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.

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