Monday, September 05, 2011

Entrepreneurship, Change, and Extreme Events

A recent empirical study. Don't get me wrong, empirical studies are good. Here is the summary (courtesy of new papers superstar Kevin Lewis):

Entrepreneurship: The role of extreme events

Tilman Brück, Fernanda Llussá & José Tavares, European Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming

Abstract: We use aggregate country data as well as individual surveys to uncover, for
the first time, the effect of extreme events such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks on entrepreneurial activity. We find that natural disasters and terrorist attacks influence individual perceptions of the rewards to entrepreneurship and, more surprisingly, extreme events affect entrepreneurship rates positively in a robust and significant way.

"More surprisingly"? Really? Consider what Hayek said about information and change:

If it is fashionable today to minimize the importance of the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place, this is closely connected with the smaller importance which is now attached to change as such. Indeed, there are few points on which the assumptions made (usually only implicitly) by the "planners" differ from those of their opponents as much as with regard to the significance and frequency of changes which will make substantial alterations of production plans necessary. Of course, if detailed economic plans could be laid down for fairly long periods in advance and then closely adhered to, so that no further economic decisions of importance would be required, the task of drawing up a comprehensive plan governing all economic activity would be much less formidable.

It is, perhaps, worth stressing that economic problems arise always and only in consequence of change. So long as things continue as before, or at least as they were expected to, there arise no new problems requiring a decision, no need to form a new plan. The belief that changes, or at least day-to-day adjustments, have become less important in modern times implies the contention that economic problems also have become less important. This belief in the decreasing importance of change is, for that reason, usually held by the same people who argue that the importance of economic considerations has been driven into the background by the growing importance of technological knowledge.

"Extreme events," by definition (I think) are unexpected changes. Of COURSE entrepenership increases in the aftermath of extreme events. The "more surprising" bit can only be explained, as Hayek explained it, by the nonsensical insistence that technological knowledge and not entrepreneurship is the driving force of capitalist economies.

Of course, it would be possible to document that the relationship between large unexpected shocks and entrepreneurship is direct and predictable, from many works by Kirzner, or Mises, and others. But Hayek's paper was in the A.E.R. Don't you people read? I recognize that it is easier to claim your theory is novel if you constantly pretend that all previous work doesn't exist. But this is egregious.

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