Entrepreneurs, risk-takers, men and women of creative ability, of talent, of inventiveness, of productive achievement–for what you do, you are good! Yes, good–as in “moral,” “ethical,” “virtuous.” Throughout history, those of you who actually invent the things the rest of us use, who create the jobs the rest of us need, who produce the goods […]

An Open Letter to Businesspeople

by | Jan 11, 2007

Entrepreneurs, risk-takers, men and women of creative ability, of talent, of inventiveness, of productive achievement–for what you do, you are good! Yes, good–as in “moral,” “ethical,” “virtuous.”

Throughout history, those of you who actually invent the things the rest of us use, who create the jobs the rest of us need, who produce the goods the rest of us merely purchase, haven’t been awarded even so much as a shred of recognition from traditional moral codes. Instead you are maligned as “materialists,” condemned as “profit-chasers,” reviled as “ruthless,” vilified as “greedy,” disparaged as “worldly.” They who couldn’t create a match stick or run a dog pound sneer at you who create microchips and run factories.

But when the castigators need money, or a labor-saving device, or a bridge built, or a building erected, or a disease cured, to whom do they run? They who renounce “this world” rely on you who do not. They who scorn “mere” human achievement depend on you who achieve. They who repudiate money bank on you who earn it. They who proclaim that the mind is impotent benefit from minds that are not.

Consider this: A Mother Teresa-type crosses the ocean in an airplane built in a plant, distributes food preserved in a can and canned in a factory, speaks into a microphone created by a company, and, as her image is broadcast via corporate-owned satellite, promptly denounces “profit and materialism.” That, while remaining oblivious to the fact that it was you who seek profit and master materials that made all those wonders possible in the first place.

What you productive achievers know, but should stop being reluctant to admit, is that the code you implicitly follow is based not on self-sacrifice, which we are taught is the moral ideal, but on self-interest.

Thomas Edison spent countless hours striving to invent the electric light not as a selfless service for his fellow man, but for his own self-interest. He relentlessly followed his own dreams, selfishly attained his own goals, and his fellow man happens to have benefited in spades. Henry Ford built an automobile factory not out of a sense of servitude to mankind, but for his own selfish benefit. He sought personal wealth, did what he loved to do, created what he wanted to create, and, as a result, mankind received a tremendous boon.

In fact, the Edisons and Fords of the world do more for the poor as a mere incidental consequence of their self-interested pursuits than a herd of Mother Teresas and Princess Dianas could ever do in a hundred lifetimes devoted exclusively to charity. Yet which type of person always receives the moral kudos? And which type of ethics is always presented as the ideal friend to humanity?

Philosopher Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged, identified this ludicrous inversion decades ago, writing:


We are taught to admire the [one] who dispenses gifts he has not produced above the man who made the gifts possible…. We praise an act of charity. We shrug at an act of achievement.

Just imagine if the most creative and productive people had taken seriously and consistently embodied the “ideal” of self-sacrifice. Rather than having electric lighting, cars, and computers (not to mention thousands of offshoot inventions), we would have Thomas Edison the soup kitchen lineman, Henry Ford the social worker, and Bill Gates the Peace Corps volunteer.

It is high time that you productive achievers stop kowtowing to the sacrifice-pushers, stop accepting their standards, and, instead, explicitly espouse that which you already implicitly embrace: an ethics of self-interest.

Now, the surrogates of self-sacrifice will tell you that their moral system has merit since it touts honesty, a strong work ethic and caring for one’s family. But an entrepreneur knows, or will soon learn, that honesty is not some burdensome sacrifice that one selflessly executes–the exact opposite is true; it is to your own self-interest to be honest. And an achiever does not regard hard work as some sort of sin-sentence that necessitates “earning bread by the sweat of the brow,” but instead gains selfish pleasure in working, creating, achieving; it is to your own interest to engage in purposeful work you love. And a rational person understands that caring for his own loved-ones is not some duty he obligingly discharges, but instead gains personal gratification by supporting those he values; it is to your own selfish interest to cherish your spouse and children.

Face it, productive achievers of every stripe, you neither need nor can you consistently apply a self-sacrificial code. You do not start a company in order to suffer for others–you do it to improve your life. You seek not to rid yourself of “earthly riches,” but to gain them. You do not endlessly forgive, even up to “seven times seventy-seven,” an employee who fails–you replace him. If a thief “steals your cloak,” you do not “give him your coat also” (or the modern-day equivalent)

Wayne Dunn writes about political and cultural events from an Objectivist perspective.

THE CAPITALIST ADVISOR

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