I went to my fall church fair last Saturday and I bought a bunch of old books. Of all things, I, most unexpectedly, found a simple and elegant riposte therein to the many negative comments about business, greed, and venality coming out of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And particularly as these calumnies relate to my prime interest–the small businessman and the entrepreneur.
As those who follow this blog regularly know, I recently railed against the mantra of media and the present government casting me and my confreres as evil doers. (See posting of October 25–Animal Spirits and Entrepreneurship) Most of the regulation and taxation and rhetoric of the last three years is aimed squarely at “millionaires and billionaires” like me, not at fat cats. (If they come looking for my millions and billions they will be sorely disappointed.)
I personally quite agree with Occupy Wall Street about payoffs and bailouts to the big banks. But why is the practical result of this animosity punitive to creative small capitalists? Why not Jeffrey Immelt, John Corzine, Ken Chenault, George Kaiser, et. al., oligarchs who led companies that paid no tax while reaping huge government benefits? Why me, dammit?
So what did I unexpectedly find in a book at my church fair? A profound quote from Adam Smith, Frederick Hayeck, or Milton Friedman? Nah. I discovered an answer to Occupy Wall Street in these simple words from Abraham Lincoln, written just before his assasination. (Quoted by Carl Van Doren in a 1942 compilation called, The Literary Works of Abraham Lincoln.)
“The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations and tongues, and kindreds. Nor should this lead to a war upon property, or the owners of property. Property is the fruit of labor; property is desirable; it is a positive good in the world. That one should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.”
Abraham Lincoln, philosopher of entrepreneurship. Thanks, Abe.