Politicians and Entrepreneurs

When perusing much public discourse concerning those in government and those who, say, are businessmen and entrepreneurs, one of the more striking aspects is how their economic roles and motivations are viewed as the complete opposite for what they really are.

Even though their achievements may, from time to time, be lauded, the businessman, entrepreneur or capitalist is almost universally despised for what appear to be his motives of greed, selfishness and exploitation. Central to this is the profit-motive, a factor that seems to receive exclusive attention at the expense of any other. Yes, it is true that people are in business to make money, usually as much of it as possible. But this completely overlooks the fact that no businessman, in a genuinely free market, is in a position to force anyone to contribute to his income. He can earn a return on his investment only if he is able to devote, with accuracy, the scarce resources available to the most highly valued ends of consumers. Even if he is devoid of any charitable motivation or any emotive feeling towards the people whom he serves, at the very least he is required to have a superior empathetic understanding of their tastes and desires. If he fails in this regard then the result is not a bumper profit but an eye-watering loss. In a free market, all transactions between businesses, their customers and their employees are entirely voluntary. People enter voluntary transactions because they expect to be better off as a result of them. Nobody is therefore put into a worse position through his interaction with a business, or at least they do not expect to be.

Counter this with the view of the politician. Perusing any list of supposed motivations for state office, one would think that only those with an angelic disposition need apply. Not only are they expected to be selfless and altruistic, thinking only of their “people” and of their “nation”, they are also supposed to be utterly devoid of any kind of personal ambition. Asked whether he/she has any eye for high office, one is normally rebuffed with the rhetoric of “public service” and the apparent fact that the budding statesman is just there to “do his job”. In short, the implication is that government employment produces universally good and wonderful things that apparently require some kind of sacrifice for which there is very little reward.

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