Matthew J. Brouillette
To say that Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s $44 billion purchase of Twitter has set the media and political worlds awhirl hardly does justice to the dueling elation and apoplexy on display.
But whether you believe the Musk-ification of Twitter will be the end of democracy or its salvation, at its root, Musk’s goal of taking the social media platform private and restoring the principles of free speech is a lesson in the power of entrepreneurship to shape American culture.
Consider that with one swift entrepreneurial-enabled move, Musk has positioned himself to transform an influential global platform used by more than 200 million people and increasingly known for its “content moderation,” or censorship, into a true “digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” Government didn’t do this. Entrepreneurship did.
This type of influence has been the legacy of entrepreneurs throughout American history.
From the days of entrepreneurs Robert Morris and Haym Salomon, who financed the American Revolution, to today, entrepreneurs have been the innovators, philanthropists and igniters of change.
It’s not hard to grasp why. Unlike government — whose only skin in the ga-me is someone else’s and whose failures typically re-ap the rewards of added fu-nding — entrepreneurs in-vest their time, money, reputations and lives to build something that will serve society. If society doesn’t see a need for the products or services offered, entrepreneurs must go back to the drawing board and try again. Only when they succeed do they reap the rewards. And in reaping, they remake the landscape of American business, politics, entertainment and more.
Consider, for example, Sam Walton’s passion for the retail industry, Andrew Carnegie’s visions of steel, Oprah Winfrey’s commitment to entertainment, Henry Ford’s drive to transform transportation, Jeff Bezos’s zeal for online shopping, or — dare I say — Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for real estate.
Their industry of choice may have been specific, but their influence, whether we approve or not, has been far broader.
And though often-maligned by anti-capitalists who ironically benefit from capitalism’s bounty, entrepreneurs throughout American history have used their wealth not simply for their own aggrandizement but for massive philanthr-opic efforts that span health care, education, human rights, and much more.
Yet, while today’s fam-ous entrepreneurs garner the most attention, the 31 million entrepreneurs who labor among us in communities across America also wield tremendous influence. The Elon Musks and Jeff Bezoses of the world may have the ear of the country’s leaders, but America’s community-based entrepreneurs have the ears of local, county and state leaders.
In my home state of Pennsylvania, I work every day with entrepreneurs who are committed to serving their employees and customers and to investing in their communities, bettering society and influencing public policy to advance the free markets that allowed them to succeed. And these entrepreneurs have successfully used their collective voice to advocate for expanding educational opportunity, improving business climates, advancing regulatory reform, and more. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2020/2021 U.S. Report, a product of Babson College, more than 65 percent of entrepreneurs in 2019 and 2020 said their motivation for starting a business is “to make a difference in the world.”
Without a doubt, Elon Musk’s many inventions and free-speech advocacy are making a difference in the world.
But no less important is the difference that millions of American entrepreneurs make every day, as they create jobs, innovate solutions to problems, take risks, and work to better their communities. That’s the power of entrepreneurship — both around the world and out every front door.