What positive steps can we take? The energy that is now expended by well intentioned, freedom-seeking individuals on the destructive course of politics can be turned into powerful steps that will have a positive effect on the future. All are moral, right and just. None require aggressing. Consider the following...
The first principle in dealing with government is: Don't be awed by it. What little the government achieves is almost always due to the voluntary participation of its citizens. Those who don't want to help the government can go their own ways without running into much trouble.
“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”As the inequality gap grows, there is an ideological battle unfolding in the West.On the one hand, there are those who think government can fix things. It must do more, tax more, […]
What do 8 of the 10 wealthiest people in the U.S. have in common?Aside from being able to fly in private jets, the common thread is that each of them has made their fortune thanks to a start-up.Let me explain…From tech titans like Bill Gates and Larry Ellison (founders of Microsoft and Oracle, respectively), to […]
In December of last year, I left my career to travel the world for one year.My plan was to visit as many countries as possible on my Star Alliance Around-the-World ticket in the first nine months, then, for the remaining three months, return back to the country that most caught my eye and my curiosity.Nine […]
“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”When Capt. Jean-Luc Picard wants a steaming beverage in his ready room aboard the starship Enterprise, he just utters those words. The ship’s “replicator” then assembles the necessary atoms — including those for the cup — and produces it, ready for the drinking. Picard thinks nothing of it — it’s hardly more […]
As much as I love technology, part of me hates being so dependent on a live wall plug wherever I go. You find yourself trapped in some setting without accessible wall plugs and your phone is dying. You charge from you laptop, but that is dying too. You take recourse to your tablet, but that […]
For the last 18 months, we’ve been wrestling with a conundrum: How is it that the U.S. energy industry is unlocking vast new stores of oil and gas… and the U.S. biotech industry is discovering how to turn back our biological clocks… at the same time Washington is setting new debt records and Wall Street […]
“What are you complaining about all the time?” people sometimes ask me. “I’m just about as free as I want to be.”Here’s the problem. How can we really know what we want if we’ve never had it before? The less free we are, the less we know what freedom feels like and how it shapes […]
I’ve noticed a trend with the writings of Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired magazine and the author of a new book on 3-D printing called Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.It goes like this. He comes out with a book, and the highbrow experts say it’s crazy, that this time he has gone too far. […]
Two years ago, I spoke to a gentlemen who had started and sold four companies. He was currently working on a new project that sounded very promising (for all I know, he has already sold that one too). We had just heard a talk in which the speaker told people that the whole key to […]
A contributing factor in the rise of Internet commerce, a feature that gave it a kick-start, was that you didn’t have to pay sales tax on what you purchased out of state. Ah, the glory days of the 2000s, when you could order anything and, for once in your life, not get hammered by the […]
Why is business so often scapegoated for all the problems of society?The term scapegoat comes from the Bible and refers to the goat cast out of the community as part of a purification ritual. Perhaps when people saw that lonely goat walk away and probably into its death, it made them feel better about themselves.Weird, […]
In 1881, Dakota Territory had never sold a bushel of wheat to anybody outside of Dakota. Six years later, it sold 62 million bushels. What happened?I recently read Garet Garrett’s The American Story, which came out in 1955. It is a well-written history of America, unusual because of its emphasis on the powerful economics that […]
For young people facing terrible job prospects and a generally bad economic environment going forward, starting a business sounds very appealing. It has advantages over embedding yourself in a big institution, taking your wages in forms of benefits, and hoping (against hope) to climb the ladder.It’s never been easier to strike out on your own, […]
There’s a jewelry store in town with a long tradition, a devoted client list, and a good record of solid profitability. But during the last year, it’s moved around like the “oldest established permanently floating crap game” from the musical Guys and Dolls.It was downtown. Then it was not. It was reestablished on the other […]
Oh how everyone (of a certain class and income) makes fun of the Twinkie, the ultimate symbol of modern food decadence and phoniness. I don’t get it. Have the critics ever tried one? They are so appealing and delicious: light, spongy, sweet, and creamy, all in a tiny package.The news that the parent company Hostess […]
I was strolling along the wharf in Bodrum, Turkey, and I was intrigued to see some natural sea sponges on a table with a merchant behind the table telling me something about them in Turkish.I vaguely recall seeing an item like this when I was a kid but I long ago dismissed them as some […]
My neighborhood is filling up with political yard signs. Vote for this guy! Vote for that guy!I can’t understand why people are willing to give up precious real estate on their front lawns, make friends mad at them, and put their own credibility on the line to back some politico who will certainly betray them […]
The web is packed with some of the greatest educational material on entrepreneurship and enterprise, material that didn’t exist a decade ago and is now within the mouse-click reach of vast swaths of humanity. Are we taking advantage of it?Doug French and I set out to collect the top 15 videos on entrepreneurship — a […]
It’s fashionable to put down commercial culture, but, when you think about it, this makes no sense. Commerce is the driving force of human progress, in more ways that we often realize. Americans in the 19th century knew this and celebrated this. Our commercial culture was a source of pride and the envy of the […]
What’s great about POM Wonderful? Sure, this pomegranate juice tastes great. POM is one of the few drinks that seems to have the same scrunch-up-your-mouth effect that you get with a bold dry red wine.When I was a kid, it didn’t exist. Like everything wonderful in this world, it comes to us because of the […]
The great recession continues in so many ways but online commerce is booming as never before, increasing in the last quarter of 2011 at the fastest rates in six years.Before you know it, the retail side alone will account for $300 billion in sales per year. We click and pay, and if it’s not a […]
The organization Campaign for Safe Cosmetics doesn’t just want you to be able to have new choices about the makeup or other products you buy. It wants the FDA to be able to ban and recall products. It will decide for you what is and isn’t safe.And it is prevailing against the industry itself, which […]
Why is business so often scapegoated for all the problems of society?
