Society and Culture

What’s so funny about the entreprenurial spirit?

Daniel Loeb, founder of New York-based hedge fund Third Point, had this to say upon receiving the John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement from his alma mater, Columbia University:

When I was in College I liked this Elvis Costello song, “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?” I think today we need a new song, “What’s So Funny About Individual Freedom, Free Enterprise and Accountability?” In fact, I might add what’s so funny about celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit that made this country great? This entrepreneurial spirit is applicable not only to business but also to the arts and to humanitarian efforts, as is evident by my fellow awardees tonight like Filmmaker Dede Gardner, Venture Philanthropist Ellen Gustafson, Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz, and Tiananmen Square dissident turned fund manager the great venture capitalist Li Lu.

I think this is still an aspirational country, but there are some people who think it is fashionable to denigrate success, while others try to stir up class warfare. I was surprised last fall to see an Economics Professor ensconced in an Occupy Wall Street mob decrying the 1%, attributing all the country’s problems to an issue of poor distribution of wealth and accusing the so-called 1% of being lazy. Certainly he did not speak for the University where he is tenured but for but an economics Professor to carry on like this – really? We have a problem when young people are taught that our country is fundamentally unfair and encouraged to see themselves as victims. It is even more upsetting when our leaders tell us that it is their role to make amends for these wrongs via increased and capricious regulation, excessive entitlements, ill-conceived subsidies and punitive prosecutions.

It’s always heartening to see capitalists publicly make the case for free-market, entrepreneurial capitalism. I’m particularly pleased that Loeb chose to give these remarks at his old college. Having recently graduated from college myself, I know that we need more voices like his to reach undergraduates. Back at Colgate, I frequently heard my fellow classmates claim their goal was to work for a nonprofit. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that career path—I work for AEI, after all—there was a subtle suggestion that it was morally superior to work for a nonprofit; it was more important to “do good” than to make a fortune. On the other hand, these same classmates all seemed to assume that they’d still have a nice house, two cars, and no serious financial worries.

But, of course, my classmates’ beliefs were predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding of what is moral. As AEI’s president Arthur Brooks explains in a recent article, free enterprise is about more than material well-being: it’s about the freedom to do what we desire, to achieve earned success, and therefore to achieve happiness. I hope that Loeb, and others like him, will continue to spread this message to America’s college campuses and the rest of the nation. We need voices like his to remind ourselves and our youth that free enterprise not only generates wealth, but also morality and happiness.

For more on the struggle between free enterprise and statism, see Arthur Brooks’s book The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future.

2 thoughts on “What’s so funny about the entreprenurial spirit?

  1. One might also add that NGOs, and governments for that matter, depend upon the earnings of individuals and businesses to finance their activities. Surely nonprofits can’t be morally superior to the institutions on which they depend.

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