I think that one reason I’ve been depressed this Christmas season is that for a variety of reasons I haven’t been able to give presents. I’ve come to realize that for me, it isn’t what I got, but what I gave. Especially if I put a certain amount of effort into finding or making a unique gift. In this season, where far too much emphasis is placed on the getting rather than the giving.
Yet it’s the giving that’s important. There must be some reason that people make sacrifices to give stuff away. I think that the sacrifice part is key to understanding why we work so hard to give.
Giving feels good. This is fundamental. When we voluntarily give of ourselves we feel good about doing it. This is why people give to charities, or volunteer. It’s not guilt that gets us to give, it’s the endorphins we get from being good people.
The same sort of thing happens when we create. When you are going along creating something you get a buzz from just working along. It’s almost the same kind of high that drug users get without the drugs. When you are creating you enter into a different state of mind. It doesn’t seem to make much difference what you create.
Contrary to what progressives would have you believe, entrepreneurship actually is more about giving and creating than it is about taking an greed. That’s probably why so many entrepreneurs get right back in even after they’ve lost their shirts time and again. They want the rush they get from putting themselves into something, making it work and making all those customers happy.
The act of creation is how society gains knowledge and wealth, but if the creators of that knowledge just keep it to themselves or perhaps a small group of close associates. The true miracle of modern civilization is how much knowledge we share.
No one person has the sum total of knowledge. The only way to determine what the market is for an idea is to give the idea and yourself to the marketplace and see if people will reward you for it. For most people this is a very scary concept. It takes a special kind of empathy to give so much of yourself before expecting a reward. This is, though, the very thing that creates the wealth that the rest us take advantage of.
Wealth is not physical. Wealth only exists in our heads. All the minerals in the ground of North America did not make the native Americans rich. The native Americans lacked the knowledge that made the copper, iron, gold and all the rest valuable. Wealth is the result of ideas, not something physical. People of enterprise create those ideas and the wealth. They give that wealth, by and large to the rest of us. Even the richest of the great builders of the 19th Century, the men who became the wealthiest people ever, gave far more in the shape of railroads and industries, at cheap prices for the people to use. Without those men’s willingness to share their vision, none of the wealth that we Americans have would exist.
When you take too much, when you coerce and stifle the entrepreneur with miles of red tape and piles of petty taxes you remove the incentive for the entrepreneur to give. Instead he starts to see himself as a slave to a system that no longer provides the internal and physical rewards that make the giving worthwhile. So the entrepreneur stops giving and thus the wealth that once existed starts at first slowly and then much faster to disappear, in the end, what you have left looks like Camden NJ or Detroit. We should learn the lessons from those places before the rest of the country follows. Allow the rewards to flow and so will the giving and the wealth.