The other day my son came up to me and asked, “Hey dad, wanna hear something ironic?”
“Sure,” I replied, “what do you have for me?”
He looked at me as if he had just had an epiphany and said, “Think about this, personal achievement affects more people than just the person.”
As usual my son had a point. Apparently, I have taught him well.
We have so much to be thankful for in the United States, despite all the things that have gone wrong in the last few years: the economy, wars, and some really bad and nasty politics coupled with horrendous policy decisions. Within all of this, there has been a constant undercurrent of anti-capitalism. The anti-business and anti-independent thought movement has spread so wide and so loud that Marx himself would be proud.
So at this time of the year, Thanksgiving and the holidays, I think it’s time to remind everyone why we can still be thankful even though we have had some rough times and more are likely to follow. You see, my son and I are fans of Ayn Rand. I also made him read my favorite book when he was feeling a bit down some weeks ago. It is a book called Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. It is a book I wish every school child would be required to read in middle school because, despite the name, it is a book about thought, not hard riches.
It tells the tales of not one, but dozens of self-made men in US and world history who, by force of will, chose to pursue a better life for themselves and their families, and in the end their countries and the world. Like many of Ayn Rand’s characters, the book is about self, conquering yourself despite a world that does not want you to succeed.
It is a book about selfishness, greed, and passion. The good kind. We’ll get to the bad kind in a moment.
It was Bill Gates’s selfishness and greed that created Microsoft. He had an idea, he was passionate about it, and he worked on it until it became a reality. It was not a community idea; it was not a government idea; it was his idea. He cared for it selfishly, and he was greedy about it. His work gave us Windows and much, much more. His greed and selfishness led to so much wealth that he now dedicates his self-interest and passion to giving his money away to help others.
Steve Jobs gave us Apple and the iPod; Dave Thomas’s greed and selfishness gave us Wendy’s; Henry Ford’s 7th grade education, combined with his selfish dedication to an ideal, gave us the Ford Motor Company, the 8 cylinder engine, and the Ford Foundation. Greed and selfishness gave us U.S. Steel and made the United States the greatest and most powerful nation on earth. A nation that has arguably fed and freed more people than all other nations in human history combined.
It was the passion of these individuals, not the state, not the community, and never the “village” that created the United States and the great things it has done. These individuals, from the great movers and shakers in the world of electronics and computing to the struggling small business owner, are all guilty of selfishness, greed, and passion — the good kind. The kind that creates medical advances, builds better cars and roads and computers, and satisfies our naughty urge to eat something big and juicy and maybe not so healthy.
Each one gave his blood, time, sweat, tears, and sacrifice to accomplish his selfish goals, and we have all benefited from them one way or another. Personal success does not only affect the individual who accomplishes it. Personal success affects us all.
There is another kind of greed, however, the bad kind. You see, the people I mentioned above used their greed, selfishness, and passion to create something new, to offer it to others for a price, to serve a need. Even the most hated CEO offers something: their services in exchange for money, and the board or the shareholders decide whether or not to pay for those services at those prices. A lot of them may not deserve what they are paid, but that is not my choice to make; most importantly, it is a choice the board and shareholders aren’t forced to make.
There are those who want more, however, but are not willing to do anything new in exchange for it. These are the politicians and the unions. If great selfish men and women built U.S. Steel and other industries in the United States, it was the politicians and unions that destroyed them. They demand more in the name of others, without actually offering anything for it except a promise to do no further harm — a promise they do not keep.
They promise that in exchange for better wages, they won’t strike. Yet, they do. They promise to make sure that the work is done and more efficiently, but it isn’t. In the end they drive up prices so high that it actually becomes cheaper to manufacture halfway around the world, in countries that should be our enemies but now hold us by the chains of our own success.
They have destroyed the very jobs they claimed they were trying to protect.
This is the bad kind of greed; this is the dark side of selfishness; and this is the evil side of passion: demanding more for less value; demanding higher wages for the same or less labor productivity; demanding others pay for services for third parties who have not or will not contribute on their own. This is the selfishness and greed we need to work on and oppose.
The difference is simple: one kind of selfishness creates wealth that others benefit from and the other steals wealth until no one can. We should all be thankful for those who have struggled in business to create new products and services and new wealth for themselves, because their wealth is what creates even more wealth and prosperity for us all.
The thieves, on the other hand, blame the creators for their own shortcomings. They blame the producers for having been successful, and claim the success of business is at their expense. Yet, business and free market capitalism are based on choice. If you don’t want a product, you don’t have to buy it, unless government (the politicians) makes you buy it by law — like medical insurance.
True selfishness, greed, and passion for creating one’s own wealth and following one’s own dream, one’s own idea, is not just good (to paraphrase a movie), it is next to divine. Ask yourself, “Those people who point fingers and steal wealth, what have they given that was theirs in the first place?”
They take and take and take and make up new ways of taking, and they destroy all the good that has come.
The thing about the good kind of selfishness and greed is that it all starts with the individual. The individual offers himself at the altar of success. He assumes responsibility for his own success or failure and does not turn to government for solutions. These individuals have changed the world, and now the world has turned against them and seeks to destroy them and the rest of us who do not hold their personal success in contempt against them.
If we ever wish to turn the tide against the thieves, against the usurpers, we must be willing to offer ourselves on the same altar and make our own sacrifices in blood, sweat, and passion. So before you give thanks this holiday season, ask yourself what are you willing to give; what have you given and achieved, to be thankful for?