The Entrepreneur: An Economic Theory

Posted: 4 Nov 2009

See all articles by Mark Christopher Casson

Mark Christopher Casson

University of Reading Business School - Department of Economics

Date Written: 1982


Casson contends that, because of several assumptions made by classical economic theory, there is no established economic theory of the entrepreneur. A theory of the entrepreneur is needed to explain firm success or failure, firm creation and growth, economic growth and development, and income distribution. The entrepreneur is significant historically because, although he is atypical, he has altered the course of history. The essence of a theory of the entrepreneur should be both the rationalization of success and explanation of failure. A theory of the function of the entrepreneur will have an important role in a theory of economic dynamics, the competitive process, and trade cycles. The book proceeds based on two reconstructions of economic theory. (1) Individuals differ in taste and access to information; the entrepreneur proceeds on the basis of the unique information available to him. (2) There are inherent difficulties (transaction costs) in organizing markets; the entrepreneur often must create market institutions. Casson's theory converges functional and indicative definitions of the entrepreneur. He defines an entrepreneur as "someone who specializes in taking judgmental decisions about the coordination of scarce resources." Skills essential for the entrepreneur are identified. The most important concept for Casson's theory is coordination, as a problem and a process, private or social. It is the dynamic counterpart of allocation; two mechanisms are contract and conjecture. Bargaining must converge to equilibrium. The entrepreneur's assessment (the role of his superior judgment) of a situation (coupled with his role as intermediator) is crucial toward influencing where, when, and how coordination occurs. Coordination reduces the entrepreneur's exposure to uncertainty through insurance and speculation. Coordination is difficult in the realm of public goods (goods in common ownership). Entrepreneurial coordination is always partial, because it engages only a small sector of the economy; partial coordination is continuous, and overall consistency cannot be guaranteed. The theory of the entrepreneur is related to the theory of the market making firm: the entrepreneur operates in a market economy through the firm, of which the entrepreneur is the founder or owner-manager. To overcome obstacles to trade, market-making activities are required, which involve information and incur costs. Transaction costs can be reduced by market internalization. The entrepreneur can internalize the exploitation of commercial information upon which his superior judgment is based. When re-contracting is difficult, the market-maker responds by building inventory. Market-making services to buyers and sellers are usually packaged by an intermediator; the entrepreneurship function of producers and retailers is "impure." The economies of centralized control, which can be delegated and occur in many forms, can be attributed to the internalization of a market. Entrepreneurs adopt hard-line bargaining strategies because they believe they have superior market knowledge. The economic factors governing the growth rate of the firm are analyzed using concepts developed previously in the book. New firm formation results from opportunity recognition by the entrepreneur and the belief that it is best exploited by self-employment; the family is a major source of capital, labor, and information. The market for entrepreneurs operates uniquely; it allocates judgment decisions to entrepreneurs. The number of entrepreneurs and their rewards are analyzed. Because of major social and economic barriers, the heroic figure of the entrepreneur is a myth; entrepreneurship, however, is important for social mobility, even though the absolute degree is rather limited. Alternative economic theories of Leibenstein, Hayek and Kirzner, Knight, Schumpeter, and Andrews and Penrose are critically reviewe

Keywords: Firm success, Firm growth, Coordination, Market competition, Firm performance, Economic growth, Economic theory, Information acquisition, Transaction costs, Resource management, Startups

Suggested Citation

Casson, Mark Christopher, The Entrepreneur: An Economic Theory (1982). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship, Available at SSRN:

Mark Christopher Casson (Contact Author)

University of Reading Business School - Department of Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 217
Reading, RG6 6AH
United Kingdom


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