Recently on this blog, I dipped my toe into a debate about the age of individuals who start and run businesses. My point then (and now) is that while intuitively convincing, the empirical evidence related to business creation and success suggests that numerous factors are important to the success of an enterprise and that if you focus too much on one factor (age), you’ll be lulled into crediting the wrong factors — and making connections that perhaps should not be made.
As I said in those earlier posts, I am extremely enthusiastic about young people starting businesses. My firm even contributes to a scholarship program that encourages young entrepreneurs.
So it is no surprise I — at least on an intuitive level — agree with and endorse the arguments made in this NYTimes.com article that American education, societal, cultural and parenting factors may be playing a role in juicing up entrepreneurial urges among American young people.
However, lest we forget, the whole “idea” of America was created by individuals who were small merchants, farmers, artisans and others who were, what today we’d call, “self-employed.” I’m all for celebrating youthful entrepreneurship, but I merely want to remind people that the idea that opportunity is something provided by big institutions — and not created by individuals — is a notion that was popularized in the Industrial Age or that dates back to pre-colonial European institutions that placed power and opportunity into the hands of religious, feudal, or other forms of tribal entities.
There may be something about contemporary American society that is encouraging young people to get in touch with their inner-entrepreneur, however that “inner-entrepreneur” is part of a DNA that can be traced back three centuries.