Is there anyone out there who doesn’t think small business is the lifeblood of any economy? From Washington to Warsaw, politicians and pundits just can’t speak highly enough of plucky entrepreneurs. Even in poor countries, entrepreneurship is one of the most important forces underpinning economic growth, but the best way to raise living standards and reduce poverty is not necessarily to make everyone an entrepreneur. So why do so many costly development programs apparently ignore this fact? (...)
Along with them came the microfinance programs — as well as many other aid schemes designed to promote entrepreneurship — which were often based in rural villages where repayment would be enforced primarily by peer pressure among the members. These programs tended to target women, who were viewed as more reliable stewards of the groups’ money. Some women did manage to start their own businesses with the loans they received, but the verdict of research into microfinance’s ability to reduce poverty was decidedly mixed.(...)
Microfinance may have given a lot of people a little, but it was never designed to give anyone a lot. Unlike the microenterprises founded in rural villages, businesses that serve lots of customers take advantage of economies of scale in production and distribution. These economies of scale are essential for economic growth. After all, which economy is more productive — one in which every single person is an entrepreneur, or one in which a minority of entrepreneurs employ the majority of people?
In fact, poor countries already have many more entrepreneurs per capita than rich countries. More entrepreneurship is not what they need; economies of scale are. Indeed, the most productive economies are the ones that balance economies of scale with the benefits of competition. Too many businesses, and workers will fall short of their maximum productivity. Too few businesses, and monopolists will gouge consumers, quash innovation, and fail to serve the entire market.
On “Economies of Scale” and Other Magical Incantations, por Kevin Carson (Center for a Stateless Society):
There’s a certain kind of economic technocrat who tosses around the term “economies of scale” like a Young Earth creationist tosses around the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This is true of legacy liberalism, obviously, which is still defined by the mid-20th century mass-production paradigm of Joseph Schumpeter, John Kenneth Galbraith and Alfred Chandler. It’s also true of most Austrian economists in the tradition of Mises, who see capital-intensiveness or “round-aboutness,” as such, as the key to productivity. A recent example of this mindset — as it relates to development economics — appears in a Foreign Policy article by Daniel Altman, an NYU economics professor (“Please Do Not Teach This Woman to Fish,” June 29). The subtitle, appropriately enough, is “Why poor countries have too many entrepreneurs and not enough factory workers.” (...)
Altman goes on to criticize small scale economic activity — which he equates to the Kemp-Gingrich nonsense — on the basis of “economies of scale.” (...)
Altman’s unstated assumptions — and his stated ones backed by nothing save his own bare assertion — are far from the facts of nature he treats them as. Willow Brugh, whose critique of this article (“Teaching People to Fish,” willowbl00, Oct. 31) brought it to my attention, points to some of them. The first is that income is the main determinant of one’s subjective living conditions, rather than something that might — or might not — improve some aspects of those conditions. Things like agency and alienation — for example the lack of agency, and increased sense of alienation, involved in wage employment — are also real factors in whether life is good or bad.
Income is also very misleading as an indicator of well-being because a great deal of nominal income or GDP increase in the Third World reflects the forcible monetization of activities that were previously carried out — quite satisfactorily — in the informal, household or social economies. They were monetized only because 1) monetizing the social economy would make it more legible (in anarchist James Scott’s terms) to ruling elites, and thus easier to skim off the top, and 2) forcing producers into the money economy would compel them to accept wage employment and work as hard and cheap as the employing classes wanted (exactly as the Enclosures were designed to do in 18th century England).
Take a peasant family, successfully feeding itself from its share of arable land in an open field village, or subsisting off the common waste and common pasturage rights. If you expropriate those rights from them and instead compel them to become wage laborers to earn the money to pay for food on the cash nexus, their nominal income and the nominal GDP have both increased considerably. But are they better off?
Second is the assumption that hierarchy is inherently necessary, and that the economy is of necessity divided up into those who “provide jobs” and tell people what to do, and those who work at those jobs and do as they’re told.
I would add that Altman’s assumptions about “economies of scale,” in particular, are based on an understanding of industrial and technological history that’s been obsolete for decades (if it was ever valid).
Even at the height of the mass-production era, Ralph Borsodi observed that most of the alleged efficiencies of large-scale production were questionable if not spurious.
Um aspeto desta polémica é que me parece ultrapassar largamente o clássico binómio esquerda-direita (tanto Altman como Carson serão de "esquerda", aliás) - tanto podemos ver num dia alguém de direita a defender o "empreendedorismo" como solução para o desemprego e alguém de esquerda a contra-argumentar que muito "empreendedorismo" é típico de países atrasados e o que é preciso é políticas para criar empregos, como noutro dia podemos ver alguém de esquerda a defender o micro-crédito como via para desenvolver os países pobre e alguém de direita a defender que o que é preciso é mais investimento direto estrangeiro (para falar a verdade, dá-me a ideia que onde a clivagem é mais intensa é sobretudo à esquerda - lá no fundo, acho que há aqui um reflexo da velha divisão da esquerda entre uma tradição mais estatista e outra mais libertária).