When 600-year old French word entrepreneur replaced capitalist
Ballyheigue, situated on the County Kerry coast between the mouth of Tralee Bay and the Shannon River Estuary, was the birthplace of Richard Cantillon, the 18th century economist and controversial Paris banker. He died in London in a fire at his home in 1734, where he may have been murdered. It is believed that the ancestors of Cantillon had left Northern France to accompany William the Conqueror in his 1066 invasion of England [genealogy: de Cantelon, Cantillon, Cantlon, etc.; Norman 'de Cauntelowe,' Latin 'de Cantulupo,' i.e., of Chanteloup in France (Seine-et-Oise)]. The name Ballyheigue comes from the Gaelic 'Baile Uí Thaidhg,' the town of the clan of Tadhg or Timothy. It is believed that the reference was to Tadhg Cantillon and in the 1300s, the family had a local castle when it was said to have been held by Ric de Clahull (Richard de Cantillon).
The word entrepreneur was first included in the ‘Dictionnaire de la langue française’ in the 1437 edition and it had been derived from the verb entreprendre, which has been in use from at least the 12th century.
Entreprendre means to undertake or set about doing something and the word entrepreneur was defined in the dictionary as “celle qui entreprend quelque chose” (in both 1437 and in Émile Littré’s edition in the 1870s; See here.) According to Bert F. Hoselitz (1913-1995), the Austrian-born economist who sourced the earliest record of the word, the entrepreneur in the early centuries was typically a contractor for the king, involving big projects, and of course, there was a risk in seeking profit from a fixed-price job.
Entrepreneur appears in the works of writers such as Alain Chartier (1385-1433), the author of the poem ‘Livre de l'Exil’ “Durs aux maulvais et fiers aux ennemys, Ardans d'honneur, et haulx entrepreneurs.” His more famous poem was ‘La belle dame sans merci’; the poet François Villon (1431-1463) wrote in ‘Repues franches, Comment ilz eurent du ros,’ “Il viendrait un entrepreneur/ Qui luy baillerait sur la joue”; the 1486 novel, ‘L'Hystoire et plaisante cronicque du petit Jehan de Saintré et de la jeune dame des Belles-Cousines sans aultre nom nommer’ written by Antione de la Sale (1386-1462); Philippe de Commines (1447-1511) wrote in his memoirs: “Mais les entrepreneurs dessus ditz [les conjurés] se trouverent mal suyviz.”
Entrepreneurship existed long before the Industrial Revolution that started in the 18th century and the nascent development of the discipline of political economy (called economics in modern times). In ancient Mesopotamia, they had official interest rates and Hammurabi, king of Babylonia, who ruled from 1792 to 1750 B.C. produced a legal code that was set forth on a basalt stone stele currently in the Louvre Museum in Paris . According to 'A History of Interest Rates' by Sidney Homer and Richard Sylla, in China banking transactions can be traced back over 2,000 years and in 200 to 300 A.D., Buddhist temples like counterparts in Rome, Babylon and Athens, ran pawnshops.
The English used the terms undertaker or adventurer for self-employed — think of the adventurers in the so-called Age of Discovery/ European Colonialism and the planters who got large tracts of land in Ireland from the English Crown or Oliver Cromwell.
The first modern economy dates back to the first half of the 17th century when the Dutch Republic was the richest country in Europe.
See 2017 paper here
Two men who had lived in County Kerry in southwest Ireland were early pioneers in political economy.
William Petty (1623-1687) arrived in Ireland in 1653 to join Oliver Cromwell’s campaign of terror, as the chief physician. He also produced a survey for the division of the land spoils for English planters and by 1688 owned 160,000 acres in Kerry (he lived on the site of the modern Sheen Falls Lodge hotel in Kenmare). Petty was an enthusiast for data; developed the first national accounts for England and Wales and an economic model for Ireland. His work on money and the multiplier influenced Richard Cantillon (1680?-1734), a native of Kerry, whose family had their lands confiscated in the 1690s after the defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, in Ireland, of the ousted English Catholic King James II by his successor, the Dutch Protestant prince, William of Orange, who had been installed as William III of England. Cantillon was the author of ‘Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général,’ which was published in 1755 — a quarter century after it had been written. In Paris, Cantillon became a banker and rich from the speculation in the shares of the Compagnie du Mississippi/ Compagnie d’Occident, which like its counterpart in London, the South Sea Company (both companies were chartered to privatise the sovereign debts of Britain and France), had triggered bubbles that peaked in 1720. Cantillon also gained through foreign exchange trading when the bubble burst and he had many enemies who had lost their fortunes.
