The enemies of enterprise — from unions to bankers
First published in the Sunday Times on 16th August 2015.
There are certain elements in society who are holding entrepreneurs back. They are the ones who inhibit invention, demonise the profit motive, discourage growth, punish initiative and hinder progress. For some of these tribes, it is ideology that drives them; for others, it is venality or a hunger for influence.
I call these destructive elements the Enemies of Enterprise — and describe them below. It seems their mission in life is to stop all risk-taking, to scare and immiserate us — especially founders and owners of businesses.
- Socialist politicians. These are the legislators who would renationalise, introduce price controls, raise punitive taxes and increase onerous regulation. They are driven by a visceral hatred of capitalism and free markets, and want an ever-expanding state to control our lives more and more. As Voltaire said: “A multitude of laws in a country is like a great number of physicians, a sign of weakness and malady.” Socialists do not understand entrepreneurs or commerce, and suspect that anyone who has become rich must be a crook. They believe the answer to every problem lies in more state interference — and higher taxes to pay the bills.
- Unprincipled lawyers. These so-called learned professionals pursue dubious legal claims in the hope that the defendant, typically a company or an insurer, settles just to avoid the costs and hassle. Ambulance-chasing solicitors are a stain on our justice system. Every business owner has experience of this corrosive culture, which encourages bogus victims to invent loss in order to trawl for free money. The burden of litigation is one of America’s gravest challenges; we import this practice at our peril.
- Union bosses — fat-cat leaders who would like to shrivel Britain’s private sector and see its public sector expand remorselessly. They reward themselves fine salaries and pensions while attacking wealth creators. They display Luddite attitudes towards modernisation, fair union elections, reform of pensions and so forth. Principal paymasters of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, they would expect to issue orders to No 10 if the opposition were ever to gain power.
- Crony capitalists — those big business bosses who betray the principles of free enterprise with egregious remuneration packages, payoffs for failure and corrupt cartels. These “captains of industry” take no risks, save with other people’s money; their expertise lies in the sinister arts of office politics and lobbying government. Their actions offer tremendous ammunition for those who would do business down.
- Nimby disciples. Facilitators of decay in our surroundings, this volunteer breed are mainly engaged in preserving the past and stopping property development at all cost. They hunger to have Britain frozen as a twee period piece — and damn the prospects for the young, job creation and industry. They are small minded, selfish and hypocritical, spending their lives objecting to anything to do with change.
- Pessimist academics — left-wing university professors who specialise in a philosophy of decline. These are the Cassandras who persistently warn of apocalypse: the doomsday predictions about climate change; the terrifying impact of government austerity; the collapse of society if we leave the EU. Their inability to see a better future contradicts the entire run of human history, which shows a relentless improvement in living standards, freedom, education.
- Venal investment bankers — an elite too often characterised by bloated salaries and distorted priorities. Many of them see their corporate clients as stooges from which they can earn fees, rather than engines of job and wealth creation. They almost bankrupted the entire financial system in 2008 — yet virtually no one has gone to jail despite their negligence and reckless behaviour.
- Eurocrats — the armies of EU functionaries and legislators who justify their existence by manufacturing red tape on an industrial scale. They see the EU as a political project rather than an economic construct, and have no interest in democracy; their purpose is to increase their power and obliterate the idea of individual nations by any means necessary. They specialise in making business less competitive and efficient.
Of course, there are excellent members of each of these cadres — brave individuals who appreciate the struggle of those resilient souls who would risk everything to start a business. Some investment bankers do an excellent job; some lawyers help to grow enterprise, and so on. These characters are heroes, because they fight against the tide of their cohorts. They see that, without emerging innovators, there would be higher unemploy- ment, a shrunken tax take and a lower standard of living. They understand that obstacles to endeavour need to be dismantled, and entrepreneurs applauded, if we are to achieve our full potential as a society. Let us hope these heroes can vanquish the Enemies of Enterprise.