On a recent trip to the U.K., I picked up a copy of The Daily Telegraph and was reminded how the Labour Party there remains unremittingly hostile to the private sector, the supposed home of greed, selfishness, exploitation and many so-called market failures.
Unfortunately, much of the public there is buying it – demanding rent controls, “free” college tuition, higher taxes, greater regulation and more aggressive redistribution.
The chorus has grown so strong that former Chancellor Philip Hammond called it “an existential challenge” and beseeched business leaders to step forward and make the case for the market economy.
He might find the antidote in an old copy of the 100th Anniversary Issue of Forbes.
It featured brief essays from “The 100 Greatest Business Minds,” including individuals like Rupert Murdoch, Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney and Asian billionaire Li Ka-Shing.
These men and women went out of their way to emphasize that successful businesses thrive not because of greed or selfishness but because they help millions achieve their dreams.
U2 singer Bono said, “It’s just foolishness not to recognize the creativity you can unlock in the corporate world.”
He added, “Some of the most selfish people I’ve met are artists – I’m one of them – and some of the most selfless people I’ve met are in business, people like Warren Buffett. So, I’ve never had that clichéd view of commerce and culture being different.”
Microsoft founder Bill Gates pointed out that businesses underwrite many thousands of ideas that don’t work out – but the handful that do revolutionize our world.
Master dealmaker and SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son said the Industrial Revolution transformed people’s lives, but our current information revolution is creating a sort of worldwide superintelligence that will make enormous contributions to humanity in ways that we can’t even imagine.
Billionaire John Paul DeJoria said that one of the biggest business challenges is to retain talented employees. And that the best business managers treat and pay their staff exactly the way that they would want to be treated themselves.
Taiwan Semiconductor founder Morris Chang wrote that business success is the result of building trust with customers by being willing to fulfill a promise, even at high cost – and that this boils down to integrity and commitment.
Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of Acumen, said that successful entrepreneurs don’t worry about reputation. They focus on character.
(Reputation is what people think you are. But character is what you really are.)
Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett advised, “Don’t just satisfy your customers – delight them. They’re gonna talk to other people. They’re going to come back. Anybody who has happy customers is likely to have a pretty good future.”
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon (perhaps the world’s most customer-centric company), further amplified this message by pointing out that the internet has created a new era of product transparency.
Consumers now share their likes (and dislikes) so broadly and rapidly on social media that there is far greater opportunity for a great product or service to achieve widespread adoption and far less opportunity for a shoddy one to succeed.
These entrepreneurs and business visionaries are all prophets of the free-market system.
They understand that business drives innovation, creates jobs, provides billions in tax revenue, improves our quality of life and elevates our standard of living.
The stock market is the democratization of capital, allowing ordinary men and women of modest means to own a fractional interest in a thriving company – or a whole portfolio full of them – or find the money necessary to bring a good idea to fruition.
We shouldn’t forget these things. Or let others succeed in undermining the engine of progress and prosperity that we depend on.
Progress that they either can’t see… or don’t understand.