The Lurking Beauty of The Small

Olle blogs about Sean Treadway’s Danish plight. Short version of the story: Sean, an American, has been a freelance worker in Copenhagen for the last seven years, but has recently been told he must leave the country because his small (one person) company “doesn’t contribute a type of company to the Danish labor market that doesn’t already exist in Denmark.”

Olle and I discussed the issue this morning and agreed that this is a more general and more serious problem than it might first appear, a problem not specific to Sean nor to Denmark: the tendency of the state to discount the economic importance of “micro” businesses (like Sean’s, like Olle’s, like mine).

Unlike larger companies, micro-companies inevitably develop a sort of “digital ecosystem” with each other, and rely upon partnerships (ephemeral, short-lived or otherwise) to thrive. While this isn’t unique to the digital economy (plumbers and electricians have always installed furnaces together), advances in travel (and thus mobility), communications and work now make it more possible for the ecosystem to cross regional and national lines: if I’m living temporarily in France, working with Olle in Denmark on a German open source project that sits on a server in Canada, where “am” I? Where is my economic activity being generated? Who do I pay taxes to? And whose economy is benefiting from my activity?

From what Olle tells me, Sean has grown to become an important and vital part of the Danish digital ecosystem, and his economic impact is out of proportion to what a strict traditional economy analysis might suggest — his presence in the ecosystem, in other words, enables others to be more effective, which has a cascading effect, and so on.

We face related challenges here in Prince Edward Island, where our provincial government seems to exhibit a single-minded obsession with catching Big Important Technology Fish, and largely ignores the important (but largely invisible, at least to them) economic activity generated by small one- or two-person companies.

In the case of both Denmark and Prince Edward Island, you would think that the “small is beautiful” ethos upon which both depend for their cultural survival, would inspire economists and bureaucrats to realize the beauty of the small that lurks within.


Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on February 13, 2006 - 18:21 Permalink

Yes Peter
The small is big and yet so few see this — especially in government.
Why are they so blind? The data is clear and the track record of the big fish is so bad.

Thanks to your post today, I have been reflecting on what you have done here on PEI. The govt web site, ISN, City Cinema, the Buzz, the alliance with the SO boys, getting me blogging — hence most of my work too. You also are an export company as I am. You have had an influence on ideas such as the Food trust and now the BioAlliance (son of Belvedere)

Huge! Yet you probably are seen as just being a weird guy who fools aroud with computers.

What have some of the establishment done???? Can’t think of anything right now

Pelle Braendgaard's picture
Pelle Braendgaard on February 14, 2006 - 01:08 Permalink

It really sucks about Sean, but this happens all the time. It triggered me to finish an article I had been working on for a while about how not fitting into boxes causes things like this to happen.