This morning I got up at 6:30 am. I took a hot shower, turned on the sprinkler to water the lawn, cooked an omelet for breakfast, put the dishes in the dishwasher, read The Wall Street Journal on my iPad while I enjoyed a cup of espresso, and answered five questions from my staff and clients via email. Then I got into my car and drove five miles to arrive at work at 7:45 am.
The point here isn’t that there’s anything exciting about my morning routine. It’s to emphasize how much our current technology allows one person to do in 75 ordinary minutes. Some of what I do every day, like getting to work in ten minutes or reading an East Coast newspaper the same day it’s published, would have taken hours or days to accomplish 100 years ago.
One of the greatest benefits we all receive from new inventions, discoveries, technology, and tools is time. The most valuable commodity a dollar can buy is time. Time to do what we want, when we want to do it. Time that allows us to easily provide for our day-to-day needs and frees us to develop and use our own particular skills.
Who do we have to thank for that gift of time? Entrepreneurs. Through their inventions and services, successful entrepreneurs don’t just make it possible for us to live more comfortably and have easy access to more goods and services. They create more time for all of us.
According to many politicians, the real problem with America is its entrepreneurs. If all those business people just paid more taxes, focused less on profitability, hired more people, and spent more money, all our problems would be solved.
I would suggest the opposite is true. Entrepreneurs are actually what is right with America. Instead of demonizing them, our politicians should support them in every manner possible. Entrepreneurs are the reason for our nation’s relatively high standard of living.
Disdain of entrepreneurs shows an ignorance of how a successful economy works. Production drives an economy. Show me a nation where the government produces most of the goods and services, and I will show you a nation in poverty. Cuba comes to mind.
Certainly, governments do have an important role to play. They provide services and infrastructure that support and encourage entrepreneurship. To do so, governments must take a portion of the production of their citizens by requiring them to pay taxes. Therefore, citizens must sell their labor, goods, and services to acquire the country’s currency with which to pay their tax obligations.
A government must strike a fine balance in the amount of productivity it takes from its citizens and what it leaves them. Taking too much risks killing the golden goose of productivity. If entrepreneurs decide that what is left after paying taxes is not worth their capital, time, and risk, they will expend less effort and become less productive. Some will even move to countries that encourage productivity.
According to Adam Smith, “The real price of everything, what everything really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.”
The work of entrepreneurs like Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Bill Gates continually reduces the toil and trouble it takes us to acquire goods and services. The enormous improvements in our standard of living over the past 100 years have come from the creativity and risk-taking of entrepreneurs. It is they who provide us with the most important form of wealth—more time to do what matters to us in our own pursuit of happiness.