Entrepreneurship and the American Idea
How do you celebrate a 250th birthday? What about when that birthday marks the celebration of a whole country? An idea?
How long do you need to plan for that milestone?
Ten years from now, in July 2026, the United States will mark the sestercentennial of the Declaration of Independence. (Spellcheck, by the way, does not recognize “sestercentennial.” And, just for the record, here are equivalent terms suggested by Wikipedia: semiquincentennial, bicenquinquagenary, and quarter-millennial.)
In all seriousness, though, this is a big deal and, thankfully, Phil Auerswald of George Mason University and the National Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (NCEI) is on the case. Last month, Phil organized a launch event for 2026.US, an initiative intended to help plan for the sestercentennial celebration. Part of that involves a National Census of Possibilities to engage Americans in planning for the anniversary.
I was fortunate to be able to participate in the launch event at the National Academy of Sciences with people like John Holdren, Donna Harris, and others. You can find a video with excerpts from that event here:
Entrepreneurship and Democracy
For my part, I spoke about two things. First, I talked about the close historical relationship between entrepreneurship and democracy in the United States. This country was founded on the idea of individual liberty, and entrepreneurship has long been recognized as a key vehicle for the expression of that liberty. In many ways, entrepreneurship embodies the same spirit of individual liberty that animated the Declaration of Independence and, later, the Constitution.
Entrepreneurship also reinforces the democratic idea—keeping individual liberty alive means resisting “bigness” and corporatism in both business and government. A democratic republic requires citizens capable of acting independently and solving problems themselves, rather than waiting for others to do so. Entrepreneurship in all its forms—from high-tech startups to local restaurants—embodies this.
Evan Burfield, co-founder of the incubator 1776 in Washington, points out that the year 1776 also witnessed a few other developments pertinent to entrepreneurship:
- Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations;
- Captain James Cook launched his third and final voyage of discovery; and,
- The first fully developed Watt steam engine went into production.
Intangible Capital and Entrepreneurship
Second, I was asked about the role of capital in American entrepreneurship. When most people talk about capital they mean financial capital, which is clearly necessary for any business to get off the ground and grow. But the United States has such a strong entrepreneurial culture partly because we enjoy high levels of other forms of capital that relate to the American idea.
Ten years ago, the World Bank released a report, Where is the Wealth of Nations?, that tried to tally the levels of various types of wealth across different countries. They found that simply living in the United States makes a person half a million dollars richer, with per capita wealth of $513,000. That wealth is made up of natural capital, produced capital, and, most of all, intangible capital. Intangible capital, moreover, is mostly due to institutions that promote education and the rule of law.
This is important in at least two respects. First, it is no wonder people from all over the world continue to want to immigrate to the United States (even despite political rhetoric!). If you saw the prospect of immediately becoming $500,000 wealthier by coming to live in America, you would bear the burdens and risks of coming here, too. Second, there is a strongly mutual relationship between American democracy and our entrepreneurial economy: our democratic institutions help generate intangible capital, which feeds entrepreneurs, who in turn strengthen our democracy.
Are we perfect? Of course not; not by any means. But as we approach the sestercentennial/quarter-millennial, it’s worth reflecting on the connection between entrepreneurship and democracy, and thinking of innovative ways we can celebrate that. So visit the 2026.US website, contribute to the National Census of Possibilities, and join in the planning.