The Myth of the Entrepreneurial State

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Anyone keeping track of my reading (but I assume that's precisely nobody) knows I'm a Deirdre McCloskey fan. See here, here, here, here, and here. So this book, available on Kindle for a mere $5, was a no-brainer. It is co-written by Alberto Mingardi, but it seems to me to be 100% McCloskey's "voice" throughout: idiosyncratic, cranky, sarcastic, hilarious. The book seems to be (more or less) a response to the works of Mariana Mazzucato, mostly (sensibly enough) The Entrepreneurial State.

As with other McCloskey works, you can "get" much of the argument by following the chapter titles. And, since I'm a lazy reporter, they are: Introducing Mazzucato; Statism and its allies; Statist intervention is not innocent; The Great Enrichment came not from the State but from liberty; "Driving" from the top is not its explanation; Bottom-up does work; Economic history rejects Mazzucato's hypothesis; There is no "linear model"; The Internet, for example, was not invented by the State; Bottom-up, then, is pretty good; One must measure the State with a sample of the economy; The State should have a role, but should not be the director; For understandable reasons, the State is bad at innovation; Most governments, after all, are demonstrably incompetent; State foresightedness is implausible; The hypothesis of significantly imperfect markets has never been tested; Stakeholder theory is defective; Mazzucato distrusts ordinary people; Keynesian mastery takes away dignity; The market accords dignity; The economic errors of lawyers and pre-1870s economists; The top-down and legacy-payment of statism are illiberal; The supply-chain fallacy underlies Mazzucato's method; The enchaining of human action reverts to a labor theory of value; What sort of economy do people want?

To me, the book's arguments are sound, and even though I've had Mazzucato's books on my get-at-library list for a while, McCloskey/Mingardi lessened my priority for them.

I highlighted the following, where the authors eloquently debunk the economy-as-machine metaphor:

To the contrary, we repeat, the economy is composed of people, and is not a machine. It is like the English language, not like an English steam engine. The people are motivated in varying proportions by prudence, temperance, courage, justice, faith, hope, and love, with the corresponding vices. By way of such principles of motion, they pursue their endlessly diverse projects, knitting and model railroading, a Beckerian "world." Let them do it, laissez faire. Such an arrangement takes people to be liberated and equal and increasingly competent adults, as against the stolid peasants or helpless proletarians of conservative or progressive theorizing since 1848.

If you like that as much as I do, I think I can recommend the book to you. It's a worthy updating and restating of the classic arguments from Hayek, Sowell, and Friedman.

URLs du Jour


  • It's that time of year. It's treated in 9/11 anniversary style by the media. But there's no doubt that its a big stain on the GOP.

    [A Big Stain]

    That's not to say the other side can't use some advice too. Specifically…

  • Here's some advice that's unlikely to be taken… From Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, an actual lawyer: Stop Calling Jan. 6 an ‘Insurrection’

    These are important criminal charges that shouldn’t go unaddressed. But of the hundreds of “Capitol Breach Cases” listed at the Justice Department’s prosecution page, not one defendant is charged with insurrection under 18 U.S.C. 2383. That’s because insurrection is a legal term with specific elements. No prosecutor would dare mislabel negligent homicide or manslaughter a murder, because they are totally distinct crimes. The media has no legal or moral basis to do otherwise.

    The events of Jan. 6 also fail to meet the dictionary definition of insurrection, which Merriam-Webster defines as “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.” A usage note adds that the term implies “an armed uprising that quickly fails or succeeds.” A closely related term, “insurgency,” is “a condition of revolt against a government that is less than an organized revolution and that is not recognized as a belligerency.”

    Whenever anyone calls the January 6 riot an "insurrection", you're dealing with a propagandist. Especially when they are, for example, the former dean of UNH Law and the founder of the Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership and Public Policy, and a onetime Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

  • Matt Welch has a good question for President Wheezy. And it's this: If It's Really a 'Pandemic of the Unvaccinated,' Mr. President, Why Is My Vaccinated 6-Year-Old Wearing a Mask?

    President Joe Biden on Tuesday afternoon made some more public remarks about the still-spiking omicron variant of COVID-19. It wasn't pretty: [video at link]

    Of particular interest was the president's insistence on continuing to call it a "pandemic of the unvaccinated," a slogan that was unwise in July, untrue by December, and unbelievable at a time when the positive case rate in a 62 percent fully vaccinated country just reached an all-time high.

    At this stage of the game, there's little excuse for any government official, let alone the Prez, to dispense confusing and inaccurate information.

    Well, there's one excuse: Biden oscillates between displays of vacuous incoherence and weird, angry outbursts, like a confused old man at the wrong bus stop.

