Each semester, we bring together more than 60 young leaders from across the country to participate in our internship program in DC. They are given the opportunity of practical experience working on policy research, marketing, and business, to training on marketing, blogging, and public speaking. Combine trips to the Pentagon, National Archives, and Mount Vernon with each intern’s individual talents and passion, and each Young Leaders Program graduate will leave Heritage equipped for success.
This semester, we challenged each member in the class to submit a personal story, and bring conservative principles to life. The winning piece is written by Jesse M. Crosson. Congratulations to all participants!
An Inspiring Tale of Good Old Fashioned Entrepreneurship
by Jesse M. Crosson
Baseball great Yogi Berra once advised, “Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.” Yogi’s remarks, though often humorous, remind us of a simple-but-monumental truth about human beings: we are often motivated most when our own benefit is at stake.
Conservatives understand this characteristic as an indispensable feature of a prosperous society. That is, without the drive of entrepreneurship, Americans would not enjoy products like the light bulb, iPod, or microwave oven. Yet despite such advances, many on the Left periodically criticize this drive as “greed” and constrict it with suffocating taxes and regulation. So the question arises: how can conservatives effectively respond, without reverting to dry economic explanations about “rational self-interest” and “utility maximization?” The answer: by reminding our fellow Americans of the many inspiring stories of American entrepreneurship—stories which, while beginning with “self-interest,” end with a vast promotion of the common good.
Consider youth pastor David Purdy. For the past 12 years, Pastor Purdy has devoted his life to volunteer work and spiritual guidance in local schools, churches, and other venues across Central Pennsylvania. Yet despite his selflessly philanthropic lifestyle, Pastor Purdy is also a successful businessman.
About six years ago, Pastor Purdy encountered the popular backyard/tailgating game of “cornhole” at a family reunion. Cornhole simply involved tossing cornbags (bean-bags filled with corn) at a hole cut in a board, and the game’s additive simplicity struck Purdy and his wife. Thus, Purdy and his wife decided to purchase a game set for their family and youth group. Cornhole sets were not cheap, however; so, they decided they would make their own. Purdy and his wife knew much more about drills and screws than they did about sewing machines and cloth, so Purdy determined he would purchase only the cornhole bags and make the boards himself.
But Pastor Purdy never bought the bags. Instead, realizing a set of 8 cornhole bags would cost him almost $30 after shipping, he decided to make the bags too. And after a quick trip to Jo-Ann Fabrics and the local feed mill (and an hour-long fight with his seldom-used sewing machine), Purdy found that he could make the bags for only a few dollars. Thus, he decided he would make an extra set of bags, to see if he too could sell them for over $20.
And sell he did.
Indeed, not only did Pastor Purdy sell his extra set, but he sold another, and another. And by the end of the week, he had convinced his wife to spend $100 (not an insignificant amount for a family of four, living on a youth pastor’s salary) for supplies for ten sets of bags. Pastor Purdy sold those too. The sales went so well, in fact, that Purdy set a goal of $1000 profit, in time to pay their upcoming property tax bill. They more than surpassed that goal. Within a few short weeks, Pastor Purdy and his wife created business around the production of cornhole bags.
Five-and-a-half years later, the Purdys’ business, BestCornBags.com, has grown immensely—producing, selling, and shipping thousands of cornbag sets a month. With that remarkable growth, they have extended their prosperity to their community. Their increases in production have benefited their raw-material and shipping providers—in this case, the local feed mill, local farmers, the US Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, duck cloth producers/wholesalers, and, recently, local real-estate agents. And, for our liberal friends, Pastor Purdy’s business has generated thousands of dollars in new tax revenues for the local, PA, and US governments.
But the benefits of Purdy’s business success have extended much further into his community than the typical gains associated with new businesses. With his proceeds, Purdy has donated thousands of dollars to his church and youth group, particularly in creating a new after-school hangout for local students. Furthermore, as perhaps one of the largest contributions of all, BestCornBags has provided gainful summer employment for many college and high-school students. Indeed, not only has the business funded large portions of several college educations (including that of this writer), but his positive-yet-challenging work atmosphere has taught his young workers the value of a hard day’s work—and the satisfaction it can bring.
Clearly, Purdy’s unique business experience has promoted the public good in countless ways. But one cannot forget the beginning of his story: Purdy’s business began with the all-American notion of self-betterment and entrepreneurial spirit. In a word, Purdy, like millions of other American entrepreneurs, began his business with the hope of “making a buck” for his family—to pay that $1000 property tax bill. But, through the miracle of the market, Purdy’s ‘self-interest’ resulted in nothing but positive outcomes for his community.
To be clear, not all stories of entrepreneurship are so positive. Some individuals are, in fact, ruthlessly greedy. But a survey of most American communities reveals that true avarice characterizes only a minority of our country’s entrepreneurship. Instead, it is Purdy’s experience which represents the majority of successful American business stories—self-interest only adding to the public good. And, it is precisely because of the prevalence of stories like Pastor Purdy’s that the US government should loosen its regulations on businesses (and lower taxes for such job-creators). Simply put, these great American entrepreneurs are not the greedy one-percenters that the Left might make them out to be. Rather, they are your cousin, your neighbor—your youth pastor—whose idea and hope for self-betterment resulted in the resounding promotion of America’s welfare.