Two often overlapping professions represent an apex of human evolution on both an individual and social level: the entrepreneur and the inventor. Because they are an apex, they only emerged as identifiable professions relatively recently, within the last 250 years. Their emergence required hospitable social, political, and legal conditions, and their disappearance will be the hallmark and consequence of broader deterioration and regression.
Humanity has been communal since the days of cave dwellers. The preponderance of people have been defined and have defined themselves as members of a group: a family, clan, tribe, village, town, city, province, or nation. Rare indeed have been the individuals who have simply defined themselves as individuals. That rarity is not because individualists are genetic mutants or sociopathic misanthropes, but because of reflexive group hostility towards those who isolate themselves, especially those who question group beliefs and ideologies. The most prominent purveyors and enforcers of beliefs and ideologies have been religions and governments, and they have been the most intellectually regressive institutions.
Despite their imperfections, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were revolutionary when drafted and remain so today. The most significant philosophical departure was their embrace of individual rights and their protection by a government subordinated to that task. That stance remains an ideal, not a realized outcome, but it was an important intellectual advance. It put out an unprecedented welcome-mat for individualists and they responded, making the young United States a scientific, technological, industrial, and economic giant within a century.
Almost by definition entrepreneurs and inventors place their own self-interest and personal quests above the welfare of any group. They generally receive little encouragement from those around them, except for perhaps a handful of family members and friends (although that’s not a given), especially when they are first starting out. They are often ridiculed, discouraged, and opposed. Failure confirms the crowd’s belief in their foolishness; success brings its own problems. Innovation threatens the existing order, and the existing order rarely takes that lying down.
A new and innovative idea is never enough; the idea must meet the demands of the market. To take a product or service from idea through the planning, collaboration, experimentation, revision, production, and execution stages to a profitable business requires an amalgam of virtues and high-order aptitudes: ingenuity, creativity, determination, integrity, fortitude, flexibility, and an ability to work with and motivate other people. Entrepreneurs and inventors persist in spite of the daunting odds, and fortunately for the humanity to which they may be understandably indifferent or hostile, sometimes they win and progress happens.
Innovation can only grow and thrive when it’s planted in healthy soil. The foundation of innovation, intellectual property—the concept that an idea can acquire legal protection as a property right—is of fairly recent vintage. The evolution of the common law of contracts, the basis of voluntary exchange, was tortuously labored. It took several centuries for English courts to establish that a party who exchanges a promise for a promise—the basis of a contract—has a legally enforceable right to either performance or damages if the counterparty’s promise is not kept. Without that legal development, the Industrial Revolution never would have got off the ground. Innovative golden geese must also be protected from the danger, present since the dawn of civilization, of “plucking” by governments or other thieves. Nobody will create wealth that is likely to be stolen.
Entrepreneurship and invention are emblematic of an advanced stage of economic, and more importantly, philosophical, political, and legal development. Some of the critics of entrepreneurs and inventors—and the social conditions necessary for their existence—are motivated by the ostensibly admirable motivations they ascribe to themselves. Many are not. Underlying much of the antipathy is animus towards that “amalgam of virtues and high-order aptitudes,” or hatred of the good. The ancient hostility towards those who stand apart or question the group’s beliefs persists, rooted in diametrically opposed psychological orientations: independent self-interest versus dependence on other people.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that a bureaucrat, media figure, academic, or politician who cannot change a tire or figure out his or her iPhone might resent the creators who build automobile factories and design phone circuitry. It is not rational to hate those who supply not just the goods and services upon which one depends, but propel progress itself. However, there’s nothing rational about this kind of visceral resentment. It’s also not a stretch to suggest that much of the regulation, taxation, redistribution, extortion, and expropriation inflicted on productive, honest, responsible individuals and businesses stem from a toxic mix of ignoble and destructive emotions. Cutting through the noble-sounding dross, malice has been a primary impetus for much of the growth and expansion of power of governments.
It is tragic and wrong when people who achieve the highest degree of precision and logic in their fields acknowledge and validate irrational claims on their talents, productivity, creativity, time, and sometimes, on their very lives. Just as tragic and wrong are those innovators, creators, and producers who delude themselves into believing they can beat the irrational at their own game. Any accommodation or concession by the logical to the illogical can only work to the detriment of the former and the benefit of the latter.
