Turner's Frontier Thesis

A country with a frontier is shaped by it. It favors people with rugged individualism because common services are not readily available without an existing economy in place. Positive-sum interactions in settled areas are required because people always have the option to leave. Finally, people seeking high variance opportunities will follow the frontier in search of outsized gains.

Eventually, the frontier dissipates as it becomes settled and formalized. At some point you don’t need Lewis and Clark, you need a town to trade goods and a courthouse to adjudicate laws.

The frontier thesis is particularly appealing for explaining American culture and industry. We often refer to new areas of business as a frontier and it’s not wrong—it’s unregulated with high variance outcomes that appeals to a different kind of person (with crooks and bandits along the way). Eventually the frontier becomes settled and other kinds of people are needed to make it prosper.

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