Entrepreneurship in American History

John Steele Gordon
Author, An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power

John Steele GordonJohn Steele Gordon was educated at Millbrook School and Vanderbilt University. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Forbes, National Review, Commentary, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He is a contributing editor at American Heritage, where he wrote the “Business of America” column for many years, and currently writes “The Long View” column for Barron’s. He is the author of several books, including Hamilton’s Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt, The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power, and An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power.

The opportunities for people with ideas and a willingness to take risks are plentiful in America, and there is plenty of capital available to bring those ideas to life. On top of that, mechanisms to bring ideas and capital together are more robust than they have been in the past. So the future of entrepreneurship in this most entrepreneurial of countries remains bright. The only fear is that an overbearing government, bent on managing the American economy—supposedly for the good of all, but actually for the benefit of bureaucrats and politicians—will strangle the goose that has laid so many golden eggs. That is always a danger, for government is just as subject to the law of self-interest as the marketplace. Unfortunately, the process of creative destruction is far less vigorous in government, which is a monopoly by its nature.

On the other hand, government regularly displays an incompetence so extraordinary that reform becomes possible. We are witnessing such a display now with the launch of Obamacare. Obamacare, of course, seeks to rid one-sixth of the American economy of even a vestige of entrepreneurship and turn it over to the public sector. I’m always an optimist, so I think good things will come out of this. Let us hope so.