A spot-on, beautifully articulated essay from Johan Norberg on the achievements and discontents of entrepreneurship, in the Winter 2007 issue of Cato’s Letter. I haven’t been able to find a plain text copy online, but here’s a PDF link. By all means, read the whole thing. It’s succinct, relevant, and well put.

Think about that heroic journey once again, and think of the persons I just talked about — people like you, thinkers, innovators, entrepreneurs. What makes it possible for us to buy equipment and goods from the other side of the world? Entrepreneurs face ancient traditions, political obstacles, taxes, and regulations, but they also have friends — people with access to capital, to knowledge, to other businesses. If they are lucky, entrepreneurs succeed. If not, they learn something new, make it even better the next time, and bring to the community something new that changes lives forever.

That is the heroic epic. The entrepreneur is the hero of our world. We do not really need the Frodos, the Luke Skywalkers, or the Buffy the Vampire Slayers. We have the Malcolm McLeans of the world.

But as you all know, that is not really what popular culture thinks of capitalists and entrepreneurs today. If you go to an average Hollywood movie, the hero is someone quite different.

The scientist and the capitalist are the enemies in most Hollywood productions. That is a bit ironic, because we would not have film technology if there were no scientists, and we would not have a film industry if it were not for the capitalists. But they are presented as villains.

Some anti-globalists and people opposed to free trade are now well-paid consultants who sit on the boards of big companies and tell them that what they do is really a bad thing and that they must accept much more corporate social responsibility. In their terms, corporate social responsibility means that what you have done so far is not social. It is not enough to create goods, services, and technologies that increase our life expectancies and save the lives of our children. No, you need to do something more. After making your profit, you need to give something back to society.

Give something back to society? As if the entrepreneurs and capitalists had stolen something that belonged to society that they have to give back! Profit is not something that we have to apologize for. Profit is proof that the capitalist has given something to society that it cherishes more than the material wealth it has given to the businessman.

I must emphasize that entrepreneurs should never be grateful for a society that gives them license to act, to dream, to innovate, and to create. I think that we, the society, should be grateful to the entrepreneur and to the businessman for what they do. Entrepreneurs are the heroes of our world — that despite the risks, the hard work, the hostility from society, the envy from neighbors, and state regulations, they keep on creating, they keep on producing and trading. Without them, nothing would be there.