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by Adrian Sobers
“In order to progress, modern society should be treating ruined entrepreneurs in the same way we honor dead soldiers, perhaps not with as much honor, but using exactly the same logic.” – (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile).
At one point in Antifragile, Nassim Taleb speaks about entrepreneurs, not by name but by definition, “we didn’t get where we are today thanks to policy makers— but thanks to the appetite for risks and errors of a certain class of people we need to encourage, protect, and respect.”
Dictionaries should add “Also see: heroes” to their entries for entrepreneurs (a word I can’t spell to save my life, without said dictionary.) In his speech, “Transforming the Barbados Economy in the Age of Liberalisation”, late former Prime Minister, Mr. Owen Arthur, alluded to the spirit of this class of persons, “At this moment of great peril, we therefore need to cause the people of Barbados to rise up in their own economic self-defence by creating an enabling environment that stimulates personal and corporate initiative, and suitably rewards our people for their ingenuity in transforming the Nation.”
“Entrepreneurship is a risky and heroic activity,” writes Nassim Taleb, “necessary for growth or even the mere survival of the economy. It is also necessarily collective on epistemological grounds — to facilitate the development of expertise.
Someone who did not find something is providing others with knowledge, the best knowledge, that of absence (what does not work) — yet he gets little or no credit for it.”
He is making the point that even “failed” entrepreneurs (or researchers) provide society with knowledge; and the best kind at that (via negativa).
As he explains, one of the best ways to spot a charlatan is that they always have a “solution”, “something to do”, “ten steps to …”, or some grand Utopian policy measure. The mark of the charlatan is also embedded, at some level, in a question that is usually accompanied by a hint of annoyance, “Well, what do you suggest we do?!” Or the declaration that “Government should do something! Anything.”
How about observing what not to do.
In practice writes Taleb, “it is the negative that’s used by the pros, those selected by evolution: chess grandmasters usually win by not losing; people become rich by not going bust (particularly when others do); religions are mostly about interdicts [thou shalt not]; the learning of life is about what to avoid. You reduce most of your personal risks of accident thanks to a small number of measures.”
He also makes the point that in the same way there is no such thing as a failed soldier, dead or alive (provided they have not acted in a cowardly manner); there is also no such thing as a failed entrepreneur, “any more than there is a successful babbler, philosophaster, commentator, consultant, lobbyist, or business school professor who does not take personal risks. (Sorry.)”
For the society that does not (yet) formally recognise their entrepreneurs, he proposes a National Entrepreneur Day.
Ours could easily co-exist with National Heroes Day, for that is exactly what entrepreneurs are.
Heroes of the economic variety. But, it should be separate and distinct from May 1 (for practical and philosophical reasons).
Taleb’s message for this day is simple: “Most of you will fail, disrespected, impoverished, but we are grateful for the risks you are taking and the sacrifices you are making for the sake of the economic growth of the planet and pulling others out of poverty. You are at the source of our antifragility. Our nation thanks you.”
This is my feeble attempt at a public thank you. You are the real heroes on the economic frontlines of this pandemic and you deserve, not only to be patronised, but to be formally recognised with a day of national significance. Besides, patronising the businesses of our economic heroes beats being patronised by the monetary policy fragilistas any day.
Imagine demonising the actual heroes on the economic frontlines of a pandemic about symptoms (rising prices), while the monetary policy mercenaries who are responsible for the underlying conditions get away with murder; all across the globe.
Adrian Sobers is a prolific letter writer and commentator on social issues. This column was offered as a Letter to the Editor.