Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business

MIT Press | Hardcover | 368 pages | $19.95 | Look Inside!

In this provocative new book, Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind argue that small business is not, as is widely claimed, the basis of American prosperity. Small business is not responsible for most of the country’s job creation and innovation. American democracy does not depend on the existence of brave bands of self-employed citizens. Small businesses are not systematically discriminated against by government policymakers. Rather, Atkinson and Lind argue, small businesses are not the font of jobs, because most small businesses fail. The only kind of small firm that contributes to technological innovation is the technological start-up, and its success depends on scaling up. The idea that self-employed citizens are the foundation of democracy is a relic of Jeffersonian dreams of an agrarian society. And governments, motivated by a confused mix of populist and free market ideology, in fact go out of their way to promote small business. Every modern president has sung the praises of small business, and every modern president, according to Atkinson and Lind, has been wrong.

Pointing to the advantages of scale for job creation, productivity, innovation, and virtually all other economic benefits, Atkinson and Lind argue for a “size neutral” policy approach in both the United States and around the world that would encourage growth rather than enshrine an anachronism. If we overthrow the “small is beautiful” ideology, we will be able to recognize large firms as the engines of progress and prosperity that they are.

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“Atkinson and Lind’s deeply researched book is a needed corrective to current unexamined assumptions about job creation. While acknowledging that the power of giants can bring abuses, they make a compelling case about the virtues of size and scale for innovation and national enrichment. Agree or not, their economic prescriptions are sure to be discussed widely by policy makers of all political persuasions.”
— Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Professor, Harvard Business School; author of Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead

“Atkinson and Lind present a well-researched and thoughtful correction to the widely held view that it is small business alone that is the engine of economic progress. Their focus on the importance of scale is both historically grounded and eminently relevant to today’s connected and information-driven global economy. Big Is Beautiful should be read by business leaders and policy makers around the world.”
— Sam Palmisano, Chairman, The Center for Global Enterprise; former Chairman and CEO, IBM

“Atkinson and Lind reconstruct the history of economic development to document the role of large enterprises in driving technological innovation and growth. Their nuanced analysis shows how monopoly profits—however transient they may prove to be—are essential to motivate and to fund R&D at the frontier. From Kodak and DuPont through IBM and Xerox to Google and Amazon, the giant firms have been central to this history, outweighing the much hailed but largely sentimentalized celebration of small business.”
— Dr. William H. Janeway, Senior Advisor, Warburg Pincus; Affiliated Member of Economics Faculty, University of Cambridge

“In an age of mindless partisanship and chronic groupthink, Atkinson and Lind are just the kind of antidote that we need. Whether you agree with their thesis or not—and especially if you disagree—you should read this book. You will not have wasted your time.”
— Edward Luce, Washington commentator, Financial Times, and author of The Retreat of Western Liberalism



Special thanks to the Smith Richardson Foundation for providing financial support to make this book possible.

Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business