Privilege and Entrepreneurship
I’ve mentioned before that I have been encouraged by many people to just stop freelancing, stop applying for an ever decreasing supply of associate positions, and to just hang my own shingle and open up my own law practice. This is something that many young lawyers have needed to do because no one is hiring. The class of 2010 is famously still screwed. There are a lot of questions about how much these young lawyers are actually making (if anything from their solo practices).
Yet “start your own business” and “be an entrepreneur” are some of the favorite solutions to unemployment and underemployment by our business and political leaders. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt mentioned it as a solution a year and a half-ago.
QZ comes out with a valuable public service reminder that entrepreneurship is not a special psychological class of people. Rather most young entrepreneurs grew up upper-middle class or above and have access to financial capital that covers their basic needs (and then some) while they are working on their businesses. Meaning they don’t need to worry about making money right away. They can pay for rent, health insurance, groceries, and recreation while devoting a lot of energy to their budding start-up. I’ve seen this happen in San Francisco, land of the start-up. The young adults who are starting their own companies often live very comfortably even while their companies are worth less than zero dollars.
This is not to say that the entrepreneurs are not working hard. Many of them are working 60, 70, 80, 90 hours a week. What they don’t need to worry about is income flow during these times. Most people do not have this luxury including people who grew up rather comfortably.
I’ve asked around about starting my own firm. One piece of advice I got was that I need to rent office space because “no is fooled when you write suite 5 instead of apartment 5.” I looked at renting space. The cheapest I can find is about 1300 dollars a month for a windowless room at a “business center”. There are also costs for malpractice insurance, filing fees, paying someone to design a good webpage (or spending countless hours trying to design my own and writing good copy for myself), accounting, marketing, etc. This is on top of living expenses like rent, groceries, and health insurance while waiting to get clients and money. BTW all the legal work I know how to do revolves around contingency fees which means I only get paid after a settlement or a judgment. This can be very lucrative but a case can last for a year or more before settlement or judgment happens. The average cost of starting a law firm would need to be comparable with the average costs of creating a start-up according to the QZ article.
So even if someone is being really frugal, it can still be very daunting to start their own business. So why do we think entrepreneurship is the solution to our unemployment and underemployment problems? My guess is that telling people to take a risk and start their own business is a solution that requires the least amount of sacrifice from those that already made it. They don’t have to higher more people, they don’t need to pay more taxes in order to have a good safety net, they can moralize about the laziness of a generation and who doesn’t like doing that?