On "entrepreneur" (and MS)

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Thu Feb 1 06:27:49 MST 1996


My use of "entrepreneur," correctly characterized below,  is not
idiosyncratic. It's the technical use given the term by a major school of
economics. I'm not playing Humpty Dumpty. I'm also not hiding the profit
motive, which obviously plays centrel role in MS. My point is is just that
opportunity creation, proffit-seeking, and property ownership are
logically distinct. We can distribute these functioins among different
institutions and people. Is that so hard to grasp? --jks

On Thu, 1 Feb 1996 g.maclennan at qut.edu.au wrote:

> [Comrades I posted this some days ago but it seems to have vanished.  so 
> here it goes again.  Apologies if it should turn up or if you already 
> have it.]
> 
> 
> "When *I* use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it 
> means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less."
> 
> "The question is", said Alice, "whether you *can* make words mean so many 
> different things."
> 
> "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master- that's all." 
> 
> 
> I have been lurking around the MS thread because it is extremely 
> important.  I have been especially taken with what might appear to have 
> been a side issue namely the debate between Justin and Louis over the 
> meaning of the word "entrepreneur" (HF "E") and it on this that I wish to 
> intervene.
> 
> Such disputes are often thought to be trivial, semantic matters, and 
> indeed they are about semantics but as Althusser once pointed out class 
> politics can ideed often take the form of a debate over the meaning of 
> words and I hope to be able to show that this is one such occasion.  So 
> apologies first to both of the combatants for interfering and perhaps 
> twisting the whole debate into a form that neither of them will 
> recongnise and a special acknowledgement to Justin because this will be 
> basically a polemic against his position.
> 
> So how do I read the argument to date?  Well Justin wants to use the word 
> entrepreneur very widely and Louis wants to restrict it.  Now at one 
> level it is true that language is arbitrary, that is there is no 
> necessary connection between the signifier and the signified (roughly 
> word and object).  Thus the signifier "chair" has no necessary or 
> essential connection to the thing we know as a chair.  But I am not at 
> liberty to go around and arbitrarily decide that I, Gary MacLennan, will 
> hence forwardws call a chair a "cathaoir", if I want to remain part of 
> the linguistic community that I am a member of.
> 
> In other words, despite appearance or wishes, Justin is not like Humpty 
> Dumpty.  He simply cannot chose to make a word mean what he wants it to, 
> not if he wants to communicate.  Justin is going to be a brilliant 
> lawyer, I have no doubt, and he will constantly be arguing the precise 
> meanings of words.  There will be no suggestion of Humpty Dumpty then.
> 
> But of course words change their meanings and it may be that Justin is 
> part of an unconscious push to reconstruct the meaning of "E".  I am 
> inclined to think he is.  Hence this post.
> 
> I want now to take this discussion on to the terrain of semantics.  The 
> Shorter Oxford Dictionary (SOD) has the following entry for "E".
> 
> 1878. [Fr. entreprendre-undertake
> a. The director or manager of a public musical institution.
> b. One who gets up entertainments.
> c. Pol Econom. A contractor acting as intermediary between capital and 
> labour. 1885
> 
> Louis it seems to me is using the word in the sense of c. while Justin is 
> producing a fairly unique blend of perhaps all three.
> 
> Now this is where both Justin and Louis ended the thread.  But fools rush 
> in.. I want to try and take it forward and to do that I have move away 
> from the dictionary and employ "semantic features" a technique developed 
> within Chomskyan linguistics.  Briefly and over simply this consists of 
> reducing a word to its core semantic components or features  So let's 
> dance as Carlos puts it.
> 
> IMHO for Louis "E" is 
> 
> 1. + [display of initiative
> 2. + [risk taking]
> 3. + [ profit motive]
> 
> While for Justin "E" is
> 
> 1. + [display of initiative]
> 2. + [risk taking]
> 
> What this tries to show is that for Louis the word has three basic 
> features and the third is crucial.  this BTW is a rough approximation of 
> the meaning c. provided by the SOD.
> 
> For Justin however the third feature +[profit motive] has been dropped 
> and an entrepreneur is anyone who takes risks and displays initiative. So 
> the programmers who gave away their ideas for free are entrepreneurs and 
> Gates is an entrepreneur.
> 
> Now if you are still with me, this is where things get interesting.  Note 
> that Justin, the proponent of the necessity of Markets for socialism has 
> dropped the Profit motive feature.  Does this mean that he thinks the 
> profit motive is not involved here?  No, in fact the exact opposite.
> 
> We are, comrades, in the awesome presence of the Dialectic working in 
> mysterious ways its wonders to perform.  What Justin has done in dropping 
> the Profit Motive feature is to transform it into an implicit universal.  
> the Profit Motive is now both nowhere and everywhere.  It has become the 
> true transcendent of our time.  Move over god.
> 
> Now we can see why there is no need to try and draw the distincition 
> between Gates and those who give their ideas away for free, because such 
> a distinction cannot operate in a world without the search for profit.  
> And when Louis talks of the engineeer who was murdered by the contras and 
> claims that this is an example of someone who was not an entrepreneur, 
> then Louis is simply being quaint and old fashioned and doesn't understand 
> how the world works now, but he is getting on y'know. Pity he used to be 
> so smart.
> 
> The above reference to god moving over is deliberate.  We should of 
> course be careful about the transcendents we construct.  Here Peter's 
> recent post stating that the anti-MS folk were more idealistic than 
> Christians is very interesting in that it implicitly acknowledges that we 
> have here a debate about human nature, where the profit motive is seen as 
> "natural", and hence the "necessity of markets".
> 
> Louis however wants to keep alive the evidence of an alternative.  
> Hence his debate with Justin over the meaning of a word.  Now it is quite 
> possible that Louis 
> and people like him will lose the struggle over the meaning of "E".  "E" 
> might well come to mean as Justin uses it simply one who takes risks and 
> displays initiative.  The very possibility of displaying initiative for 
> other than profit reasons will not even be canvassed.
> 
> However we should be clear as to the *political* meaning of this semantic 
> change.  It will repesent a massive defeat for those who seek a genuine 
> rather than a hybrid alternative to capitalism.  The young engineer in 
> Nicaragua will then truly have died in vain.
> 
> Regards
> 
> Gary
> 
> 
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