Lefty-righty labels don’t apply to free enterprise any more

Plain Rhetoric
By Bill McQuarrie
October 19, 2016 - 9:00am Updated: November 14, 2016 - 11:20am

I’M SOMETIMES asked, as I was last week, about my bias to the left of the political spectrum.  Some may even be a bit confused, wondering how I can possibly write opinion pieces that don’t seem to align with traditional business conservatism.  After all, it states at the bottom of each column that I am an entrepreneur, so how, I’m asked, can a “free enterpriser” possibly be a “left winger”?

Let’s begin by saying I am not partial to the left wing, right wing tags.  Being labeled a winger on either side of the political fence has a tendency to further polarize opinions, expectations and discussions.  It’s a bit like tribalism where the rights, practices and ceremonies of your tribe leave no wiggle room for independent thinking, observation action or acceptance of another tribe. In the extreme it becomes a closed-minded approach version of ‘our way or the highway.’

As an example, the left-winger question of last week seems to imply that being a left leaning free enterprise kind of guy is a complete contradiction in terms and the blend is near impossible.  As a result, the obvious conclusion would be I’m either not a businessman or alternatively not the leftie our reader knows or imagines.  And I think it has more to do with the imagined left and therein lays the route cause of tribal conflict.

Having started over a dozen companies in the past 40 years, I think I can safely say I am an experienced free enterpriser. In fact, even in retirement, I can’t seem to stop and started and still operate two small businesses since I retired.

Throughout those 40 plus years in business I’ve seen and been involved in the best and worst of the free enterprise system.  I’ve seen the lust for money come to dominate people’s lives, destroy partnerships and take advantage of employees and clients.  I’ve also seen businesses with a social conscience and values, make good money and in the process also make their community and employee’s lives better.

I haven’t forsaken the free enterprise system because it’s within that system that I continue to make my own living.  However, I try not to do business at the expense of others and I do write about people or systems, or governments or companies that I see taking the opposite approach.

Think of me as an equal opportunity writer.  If there’s something I don’t feel makes sense, I will write about it regardless of anyone’s political persuasion.  It is just that I will view the ‘wrong’ through the filters of 40 years as an entrepreneur in combination with a strong social conscience developed over 60 plus years.

So there’s the background, which now brings us to the more important question.  Perhaps even more so given what we are witnessing in the run-up to the American election.  It’s there we are seeing the result of inflexible ideologies where you’ve got to be one or the other. That kind of rigid intolerance and an adherence to fixed tribal values has virtually paralyzed government, common sense and, dare I say, America.

So when I’m asked how can I be a free enterpriser while still subscribing to social values with outcomes that won’t necessarily benefit me, I say, “Why not?”  I mean it sure beats narrow-mindedness, fanaticism, injustice, discrimination and… well, you get the drift.

Is the cookie-cutter image of a successful entrepreneur so fixed in one’s mind as to believe she is unwilling to give a hand out or a hand up to someone else?  Is it all or nothing when it comes to personal gain and self-satisfaction?  Trump is the epitome of the sociopathic pursuit of self-gratification.

On the other hand, one of the richest men in the world, Bill Gates, has donated billions to his charitable foundation.  Warren Buffett, recently maligned by Trump, has willed his entire fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. JK Rowling got knocked off the Forbes Billionaire List because she’s given away so much of her fortune that her net worth dove well below the one billion mark.  Even good old Sir Elton John has donated almost $70 million to causes in need.  Other self-made millionaires and billionaires are following in their footsteps.

This is not small town entrepreneur/writer kind of stuff. These billionaires, all very successful business people, are showing definite signs of being “Left Wingers”… at least if your judgement is based upon archaic definitions from hundreds of years ago.

Bill McQuarrie is a Kamloops entrepreneur. He can be contacted at [email protected]. He tweets @mcrider1.