Rx for an Ailing Society

By Jim Whitt

If we view society as a patient in need of treatment, the doctor I would turn to would be Abraham Maslow, the psychologist most remembered for his hierarchy of needs. Although deceased, we don’t have to wonder what he’d say — he diagnosed the ailment and penned the prescribed cure many years ago:

“The difference between the great and good societies and the regressing, deteriorating societies is largely in terms of the entrepreneurial opportunity and the number of such people in the society. I think everyone would agree the most valuable 100 people to bring into a deteriorating society would not be 100 chemists, or politicians, or professors or engineers but rather 100 entrepreneurs.”

I think a thorough examination by Dr. Maslow would confirm the health of our once great and good society is indeed deteriorating. It’s not just the economy. The economy is just a symptom of the disease of societal regression.

According to Wikipedia, an entrepreneur is a person who has possession of a new enterprise, venture or idea and assumes significant accountability for the inherent risks and the outcome. Most of us associate the first part of that definition with entrepreneurs — people with new ideas who launch new ventures. And that’s true. Entrepreneurs are the catalysts of capitalism. They create jobs and fuel growth. Entrepreneurs need one thing to do this — freedom. Freedom is what fuels the entrepreneurial spirit. Look at the world’s most repressive regimes and you won’t find entrepreneurs. They seek freedom.

The second part of Wikipedia’s definition is just as important. Entrepreneurs assume accountability. If they succeed, great! If they fail they accept the consequences. They pick themselves up, dust themselves off, get back on the horse and give it another go. If I were to point to the most obvious symptoms of the deterioration of society it is that we no longer value, promote and preserve freedom and accountability — the two sides of the entrepreneurial coin. Freedom and accountability are the building blocks of healthy economies and healthy societies.

While I don’t believe his intent was to denigrate chemists, politicians, professors and engineers Maslow knew that 100 entrepreneurs would infuse society with the attributes they possess themselves. It’s a safe bet that adding 100 politicians to the mix will not heal our deteriorating society but most likely accelerate the regression. Command and control bureaucracy is the greatest threat to the entrepreneurial spirit and conversely the entrepreneurial spirit is the greatest threat to command and control bureaucracy.

I’ll admit I’m biased because I am an entrepreneur. I’ve had the privilege of working for and with entrepreneurs. We love freedom, hate bureaucracy and assume accountability. I know Maslow is right. If we are to revive our deteriorating society we must start the cure immediately. If we give the patient a transfusion of the entrepreneurial spirit we’ll witness a miraculous recovery. It’s powerful medicine.

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