Power & Market

The Rise of the Digital Hand and The Emerging Class of Digitalpreneurs

In An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith described what he called the Invisible Hand - a metaphor to describe the mechanism of the market and the social benefit that individuals who participate in the market in self-interested ways intentionally and unintentionally serve others. The invisible hand guides individuals entrepreneurially to improve their own circumstances, and they unintentionally or unconsciously create social benefits for everyone by serving the ultimate purpose of creating markets, economic growth, trade and prosperity. The invisible hand guides individuals’ purposes to the most needed ends – the benefit that customers value most highly - and they express these purposes by using their skills and resources in market pursuits that benefit the larger society, intended or otherwise.

Alfred Chandler, on the contrary, took the opposite approach and described the visible hand, which he said was a managerial revolution. The visible hand guided the managerial class of large enterprises and replaced the spontaneous order of the invisible Hand with the visible hand of experts managing production, focusing on mass manufacturing and distribution. Alfred Chandler said, “Such internalization permitted the Visible Hand of administrative coordination to make more intensive use of resources invested in these processes of production and distribution than could the Invisible Hand of market coordination.” Chandler sought to replace the implicit guidance of the invisible hand with the explicit control of an elite management class and the tools of organizational structure, command-and-control methods and tightly constructed processes.

We are seeing the results of the visible hand today, in the rigid structures of established businesses that struggle to respond to fast-paced change and rapid innovation, and also in the rejection of business by younger generations who see it as elitist and exploitative.

Happily, the visible hand is losing its grip. Today, what I see emerging is the Digital Hand.

Table 1: Descriptions and Characteristics of The Market Hands



As Table 1indicates, the digital hand is the enablement of a broad and deep population of new entrepreneurs who have easy access to infrastructure and resources available via the internet and who can connect to every available source of knowledge, expertise and support. The digital hand opens economic opportunities for everyday people who can participate as entrepreneurs in today’s economic marketspaces. Ecommerce and digital marketspaces are giving rise to digitalpreneurs, both nationally and globally. Chandler’s visible hand has made significant improvements in the production of economic goods and mass service offerings, no doubt. However, never in human history has there been a digital hand guiding individuals who offer services, products, and entertainment, with the power of prosperity except in this current time of mass accessibility of eCommerce platforms.

Recent data suggests that social e-platforms, digital stores, and online marketspaces are a $200 billion industry. The cause of this boon is the result of human action and not of human design; the effect is the opportunity for regular people – not Chandler’s elite - to be guided to economic success by the digital hand. Now brick-and-mortar business models can be offered through a digital marketspace or a hybrid of both click-and-mortar. One person startups or small teams or small and medium sized businesses can harness the virtually unlimited resources of the digitally interconnected global economy and serve its digitally interconnected markets.

Is the entrepreneurial participation of everyday people using digital platforms via the digital hand the final, irreversible shift to free and unhampered markets? Is the level of ease for the average person to be involved in the market process the great breakthrough for individual economic freedom, even though their investment in entrepreneurial endeavors is not as consequential as an investment of a high-profile millionaire or billionaire? In the short run, we see more real people – you, your neighbor, and your friend – profitably exercising their talents, serving consumers, using the digital hand. In the long run, an entire emergent class of individuals can realize their positive impact on society using the digital hand.

With a tremendous uptick in digital businesses opportunities within the past decade, there is anticipation that more digitalpreneurs will arise in the future, thereby expanding this class of entrepreneurs. Facebook’s Marketplace has grown to millions of sellers across many countries, providing real people with enormous entrepreneurial and innovative opportunities within just a few years of its formation in the digital space. No matter the division of labor one represents in the eCommerce sphere, there are sufficient and inexpensive marketspaces to enable the expression of entrepreneurship. Poshmark, eBay, Etsy, Shopify, Volusion, and other eCommerce marketspaces have built-in buyer networks serving millions of people. These e-platforms remove arbitrary barriers to the advancement of everyday people who wish to participate in the marketspace. Digitalpreneurs, newcomers, or entrepreneurs transitioning to digital platforms develop entrepreneurial skills and can profit from them.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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