Putting Entrepreneurship into Agricultural Economics: Research and Teaching Perspectives-Discussion

Article excerpt

Two of the three papers presented in this session illustrate the challenges of defining the boundaries of entrepreneurship, and the other extends our perceptions about the concept to encompass interorganizational relationships. Together, they provide a reason to hope that entrepreneurship can enter the language and thinking of agricultural economists and influence our research, teaching, and outreach activities. The work presented by Ross and Westgren and Klein and Bullock provide good reference material for students and scholars interested in the evolution of economists' thinking about entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, they, like many before them, fail to address the pertinent gap in the literature: the boundary of entrepreneurship. But they can be forgiven because they make an implicit assumption about the absence of a clear boundary and proceed to address their core questions: i.e., can we teach entrepreneurship and what are an entrepreneur's rewards?

Developing an entrepreneurship pedagogy in agricultural economics is the focus of Klein and Bullock's paper. They draw on the rich literature that economists have contributed to entrepreneurship and attempt to explain why agricultural economists have not traditionally incorporated entrepreneurship into their curricula. Kent identifies the same problem for economists in general, arguing that the omission may be a result of the conceptual challenge of addressing a concept rooted in uncertainty within the neoclassical economics framework of perfect information. Casson points out that the lack of a consensus definition of entrepreneurship is another barrier to its integration into economics curricula. Both Klein and Bullock and Ross and Westgren provide evidence of the absence of consensus in their papers, and it is clear that the absence of consensus emanates from the lack of a clear boundary for the concept.

While the literature amply suggests that the entrepreneur is an "embodiment of distinct functions in the market" (von Mises, p. 242), there is no clear definition of the boundaries of these functions to help demarcate where the entrepreneur and entrepreneurship begins and ends (Aldrich and Baker; Shane and Venkataraman). Therefore, let us begin with an attempt to develop a boundary for entrepreneurship that will facilitate the isolation of the entrepreneur and entrepreneurial activities.

Researchers agree that entrepreneurship involves discovery of opportunities with uncertain outcomes through alertness to the environment and the effective translations of such discoveries into desired ends (Knight; Schumpeter; Kirzner). Based on this, we identify two necessary conditions for boundary specification: innovation and purposeful action.

Opportunities with uncertain outcomes are innovations that, because they are "unique, single cases, and not members of a class" (Rothbard, p. 554), are uninsurable. The entrepreneur is the only one who can bear the uncertainties associated with these opportunities (von Thünen). Therefore, undertaking insurable activities falls outside the boundaries of entrepreneurship.

Purposeful action is the employment of means (strategies and resources) for the attainment of ends. It is objective driven, has a clear raison d'être, and involves well-defined strategies and the execution protocols to achieve desired outcomes. Within this context lie conversations about preferences and choice as well as strategy development and management. Actions that do not contribute to achieving defined objectives are deemed to lack purpose and fall outside the domain of purposeful action and hence the boundaries of entrepreneurship.

The intersection of innovation and purposeful action define the boundary of entrepreneurship. The term "entrepreneur," then, is reserved exclusively for the economic agent operating within this boundary; the one who is incessantly spotting and seizing innovations, and purposefully transforming them into desired outcomes. …