Apr 28, 2020

Quick Reads: Why “Evasive Entrepreneurs” Are Critical to Good Governance

Regulators may rue rule-breaking innovators today, but evasive entrepreneurs make governments better in the long run
Krista Chavez Staff Writer

The freedom to innovate is essential because it increases human quality of life, expands access to opportunities, and acts as a “check” on corruption and the excesses of government institutions. There are countless examples of innovation restraining governments in the world today, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge human welfare.

In his new book released today, Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments, Mercatus senior research fellow Adam Thierer examines how “evasive entrepreneurs”—innovators who don’t always conform to social or legal norms—are changing the world and challenging the status quo of governance, culture, and the way we earn a living. He writes:

Evasive entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the growth of various technologies of freedom, or what might also be labeled “technologies of resistance.” These technologies are devices and platforms that let citizens circumvent (or perhaps just ignore) public policies that limit their liberty or their freedom to innovate or enjoy the fruits of innovation. We can think of this phenomenon as “technological civil disobedience.”

Examples of evasive entrepreneurialism include innovations in “cottage” and 3-D printed food, ride sharing, and micro-mobility platforms to help with the “last mile” problem. These developments have improved people’s lives, and as Thierer writes:

We should tolerate—and often even embrace—a certain amount of evasive entrepreneurialism and even a fair amount of technological civil disobedience. Defending successful acts of disruptive entrepreneurialism is easy after they occur; I seek here to defend the process that leads to those acts in the first place, which often receives less support.

However, the pandemic has made the solution of evasive innovation even more critical, raising questions about the validity of other rules and regulations that were once deemed essential. These unnecessary rules are now being suspended as evasive entrepreneurs ignored them to address serious shortages in life-saving products, including hand sanitizer made by distilleries, breathing machines that doctors converted to ventilators with 3-D printed parts, food provided by enhanced delivery and takeout services, and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers made from converted snorkel masks.

Thierer explains how this process impacted COVID-19 testing:

When the coronavirus hit, the regulatory process broke down, and the problems associated with the old rules came into public view in dramatic fashion. Journalists and average citizens started asking why people in other countries were able to get tested so much more quickly and easily than in the United States. “Testing in the U.S. has been wholly inadequate,” argued Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. . . . Once again, necessity became the mother of invention. Evasive entrepreneurs stepped in.

While none of us are certain when the COVID-19 crisis will end, one idea reigns true: policymakers need a new governance approach that is more in line with modern realities and a dynamic, ever-changing population. For this, Thierer argues that “flexibility and humility will be essential.”

While some cautionary measures do make sense, embracing innovation and entrepreneurialism as the default policy position is the best way to encourage society to strengthen human welfare and ensure that our institutions function productively with the consent of the governed.

Thierer’s book, Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments, is available for purchase at Cato.org, Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s. You can read his book release essay at Cato.org.

If you are a member of the media interested in speaking with Thierer about the book, please contact Krista Chavez at media@mercatus.gmu.edu.

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

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