The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times

The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times

The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times

The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times


Whether hailed as heroes or cast as threats to social order, entrepreneurs--and their innovations--have had an enormous influence on the growth and prosperity of nations. The Invention of Enterprise gathers together, for the first time, leading economic historians to explore the entrepreneur's role in society from antiquity to the present. Addressing social and institutional influences from a historical context, each chapter examines entrepreneurship during a particular period and in an important geographic location.

The book chronicles the sweeping history of enterprise in Mesopotamia and Neo-Babylon; carries the reader through the Islamic Middle East; offers insights into the entrepreneurial history of China, Japan, and Colonial India; and describes the crucial role of the entrepreneur in innovative activity in Europe and the United States, from the medieval period to today. In considering the critical contributions of entrepreneurship, the authors discuss why entrepreneurial activities are not always productive and may even sabotage prosperity. They examine the institutions and restrictions that have enabled or impeded innovation, and the incentives for the adoption and dissemination of inventions. They also describe the wide variations in global entrepreneurial activity during different historical periods and the similarities in development, as well as entrepreneurship's role in economic growth. The book is filled with past examples and events that provide lessons for promoting and successfully pursuing contemporary entrepreneurship as a means of contributing to the welfare of society.

The Invention of Enterprise lays out a definitive picture for all who seek an understanding of innovation's central place in our world.


Wherefore rejoice? What conquests brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome…?

Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 1

The Central Objective of the Book

For readers who are not historians, history can nevertheless make fascinating reading. For one thing, the plots are often more improbable and more daring than a work of fiction. But entertainment is not the purpose of this book. Rather, it was written to investigate several hypotheses that are of considerable importance for the general welfare of society, hypotheses that, unfortunately, resist testing by standard procedures such as statistical analysis or controlled experiment. Only history seems to offer any promise of providing evidence for their verification or rejection.

In brief, the first hypothesis asserts that the practical utilization of inventions and their indispensable contribution to economic growth (at the very least, the rate of such growth and hence the level of per capita income) will be well below the levels they might otherwise have achieved without the intervention of entrepreneurs. But the entrepreneur's contribution is much more than this. If entrepreneurship were just “another factor,” far more inventions would have been born to blush unseen. That is, without them, we would have basically nothing of the unprecedented growth miracle of the recent centuries. The second hypothesis goes in a direction rather different from the first. It asserts that entrepreneurial activities are not always productive and growth enhancing. Indeed, they may sometimes sabotage growth and prosperity. The third hypothesis is that the direction taken by entrepreneurial activity depends heavily, at any particular time and in any particular society, on the prevailing institutional arrangements and the relative payoffs they offer to entrepreneurial activities that promote growth and those that do not, or those that even handicap it. The research underlying this book was undertaken out of general interest in the subject, but also with the goal of shedding light on these three hypotheses.

The remainder of this preface will go a bit further in explaining the hypotheses and the reasons why history is the most promising way to test them; that is, why the more standard procedures used in empirical testing are not likely to work in this arena.

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