25 January 2010

Happy Bubble Wrap Day

Today is Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day and a notable milestone event, as the ever-popular children's toy/packaging material celebrates its 50th year.

As is so often the case, the invention of bubble wrap resulted from a combination of inventiveness and pure serendipity.
...two engineers, Marc Chavannes and Al Fielding...were trying to make a plastic wallpaper with a paper backing. Surprisingly, this product didn't take off. They quickly realized, however, that their invention could be used as a cushioning material for packaging. At that time, only abrasive paper products were used for packaging, which did not suffice for cushioning heavy or delicate items.

The company they founded now has annual revenues in excess of $4 billion--not bad for a couple of guys who failed to create the product they envisioned. But as Joseph Schumpeter argued, the entrepreneurial spirit is not motivated primarily by money, but by creativity. Or as my colleague Oded Gur-Ari, director of Adrian College's Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies says, "Entrepreneurs are people who see a problem and find a solution to it." Even if inadvertently, yes?

And, to throw in the requisite ideological soapboxing, this is why we should favor free societies over tightly regulated societies--because of the differential in promoting and rewarding entrepreneurialism. Ethical arguments aside (and I suppose, if pushed, I would admit that ethical arguments might have some power as well), mere utilitarianism recommends freedom.

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