On this annual holiday, we typically celebrate the men who gave us life, loved us, raised us, cared for us, instructed us. In that spirit, I wanted to honor the men whose vision, passion and courage gave us our country, and whose timeless wisdom should still be a beacon today.
Much is written about Americans’ freedoms of speech, of association, of religion. But it is unpopular these days to extol the virtues of commerce. Our current President seems to regard businessmen and woman as the only criminals left in a system otherwise populated with the deprived, the discriminated against, or the simply misunderstood. Too few people today see the relationship between liberty, individual responsibility, and prosperity. But our first President, George Washington, understood it: “A people... who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see and who will pursue their advantages may achieve almost anything.”
It has always been amazing to me - and never more so than now - how many Americans mistrust business - which consists of people with money - yet repose total confidence in government - which is people with money and guns. No one has ever put a gun to someone’s head and forced them to buy a box of cereal. (Although you’d think they had, given the FDA’s recently announced War on Cheerios; that’s a subject for another column.) But governments have put guns to people's heads for as long as there have been guns. (And before that, they used other methods.) 100 million people died in the 20th century under Communism alone. Other forms of government (monarchy comes to mind) have killed millions more.
It is not that heads of corporations cannot be corrupt. Of course they can be. Or that you cannot find instances of abuse of power in business. Of course you can. But those who point to these abuses fail to draw the larger lessons from them. People who loathe, resent and mistrust business seem to conclude that the species of human ensconced in government is somehow different than that which drives business.
History refutes this illusion over and over again. Human beings, when given power over others, tend to oppress, enslave and/or kill them. The more power they have, the more murderously inclined they are. Why? Because humans tend to assume that they are right, and that everyone should do what they dictate. Most of us cannot act on those assumptions – thank God. Those who can are always in a position threatening to the rest of us.
Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, “Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs,” © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.