Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The World Goes by Itself

Sometimes, the link between the airy world of intellectual ideas and the practical job of building a business is hard to find. Sometimes, the link is as obvious as the history of a father and a son. For example, consider the idea of "laissez faire."

The term "laissez faire" has been around since the 18th century. Today, it is synonymous with "free market."

"Laissez faire" is just part of a longer phrase adopted by a group of 18th century free-market French intellectuals called the Physiocrats. The complete phrase is laissez faire, laissez passez, le monde va de lui-même.” That translates into English as "let do, let it pass, the world goes by itself."

Doesn't sound like much of business plan, does it? But wait. There's more.

The Physiocrats produced many famous names, one of which is pictured here. His name was Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours. In his book La Physiocratie, du Pont advocated low tariffs and free trade. Pierre believed that if the government would just get out the way, individuals could peacefully and spontaneously coordinate a world that "goes by itself."

After the French revolution, the DuPont family got into trouble because their political views weren't radical enough. Their printing business was ransacked and, for brief time, they were imprisoned.

In 1799, the family fled to the United States where their political views were mainstream. There, in 1802, Pierre's son E. I DuPont founded the E. I du Pont de Demours & Company, now one of the largest and most successful science and technology companies in the world.

What is the connection between the airy ideas of intellectuals and the practical world of business? Just this: ideas embedded in the cultural and political life of a country can either drive business talent away or allow it to flourish. The result is the difference between poverty and wealth, misery and the opportunity for happiness.

No comments: