I've been in the busi­ness world pret­ty well con­tin­u­ous­ly since 1981. I've found­ed two com­pa­nies, been the CEO of three, helped do five rounds of VC fi­nanc­ing, and been on a lot of sales call­s.

Without false mod­esty I can say that I am not a great busi­ness­man, but this doesn't stop me hav­ing strong opin­ions on it.

Busi­ness is a mag­nif­i­cent para­dox. The Free Mar­ket, with its pa­rade of cheer­lead­ing ide­o­logues from Adam Smith right down to today's Economist pun­dits has, more or less, worked. It suc­ceeds in cre­at­ing im­mense quan­ti­ties of (un­even­ly dis­tribut­ed) wealth, lift­ing peo­ple out of ru­ral pover­ty and ur­ban slum­s, in ar­rang­ing that most peo­ple have job­s, that most things that are built are need­ed, and that most things that are need­ed are built. Th­ese are not small ac­com­plish­ments.

Vir­tu­al­ly ev­ery day when I con­sid­er the bus­tle of city streets and the rum­ble of in­dus­tri­al traf­fic, I am moved to won­der that the amount of stuff that's pro­duced is more or less the amount of stuff that's pur­chased, and the amount of mon­ey that peo­ple earn is more or less the amount of mon­ey need­ed to do the pur­chas­ing.

And yet, and yet, and yet; busi­ness is of­ten a filthy prac­tice. It en­cour­ages both vile ve­nial and mon­strous mor­tal sin. Most peo­ple who are suc­cess­ful CEOs are just not peo­ple you'd want to spend time with. Busi­ness, left to it­self, would rape the earth we live on, fill food with poi­son­s, the­atres with stu­pid­i­ty, streets with gas-guzzlers, and leg­is­la­tures with pup­pet­s. All as an or­gan­ic con­se­quence of the com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place.

Thus the sta­tus quo in the de­vel­oped world: mar­kets al­lowed to run free to greater or less­er de­gree, but al­ways a gov­ern­ment stand­ing be­side with a gun. We the peo­ple, as the say­ing goes, re­serve the right to im­pose cap­i­tal re­serves on bankers and en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion on man­u­fac­tur­ers and truth-in-advertising laws on mar­keters and insider-trading rules on in­vestors and safe­ty codes on prod­uct de­sign­ers and salary stan­dards on em­ploy­er­s. We main­tain a so­cial safe­ty net paid for with tax­es in part on the rich who least need it. And we re­serve the right to ar­rest you, try you, and lock you up if you don't play by these rules. And this is a good thing.

The free mar­ket is a won­der­ful thing in the ab­stract and in its way a tri­umph of hu­man cre­ativ­i­ty. But it is a pro­found­ly un­nat­u­ral cre­ation and would self-destruct by this time next year with­out those oh-so-despised pub­lic ser­vants stand­ing there with the gun­s.

author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
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