  • The truth: it's not just for cranky conservatives and loony libertarians any more. Jim Geraghty gives credit where it's due: The New York Times Suddenly Discovers Biden Over-Promises and Under-Delivers.

    The New York Times informs its readers that, “Biden ‘Over-Promised and Under-Delivered’ on Climate.” Yes, he tends to do that about a lot of things. Even by the standard of big-talking and naïve elected officials, Biden tends to promise wildly ambitious, difficult-to-achieve goals — “I’m going to shut down the virus” “I promise you, if I’m elected president, we’re going to cure cancer” — and then he usually either forgets about them or blames someone else for why he couldn’t keep his promise.

    Yesterday, President Biden said before a meeting on the pandemic that, “On testing, I know this remains frustrating — believe me, it’s frustrating to me — but we’re making improvements.”

    He’s frustrated, too, Americans. If only the president of the United States could have done something about the lack of tests. Of course, he did promise we wouldn’t be in this situation.

    Maybe Joe should watch old reruns of "The Apprentice" or something, and learn how to say "You're fired."

  • A good idea that might actually happen. Let's be of good cheer. Reported by Andy Craig at Cato: Bipartisan Momentum Builds for Fixing the Electoral Count Act.

    The law needs to make clear that Congress can only hear objections under narrow circumstances and with a high hurdle, by enumerating an exhaustive list of valid reasons and increasing the number of senators and representatives needed to trigger a debate. The role of the vice president should be spelled out to leave no doubt that his or her job is purely ceremonial. The finality of decisions made by the states and by the Electoral College itself must be respected, in line with the intent of the Framers and the text of the Constitution. The proper role of the courts, which are entirely absent from the ECA even though they will hear and decide most disputes long before they get to Congress, must be taken into account. The timeline of key dates could probably also use some consideration, including clarification of the “safe harbor” deadline intended to put electoral votes beyond congressional dispute.


    The ECA is a ticking time bomb at the heart of American democracy. Sooner or later, if left untouched, it will blow up in our faces. The consequences could be catastrophic. The routine clockwork of free and fair elections, the great American innovation of finite terms of office with the regular and peaceful transfer of power, can not be left hanging on a knife’s edge every four years. The Constitution and all it protects, individual rights and the rule of law, depend on getting this right. Limits on government power count for little if there isn’t even agreement on who is the real president, with the violent disputation such a scenario invites.

    Is Congress so dysfunctional that it can't muster bipartisan agreement on improving an unacceptably hazy law from the 19th century? Maybe.

  • The next time you hear the phrase "fire in a crowded theater"… It might not be a bad idea to have a copy of this article in your back pocket. So you can roll it up and swat the speaker firmly about the head and shoulders. Jeff Kosseff at the Atlantic examines: America’s Favorite Flimsy Pretext for Limiting Free Speech.

    Even people who know about the First Amendment still have trouble believing that someone can make false, irresponsible, even dangerous statements without paying any penalty. For instance, when Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, spoke with National Public Radio to promote COVID vaccinations and boosters just before Thanksgiving, he sharply criticized people who intentionally spread misinformation about the vaccine’s safety. “Isn’t this like yelling fire in a crowded theater?” he asked. “Are you really allowed to do that without some consequences?”

    In fact, you usually are allowed to do that without fear of arrest, lawsuits, or other legal consequences. Shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater, a metaphor that dates to a 1919 Supreme Court ruling by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., is widely—and wrongly—held to be a far-reaching exception to the First Amendment, which offers broad protection to free expression in the United States.

    Good legal history at the link.

  • Et tu, WIRED? I'm used to bad politics, sociology, and economics from WIRED, but I'm frankly in awe of a recent article by one Diana Rose Harper, who asks and answers How Do You Practice Responsible Astrology?

    For me, the answer is pretty simple: You can't practice astrology responsibly, because it is bullshit.

    But let's hear her out, maybe she's going to produce the same answer, but longer:

    Astrology is a predictive art. And though many astrologers twist themselves into intellectual knots in an attempt to legitimize astrology within a scientific materialist paradigm—thereby creating a boundary between astrology and less-reputable “fortune-telling,” and avoiding guilt-by-association proximity with swindling “psychics”—there is no mechanistic explanation for how it works. Empirical astrological data, while extant, fails to satisfy the craving for clearly replicable quantitative results. The massively subjective nature of astrological interpretation doesn’t help: Two astrologers can look at the same planetary configuration and come to decidedly different conclusions, and sometimes, they’re both right.

    Well, that's convenient.

    The bio tag: "Diana Rose Harper is a professional consulting & teaching astrologer currently living in southern California." Sure, where else?

Last Modified 2022-01-06 2:43 PM EDT