Jeremy Hunt’s latest wheeze, in his bid to become Britain’s new Prime Minister, is to refund university tuition fees for students who go on to become ‘entrepreneurs’. In fact he’s also making a big thing of his own early career as an ‘entrepreneur’, in order, clearly, to impress his elderly and moneyed Tory electorate. Wondering what his entrepreneurial activity actually consisted of, I looked him up. This is from Wikipedia:

‘After university Hunt worked for two years as a management consultant at OC&C Strategy Consultants, and then became an English language teacher in Japan.

‘On his return to Britain he tried his hand at a number of different entrepreneurial business ventures, with three failed start-ups including an attempt to export marmalade to Japan. In 1991, Hunt co-founded a public relations agency named Profile PR specialising in IT with Mike Elms, a childhood friend. Hunt and Elms later sold their interest in Profile PR to concentrate on directory publishing.’

Quite frankly, that doesn’t impress me, and doesn’t lead me to think that ‘entrepreneurship’ should be rewarded with special favours. Almost by definition, entrepreneurs don’t actually make  things; and don’t serve the public directly, as do inventors, manufacturers, nurses, doctors, teachers (even university professors), and marmalade makers. What they do is to exploit  the achievements of others, for their own profit. Letting them off their student fees is unnecessary at best – they’re likely to be able to afford the money themselves if they’re any good at entrepreneuring, as Hunt clearly wasn’t – and a grave insult to all those whose post-university contributions to the public good are arguably more direct and beneficial.

The definition of an ‘entrepreneur’ might also cause some difficulties. I’ve produced and sold (via  publishers) several books and articles. Might that have qualified me as an entrepreneur, if – say – I had set myself up as a ‘company’? I’ve heard of others who have done this, for tax purposes.

Too much is made of ‘entrepreneurs’, and too little of the creators of what they market, and those who create social wealth. That could be one reason for Britain’s long industrial decline, since the 19th century, when entrepreneurs were more often represented – in literature, for example – as shysters and rogues.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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4 Responses to Entrepreneurs

  1. I agree that entrepreneurs should not receive extra rewards: those who are successful in their risk-taking are sufficiently rewarded by the market.

    However, on reflection, I do not understand your paragraph: “Too much is made of ‘entrepreneurs’, and too little of the creators of what they market, and those who create social wealth. That could be one reason for Britain’s long industrial decline, since the 19th century, when entrepreneurs were more often represented – in literature, for example – as shysters and rogues.”

    You seem to be connecting the UK’s industrial decline with negative attitudes to entrepreneurs, which was a line emphasised in the Thatcher era. Yet you are also yourself wishing to downgrade their importance.

    Your post also raises the modern phenomenon of literary and academic entrepreneurship when referring to your own (highly successful) career. Someone like Dickens looms as a case of a progressive literary figure who was entrepreneurial to a marked degree. He skillfully promoted (marketed) himself and his ideas in a way which did lead to the creation of ‘social wealth’ through more enlightened policies to deal with poverty. T.S. Eliot is a conservative version of this literary type.

    More recently, Niall Ferguson is an example of a history entrepreneur, and Anthony Giddens has been a success in making a not-inconsiderable fortune through social theory. Almost all successful academics I have known, or known of, have been adept at self-promotion in one or both of the following spheres. There is firstly the market in books, TV programs and lecture series where the literateur or academic might chance their arm and succeed – or fail. Additionally, there is also the neo-patrimonial system of the university where effective ‘networking’ (that is the manipulation of patron-client relationships) – a form of social entrepreneurialism – is almost essential for climbing and staying at the top of the academic ladder.

    In the above cases none of the figures mentioned have merely exploited the achievements of others; they have produced or created works of value; yet it is true that they have used the social structures laid down by others for their own success.

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  2. “Almost by definition, entrepreneurs don’t actually make things; and don’t serve the public directly, as do inventors, manufacturers …. What they do is to exploit the achievements of others, for their own profit.”
    The archetypical entrepreneur is Henry Ford. He did not invent the motor car and he did not work on the assembly line himself; however, he was able to develop the manufacturing and marketing of automobiles to such a level as to be able employ very large numbers of workers, whose wages were not so bad by the standards of the times. He had the good sense to know that employees needed to be able to afford his mass-produced Fords; and it is through Fordism that cars became available to working men and women. True, he was a racist, anti-Semite, and Nazi sympathiser. Nevertheless, these grave personality faults are not necessary features of being an entrepreneur. If one buys into the capitalist paradigm, it is not hard to see why entrepreneurship should rate very highly. Without the entrepreneur, a valuable idea will not be converted into a product which might be highlight beneficial.
    Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered penicillin in 1928, yet it was not until the end of the Second World War that it was available in sufficient amounts to treat soldiers wounded in the course of the Normandy landings. The entrepreneurial activities of pharmaceutical companies – and government agencies – were required to finally turn Fleming’s discovery into an extraordinarily valuable medicine.
    Even a socialist society would require entrepreneurs. The stifling of innovation – except in the development of military hardware – was one of the stumbling blocks of the Soviet-type social orders during short reign of the Bolsheviks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tony says:

    Yes absolutely. Hunt’s final business venture, that it made him a multi-millionaire, was publishing directories of courses at UK universities mainly aimed at the Asian market. These attracted advertising revenue and presumably. The foreign students that were recruited for UK universities paid full fees and thereby displaced thousands UK home students. (do Russell group universities have informal quotas for full fee paying foreign students I wonder) I welcome foreign students, but not to the extent that universities become dependent on them. The business was merely a service provider and hardly employed many, however lucrative for Hunt personally.

    Liked by 1 person

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