/Mauricio Miller: Entrepreneurship as the Path Upwards From Anywhere, for Anyone

Mauricio Miller: Entrepreneurship as the Path Upwards From Anywhere, for Anyone


Entrepreneurship is the best pathway for all people out of unsatisfactory economic circumstances.

Mauricio Miller, who arrived in the US as a poor immigrant from Mexico, and who also experienced living in some of America’s worst neighborhoods, spent over 20 years running social services for people growing up and living like he did. His conclusion: social services are the worst policy for such people. It is entrepreneurship that will open up the pathway out of the neighborhoods and out of the traps of low income and limited prospects. Entrepreneurship lifts up individuals, families, and communities.

Job creation programs are not the answer. In the US, people can get jobs, but they are often on a dead-end track that doesn’t generate learning or leverage-able experience — waiter, assistant, security guard, etc. Outside the US, even these jobs might not be available. Often, people with these jobs are entrepreneurs “on the side”, exchanging in the informal economy. This is just another indicator how important entrepreneurship is to upgrading people in low income situations.

Entrepreneurship is inherent in people.

Is entrepreneurship hard? Is it too daunting for some? Does it require skills that only special people possess? Absolutely not. People have the capacity, the capability and the creativity. They are typically smart and determined. The requirement is simply to let that come out — to remove the constraints. The entrepreneurship is already inherently there.

Furthermore, people are motivated for entrepreneurship. Everyone has a particular talent, or at least their own interests, and they always perform better when they’re working on what interests them. And people want to run their own life, and make their own decisions.

Release the constraints.

The constraints that face them trace to being stereotyped and labeled, and these are barriers to credibility. Reduced credibility makes it hard to institute relationships, establish partnerships, to get loan financing, and generally to build the network support and capital required to advance their businesses. Mauricio says that if we don’t label them, and simply let talent and commitment shine through, all kinds of people can demonstrate entrepreneurial potential and achievement.

Entrepreneurial achievement and success will emerge when people are unconstrained.

How does the entrepreneurial movement get started? Naturally, and without intervention. In any community, there will be one or more individuals who become “leading lights” in the sense of trying something unusual or unprecedented, and succeeding. The definition in sociology and innovation diffusion theory is “positive deviants” — those who deviate from the norm or from history with a successful outcome. Leading lights is a better term.

The leading lights are followed by early adopters, who see a strategy that is successful and copy it or follow it. Then comes community support, which Mauricio characterizes as mutuality — everyone in the community eager to help anyone who can demonstrate success.

In his book The Alternative (Mises.org/E4B_106_Book), Mauricio tells the story of Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian immigrant to the Los Angeles area of California who got a job at Winchell’s donut chain. He quickly absorbed the techniques of donut making and decided to open his own shop. Members of the community pooled savings to provide equity capital to buy equipment. The single store became successful and Ted opened more. The mutuality of the neighborhood was activated and neighbors became delivery drivers and ingredient wholesalers and came together as a supply chain and value creation network.

The word spread across California and Cambodian immigrants in San Francisco and elsewhere started reproducing Ngoy’s strategy. In a more general sense, the learning is: people, whoever they are, can start and run a business and make some money and become independent.

A new mindset: No plan, no policy, no structure, no institutionalization.

Mauricio’s key insight is that any intervention by government or charities or social services that aims to provide a plan or a process or a structure or to configure institutionalized support is not only not needed, it is destructive. It distorts and undermines the natural human motivations and drives that people draw on in entrepreneurship. The opposite approach — or no approach — is the best. Honor the natural preference of communities for self-help and sharing — mutuality as Mauricio has named it — and let them discover the pathways for themselves, find the knowledge, pool the savings, get access to the technology, use their network to connect to the needed skills.

Entrepreneurship is catching.

Once the bright lights shine, once the positive deviants emerge, once the early adopters find follow-on success, once the natural mutuality builds the supply chain and the support network, no intervention or encouragement or policy is required. Stand back and admire.

Additional Resources

The Alternative: Most of What You Believe About Poverty Is Wrong by Mauricio Miller: Mises.org/E4B_106_Book

Family Independence Initiative: FII.org

Community Independence Initiative: CIIAlternative.org

Mutuality Platform: Mises.org/E4B_106_Mutuality

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