Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Tethered Man

Entrepreneurship is, I believe, the best vehicle for promoting classical liberal ideas, as opposed to focusing on theories of market economics. And Sweden would be a good place to target a pro-entrepreneurship campaign, given that it has become the archetypal social democratic paradise for many American liberals. It seems that some Swedish classical liberals are working on this; hopefully they will have success.

...Sweden has many of the prerequisites for being a good country for running a business. On the whole, one could say that Sweden has good infrastructure, limited corruption, political stability and high educated people. One factor that has made Sweden fall from being one of the richest countries to an average industrial country is policies that punish entrepreneurship.

But another factor is people’s attitude towards capitalism. Entrepreneurs are associated with greed rather than hard work and innovativeness; profit interests are automatically regarded as a destructive force. On a personal level, it isn’t OK to be openly proud of one's career successes. The Swedish dream is to be moderately successful. Anymore than that and people start looking down at you. When the social rewards for entrepreneurship are diminished in this way, fewer are attracted by the prospect of becoming a successful businessperson.

It is thus important not only to strive towards political reforms that open up the Swedish economy, but also to present a more positive view of entrepreneurship. Luckily the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise has launched the campaign “Fri Företagsamhet” (“Free Entrepreneurship”) to do just that; show the human face behind business and encourage people to themselves take up roles as entrepreneurs.

This campaign has an interesting historical background. During the seventies, one of the organizations that would later found the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise launched a campaign featuring “The tethered man” – a symbol of entrepreneurs struggling against a socialist system. During an age where the social democrats were working towards removing private ownership and putting all companies in the hands of the labour unions, the tethered man became a strong symbol for those who believed in ownership and a free economy.

Today the message is renewed. The tethered man has broken from his chains and is looking towards creating opportunities in a globalized world. Can this symbol of free enterprise change people’s perceptions of capitalism and capitalists? Can the tethered man transform Sweden into a country where it is no longer shameful to become rich, and where more people strive to do just that? A single campaign cannot change nation's attitude, but one can only hope that it will give a nudge in the right direction.

Nima Sanandaji is the president of the Swedish free market think tank Captus and publisher of the weekly online Swedish magazine Captus Tidning. He is also a PhD student at The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

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