A legitimist ethos can enable economic growth to a degree, and can let individuals do the best they can. However, political values and institutions, essential to foster and support enterprising and hard-working individuals, are missing. So prosperity remains elusive for most in society—and, by extension, for the government.
Widespread prosperity requires a society to incorporate specificand create specific requiring greater self-awareness. These emerge with the .
The responsibility placed on each person increases. Each must know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses. Each must focus more on the wider social context in terms of its risks and its opportunities for earning a living. Without exception, each must be diligent, make efforts, persevere and following setbacks or failure pick themselves up and restart. Self-respect and social esteem is part of the reward of responding to such norms.
Axiom 1: A prosperous society develops through the efforts of each and all to be genuinely productive, which means… working to provide goods or services that others at home or abroad want to buy.
Axiom 2: Wealth is the quantity and quality of goods and services produced by work… and which people can purchase and consume at their discretion in accord with their means.
Note: Wealth is not money.
The above two Axioms are easier to accept than the next two, which may require changes in personal belief.
Axiom 3: People vary greatly in their ability and interests in regard to work because… each person is unique—that is just the way it is.
Axiom 4: The more that each person is enabled to use their abilities, the more innovative and prosperous the society becomes, because… every single person is a unique source of creativity and energy that seeks an outlet in a social context.
Markets are a common social good, enabling buyers and sellers to engage. In doing so they need to compete against each other in a self-interested but fair way. The urge to gain advantage by dishonest means is natural, so explicit regulation is essential.
If individuals can offer goods or services that others want at a price that produces a profit, then everyone benefits. The buyer, the seller and wider society. Adam Smith famously captured the notion of markets enabling social benefit to accrue through the individual pursuit of self-interest via his metaphor of the «invisible hand».
The social environment must be actively reconstructed by government to allow or provide fair markets: for labour, for capital, for objects, for food, for equities, for property, for aesthetic items, for time—indeed for anything scarce that a person may wish to acquire or may wish to provide for others.
Work is required to live, but enterprise is more than work. It is hard work to benefit oneself by serving the needs of others. Individuals are enterprising, not groups—even if employing many individuals in large organizations is needed for large enterprises.
People will only willingly become enterprising if:
As a result, the more people in society get something for nothing, the more that enterprise the work ethic is eroded.
People can be compelled to do manual work using threats, but it is near-impossible to compel people to be creative, enterprising, loyal, diligent or responsive to customers.
No-one can know the ability of another (or even themselves) in the absence of a challenge freely undertaken. So no-one should be arbitrarily denied work opportunities or market access on the basis of irrelevant factors like skin colour, gender, beliefs, disabilities &c
Governments must legislate and check:
Society must support, validate and celebrate the personal accumulation of wealth through enterprise and hard work. As Deng Xiao Ping announced to the Chinese when enterprise was being permitted in the economy: “To be rich is glorious!”
High achievers in all fields of activity should receive public admiration, as well as their monetary rewards. Treating achievers as «tall poppies», to be envied and cut down to size, is counter-productive.
Self-reliance involves an active rejection of dependency and infantilization. It means avoiding unnecessary conflict, and managing conflict by standing up for oneself. It assumes that each person must take risks that will sometimes lead to disappointments and losses.
Where life is a competitive battle with winners and losers, the need for self-reliance comes to the fore. Business depends on networking, so people can actively interact and exchange information. If an idea is good, people may start up new firms.
The feature shared by contractual relations (with their intrinsic obligations) and friendship (where obligation is rejected) is the self-reliance of the two parties.
Provision of Knowledge:
Business depends on trust and confidence, so:
means, above all, freedom from arbitrary interference (as enabled in the ). But to support enterprise and enable a maximally productive society, freedom must be affirmed and extended to include:
With freedom comes the responsibility to operate within societal constraints (the law), applicable to all equally.
In all enterprise there is unavoidable risk—risk that may be known or unknown, or even unknowable. Taking risks and being self-reliant requires. Each of us must:
To the degree that anyone falls short, they will be less successful.
More on the individualist ethos in practice:
More on wealth and money in society.
Recognize the social damage inevitably caused by the .
Originally posted: July 2009; Last updated: 27 Mar 2014