Doc­u­men­tary fol­lows the ‘vir­tu­ous’ work of en­trepreneurs

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Kevin Vance

Is cap­i­tal­ism es­sen­tially vir­tu­ous or vi­cious? An Ac­ton In­sti­tute doc­u­men­tary an­swers that ques­tion, iden­ti­fy­ing the en­tre­pre­neur­ial vo­ca­tion as a shadow of the creative work of God.

“The Call of the En­tre­pre­neur” high­lights three suc­cesses: a Michi­gan farmer, a big-city mer­chant banker and a Hong Kong me­dia mogul. All three men took ex­treme risks to cre­ate some­thing that would ben­e­fit their fam­i­lies and their com­mu­ni­ties. Brad Morgan took out a bank loan to buy land in Evart, Mich., and started a dairy farm that led the re­gion in milk pro­duc­tion for 10 years. In 1999, he altered his busi­ness strat­egy to re­flect fall­ing milk prices.

He be­gan com­post­ing and sell­ing the cow ma­nure that he once paid to have re­moved from his farm. He ini­tially was told that he could ex­pect only about $3 per yard of com­post, with pro­duc­tion costs of $9 per yard. But by found­ing Morgan Com­post­ing, Mr. Morgan was able to mar­ket and pro­duce a good prod­uct and sell it for a profit.

“To ques­tion de­vel­op­ing a new mar­ket­place for a prod­uct that hasn’t even been de­vel­oped yet [. . . ] I think peo­ple are pretty nar­row­minded when they draw the line that quick,” he said.

Frank Hanna is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of HBR Cap­i­tal, an in­vest­ment-man­age­ment firm. He and his brother learned about busi­ness by visit­ing their fa­ther’s rental prop­er­ties on Satur­days and mow­ing lawns. Mr. Hanna learned how to man­age and di­ver­sify risk to open the door to new busi­nesses. He de­fines his job as an “in­for­ma­tion gath­erer.”

“A cap­i­tal­ist gath­ers lots and lots of in­for­ma­tion,” he told the film­mak­ers. “And then at the end of the day, the cap­i­tal­ist makes a de­ci­sion as to where the cap­i­tal that he is a stew­ard of should be em­ployed.”

Mr. Hanna’s suc­cess as a man­ager of risk al­lows for lower in­ter- est rates, which in turn lets other en­trepreneurs cre­ate wealth.

Jimmy Lai is the founder of Next mag­a­zine and Ap­ple Daily in Hong Kong, where he found work af­ter es­cap­ing from com­mu­nist China. In 1967, he was in New York to learn about busi­ness when he at­tended a din­ner at a re­tired lawyer’s house.

“When I left, [my host] took a book from the book­shelf and gave it to me and said, ‘Read this; it’s good for you.’ And the book’s name was ‘The Road to Serf­dom’ by Friedrich Hayek,” Mr. Lai said.

That book and the 1989 mas­sacre at Tianan­men Square fun­da­men­tally af­fected the way Mr. Lai thought about free­dom, choice and com­merce. He ac­tively sup­ported the demo­cratic move­ment in main­land China from Hong Kong and be­came in­volved in the me­dia busi­ness.

The mag­a­zine he founded was crit­i­cal of the com­mu­nist regime. De­spite hav­ing to give up his cloth­ing busi­ness that had stores in China, Mr. Lai was “thrilled to be part of the in­sti­tu­tion that was de­liv­er­ing free­dom.”

The Ac­ton In­sti­tute hopes the doc­u­men­tary will crush the pop­u­lar myth of busi­ness as a “zero-sum game.”

“We see the golden eggs that are laid, and we think that if we can kill the golden goose we can get rid of the goose and get inside to all of the eggs,” Mr. Hanna said. “The fact is, when you kill the golden goose, you kill all the golden eggs, too.”

Jay Richards, the di­rec­tor of Ac­ton Me­dia, told an au­di­ence at a Her­itage Foun­da­tion screen­ing that the “point is that hu­man be­ings cre­ate wealth; it’s not a zero-sum game.”

The film ad­dresses the crit­ics of cap­i­tal­ism while ac­knowl­edg­ing that cap­i­tal­ism’s de­fend­ers are some­times too the­o­ret­i­cal. “The Call of the En­tre­pre­neur” dis­cusses as­pects of en­trepreneur­ship in “moral” terms sel­dom used by lib­er­tar­i­ans.

“We con­sider ‘God’ a pub­lic word,” Mr. Richards said.

“The moral as­pect of en­trepreneur­ship is that it re­quires cer­tain moral virtues if it’s go­ing to hap­pen. It re­quires per­sis­tence. It re­quires the abil­ity to be pa­tient,” said Samuel Gregg, au­thor of “The Com­mer­cial So­ci­ety.”

Rather than self­ish and greedy, en­trepreneur­ship es­sen­tially is di­rected to­ward the needs of con­sumers. “Like other calls, the work of the en­tre­pre­neur in­volves a spe­cific set of gifts,” Mr. Richards said at Her­itage. An en­tre­pre­neur must “take risks, pur­sue vi­sions in the hope of some fu­ture gain, and think about the needs and de­sires of oth­ers.”

The film links en­trepreneur­ship to the orig­i­nal cre­ation of God.

“There’s some­thing there embed­ded in the very ac­tion that speaks to us of the Cre­ation,” said Ac­ton In­sti­tute Pres­i­dent Robert Sirico. “To work with God in the con­tin­ued cre­ation of the world, what an awe­some vo­ca­tion that is.”

Mr. Richards said he re­al­ized that “the vis­ual medium is be­com­ing a uni­ver­sal lan­guage world­wide” and that Ac­ton could reach a much larger au­di­ence through film than through books.

“For me, it was sim­ply be­com­ing con­vinced that this was an im­por­tant way to com­mu­ni­cate and that those of us in the con­ser­va­tive and freemar­ket move­ment are, frankly, be­hind the curve on this.”

He said he hopes “The Call of the En­tre­pre­neur” achieves the dif­fi­cult task of mak­ing in­tel­lec­tual ar­gu­ments while telling com­pelling sto­ries.

The film has reached an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence: The doc­u­men­tary’s mes­sage res­onated with more than 500 Kenyan grad­u­ate stu­dents, aca­demics, busi­ness lead­ers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials dur­ing show­ings in Nairobi, the Kenyan cap­i­tal, and El­doret last month, Mr. Richards said.

The film’s of­fi­cial East Coast pre­miere will be in Wash­ing­ton at the Amer­i­can Film Re­nais­sance Fes­ti­val on Sept. 26.

Pho­to­graph pro­vided by Strath­more Univer­sity

In praise of a moral cap­i­tal­ism: “The Call of the En­tre­pre­neur” was pre­sented last month to more than 500 grad­u­ate stu­dents, aca­demics, busi­ness lead­ers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in Kenya.

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