For many of us, it is important to be solvent, but considerably less important to have income well above and beyond that level. Getting money and being without money both involve a considerable amount of ass-kissing, so it’s sort of a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” proposition. Of course, according to Christianity (a religion whose founding principle is the crushing of rebellion), the necessity of livelihood, like damnation itself, is part of the punishment for Original Sin.
From one angle, the ideal J.O.B. is one that pays enough to live on, but is not so careerist in orientation as to be mired in politics and intrigue. A ‘Goldilocks job.’ In practice, one finds part time and temporary jobs that aren’t even within striking distance of the so-called poverty line, and salaried positions that pay multiples of the poverty line, and almost nothing in between. It’s as if the Invisible Hand, in its fiendishly brutish omniscience, knows my heart’s desire with methodical precision and therefore knows to conjure up that set of market conditions that most effectively frustrate its realization. It is hard to believe that managerial types are not cognizant of the boundary between solvency and insolvency being a critical point in the money-motivation curve, as dramatized in Schrödinger’s Cat:
If one of the employees in his factories showed initiative or talent, Wing Lee Chee noticed, and that man or woman was quickly promoted to a position of responsibility and solvency.
Enter Ramen profitability; roughly a self-employment analog of the Goldilocks job, but with some caveats:
- It entails becoming an entrepreneur, and all that entails; adding salesmanship, negotiationism, collections, tough-customeritis, etc. to one’s personality. The combination of salesiness and being a tough customer type, it would seem, would put some strain on obedience to the Golden Rule.
- Even the most visible advocate of Ramen profitability, Paul Graham, tell us that “the main importance of ramen profitability is that it buys you time.” Apparently “grow or die” is still an Iron Law of Economics for going concerns, and doing neither is a stop-gap measure, and not something that can be done indefinitely. Growth, of course, requires financiers, who must be kissed up to.
James Alexander Levy introduces us to the concept of “One Person Profitable.” This is the art of taking business partners or co-founders out of the equation:
Single founders tend to end up with a lot more control of their venture once it does become successful. And control, from what I understand, tends to be the most valuable asset to founders who really care about their ventures. Owning all your equity is just about as pro-founder as it gets, and while good seed-stage investors and incubators are pro-founder, I’m not so sure they are pro-founder enough to enthusiastically support the One Person Profitable approach.
I think it’ll be worthwhile to explore the idea of One Person Profitable further. If we really want entrepreneurship to be as accessible as more traditional career choices, I think it makes sense that there should be at least one decent resource advocating the advantages of being a single founder.
I think that, if we want to achieve a sort of agorism which is a reasonable compromise between libertarian and outcome-egalitarian values, then we really do want entrepreneurship to be far, far more accessible than it has been, and I would say far more accessible than traditional career choices have become under the crushing efficiency of our structurally less labor intensive “new economy.” Ideally, entrepreneurship will even be accessible to the meek. Anagorism upholds the even more ambitious (or more unrealistic, depending on your point of view) goal of challenging the place of entrepreneurship as the price of independence. The agorist belief that economy of scale is an illusion created by hidden subsidy, and that small business is the norm under “freed markets” would suggest that the Iron Law of Grow or Die is a law of politics, not economics. We can only hope so. As Levy tells us:
I find the co-founder as investor argument somewhat troubling only when I consider that investors have no reason to encourage you to reach ramen profitability as a single-founder. You’re more prone to failing or selling at an “acquhire” [?] price, while startups that are five-founders deep at launch time can’t usually be successful unless they’re the type of huge success that investors desire.
It certainly appears that the role of startups in the actually-existing economy is to serve as feeder fish for larger concerns, perhaps basically portfolios of patents, or client lists, or that mysterious “DNA” stuff they talk about in the financial press.