Future Entrepreneurs: White Punks On Dope

So here’s some brain food to ponder going into the weekend. A new study by a professor at Berkeley and another at LSE of the demographics and personality traits of entrepreneurs does not quite fit the stereotype of the virtuous burghers who selflessly create wealth for the rest of us. But one part of the stereotype is right: they tend to be white men, as The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann reports:

So who’s most apt to become an entrepreneur? In the end, Levine and Rubinstein find that it’s the smart rule-breakers. Workers who scored above average on both learning aptitude and illicit activities were 60 percent more likely to become entrepreneurs than their peers, controlling for other characteristics.

“It is a particular mixture of traits that seems to matter for both becoming an entrepreneur and succeeding as an entrepreneur,” the paper concludes. “It is the high ability (as measured by learning aptitude and success as a salaried worker) person who tends to “break-the-rules” (as measured by the degree to which the person engaged in illicit activities before the age of 22) who is especially likely to become a successful entrepreneur.”

And, once again, the people with this combination of traits tend to be overwhelmingly white and male.

And that’s where the findings gets you wondering about the kind of “rule-breaking” our society tolerates, and the kind that gets you put in the hoosegow with your future ruined. Here’s how Weissmann puts it:

One of the great privileges that comes with being born wealthy, white, and male in the United States of America is that you can get away with certain youthful indiscretions. Indiscretions like, oh, smoking prodigious quantities of marijuana, for instance. If you’re an upper-middle-class caucasian, chances are the cops aren’t going to randomly stop and frisk you in the street under dubiously constitutional pretenses. And if you do somehow get caught baggie-in-hand, your parents can likely afford a decent lawyer to help plea bargain your way into some light community service. It’s a cushy setup.

Today, I’m finding myself wondering if that leeway — that societal room to do a little law breaking, punishment free — isn’t part of the reason why so many of the successful entrepreneurs in this country are, yes, white guys.

Nice future if you can get it.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.