Cantillon’s model economy was run by landlords with workers on fixed wages and self-employed/ entrepreneurs taking risks in linking the supply of goods from the producers to the consumers, mainly in urban areas.
Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), a businessman who was the first professor of political economy in France, used the term ’l'entrepreneur d’industrie’ and is regarded as the pioneer of modern entrepreneurship. The Frenchman is also famous for Say's Law: supply creates its own demand.
Say was an admirer of Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’ (1776), which has 34 references to undertakers (entrepreneurs), and was eager to see the English industrial revolution cross the channel. He defined the boundaries of entrepreneurship that exist today and another Austrian-born economist Joseph Schumpeter (in 1954), who is famous for his concept of creative destruction, acknowledged that a major part of his own contribution was to tell the Anglo-Saxon community about the world of the entrepreneur as described in the writings of Jean-Baptiste Say.
Schumpeter wrote in 1954, “Cantillon was, so far as I know, the first to use the term entrepreneur” — this is wrong as per our evidence above, and as the Essai was first written in English, and the English contemporary terms for an entrepreneur, “undertaker” or “adventurer” may have been used (the English version doesn’t exist).
Entrepreneur vs capitalist
Geoffrey Nunberg, the American linguist, has said that "entrepreneur" came into "English as a fancy name for a theatrical promoter — in French, the word just meant somebody who undertakes something, similar to an Italian impresario. But it was soon being used for people who promoted investments or ran business schemes, occasionally with a slightly unsavory connotation. A 1951 article in The New York Times described the gangster Frank Costello as a ‘slot machine entrepreneur.’"
Prof Nunberg said: "By the 1980's, 'entrepreneur' was more than ten times as common in newspaper articles as it had been in the 1950's."
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations 2002 edition in its top 101 sayings of the year, included a remark that President George W. Bush was supposed to have made to Tony Blair, then British prime minister: "The problem with the French is that they have no word for 'entrepreneur' — the word had for long had been used mainly in the music industry in the Anglo-Saxon world and its present popularity dates from the pro-business orientation of the Reagan Administration when 'entrepreneur' was seen as a more positive word for new heroes of free enterprise, than capitalist, which conjured up robber barons like John D. Rockefeller.
The technological developments in what became known as Silicon Valley in Northern California, boosted by Cold War and Space exploration federal spending, also focused attention on innovation and the importance of entrepreneurship.
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's press secretary, had denied that President Bush had made the claimed remark about the French, which was supposed to have related to a discussion on France's lagging economy with Jacques Chirac, the French president.
Carl Schramm, a professor at Syracuse University, who until 2013 was CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, America's leading entrepreneurship think-tank, wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "Entrepreneurship is apparently an occupational category now, yet when it comes to judging the value of what they teach, its practitioners are flying blind."
He said that there were 1,957 full-time professors of entrepreneurship in the US, according to 2014 membership data from the Academy of Management and "the teaching approach, cobbled together from strategic-planning and venture-finance insights, is more prescriptive than objective, telling entrepreneurs what they should do instead of teaching business basics."
Prof Schramm said that there is now a narrative about how a new business should begin. Success, it is taught, hinges on writing a business plan. But most of history's exemplary businesses didn't have a plan when they began.
- "Most guides to entrepreneurship presume new businesses will need venture capital. Yet venture financing is important to a very small percentage of startups;
- Everyone knows, the textbooks say, that college-aged students are the progenitors of all great startups. (That may explain why it's an undergraduate course.) In reality, the nation's fastest-growing businesses are started by 40-year-olds;
- Nearly 75% of new entrepreneurs are over 35, according to a 2012 report on entrepreneurial activity by the Kauffman Foundation. And while Silicon Valley gurus believe a startup must begin in California, the same Kauffman Foundation report showed that in 2012 there were more startups per capita in Montana, Vermont and Nevada than all other states."
He concluded that as in the days before evidence-based medicine, "there are no significant data to confirm that graduates of entrepreneurship programs go on to start successful businesses. It is time for an evidence-based revolution."