A Stand of Ones Own

Mr. Warmbier is a student at Michigan State University.

One of the forgotten men of our age is the entrepreneur, the indi­vidual who, on his own initiative and judgment, at his own risk, goes into business for himself. The agonies and ecstasies of these un­organized iconoclasts have usually been ignored by press, politicians, and public, including myself. But a chance encounter with one of these otherwise forgotten individ­uals has given me a feeling of em­pathy with an entrepreneur.

He sat next to me on my flight back to Detroit from Kennedy In­ternational, a trimly-built gentle­man about 45 years of age, with gray hair and gold-rimmed glasses. We began conversing on the AFTRA strike, then in its second day. I found my traveling companion to be the owner of an advertis­ing agency, a self-made man who through long years and hard work secured for his firm numerous ac­counts for the producing of TV and radio commercials. This pro­duction had been halted by the strike, however, and his firm was experiencing losses. He told me of those losses, incurred because of an unforeseeable strike to which he was not a party, without re­sentment, as if the bearing of such risks were a part of the standard operational procedure of his pro­fession. And so it is. For the en­trepreneur works without senior­ity, tenure, or unemployment com­pensation, deriving income when his firm earns profits, suffering if it doesn’t. And while that day’s news­paper accounts of the AFTRA strike told of the wages foregone by the striking employees, the losses of an entrepreneur went un­mentioned.

Our discussion turned to Eng­land, from where my companion had just returned after the produc­tion of several TV commercials. England seemed to him a stifling and suffocating place, in spite of the recent creative outbursts of popular music there. He saw the current flow of British talent into the music and entertainment fields as a direct consequence of the dry­ing up of other forms of entre­preneurial opportunity. Heavy pro­gressive taxes have left entertain­ment one of the few fields in which budding entrepreneurs can acquire the seed capital needed to launch new ventures.

My companion recalled his own climb from a tar-paper shack in Kentucky, and how much more dif­ficult punitive taxes made it. "The government takes 60 per cent of my income," he said. Here was the type of man politicians put out of their minds when they endorse soak-the-rich taxation, the entre­preneur of self-made means who must overcome such onerous bur­dens if he is to succeed.

We were approaching for land­ing as I asked my companion a final question: Why, with all the unfore­seeable risks, the personal losses, and the burdens of government taxation, did he decide to go into business for himself, to become an entrepreneur? The answer came quickly, without pause for thought, as if he were stating a self-evident axiom: "I’d rather run a popsicle stand of my own than work for some government bureau."

 

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The Business Climate

"Business" is a product of civilization and it cannot exist for long in the absence of a specific constellation of conditions, chiefly moral, which support our civilization. The economic ingredient in the constellation is, as we shall see, free competition. But free competition cannot function unless there is general acceptance of such norms of conduct as willingness to abide by the rules of the game and to respect the rights of others, to maintain professional integrity and professional pride, and to avoid deceit, corruption, and the manipulation of the power of the state for personal and selfish ends.

WILHELM ROEPKE, Economics of the Free Society

Further Reading

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