How do you provide a social safety net for 1.4 billion people? Maybe they could provide it for themselves. If everyone were to be an entrepreneur, people’s futures could be self-made, sparing the social burden of providing for all. At least that’s what President Xi Jinping is proposing for China. To investigate, Simon Denny went to Shenzhen, where there’s been a boom of “mass entrepreneurship.” Self-identified makers are moving to this high-tech pioneer village, the “Silicon Valley of hardware,” to make it—believing the only limitations for creative people are imagination and effort.
All this so-called innovation requires rapid invention and iteration, pushing entrepreneurs to outdo one another at producing objects that no one even demanded in the first place at ever-growing rates. But there’s no solidarity in speed. As with the rest of the gig and “sharing” economy, individual laborers are not only having systems of social security pulled out from under them, but are also pitted against one another, doubling down on the dangers of precarious labor. And, of course, not everyone can cut it as an entrepreneur.
Makers see themselves changing the world but the best intentions don’t necessarily mean the best results. Perhaps instead of mass producing new technology, what is actually being mass produced is mythic individualism, the entrepreneur as a high-tech hero who may not even be able to save themself.