A Patron Saint for entrepreneurs
By Alberto Mingardi
In a Financial Times article, Luke Johnson searched for “a patron saint for entrepreneurs”. For Catholics, that’s Saint Homobonus. The fact that the patron saint of business is emphatically named “Good Man” is in itself remarkable, and should be reminded to those that support streams of Catholicism that basically consider engagement in business as per se incompatible with living a good life.
But what Johnson is really searching for are thinkers who could provide businessmen with strong intellectual ammunition in favor of their profession. In his column, he casts a vote for both Joseph Schumpeter and Adam Smith. There is a bit of an irony there: Schumpeter famously commented that Smith “if pressed,would not have denied that no business runs by itself”, as he pointed out that the entrepreneur was almost absent from The Wealth of Nations.
Another candidate would be
the novelist Ayn Rand, who wrote best-selling works such as Atlas Shrugged. She promoted the concept of a rugged form of individualism, as epitomised by her fictional heroes Howard Roark and John Galt. Each battled against the forces of collectivism and corporatism. Rand was an émigré from Russia, and forever found the appearance of Manhattan a demonstration of the power of human enterprise. In The Fountainhead she wrote, “I would give the greatest sunset in the world for the one sight of New York’s skyline. The shape and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need?” I find her books pretty unreadable, and many of her beliefs eccentric.
Johnson instead finds Friedrich Nietzsche more palatable, as “a fierce proponent of humans living to their full potential, and taking risks in life”. This is a rather surprising pick, for a patron saint of entrepreneurs.
I think Johnson deserves great credit for having added to his list Richard Cobden,
a British manufacturer who led the anti-corn law protests. He was one of the first enthusiasts for free trade, and believed that: “The progress of freedom depends more upon the maintenance of peace, the spread of commerce, and the diffusion of education, than upon the labours of cabinets and foreign offices.” It is a shame today’s politicians do not agree more with his perspective on world affairs.
I wholeheartedly agree.