It seems to me that this approach is born of a mistaken idea of the role of the entrepreneur and also of the capitalist system in which it operates. The entrepreneur is the one who commits his heritage for an uncertain future, the one that fights against adversity many times - often with an unfavorable regulatory framework-, the one that rises each morning with the desire to serve his customers seeking to satisfy their demands with the highest quality and the best price, naturally also in the hope of obtaining the greatest possible benefit. Profit is the prime interest of any businessman but this goal is not exclusive. A company is a cooperative cosmos that needs to meet and fulfill the aspirations of all who participate in it: shareholders, workers and consumers.
The logic conclusion therefore, is that entrepreneurs are not in debt to society. Absolutely. On the contrary, their genuine interest is to provide a service to others by nurturing their needs, often hidden. Entrepreneurs do not have to give anything back to society because they have already given everything they are capable of through their function of producing goods and services. This does not prevent, albeit perfectly compatible, altruism, which must always arise from detachment, from genuine interest in the fate of others which is inherent to capitalism.
The origin of some entrepreneurs’ “bad conscience”, which I mentioned earlier, has oft to do with a narrow interpretation of the personal interest. Already Adam Smith clarified that, in capitalism, the search for self-interest not only achieves the common good, but the system, by its own dynamics, induces people to behave generously with others. A generosity that has nothing to do (or at least not too much) with the demand of many, that the State - that is, the others - attend to the needs of certain sectors of the population. In fact, as the welfare state has been brutally amplified by the budget and taxes, the manifestations of the personal generosity of the history of humanity have been diminished. And so the altruism, so frequent in other times, that essentially virtuous attitude, has been replaced by the (let’s be honest here) coercive solidarity of taxes.
Fortunately, despite the somehow poisonous idea of the moral superiority of the State and the public, there are some brilliant examples of personal solidarity and detachment by distinguished businessmen. For example, Bill Gates, who through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation combat pandemics in Africa. Or Amancio Ortega, who recently the donation of 320 million for the purchase of equipment of diagnosis and treatment of the cancer in tens of Spanish public hospitals.
In my opinion, the debate that followed Mr. Ortega’s announcement of such generous donation in Spain was surprising if not outrageous. The levels of pettiness reached the point that the largest federation of users of Spanish public health asked not to accept Mr. Ortega’s millionaire donation: "It is not necessary to appeal, accept or thank the generosity, altruism or charity of any person or entity," said the federation in an official statement, adding: "We aspire to an adequate financing of the necessities through a progressive taxation that redistributes resources prioritizing the public health". But some went even further, incurring the insult to Mr. Ortega: "We cannot but blush from the shame of others." "We cannot accept this gesture, even less of who, being the largest shareholder of one of the largest companies and personal fortunes of the country, would have to demonstrate not his philanthropy but his contribution to the public treasury in proportion to its benefits and in the same proportion that the rest of the taxpayers".
I could not disagree more with the above valuations. As I expressed earlier, the entrepreneur perfectly and fully fulfills its social function producing goods and services –and there is no better example in Spain as Mr. Ortega as hard working, successful entrepreneur- and even though, that does not prevent, but generally promotes at the same time, his vocation to exercise altruism. The latter is an activity that does not require reward, which seeks no return, which is done spontaneously. I am sure Mr. Ortega (and thousands of others well-minded citizens, including myself), could never have imagined that PHILANTROPY, as it best, would give rise to an unusual revulsion.