Documentary follows the ‘virtuous’ work of entrepreneurs
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.
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.