We are often told how appreciative we should be of our military servicemen for the freedom they secure for us. While I agree that the liberties we enjoy are in part made possible by the voluntary sacrifices made by these brave men and women, it isn’t accurate to say they provide for our enjoyment of said liberties. This might seem somewhat provocative however it is no doubt an accurate statement.
Liberty by itself provides no actual enjoyment. If I were free to do as I pleased, yet had nothing to use my liberty for, it’s unclear how I could enjoy my freedom. For example, if I were stranded alone on a deserted island, certainly you can make the argument that I have immense freedom to do as I pleased. But obviously, my leisure activities would be severely limited to a few tasks that I would likely refrain from doing simply to focus on my survival. So who should we thank for our ability to enjoy our liberty? We should thank entrepreneurs.
An entrepreneur is often described as a business owner or a risk taker who uses what capital is available to him to start a business. While this is technically accurate, it is wildly incomplete. An entrepreneur is so much more than just a risk taker. They don’t just start businesses. They fill market demand. They don’t just take risks, rather, they invest into ideas that they believe will provide value to others. The enjoyment we get from the freedoms we have, stems from our ability to utilize what entrepreneurs have provided us throughout the years.
Most entrepreneurs take risks using what savings they have, and what their name and credit can provide. While many often disregard these risks because of their profit motive, they neglect just why it is that they expect to profit. The reason is quite simple. Entrepreneurs take risks because they anticipate consumers will buy their products. Generally speaking, a customer will only purchase a product insofar as it provides value to their lives. In this sense, an entrepreneur is not merely a risk taker or business owner any more than he is a value provider.
We see the value entrepreneurs provide in the vast variety of consumer goods and services available at our disposal. But what is often not seen, are the technological advancements that don’t directly benefit our lives in ways we expect. For example, weapons manufacturers and arms dealers are often criticized for creating weapons that destroy and kill. While such things are quite tragic, many of us disregard the fact that technological advancements in firearm technology and weaponry have all but eradicated the need for mandatory military service.
In most civilizations throughout the years, unless you were born of privilege, military service was often required. But with modern weaponry and aviation advancements, the vast majority of people can enjoy the same privilege generally without fear of having to serve for a cause they don’t support. Wars that used to require hundreds of thousands of people deemed to be disposable, now can be fought with a relative minimum number of human bodies, many of whom safe and secure from a war zone. It is a bit of a double-edged sword in ways, as the expectation for reduced casualties can in some respects incentivize going to war. But insofar as war remains inevitable in some respects, at least we can limit the number of casualties.
On a more humane front, however, entrepreneurs have been catalysts in fighting diseases, medical breakthroughs, and life expectancy. For centuries, medical professionals would finance their research or receive grants from educational institutions to develop new ways of fighting infectious diseases. Now, entire capital markets exist for that very purpose, and financing is often readily available for many on the verge of a breakthrough. And despite the massive controls from governments throughout the world in the area of medicine, technological advancements, and new drugs are reaching the market seemingly every day. If only we could get the FDA to speed things up a bit (or just simply go away, but I digress).
One major area where entrepreneurs are having a tremendous impact today is in the field of prosthetics. Men and women returning maimed from the battlefield and those born without limbs or otherwise had limbs amputated now have far more functionality as a result of prosthetics. Children who have never walked before are capable of walking because a 3D printer can produce a viable prosthetic at a fraction of the cost. Audio devices are making it possible for the deaf to hear for the first time. What was once considered impossible for many, is quickly becoming inevitable.
It should go without saying, but not every entrepreneur is successful. And just the same, not every venture undertaken by an entrepreneur is successful. Their success is dependent upon a multitude of factors. Cost, timing, demand, etc., these are just a few factors amongst many that determine whether or not an idea will succeed. Some ventures are too costly to make affordable. Others may be ahead of their time, while still others are just not appealing to consumers. Whatever the reason, these “failures” are not without value. Each failure provides valuable information to other entrepreneurs about consumer sentiment. After all, it is the consumer that matters most.
It is here where the disconnect lies with those who rail against capitalism. Many demean the intentions of entrepreneurs as merely an attempt to perpetuate greed. Profit is a byproduct of providing value to others. It is a necessary function in maximizing value in any society. Without proper incentives, there is little to encourage individuals to take risks in developing newer and more efficient ways to provide people with things they want and need. And let nobody fool you, it is the consumer who holds all the power in this regard.
We commonly hear arguments of “greedy capitalists” exploiting consumers for profit. But this is a pure fallacy. In a free society, consumers choose who they want to give their money to in exchange for goods and services. Milton Friedman referred to this concept as "voting with their feet." The "greedy capitalist" can only prosper insofar as he provides the consumer with a product the consumer is willing to buy and at a price he can afford.
There is great irony in the fact that there is no shortage of things to celebrate in capitalist societies, yet the people who often go entirely uncelebrated are entrepreneurs. As a matter of fact, society is more likely to vilify the entrepreneur rather than celebrate him for what he provides to that same society. This needs to change.
It's time we start recognizing those who are responsible for the great enjoyment that capitalism provides us. Whether it's the small businessman, the box store owner, the teenager with his landscaping business, or the paletero man pushing an ice cream cart on a hot day, thank them for their service to the community. After all, these individuals create value in your life, which is far more than any politician can say.