Ideas Mean Nothing — 1692 version

The world’s first economics and business journalist, Daniel Dafoe, wrote his first book in 1692 (or so) and published it in 1697. It is titled An Essay Upon Projects. It is an account of the times which he calls The Projecting Age, in which stock companies such as the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Mississippi Company were the largest of the speculative ventures that Dafoe saw around him. He decried many of these as blatant attempts by unscrupulous idea mongers who were seeking fast payoffs from gullible investors.

There are, and that too many, fair pretences of fine discoveries, new inventions, engines, and I know not what, which — being advanced in notion, and talked up to great things to be performed when such and such sums of money shall be advanced, and such and such engines are made — have raised the fancies of credulous people to such a height that, merely on the shadow of expectation, they have formed companies, chose committees, appointed officers, shares, and books, raised great stocks, and cried up an empty notion to that degree that people have been betrayed to part with their money for shares in a new nothing. . . .

For Dafoe, the vast number of projectors who never made the requisite investments to bring a product to market dwarfs the number of honest projectors who finish the job. The former are contemptible, the latter are the engine of the economy.

Why, then, do we fixate on the “opportunity” — the project — in entrepreneurship research, when the entrepreneurial action of creating real value is what matters?


About Randy
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