Yes, this is a parody.

But it’s a parody that’s meant to highlight a serious problem:

The U.S. economy is structurally broken,
yet we often buy the lie that the problem can be fixed
by swallowing large doses of the magic elixir called
Entrepreneurship.

Consider what’s broken:

  • Declining wages: Median household income, when adjusted for inflation, is 11 percent below its level in 2000.
  • Income inequality:  The gap between rich and poor is growing. Since 2009, all economic gains have gone to the top 10 percent — while the bottom 90 percent has lost ground. Between 1979 and 2012, the top 5 percent of American families saw their real incomes increase 74.9 percent. Over the same period, the lowest-income fifth saw a decrease in real income of 12.1 percent. .
  • CEO pay:  Back in the 1960s, very few corporate CEOs in the United States took home more than 50 times what typical workers made. By 1993, CEOs were averaging 195 times worker pay. The current average differential: 354 times.
  • Wealth inequality: The middle class is disappearing:land-mass-as-wealth-map
  • Wealth inequality erodes our freedom & our democracy: Listen to Lawrence Lessig, founder of the Mayday PAC, deliver a presentation called We the People, and the Republic We Must Reclaim.
  • Labor participation rate: It’s fallen to the lowest rate since 1978. Which means that millions of able-bodied people have simply given up looking for a job.

Which leads to the big question:

Are these problems caused by
structural weaknesses in our economy?
Or are these problems caused by
character flaws of individuals?

That is, have these problems emerged because technology, globalization, and deregulation have fundamentally reshaped our economy in ways that have undermined the hopes and dreams of millions of hard-working Americans?

OR: Are these economic conditions a reflection of a competitive free market that, by design, produces winners and losers — and the losers should just stop whining and try harder?

Inequality for All

Here’s an answer from economist Robert Reich:

To Robert Reich, the problems are mostly structural and systemic, not personal. To solve them, he calls for more political engagement — and a recognition that our government has a key role to play in fixing the structural economic weaknesses that are undermining the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans.

“Pick Yourself”

Compare Reich’s analysis to the following call-to-arms from marketing guru and entrepreneurial cheerleader Seth Godin:

Seth Godin

Seth Godin

Listen:

(The sound of harp strings marks where I spliced the audio.)

 
In other words: The economic challenges posed by the “race to the bottom” may be driven by structural shifts, but the solutions are not political — they’re personal: “Pick yourself.” Launch a business. Publish a book. Sing a song. It’s ultimately up to you.

And Seth Godin is hardly alone. On Amazon there’s an endless supply of books about the power of entrepreneurship.

Or scroll through the podcasts on iTunes, and you’ll find plenty of “experts” who are selling the same self-help cocktail: one shot of American individualism mixed with three shots of hyper-caffeinated, over-the-top enthusiasm.

Listen:

 
When it comes to podcasts about entrepreneurs, though, the gold standard is Entrepreneur on Fire, hosted by the always high-spirited John Lee Dumas:

John-Lee-Dumas-photo

John Lee Dumas

Listen to an excerpt:

 
That message — people fail because they quit chasing their dreams —  is the thread that runs through virtually every episode of John’s show (and the shows of the other entrepreneurial cheerleaders). If you want to succeed, then the method is simple: Don’t quit. Because being a quitter — being a failure — is ultimately your choice.

Which sounds simple enough. Except: It’s nonsense.

Millions of middle-class workers have been chasing the American Dream, and they haven’t quit. Yet that Dream is rapidly vanishing — along with the middle class.

{ FWIW: I admire John Lee Dumas. He produces a new episode of Entrepreneur on Fire every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. He has laser focus and he works hard. He has thousands of fans — and plenty of customers: According to his monthly income statements, John is clearing hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. Which makes him one of a handful of podcasters who are making serious cash. So kudos to him for identifying a niche, executing his business plan, and profiting handsomely. A job well done! That said… }

Anecdotes are not analysis

The guests on Entrepreneur on Fire — and John Lee Dumas himself — don’t provide an argument for the ability of entrepreneurs as a whole to escape these punishing economic times. Instead, they deliver uplifting anecdotes about individuals that add up to… well, not much.

John Lee Dumas & friends tell us that individual effort, passion, and talent are what matter most, while all the big picture stuff (see the Robert Reich video, above) isn’t worth mentioning. Dumas & friends are not here to criticize or reform The System. Instead, they say: Take a long, critical look in the mirror, and reform yourself.

It’s like telling a farmer that his crop yield is solely a function of the seeds he plants, the water and fertilizer he uses, and his work ethic — while ignoring the weather.

LeBron James

LeBron James did it!

Or try this analogy: It’s like telling poor inner-city kids to keep chasing their dreams of playing in the NBA. If you work hard, stay focused, don’t quit, and follow your passions, then maybe one day you’ll sign a multi-million-dollar contract to play professional basketball. After all, if LeBron James can do it, then so can you! 

That’s true for a select few, but for millions of kids, such advice is cruel bait.

In other words: Systemic economic problems may not constrain opportunities for all individuals. (There will always be enough uplifting stories to fill the guest list on a podcast.) But these systemic problems are shutting off opportunities for the vanishing middle class.

“Protesters? I don’t see any protesters!”

Do these entrepreneurial cheerleaders actually grasp the reality of what’s happening to low-wage workers, but simply choose to look the other way?

Consider this short exchange between the CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos (asking the question here, in 2012) and Seth Godin:

 
WOW.

Did you notice what Seth does there? First, he quickly dismisses the people who do the “jobs that just need to get done.” And then, in his next breath, he brings up the Occupy Movement — the massive public demonstrations against big banks, big money, and an economic system that many workers (and academics) believe is structurally flawed. But not Seth Godin! He believes the Occupy Movement is actually a giant stage for… (wait for it) … entrepreneurs!

Seth Godin is not a stupid guy. So what in the world is going on here?

Why I launched this podcast

If you scrutinize what Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, John Lee Dumas and hordes of others are peddling, it doesn’t add up. Their sales pitches seem willfully blind to the facts on the ground. And although entrepreneurial pep rallies may make us feel good in the moment (I hereby give myself permission to be Number One!), the glow doesn’t last.

Why? Because these cheerleaders have taken a structural economic weakness and transformed it into a character issue. The problem isn’t the economy OR banks that are “too big to fail” OR dysfunctional public policies, the cheerleaders seem to say. No, my friend. The problem is YOU.

I launched this podcast…

  • To scrutinize what these entrepreneurial pitchmen are selling.
  • To help describe the serious economic problems we face.
  • To explore these subjects — and have some fun — through good-natured satire.
  • To reach people who might come for this parody of a well-known podcaster (Mr. Dumas) and his worldview — but then stay to discover something new and potentially transformative. (You might think of my podcast guests as “idea entrepreneurs” who are “disrupting” «gag» the conventional wisdom.)
  • And to identify ways we might confront the economic and social challenges ahead, and tackle them — together.

Welcome to Entrepreneur Explosion!

And get ready to Feel The Burned™!!!
 
Paul-David-Peterson-avatar
Paul David Peterson
February 2015