Entrepreneurialism and innovation in the free market can be great things. They have the potential to increase productivity, manage limited resources, improve standards of living, and perform incredible feats of industry.
The concept of free markets is really a perspective on the entire world. It sees people as responsible individuals who want to provide for their own well-being. It sees the marketplace as a venue for those individuals to sell the results of their creative capacities and hard work.
Nothing is ever true alone.
And to view the world solely through the lens of “free market capitalism” is to mistake the world.
This is because the purely entrepreneurial man can not speak the language of poetry.
The entrepreneur looks at a forest and sees, at best, a renewable resource. At worst, it is to him a tract of land to be cleared, ploughed, sold, and forgotten.
The poet accesses his senses in the forest. Listening to the whisper of the pine needles in the breeze, he inhales all of the woods – their unencumbered freshness, full of scent and devoid of the soot of industry, or even the artificially filtered air of urbanity. He pauses to sample a dangling berry, a fallen nut, or a mushroom peering out of a log. He knows the caress of fern fronds at his ankles and the insistent tug of brambles at his shirt or skin as they plead, “Stay here with me.”
The European conservative politician Daniel Hannan has made an effective (and as always, eloquent) case for the privatization of natural resources – claiming (and attributing this quote to Aristotle) “That which nobody owns, nobody will care for.”
This may be true. But it does not then logically follow that simply because someone owns something, they will care for it (this is the logical fallacy of “Denying the Antecedent”). A wealthy man can destroy a good many things if he wishes – we’ve seen this. Coal companies buy Appalachian mountains, level them, take the coal, dump the rubble into the river, and leave a field of grass where once stood a towering peak.
The problem is that a pure entrepreneur needs only worry about the natural world for 40-60 years: the probable length of his adult life. The entrepreneur lives for himself – perhaps occasionally considering one future generation (that of his children). By the time a second generation has arrived (grandchildren), he’s done all his damage and retired. The entrepreneur sees nothing but the present, and perhaps far enough ahead to formulate business plans and profit projections.
The poet, however, lives for his great-grandchildren. The world gives him pleasure – he sees that it is good. He cultivates, protects, nourishes the soil. He knows his work is thankless, but he works nonetheless. He hopes to be heard, but expects that he will largely be misunderstood, misread, misquoted, dismissed. This is his lot until long after he shuffles off this mortal coil to exchange it for a holy body on a renewed earth – one redeemed from the long shadows of disharmony, disobedience, discord.
The poet, however, is usually poor.
There remains, then, something the poet can learn from the businessman. But there is far more that the businessman can learn from the poet.
What is the solution? So many fools propose that we prohibit the hell-bent entrepreneur from ruining this place for everyone, and that we do so by passing laws, growing government, centralizing control. But tyranny over the soil is never to be traded for tyranny over men. And no man, regardless of the government’s coercion, can have his badness forced out by laws alone.
The solution is new men. Men who see the sacredness of their landscape, and sense a mandate not to exploit it, but to love it. Men who desire to rule over the soil not as a tyrant rules – with heavy hands, robbery, greed, and self-interest – but as good kings. Of course, it takes knowing a Good King to be one.
The new men see that wealth need not come at the expense of health or the future or the soil or other men.
Men must be free. And markets ought to be free. But until new men – good men – come to the markets, the world will only know the abundance of tyranny.
*This post is dedicated to Paul Brewer (my favorite socialist), Anthony Chelette (the only anarcho-Catholic I’ve ever heard of), and Martin Heidegger (who, sadly, will never read it).