Most popular posts
- What makes great boards great
- The fate of control
- March Madness and the availability heuristic
- When business promotes honesty
- Due diligence: mine, yours, and ours
- Alligator Alley and the Flagler (?!) Dolphins
- Untangling skill and luck in sports
- The Southeastern Growth Corridors
- Dead cats and iterative collaboration
- Empirical evidence: power corrupts?
- A startup culture poses unique ethical challenges
- Warren Buffett and after-tax returns
- Is the secret to national prosperity large corporations or start-ups?
- This is the disclosure gap worrying the SEC?
- "We challenged the dogma, and it was incorrect"
- Our column in the Tampa Bay Business Journal
- Our letter in the Wall Street Journal
Other sites we recommend
Google can’t save us (anymore)
Great piece by Robert J. Samuelson in last Sunday’s Washington Post about how innovation resulting from M&A activity may lift corporate profits, but only the innovation generated by fast-growing start-ups broadly raises national prosperity.
(A) larger issue transcends individual deals. The popularity of M&A actually involves economic weakness. Unable to expand internally — by creating products or entering new markets — companies rely on M&A for growth. However, what works for the firm may work less well for society. Although buying another company may enhance the acquiring firm’s innovation, it doesn’t add much to society’s. And society’s capacity to innovate is crucial. It generates the wealth needed to raise incomes and dampen social conflicts…
In our mind’s eye, the economy is swarming with entrepreneurs. Competition is intense. Old-line firms adapt, or die. Just the opposite may be happening: Evidence suggests that entrepreneurship is in decline and that U.S. firms are becoming older, more entrenched and less dynamic…
American capitalism is middle-aged. Older firms, conditioned by success, are more rigid. They’re invested, financially and psychologically, in existing markets and production patterns. They can adapt and innovate, but it’s hard. The M&A surge is one way older firms strive to overcome internal stagnation. What’s worrisome is not the success of the middle-aged businesses; it’s the weakness of young firms and the apparent erosion of entrepreneurship. As other research has shown, start-ups ultimately account for a disproportionately high share of new job creation and innovation. The vigor of these new firms is essential for the economy to revitalize itself.
We don’t know what explains their slide, though the sheer mass of government regulations is one candidate. Older firms have the lawyers and administrators to cope with the red-tape deluge; many small new firms drown. But that’s just a conjecture illuminating the larger question. If the economy discriminates against young firms, we will all be paying the price for many years.
Samuelson’s piece fits nicely with what we wrote last July in Not All Innovation Is Alike:
Some politicians think “innovation policy” means spending taxpayer money on promising young firms favored by bureaucrats. Rather, innovation policy means ensuring that the status quo is continuously challenged by upstart rivals and threat of failure. Those are the keys to the Schumpeterian “gales of creative destruction” that drive innovation, which in turn drives long-term economic growth and improvement in living standards.
National prosperity is generated by the start-ups who innovate and challenge entrenched incumbents. Anyone who’s worked for a large corporation – especially in an R&D department – would not rely primarily on that model for innovation. Anyone who’s worked for a large corporation – especially in a dying industry – would not rely primarily on that model for job growth. Yes, start-ups lack the economies of scale and R&D budgets of larger firms; but that’s the support venture capital provides. Those start-ups that do gain traction are able to raise capital, and, with hard work and a little luck, become large companies… and then face the next generation of innovators.