The term scapegoat comes from the Bible and refers to the goat cast out of the community as part of a purification ritual. Perhaps when people saw that lonely goat walk away and probably into its death, it made them feel better about themselves.
Weird, right? We don’t think that way today. Except we do.
The scapegoat since the 2008 financial disaster has been the business sector in general. The anti-capitalist frenzy started with a justified hit on the financial elites who benefitted from the bailouts. But inevitably, public wrath turned against anyone trying to make a buck.
The caricatures have been absolutely brutal. Every corporation is criminal. All rich people are thieves. Wall Street is nothing but a racket. Every entrepreneur is a con man. The driving motivation of all business is greed.
And so it has been for five solid years. The public sentiment has made the whole of commercial society very nervous and paved the way for more government intervention and taxation.
Those who know something about real-life business watch all of this with stunned silence. Are people really all that clueless about how hard it is to make a buck in this world?
It turns out to be very difficult to come up with ideas for goods and services that people will accept in exchange for money. It is even more difficult to take in more money than you spend in order to provide those goods and services. And there’s an even more difficult step: You have to compete with everyone else who is trying to do the same thing. This competition has a tendency to drive whatever fleeting profits you make to zero.
It is a common error to believe that entrepreneurship consists of coming up with one good idea and making one good judgment. Nonsense. Good judgment is a daily requirement. It affects everything you do from product development, research, inventory decisions, and employment to marketing. A bad decision tomorrow can negate all the good decisions of the last month.
Risk is inescapable. You bear it all; the consumers bear very little or none. Then there’s the uncertainty. No one has a crystal ball on what the future looks like. It doesn’t matter how big or how allegedly mighty a business is. It can never escape the curse of the dark glass that clouds the future.
The only way to accomplish this is to be wildly attentive to unmet needs in society, to be super attentive to accounting details, and to always be prepared to improve in your service to others. As for greed, anyone can be possessed by it — rich or poor, public or private — but it makes no real contribution to business success. Ramping up greed only tends to cloud judgment.
The truth is that the commercial life is one of implausible self-sacrifice. It is a life of instability. You never go to sleep at night fully relaxed and you never wake with absolute confidence about what the day will bring. Every day brings changes and events that defy expectations. This tendency instills a level of humility in the commercial world unknown in politics or academia.
But what about the wonderful profits? Well, if they are there at all, which they are not most of the time, the true capitalist is actually rather cautious about how they are used. We often hear about the “profit motive,” but I doubt that this phrase means much at all. Profits are never certain, nor do they last. They can’t be the sole reason that people enter business life.
What function, then, do profits serve? For the entrepreneur and the capitalist, they serve a symbolic value. The signal that the enterprise is on the right track. They are the sign and the seal of a job well done. It’s not about the money as such; the profits are an indicator that helps guide decision-making, ratifying the good steps of the past and pointing toward a possible plan for the future.
Once you begin to understand the real nature of business, you have to wonder: Why the heck does anyone do this? It comes down to a personal passion, the desire to make a difference. It’s a vocation, a calling, a special flame that appears in the hearts of a certain class of persons. It is not universal. But neither it is possible to entirely extinguish.
A free and prosperous society should marvel at the accomplishments of its businessmen and businesswomen. These are true public servants, people who endeavor at great personal sacrifice to drive history forward and grant the human race a greater degree of material prosperity tomorrow than it enjoys today. These are the people who really keep hope alive.
Yet… as if to perform some ancient superstitious ritual, what do we do? We throw a rope around their necks and drag them out to the desert. They are the scapegoats.
It was my rare privilege to catch up with one fascinating young entrepreneur named Trevor Koverko, who is in the early stages of putting together an Internet startup called eprof.com. In this interview, he tells the inside story of the sacrifice, the work, the dream, the disappointments, and the incredible vision that it takes to make something like this happen.
There might come a time when this young man’s website will be as popular as Amazon or PayPal. Becoming just another website that everyone uses and all people take for granted as if it had always been there. No big deal. In the end, it’ll be just another successful business, and surely the entrepreneur behind the thing deserves no special adulation.
Therefore, I present to you what such enterprises look like in their earliest stages. You will appreciate getting a look at what it takes to live this kind of life. I hope you come away from this interview with a great respect for the commercial sector and its contribution to our world.