You may — alright, so you definitely will — need a tab with Google open to be able to look up all the big words he uses in his penetrating prose, but George Gilder is a masterful writer and inspiring advocate for entrepreneurial activity. I’ve been reading through the revised-and-updated edition of Wealth and Poverty this past week and I am astounded all over again at the unrelenting, unapologetic way he articulates the case for free enterprise, limited government, and private-sector solutions.
For Gilder, the entrepreneur is not an unfortunate by-product of a flawed economic system, but the thankless hero of, and catalyst for, the innovation, creativity, and prosperity the rest of us benefit from. Even a vocal proponent for free enterprise like myself — someone who has made a living the past few years writing and speaking about the moral and theological case for economic liberty — can only sit back in silence and marvel at the stirring way Mr. Gilder paints his verbal portraits of the men and women who create something where nothing once stood.
Entrepreneurial knowledge has little to do with certified expertise of advanced degrees or the learning of establishment schools. The fashionably educated and cultivated spurn the kind of fanatically focused learning commanded by the one percent. Wealth all too often comes from doing what other people consider insufferably boring or unendurably hard.
The treacherous intricacies of building codes or garbage routes or software languages or groceries, the mechanics of butchering sheep and pigs or frying and freezing potatoes, the mazes of high-yield bonds and low-collateral companies, the murky lore of petroleum leases or housing deeds or far-Eastern electronics supplies, the ways and means of pushing pizzas or insurance policies or hawking hosiery or pet supplies, the multiple scientific disciplines entailed by fracking for natural gas or contriving the ultimate search engine, the grind of grubbing for pennies in fast food unit sales, the chemistry of soap or candy or the silicon-silicon dioxide interface, the endless round of motivating workers and blandishing union bosses and federal inspectors and the IRS and EPA and SEC and FDA – all are considered tedious and trivial by the established powers.
Most people consider themselves above learning the gritty and relentless details of life that allow the creation of great wealth. They leave it to the experts. But in general, you join the one percent of the one percent not by leaving it to the experts, but by creating new expertise. Not by knowing what they experts know, but by learning what they think is beneath them.
Entrepreneurship is the launching of surprises. What bothers many critics of capitalism is that a group like the one percent is too full of surprises. Sam Walton opens a haberdashery and it goes broke. He opens another and it works. He launches a shopping center empire in the rural south and becomes for a while America’s richest man selling largely Chinese-made goods to Americans. Howard Schultz makes a fortune out of coffee shops, leaves, and watches his company decline in his absence. He returns and restores it to supremacy as a multifarious supplier of drinks and food and home comforts outside of home. Herb Kelleher leaves the north east to become a lawyer in Texas. On the proverbial napkin he outlines plans for a new kind of airline in Texas. Defying the deepest belief of the experts in the established airlines, their gouge-and-gotcha-pricing, hub-and-spoke routing, and diversity of aircraft sourcing – Kelleher builds Southwest Airlines. Bringing bus-like convenience, singing stewardae, and business innovations, he creates the world’s leading airline and a fortune for himself. Rather than retiring, he becomes Chairman of the Dallas Federal Reserve.
This process of wealth creation is offensive to levelers and planners because it yields mountains of new wealth in ways that could not possibly be planned. But unpredictability is the entropy that is fundamental to free human enterprise. It defies every econometric model and socialist scheme. It makes no sense to most professors, who attain their positions by the systematic acquisition of credentials pleasing to the establishment above them. By definition, innovations cannot be planned.
Leading entrepreneurs – from Sam Walton to Mike Milken to Larry Page to Mark Zuckerberg – did not ascend a hierarchy: they created a new one.
They did not climb to the top of anything. They were pushed to the top by their own success.
They did not capture the pinnacle: they became it.
Put that in your Occupy Wall Street-purchased pipe and smoke it!
The problem is, of course, that those who champion things such as collectivism and massive wealth redistribution must only combine words like “social” and “justice” to win millions of American students and voters over. But one cannot deny the compelling nature of Gilder’s rhetoric.
Can the emotional, inspirational response to hearing about wealth creation match that of the one many folks feel after hearing promises of its redistribution?