As Labor Day approaches, I find myself wondering why we don’t have a Capital Day as well. Of course, it wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of ever happening because, sadly, “capital” and “capitalist” are dirty words with just too many people. Besides, we already have too many holidays. I figure the last thing we need is to reduce economic output by skipping yet another day of work.
But with Columbus Day right around the corner, I’m pondering that holiday as well. It’s become controversial because, let’s face it, Columbus can be tied to some awfully unpleasant things that happened soon after his “discovery” of the New World. I get that.
On the other hand, Christopher Columbus was also one of the greatest risk-takers of all time. He basically went around Europe seeking venture capital to back a crazy idea – that he could access spice-rich Asia in the east by heading west and save time in the process. He was ridiculed by the “group-think” experts of the day who told him the voyage would take far longer than he believed, and that he and his crew would end up as shark food if he tried. So naturally he asked a lot in return: if he succeeded, he would get 10 percent of all revenues earned henceforth from the trade route he proposed (plus a very cool title — “Admiral of the Ocean Sea”).
Portugal rejected him, as did Spain, twice. He even asked the Ottomans, to no avail. Finally, on the third go-round, only after he threatened to appeal to France, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain finally provided the backing he needed. The rest is, well, history.
So, here’s my crazy idea: we retain the second Monday of October as a federal holiday, but we rename it Free Enterprise Day (Entrepreneurs’ Day?). It could be used to remind everyone of two realities that so many people just don’t seem to understand. The first is that getting rich doesn’t just happen to people — it requires a willingness to take a risk. The second is that in becoming successful, entrepreneurs create far more wealth for others than they accumulate for themselves.
Our schools could celebrate Free Enterprise Day by devoting some time to teach about the nature of risk-taking and how it benefits everyone, not just the wealthy. Students could learn all about famous entrepreneurs, such as Columbus, Elon Musk, Andrew Carnegie, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos — but also less-famous visionaries as well, such as Madame C.J. Walker, Robert Unanue and Robert L. Johnson. These folks had shortcomings, just like the rest of us. But too few of us possess their vision and their courage, for which they should be admired. Free Enterprise Day might just inspire a few more.