Opinion: A Critique Of Entrepreneurship

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Entrepreneurship qualities next to an illustration of global inequality 1% own 46% of world's wealth.
Entrepreneurship qualities next to an illustration of global inequality 1% own 46% of world's wealth. Original Image via: https://bit.ly/2oVGidY

If I’m being honest, I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist. My heroes include the painfully hilarious George Carlin, the remarkable award-winning journalist Chris Hedges, the insightful Karl Marx, the grandpa you wish you had Howard Zinn, and the absolutely incredible Noam Chomsky which is to say one, I don’t believe anything the government says.

Two, I’m skeptical of everything the governments and elites rally behind. There is almost nothing both groups agree on as much as the value of entrepreneurship and its capacity to solve our major problems including rising unemployment and poverty. So after much thought, I call BS.

Before we go any further, my credentials. I was an entrepreneur, in fact, my LinkedIn profile still refers to me as Founder/CEO, I know… Full of myself much? Let’s chalk it down to the folly of youth. I believed that entrepreneurship was the route to be taken by all thinking people towards success, pursuant to that I enrolled in an entrepreneurship course, a mini-MBA offered by Sinapis. I ‘graduated’ among the top 10 in my class and got to proceed to more intense guidance complete with industry experts serving as mentors. That was the gift for making it to the top ten. Armed with the knowledge I’d gained, I immediately quit my job and started a library with the money I’d saved while working. That experience has been critical in shaping my world view and evaluating the rhetoric around the subject of entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship = Business

There’s been a concerted effort to sanitize business by referring to it as entrepreneurship, and please let’s not introduce that increasingly popular idea that you can be an entrepreneur even though you’re employed by among others doing things like solving problems and taking initiative. That’s just working. It’s just doing your job well perhaps even going above and beyond. It’s not entrepreneurship.

Why is it that business needed to be sanitized? Business is a key component of capitalism. Capitalism has a singular driving force, the profit motive. Capitalism through business was always understood to be exploitative to the workers and wont to take advantage of the consumers as well. So rebranding business as entrepreneurship and problem solving for the benefit of the masses was necessary in order to change public opinion.

Noam Chomsky quotes female factory workers in the 19th century referring to it as “the new spirit of the age: gain wealth forgetting all but self.”

Entrepreneurship: Profits are better than wages

This has to be one of the most insidious and most abhorrent things about the propaganda surrounding entrepreneurship. Doubtless, you’ve seen graphics such as the one below and heard quotes like profits are better than wages by Jim Rohn or employment is working to make someone else’s dreams come true not yours.

Entrepreneurship - The Cashflow Quadrant
Image via: https://bit.ly/2CUN3SM

What does it say about the relationship between employer and employee and us that we just accept it and assume it normal that employers should benefit from the work of employees but that said employees should only just get a minute percentage of the profit they generate? What does it say about you and me, if our great ambition is to quit our jobs and stop working on another’s dream in order to work on our own and then go right ahead and employ others to help make our dreams come true?

If you think being employed has an oppressive quality to it then your conscience should bar you from employing another and putting them in that untenable situation. What’s good for the goose must be good for the gander. Correct me if I’m wrong but is it not true that whatever your investment of choice there will always be workers behind the scenes working to generate that passive income for you?

This whole line of thought is particularly troubling to me because no matter how we set up the world, everyone cannot run their own business or thing and avoid working on another’s dream. More people are employed and more people will always be employed than those that will be self-employed (until such a time as robots take all our jobs and we’re all on universal wage), does it then not make more sense for us to improve the conditions under which people work so that wages are equal to profits?

All the profits that are made should be shared relatively equally among those who helped generate said profit. The idea that profit belongs to the originator of the idea, aka entrepreneur, and not all those who actually brought it to fruition is a grave injustice that we inexplicably accept as normal.

Entrepreneurship: Solution to global poverty

The idea here is that if we have more enterprises particularly those that are socially conscious, we will put a massive dent in global poverty. This is demonstrably false. Global poverty persists not because of a deficiency in resources but because of greed, corporate greed. Corporations pull the wool over our eyes through CSR activities while they exploit their workers pitting them against each other in wage wars and destroy our environment. Check out this article on CSR and Philanthropy for more on that.

It is now common knowledge that Walmart one of the biggest corporations has staff that are perpetually on food stamps. Amazon, whose CEO is now the richest man in the world has employees who are grossly underpaid and overworked and forbidden from forming unions. When the staff of the highest grossing corporations are counted among the working poor and perpetually on food stamps, that becomes the biggest indictment against the idea that entrepreneurship will contribute to the ending of global poverty.

Then there’s Steve Jobs, one of our most celebrated entrepreneurs, his company Apple was found to have used child workers to cut on costs.  In other words, one of the poster-boys of entrepreneurship was actively taking advantage of and contributing to the growth of poverty even as he rose in rank to the top of the richest men lists.

Ending global poverty requires a change in our value system. People’s lives have to matter more than money. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., we must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Entrepreneurship: Pastor-preneur

This seems like the biggest oxymoron of all time? What relationship is there between light and darkness? Between God and mammon? Jesus kicked the people conducting business in the temple out. The church used to be at the forefront of calling out the powerful on their oppressive activities. The Latin American church preached a revolutionary Liberation Theology that made them so unpopular with the elite including business and the government that some of them were killed.

Now, the gospel is all about how God wants you to be rich, you. It used to be the gospel was about setting the captives free. It used to be about denying yourself for the greater good. The prophets of old were not rich men, they were people with a shinjokai (price) on their heads and occasionally had their heads actually cut off for their trouble. That’s what it used to be. Now pastors are at the forefront of the prosperity, accumulate gospel. In the words of Chris Hedges, ‘You don’t have to go to theology school to know that Jesus did not die for you to be rich.’

It’s a pity.

Entrepreneurship: Inequality

One of the staples in entrepreneurship books is the power of positive thinking: yes you can do it, just work hard, the only person standing in your way is you.

In the words of Darren Hardy, the editor of Success Magazine, we’re all self-made men but only the successful will admit it. Essentially the point is if you’re rich it’s on you and if you’re poor it’s on you just as much. This is what Chris Hedges refers to as magical thinking that completely ignores reality.

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell addresses this idea of success as being this thing that the individual does through discipline and iron will. He says, “the tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured.”

To ignore the circumstances outside of people’s control in determining success or failure is downright deceptive with a touch of wickedness. Inequality breeds inequality and entrepreneurship being touted as this thing a hardworking lone ranger does thus deserving all the spoils only serves to worsen the situation.

I no longer consider entrepreneurship this big solution to the global problems we face. I believe the change that’s required is a radical shift in our values. Sure, we need businesses, but we also need an appreciation of the problems inherent in this profit-driven system then perhaps we can begin to design better ways of living and working together. Ways that place a premium value on people’s lives and not the generation of wealth at the expense of all else.

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