By Robert Ringer
With the word entrepreneur becoming increasingly popular with media pundits on both the right and the left, more and more people are coming to realize that entrepreneurship was the driving force behind America's widespread prosperity – prosperity that few Americans could have imagined as recent as the mid-20th century.
Entrepreneurship, in fact, embodies the spirit of the American Dream. After all, many of the Founding Fathers were entrepreneurs, and perhaps the two most famous in that regard are George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. They also are good examples of just how far apart the results of individual entrepreneurs can be. Though they were both farmers, Washington was one of the richest men in America, while Jefferson struggled financially throughout his life and died broke.
Jefferson's financial difficulties are a reminder that there are no guarantees for the entrepreneur, who labors away without the luxury of a safety net. In fact, perhaps the single greatest attribute of an entrepreneur is his willingness to take risks – including the risk of losing everything if he fails. By everything, I'm not just referring to savings, stocks, bonds, and collectibles. I'm talking about his house, his furniture, his cars – everything he owns – not to mention his credit and his self-esteem.
In this vein, Barbara Walters did an excellent special last week on self-made billionaires. The slant of the show belied the rhetoric of politicians who pander to voters by implying that being rich, of and by itself, is evil. They would have people believe that rich people somehow prevent others from getting ahead financially. The truth, of course, is that most wealthy people achieved their success by creating products and services that others want.
Barbara Walters' first guest was Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil. Laliberte, who has a net worth of $2.5 billion, struggled early in his career as a street performer in Montreal before venturing out as an entrepreneur. Today, his multibillion-dollar business showcases in 271 cities worldwide, employing tens of thousands of people in the process.
When Walters asked Laliberte if he still takes risks, he quickly responded, "Every day." Wall Street Journal Wealth Reporter Robert Frank, who added his insights throughout the show, then explained, "Part of the risk-taking personality is the ability to overcome failure. ...One of the things that makes billionaires successful is their reaction to failure."
Unfortunately, those who spew out class-warfare rhetoric are clueless about the risks the entrepreneur takes in his quest to achieve the American Dream. Or about the self-evident principle: The greater the risk, the greater the potential reward.
As a result, politicians have a stubborn habit of stepping in and trying to curb the natural rewards of the marketplace, insisting that "it's unfair" for the super rich to make so much more than the average working person. That's right, no other explanation other than "it's unfair."
It goes without saying that from a moral point of view, their position is indefensible. If people are truly free, they should be free to become as wealthy as their talent, creativity, and hard work can take them, so long as they do not use force or fraud against anyone else. The American Dream is about opportunity, not guarantees.
And from an economic viewpoint, it's a no-brainer. Contrary to what some politicians would like us to believe, it's impossible for anyone to become rich without creating jobs. Wealthy folks start and expand businesses and, in the process, employ others – not just by hiring people, but through the jobs that are created indirectly by those who furnish the raw materials, parts, transportation, etc. that their businesses require.
But what about someone who spends hundreds of millions of dollars indulging himself in such luxuries as mansions, private jets, and yachts? It doesn't take a Ludwig von Mises to explain that workers are needed to build those mansions, private jets, and yachts, not to mention to produce the materials and thousands of parts and accessories that go into them. Then, once built, it takes people to operate and service those mansions, private jets, and yachts – which means long-term employment.
Thus, economic reality makes it clear that the entrepreneur is not the villain some politicians make him out to be. On the contrary, he is a bona fide hero who creates jobs and wealth for everyone who is willing to work, thus giving others a leg up in achieving the American Dream.
As such, entrepreneurs who accumulate great fortunes should be admired rather than scorned. To vilify someone for having "too much" is the height of asininity and self-destructiveness. The American Dream is not about envy; it's about getting what you want in life by creating products and services that are valued in the free market.
The single most important fact about entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates and the recently deceased Steve Jobs is that their great wealth not only does not prevent others from becoming successful, it actually gives their customers the tools to become wealthy themselves. Think computers, hand-held electronic devices, and cell phones, to name but a few of the more obvious of such tools, all of which are easily available to even the most financially challenged among us.
The optimistic side of me wants to believe that truth may be on a roll here. If so, it needs all the help it can get. As angry redistribution-of-wealth advocates preach about lame abstracts such as social justice and fairness, those of us who know the truth about the American Dream need to spread the word.
We need to explain to all who will listen that the individual who aspires to great wealth by creating products and services people want is not the cause of America's problems, but, rather, the solution to its problems.
When an individual focuses on hard work, resourcefulness, and wealth creation – and is willing to take risks – it puts him in a position to achieve the same American Dream that millions of wealthy people have experienced through their own efforts.