Acton Institute Powerblog

Entrepreneur Day

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Today at the Library of Law and Liberty, I take a cue from probablist Nassim Nicholas Taleb and call for the commemoration of a National Entrepreneurs Day:

One has been proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and probabilist Nassim Taleb has given us a fully developed argument as to why we should have one. I second the motion. In Antifragile, his 2012 book, Taleb confesses that he is “an ingrate toward the man whose overconfidence caused him to open a restaurant and fail, enjoying my nice meal while he is probably eating canned tuna.”

This lack of gratitude is a moral failing of all of us in modern society, says Taleb. Hence his idea:

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 the exact same logic. . . . For there is no such thing as a failed soldier, dead or alive (unless he acted in a cowardly manner)—likewise, there is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur or failed scientific researcher.

According to Taleb’s concept of antifragility, environments that are able to benefit from unseen shocks are those that are decentralized and seemingly volatile. As counterintuitive as it may sound, failure is not a bad thing so long as there is a lot of it. Economically speaking, the more entrepreneurs an economy has, the fewer eggs it places in just a few (typically big) baskets. When something unexpected disrupts a big player, there is someone else ready to exploit the opportunity for gain and the economy endures and even benefits from the loss, making it not just robust but the opposite of fragile—that is, “antifragile.” In order for that “someone” to be likely to be there, however, it is imperative that as many people as possible be able to take risks and try to succeed, even if that means that most of them fail. The freer markets can be, the better.

Taleb’s commemoration message for a National Entrepreneurs Day goes like this:

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 the source of our antifragility. Our nation thanks you.

Read my full essay, “Salutary Failures” at Law and Liberty here.

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Dylan Pahman Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He earned his MTS in Historical Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to his work as an editor, Dylan has authored several peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, essays, and one book: Foundations of a Free & Virtuous Society (Acton Institute, 2017). He has also lectured on a wide variety of topics, including Orthodox Christian social thought, the history of Christian monastic enterprise, the Reformed statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper, and academic publishing, among others.

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