In today’s society, the best-known entrepreneurs are the founders of tech giants. The origins of Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook are famous tales of how dreams transform into reality. While individual narratives tend to focus on hard work and personal connections, the greater story of how innovators are able to succeed is a tale often relegated to history books.
It’s easy not to question what led to our modern system. People who build their own company (tech or otherwise) take their current environment of secure property rights and open markets for granted, but life didn’t always look this way. It’s thanks to the early modern era in the West that societies transitioned from the aristocratic deal (“do what I say and I’ll let you work”) to the bourgeois deal (“leave me alone and I’ll make you rich”). Working in one’s own interest transitioned from a sign of bad character to a standard expectation for anyone aiming for commercial success.
The result? Greater wealth for everyone. Successful entrepreneurs explicitly seek to increase their own prosperity, yet they can often improve social welfare along the way. By mass producing items for a wide market and creating well-paying jobs, items considered luxuries a century ago (like automobiles and air conditioning) are easily accessible to the average household in America. Cutting edge technology filters down from inventors to masses thanks to profit-seeking entrepreneurs.
Today, anyone can be a merchant. Women and people of color can find liberation in ways once barred to them. They are able to embrace the maxim of an entrepreneurial culture: “We are rich because we are free.” Recognizing each individual’s right to self-author in a free market requires society to extend liberty and dignity to everyone. Prosperity can’t reach everyone unless everyone is empowered to innovate.