The Right to Risk and Be Rewarded

Dec 15, 2014 - 9:00am

President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

What if failure was never an option in our country?

Thomas Edison might not have brought the world-changing advancement of electricity into our lives—he went through 1,000 failed attempts before achieving a successful prototype of the light bulb. Henry Ford might not have pioneered the assembly line and precipitated one of the most significant industrial transformations in history—his first two attempts to establish the Ford Motor Company collapsed under partner dispute and bankruptcy. Bill Gates might have missed out on important lessons, or even thrown in the towel, before founding Microsoft and helping make computing possible for the masses. His first venture was a flop.

Failure can be a critical ingredient of success. We need to preserve a culture that allows people to try, fall on their faces, get back up, and try again. And when their risks pay off, that success should be rewarded.

The right to take a risk and to reap its rewards is at the heart of our free enterprise system. It has driven innovation throughout our history and helped build and sustain a competitive, resilient economy. It creates capital for businesses and consumers alike and produces jobs and opportunities for American workers.

But that right is under threat by some leaders—from the left and the right—who discount, disparage, or distort the positive role of business in society today. It’s shocking how little many of our political leaders seem to understand the business system of this country, how capital is formed and multiplied, and how jobs are really created and paychecks are expanded.

Some politicians claim that business doesn’t really create jobs or build things. They promote the falsehood that success is a result of stepping on others and that wealth and profits are inherently evil. They wrongly believe that risk can be eliminated from our system without harming innovation, capital, and entrepreneurship.

Successful businesses are a good thing. Businesses that do well almost always do good—like giving folks the dignity of a job, bettering their communities, or giving to charities.

America needs successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople. It’s what drives stronger economic growth and puts people to work. It’s what keeps the American Dream alive and energizes our free enterprise system. It’s why we remain the envy of the world.

We need to remind ourselves, Congress, the White House, and the American people what made this country great. The United States is a land of opportunity, where all individuals can develop an idea, pursue a dream, succeed beyond their wildest expectations, and share opportunities with others.

And if at first they don’t succeed, they can try and try again.

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About the Author

About the Author

Thomas J. Donahue
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.