More failures, please

You want to know one of the  main reasons why the Maritimes economy has underperformed the rest of Canada.  Read this article.  Rarely in the history of man has anyone gotten the cause and effect relationship so twisted around.

A Halifax author has written a book entitled Failures and Fiascos, Atlantic Canada’s Biggest Boondoggles where he chronicles what he calls the biggest business flops in the region’s history going back over 100 years – it seems from the article that many have government backing.

He writes as if this is a bad thing. A very bad thing.  Does he ever miss the point.

He ends the article by saying ““As far as my book Failures and Fiascos is concerned … I can honestly say I hope there is never a need to write a sequel.”

Cripes.  I desperately wish there will be a sequel.  A long sequel.

If you had to write a book on all the big business flops in Ontario it would be 100 times longer than this guy’s book.  Even if you restrict your view to government funded fiascos – the list would be huge – some would say Ontario is the midst of a big one right now with its renewable energy strategy.

Amazing.  Guys like this want to literally breed entrepreneurial risk out of our culture down here.

From the article, many of his ‘boondoggles’ have government money and support and it does get a little tricky when public funds are involved.  But we have to be able to separate entrepreneurial risk (which we want more of) and putting government taxpayer money at risk (we need a more intelligent conversation about this).

In general we need more entrepreneurs with big ideas – more flops – more trying.  This applies at the local services level as well as in export businesses.

It’s like the Pax in the movie Serenity.  They wanted to create a society with no anger or fighting and everyone just slowly died (except the Reavers).

These guys are slipping the Pax into Atlantic Canada and hoping we all die.

Get out there.  Grind.  It’s the Serengeti Plain out there and we need more Bricklins, more crazy ideas – maybe we need to figure out how to get taxpayer dollars out of the mix but I have always said that is a secondary issue.  If Bricklin had received a corporate tax holiday for 30 years rather than a big pile of cash, it would have been worth the same over time (assuming the firm was actually successful) but with no risk to the taxpayer.

I worry that one of our biggest problems is that we are too comfortable.  Our entrepreneurs could push harder – take more risk – but why bother?  They have a nice lifestyle business – why risk it?

But if no one risks it, the economy will stagnate and the virtuous cycle of entrepreneurship becomes a vicious cycle of entrepreneurial decline.

And, by the way, how about a few authors taking a little ‘entrepreneurial risk’.  Writing about Atlantic Canada boondoggles is like red meat to a segment of the population that are cynical of government and big business.  He’ll sell lots of books.  How about a book about how this region could foster more entrepreneurial risk?




1 thought on “More failures, please

  1. Something we certainly agree on, however, you weren’t so sympathetic to the ‘failures’ in the film industry when government cut off its extremely meagre financial support of that industry. I seem to recall at the time, even though the industry was barely getting traction it wasn’t an issue of ‘getting public money right’, but rather “hey, this isn’t paying out for us so good on them for dumping it”.

    As for the rest, that’s all true. Anybody who knows ANYTHING about business knows that it is all about failure. Unfortunately, we still live by the myth that ‘so long as you work hard you’ll be successful’, which is a crock. And I do agree that there isn’t that ‘desire’ to create big-or small for that matter. And again that comes from the educational system, you can’t expect people just to happen to know how to do this stuff.

    I haven’t read the book, but perhaps its not as bad as all that-while failures are important learning opportunities and all that, I don’t think many would dispute that its BETTER to succeed. But if the guy is simply championing the idea of “can’t win, don’t try”, then absolutely, I agree with you. It would be an interesting read, but I’m not paying money to find out stuff that has been known for years.

    And not to let the media off the hook, because ‘bad news sells’ and Irving isn’t interested in touting ‘good government stories’, but media tends to fixate on either ‘bad news’ or ‘human interest stories’, and little analysis of things that work and are improving (which could very well be the majority of things).

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