The Entrepreneurial Culture and the Mysteries of Economic Development

Winner of the James Soltow Award for Best Paper in Essays 2018


  • Louis Galambos Johns Hopkins University, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business


Culture is easy to study but difficult to specify. This essay attempts to pin down this illusive subject by linking it to entrepreneurship—that is to specific efforts to combine land, labor, capital, and knowledge in the creation of economic activity that has some aspect of novelty. Entrepreneurship is important because of its central role in capitalism. Culture is important because it influences the willingness of individuals to take the risk of exploring possibilities for entrepreneurial ventures even though the most of them will be unsuccessful in the long-run. In search of entrepreneurial culture in America around 1800, this paper examimes immigration, agriculture, commerce, and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in the US. These insights are then employed in an examination of the post-WWII efforts of the World Bank—most of which failed—to promote economic growth in nations that had not yet experienced “modernization.”