-- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
To Swift’s race of politicians, I add the race of Marxists, academicians, sociologists, socialists, bureaucrats, grand schemers, social-justice warriors, community activists, stakeholder theorists, pensioners, busybodies, and anyone who earns his keep thinking and not doing, or thinking and doing while immune to the consequences of his doing.
Swift recognized the overarching importance of commerce to our existence. He understood the miraculous dynamic of production and exchange and its propensity to elevate humans to a higher plane. Commerce, business, if you will, the act of exchange for profit, expresses our humanity in this physical world. Free-will exchanges, as much as speech, elevate us above all creatures. It defines us as human.
Many, the race of politicians Swift mentions, abetted by the races I mention, beg to differ. These races view business in the pursuit of profits as something antithetical to humanity. The pursuit of profits subtracts from our humanity. The pursuit vulgarizes.
Theses naysaying omphalopsychites whose opinions run counter to the empirical evidence are likely to sport IQs higher than most. They visit museums, they read Shakespeare, they write articles for academic journals few will read. They label themselves “progressives” because they believe their vision is futuristic. After all, they have the time to just think.
But they delude themselves on all accounts. Their concept of progressive is rarely forward thinking. To the contrary, it’s regressive. Their contemplations envision a future of rehashed, hidebound technology that arose centuries, if not millennia, ago: nineteenth-century electric cars, twelfth-century wind mills, four-thousand BCE sun power. They are no more progressive than a Luddite, and like the Luddite they fear change, technology, and upheaval. Schumpeter's creative destruction terrorizes them. They crave certainty most of all: a world as they knew at a time when they were most content, or a time they imagine when they were most content, a time that never existed, a fantasy.
Progressives are always the first to lead the charge to save the obsolete. They are the first to demand bailouts of ossified, bankrupt corporate giants (Chrysler, Ford, U.S. Steel, AIG to name four on the quick). They are the leaders in the Quixotic charge to hold the climate steady to an epoch (though to which epoch is a mystery) when the climate was putatively perfect.
Progressives seek order. They conjure it in command-control economy controlled by similar intellectuals. They gaze at business as practiced today and see chaos. Masses of seemingly unguided humans working, producing, allocating, competing, deciding, risking, bargaining, selling, buying. From above the fray, it all appears so wasteful and cutthroat, so, well, chaotic.
Perhaps jealously girds their contempt, as it girds so much contempt. The high-IQ sociology professor, his brain bursting with ideas to perfect humanity, labors in anonymity at a second-rate state university. He drowns in student-loan debt incurred to earn a PhD that confers little value in the business market. His professorship pays an annual salary requiring no more than five figures to measure. This progressive peers out his window to see a mass of humanity transacting business. This mass mass is composed of lesser beings: the hoi polloi, the unwashed, the uneducated, the bumpkin, and yet from this great mass of undesirables great wealth rises.
The progressive fails to see the value materializing all around. The businessman delivers goods and services his customers value more than the dollars they offer for exchange. The business receives the dollars he values more than his goods and services. This is no zero-sum transaction, where one loses, the other wins. Both parties win. Do you think it it's a coincidence that most business transactions end with a “thank you"
Progressives fail to see the elevating tenet embedded in specialization and exchange. Most everything we own, if not everything we own, would be impossible to produce and consumer within an autarkic economy, of which we are the sole inhabitant.. I produce what my talents allow, what I think my fellow humans will value. You do likewise. We take our handiwork to market and exchange what we produce, through the intermediary of money, for other people’s handiwork we value more. Everything in your home is the product of the process. None of it would be possible without specialization and exchange, without the ethos of business.
Business promotes interdependence, a good thing because interdependence promotes civility and comity. Absolute independence would instill nothing but want, conflict, and misery. Look no further than the realm of animals where it is each to his own, where life is a zero-sum game: eat or starve, eat or be eaten. No one would willing exchange his life as an interdependent human for the the life of an independent leopard of the Serengeti.
Business is alchemy: one and one equal three. When a businessman discovers a method to produce two ears of corn where only one grew before, more corn is available to the world. The corn is processed into food fit for human and animal consumption, so more calories are available for everyone. When the businessman conducts his business with integrity (a must to accumulate meaningful wealth), more trust and goodwill arises, which means more business will be done. The sum value for all increases.
The businessman can be assured he is creating value through only one measure – profits. If he is unable to produce profits with his activity, he is a scourge. He wastes scarce resources, he consumes precious capital. The quest for profits is a quest for efficiency: do more with the resources at hand, grow two ears of corn where only one grew before.
Efficient business materializes only from free individuals, each possessing unique knowledge and skill In a market economy, everybody's little adjustments are tested, and we see what works. It's millions of decentralized entrepreneurs and billions of consumers fine-tuning and adjusting their decisions on the fly. No committee of statist bureaucrats can capture the information and personal motivations, nor can they hope to recreate the efficiency. The process is impossible to replicate from data aggregated.
To create value through business, I argue, is a divine aspiration. To create value through business is to counter the natural force of entropy, by which all things tend toward death and decay. Profitable business defies entropy. It leads to ectropy -- continued growth of intellect, material well-being, psychic well-being, capital, and wealth, all of which increase individual self-actualization. Far from vulgarizing us, profitable business civilizes us. It further enables the relentless quest to self-actualize.