Paradoxes of Free Market Ownership

The hero of the free market philosophy is surely the entrepreneur, the one who has the entrepreneurial spirit to start from small beginnings and build something not only with their own sweat, blood and creativity, but also by putting their own money at risk. They control and own. Most of them fail but a few succeed and go on to greater things, giving employment to large numbers and addressing some want or need in a uniquely satisfying way which assures their success. That is the free market hero; and socialism’s arch villain.

For example, Sir Martin Sorrell. Asked recently how he justified his multi-million pay packet, Sir Martin pointed out that WPP now employed thousands but he had started in a garage and had taken a risk. Ergo – he’s worth it!

Marx would have appreciated Sorrell’s point, but Marx was concerned that successful entrepreneur’s would come to dominate every industry and would, while they accumulated their wealth, continue to exploit working people, causing them ‘misery, agony … toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality and mental degradation.’ It might be a bit much to accuse Sir Martin of all that, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to be regarded as a ‘Mr Moneybags’, with all that that entails.

But the real arch villains of today, the bankers and hedge fund traders, though they may use the language of the entrepreneur, are in fact nothing of the kind. Mostly they started as controllers of other people’s money, rather than their own. Certainly they were not and never have been entrepreneurs. Mostly they controlled investment funds, rather than working units, and never put anything of their own at risk, till they got paid such vast sums they were unable to avoid it.

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