Monday, July 28, 2008

Personal Economics--The fifth law--The essentail entrepreneur

The fifth law of personal economics comes from another Austrian, Ludwig von Mises. While collectivists tend to downgrade and even deprecate the role of the businessman/trader/merchant/entrepreneur in favor of the central planner, the bureaucrat, but von Mises says that he is absolutely essential to the advancement and even mantainence of civilization. Intellectuals all through history have been on the side of the modern collectivists. Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, probably the big three in ancient philosophy, could hardly agree on anything except the fact that the one thing you did not want to get involved with was business/trade. This was for lesser men. This is an attitude shared somewhat by Adam Smith himself. While possibly a little more understanding of the need for merchants, he is, nevertheless, very critical of them. The insight of their importance in the growth of civilization is an insight that grows out of the subjective theory of value as we will see.

Under the feudal system, a king ruled his subjects. We often use the language of feudalism to describe the captalistic system, but they are very different. When, for example, we speak of someone who is the president or founder of a large enterprise that has gained a commanding lead in his area of business, we sometimes refer to him as a "king". Hence, Hershey was the "chocolate king", Carnegie the "steel king" etc. But, as von Mises points out, these so-called "kings" do not rule, they serve. In reality, in a free society, it is the ordinary man, the consumer, who is "king". Bureaucrats and politicians, who tend to be envious of these men, often accuse them of controlling the market, of giving people no real choice, of forcing their desires on others, but in a free society, this is impossible. If Mr. Hershey offers only one kind of chocolate, someone else is certainly free to offer another and if he can offer something that in price and quality is more pleasing to the consumer than Mr. Hershey's brand of chocolate, Mr. Hershey will very quickly cease to be king of chocolate.

And hence, the importance of entrepreneurs, is simply that while central planners and bureaucrats believe that they can see what people need, entrepreneurs forsee what peole will need. They move resources into areas that are not currently being served, or, at least, are being under-served. When people believe the promises of politicians and bureaucrats, a sort of political entropy results. Chaos increases and nothing ever really changes for the better, but when society becomes free enough that people can use their own resources, manage and control their own property, entrepreneurs quickly begin to foresee possibilites that have escaped normal vision. The down side of all this is that it is risky. Why? Because of the subjective theory of value. No one can objectively predict what anything will be worth. An entrepreneur is always taking risks.

The religious expression of this law is found, among other places in scripture, in the parable of the talents. The servant who failed to take a chance and simply buried his talent so he could return it when required was condemned in the severest terms. He is the quintessential bureaucrat. He waits for orders before he moves. He takes no risks.

The political expression of this law is found more in custom than in writing. When our society was much freer, it was considered in very poor taste to live entirely by law, i. e. seek out a "safe existence". Even our most prominent politicians and lawyers were expected to free market professions. If you were to ask daniel Webster, for example, what was his profession, he was as likely to say he was a farmer as to say "lawyer" or even "senator". This was equally true of most of our early leaders. They could hardly even be expected to gain clients or constituents for political office if they could not claim a great deal of experience in the free market. What about Lincoln? Lincoln, was, of course, the exception and with him a great deal changed in American life.

On a personal level, the law says that we should be willing to take risks in an effort to serve others, and at the very least, we should avoid criticizing those who do.

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