New book. New start. New set of problems. This is, of course, the foundation of Drucker’s later work, though it clearly builds upon his earlier work. “What are the task and the contribution of business enterprise in a free society and an expanding industrial economy?” he asks in the forward. In working through these ideas, he will be looking at freedom of decision, freedom of movement for capital, freedom of business.
He starts by arguing, in a slightly disingenuous way, that the book is only a sketch but that he would rather publish a sketch than wait to finish the complete task before putting things into print. He tells a story about China, which is an odd choice. He describes China as a mysterious place, though the characterization is far from completely true. China was not yet closed by the Communist revolution and Life magazine was covering it. Pearl Buck and been writing about the country for 15 years and had Won the Nobel Prize for her work in 1938, 8 years before this work. The Good Earth was a best seller in its time.
Furthermore, the 1920s had seen a rapid growth of business and the corporation. The stories of the corporations from that era were well known.
Drucker seems to be saying that he will be talking about a world that we know something about and yet need to explore further. Yet his very specific in his example. He was talking about a scholar that was writing a book in 1900 and had yet to publish it. I suppose that such detail suggests that the book was a real project by a real author. As China had changed much between 1900 and 1946, so Drucker is suggesting that business is changing fast. So we begin.