What’s more important to you? Personal freedom or economic security? For a vast majority of individuals, I would say that economic security is more important that personal freedom. Freedom to do as one desires is generally a short-lived phase or temporary stint unless it has the backing of sound economics. People are often disappointed when life doesn’t turn out the way they dreamt it would be. In a vast majority of instances, dreams either die or go up in smoke due to one reason and one reason alone.
It makes no economic sense.
So many people hold ideals close to their hearts as though they were hard-truths and concrete facts. As leaders temper with life experience, they will–as a matter of course–realise that ideals are not workable solutions. A utopian society is a highly subjective phenomenon that perhaps only exists in one’s mind as a sanctuary. We are only permitted to return there for a temporary rest.
In the early years of entrepreneurship, it may be tempting to believe that the entrepreneur leaves it all up to fate–and perhaps the entrepreneur has no choice but to do so. But as a business puts roots down in the ground, entrepreneurs motivated by success will instead begin to plan a sound strategy instead of leaving it all up to the proverbial wheel of fortune.
While I’ve always believed that entrepreneurs are a creative economic force, we simply can’t leave it all up to them to drive the economy. We cannot know which way the wheel of fortune may turn. Entrepreneurship may lead to exponential returns but it can also lead to heavy losses or winding yourself knee deep in debt. It’s one of the reasons why in most countries the government plays an active role in the economic well-being of a country.
F. A. Hayek was an Austrian-British economist and philosopher who is best known for his defence of classical liberalism. As of 2020, his most popular work, The Road to Serfdom, has sold over 2.25 million copies.
Hayek defines socialism as a species of collectivism in which “the entrepreneur working for profit is replaced by a central planning body.” In a centrally planned economy, the reality is that the economic direction of a country requires certain jobs, industries and sectors to be prioritised over others. Consequently, access to other fields will be more difficult or restricted and will offer few opportunities for those who pursue a path that is not an economic priority for the state. In line with that, people are judged according to their ability and achievements in terms that are defined by those who spearhead the economic direction of a particular group of people.
As a business–or even a country–grows, working for personal satisfaction and freedom often takes a backseat. The new priority is working towards a goal that achieves benefits for a large (as opposed to a small) group of people. This requires sound judgment of a particular industry’s importance as an impetus for economic growth.
Moral leadership can change hearts and groom the spirit, but it is limited in creating economic success. To Aristotle, the purpose of politics was not to arrive at or even create the perfect system, but to construct an advantageous system with a limited number of disadvantages.
The Late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the Founding Father of Singapore, witnessed the early years of the welfare state during his time as a student in Britain. He noted how good intentions could go awry as state-funded systems increased and the pressure for ever more handouts sapped vibrant economies of the vigour that is necessary for economic growth.
In the case of a budding enterprise, the creation of a business culture is unequivocally seen as an imperative factor that leads to the success of an organisation. The Late Mr Lee cited the same when it came to the success of societies in general. In a 1967 speech he says, “I think you must have something in you to be a ‘have’ nation. You must want. This is the crucial thing. Before you must have, you must want to have… If they want that strongly enough, competition must act as an accelerator to the creation of modern, industrial, technological societies…”
Having identified culture as a key determinant in the success of societies, Lee believed that governments had a role to play in creating the right cultural ethos which would help it prosper materially. He also noted the limits of culture–and that while it is a factor in shaping the success stories we love–it did not fix destiny and remained mutable. Ebbs and flows are found in the stories of all societies and corporations and thus the role of leaders is to shape and imbue traits that improve its chances of success. This requires fostering an environment that pushes people to achieve their utmost best.
Without economic security, it is difficult to pursue the path of personal freedom. It is not that one is necessarily more important than the other, but that till the foundation of an enterprise–or even a nation–is set up for success, the path towards freedom remains a subjective ideal that will be hard to materialise. We don’t ever have to give up our ideals. We need only accept that they are a sanctuary for us to return to; and consequently can never be a workable solution when faced with facts, hard truths and unyielding realities that can neither be ignored nor evaded.