I am just reading something into what I saw, but I don’t think so. I saw trams that were built in the 60’s. I saw Stalinkas, Khrushchevkas, and buildings erected by Brezhnev all of which were meant to be temporary, but have never been replaced. This has led me to think there is still a heaviness over the area, a residue from the previous Soviet environment; that can only be replaced by an entrepreneurial spirit.

My three students demonstrated to me the power of an entrepreneurial way of thinking. Too often we think of entrepreneurship as starting a business, it is more than that; it is a way of thinking. Yes, entrepreneurs take risks, but they are creative thinkers who can see how things are and how they can be. This is not something that only applies to business. It applies to all of life.

As children we are taught to be creative, draw pictures, and use our imagination. Somewhere along the line we lose that creative force because we need to work our jobs, or take care of our families. As a young boy we would play games outside where we used our imagination to create solutions to problems we have made up. We even make up rules, and then figure out how to change the rules to meet our own needs.

I can remember as a young man being willing to take a risk. I brought my family to the Pacific Northwest, not knowing what to expect; leaving Southern California, our family, and moving to Vancouver, WA hoping to have a better life.

Being an entrepreneur is being able to see things for what they can be and not just for what they are. It is being able to see low performing activities and know how to make them perform better. This could be in the realm of education, swimwear, studying abroad, or trying to get local businesses to unite.

Or it could be to revolutionize a country. I think Kazakhstan is tired of the old Soviet hangover. I think the young people are ready to take the country in a new direction. I just hope the old leaders are willing to see the oldness of the current ways and support the new ways of the future. The entrepreneurial way!

And that is my thought for the day!