Regrettably, the tormented rarely challenge their tormentors; instead, they give up or keep their work to themselves. The status of entrepreneurs and inventors is a reliable bellwether of a society’s wellbeing. In totalitarian societies, any sign of independence or extraordinary ability can be a death sentence; there are no innovators or innovation, only stagnation and regression. In the US, innovation and entrepreneurship are under siege, reflected in a grim statistic: since 2008, business closures have exceeded business startups. The hotbed of the Industrial Revolution has become a land of debt merchants, rent seekers, crony capitalists, and other government-connected slime. The independence and quest for liberty that sparked the American revolution, generations of immigrants, and the elimination of slavery has been replaced by a pervasive “something for nothing” ethic, in which those who have nothing to contribute demand their sustenance from those who do.
It has become fashionable to claim that “technology cannot solve all our problems.” That’s an indisputable proposition, but if innovation dies, technology won’t solve any of our problems. California suffers through a drought but sits next to the largest body of water on the planet. Affordable desalination would be a technological solution. The 1800s forerunners to today’s environmental doomsayers probably warned that horse-and-buggy transport would leave the world knee-deep in horse shit. The hydrocarbon-powered internal combustion engine—technology—solved that problem, but generated its own issues, notably emissions that befoul the air (although much progress has been made on that front the past three decades) and may contribute to global warming, if in fact the globe is warming.
From where will the replacement for internal combustion come? The world’s worthies will soon be jetting into Davos, Switzerland for their annual confab on the many pressing problems that beset the planet. Even the tech titans in attendance will concur with the general consensus: technology will play only a secondary role to primarily political solutions. Attendees will endorse more of the government expansion, ineptitude, corruption, and malice that is stifling and threatens to kill the liberty and spirit of innovation responsible for humanity’s progress. The 19th century doomsayers were wrong about a world literally covered in horse shit, but the Davos crowd, left unchallenged, will smother it in the figurative kind.
A CREATOR AND HIS MANY ENEMIES
Rand identified that subjugation of the individual, however defined, always occurs through the “co-dependence of” Attila and the Witch Doctor – through the physical in combination with the spiritual.
As you have cited, until the last two hundred fifty years or so, the individual entrepreneurs and inventors subjugated by combinations of these two, have historically remained unknown(s) – as but a part of the haze and obscurity of the tyrannies of collective darkness from which we have recently emerged.
Occasionally, one of these entrepreneurs or inventors becomes illuminated by the written light sometimes radiating from one among them, providing us with knowledge of their identity such as Marco Polo or Johannes Guttenberg. For the most part however, the “Atlases” of antiquity remain nameless – subsumed in the fashion of the “Chinese” invention of gunpowder or the 7th century Muslims invention of Daniel Durand’s double-entry accounting. Perhaps by such an absence of specificity the actual creators of same were probably victims of their own inventions, a state of affairs normally precipitated by Witch Doctors or Attilas de jour at the time.
Beginning with the consequences of the Renaissance and the emergence of Reason’s intrusions into what had been the jealously-sequestered provinces of royalty and faith, the historical state of collectivism and its inevitable subjugation of the individual began to wane. Freed from actual and psychological constraints, the likes of Bruno, Galileo, and subsequently Newton, together with a growing cascade of those merchants, tradesmen, and engineers subsequently arising in science and commerce, then rapidly, through the self-interested individual pursuit of their values, they transformed our lives and civilizations.
The basis for collectivism, however defined, is fear. It is a fear that the idea of moral responsibility and physical autonomy potentially engenders – an unfortunate potential arising from but one aspect of our nature(s). Conversely, the basis for individualism is love – the eager curiosity that arises from an individual awareness that remains untempered by fear. This resulting “passion” must, because of its unassuming innocence, be free of doubt(s). It therefore can only exist when trust is unquestioned – trust as manifested by internal confidence, but also by external security – security in the broadest of contexts.
The inescapable basis for external trust is the rule of law. If one wishes to understand why the Atlases are seeming to vanish, it is the corruption of what was fundamentally, America’s implementation of many of the ideas of English Common Law. In America, these ideas were coupled with specific identifications within the Bill of Rights arising from Jefferson’s IMPLIED moral precepts.
It can best be summed up as the body of law that logically arises from what Richard Maybury has encapsulated in his two “universal laws:” 1) Do all you have agreed to do; and 2) Do not encroach on other persons of their property.
We have, for now over a century, been fostering “rules of law” that violate both of these bedrock foundations of trust…….
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Yep–The “Law,”–she be dead.
Like all outstanding art Robert, your work frequently provides the inspirational “fuel” for such things
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Unfortunately, not only must we fight the ever encroaching government innovation killers, we must resist the mewlings of those who have already acquiesced to the status quo, and will remain absolutely livid until we follow suit. United Auto Workers Union comes to mind. If my friends begin thinking like my enemies, are they not also my enemies?