The Ricochet 200th Podcast: The Larger Meaning | | 01.26.14

As all Ricochetti know, tonight James, Peter, Rob and many more will have themselves a 200th Ricochet podcast.

The golden voices and lively wits will record live at the Town and Gown Ballroom on the University of Southern California campus in downtown Los Angeles. One of the organizers tells me that the audience may exceed a thousand. It will be a spectacular event. The party of the year.  Skip the Grammies—so predictable, so same old, same old. If you’re in L.A., get your tush over to the USC big room. (I’m in DC with an over-full workweek staring at me across the early-tomorrow morning fence, so I have to miss out. Bummer. But I’ll be listening—as should you, if you aren’t within driving distance of the event.)

Now, enough of the ad, let’s get to the larger meaning.

Peter and Rob started Ricochet in 2010. They had spent at least two years honing the idea and raising the capital (which was not, by my modest lights, inconsiderable). Both had full-time jobs, so they were working on Ricochet nights and weekends. This is no ode to them. In our country, their story is a common one.

But common story or not, what they created was uncommon and was, by my lights anyway, a real plus for American culture. It was new, imaginative, engaging, and, yes, even important—and for those reasons it found an audience. And more than an audience. To all of us who participate in Ricochet, Peter and Rob created a vehicle to debate and follow debates, to tell and read and critique stories, to engage in all that collectively comes under the heading of culture—both civic culture and a form of the arts. It was the Roman Forum, Hyde Park Corner, a New England town square, an East Village coffee house circa 1950s.

The larger meaning is just about here.

We often forget that America’s enormously vital culture in all its varieties is—in its most creative, most revolutionary, most “Wow-is-that-weird-but-it’s-wonderful-too” best—a product of start-up businesses, just like Ricochet. Think of Duke Ellington and his band; A start-up business. Think of the Beach Boys or almost any rock band; same. What was Robert Motherwell after his WPA years (which turned him, judging from his writings, into an economic conservative not of the Rob RINO but the Rand Paul variety). He started and ran a small (perhaps one-man, perhaps larger) business, producing and marketing his paintings. Think of Motown in its most vital period. Or Scribner in the time of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe. All were modest businesses in or not too far beyond their start-up phase, like Ricochet.

Here is my worry—and my larger point.

I came across a World Bank study the other day. It ranked nations by a number of factors that added up to an overall rating for ease of doing business. Among these factors was ease of starting a business. In 2010 ours was the world’s 9th easiest country in which to do what Peter and Rob did (, page 18). Today it is the 20th (

We usually talk about the decline in the number of American start-ups in terms of the decline in the number of new jobs. But a decline in start-ups also means a decline in our nation’s cultural vitality.

I hope that all the new barriers that have sprung up these last few years to stifle new business creation and growth do not put a stop to the next Peter and Rob. But I am sure glad that our Peter and Rob got going before they kicked in.

Happy Podcast, boys. I can’t wait to hear those signature words at the end of your lead in, “There you go again.”

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