An Entrepreneur’s Biggest Competitor: The Government

On Friday I had the opportunity to tag along with two movie critics to watch Atlas ShruggedThe movie is based on the cult-classic by Ayn Rand, a troubled and dysfunctional person in real life and in her writings, an atheist famous for her “virtue of selfishness.” I’m not advocating the movie (it’s actually a B-grade, poorly done piece), but instead I want to highlight one of her themes that I find most interesting – and disturbing:

The government is a competitor to private industry, and it thwarts creativity, the very thing that empowers a private sector.

Yesterday’s blog post posed a question: Do you feel like government HELPS or HINDERS your ability to create? Answers varied (read the post here). Personally, I believe it hinders it. Big time. Let me give you my personal example, then explain how despite the hard work it takes to compete against the public sector, the resistance is the better life to live. 

The 501(c)3 organization I started 12 years ago is a good example: Training Minds. The coaches and I run debate camps across the country, all meant to “train minds for action,” particularly through academic debate.

Who would you suppose is my biggest competitor? Don’t miss the elephant in the room: the government. I sell mostly to homeschools and private schools, while the public schools have a lock on the market. They have their own league, their own curriculum, their own coaches. I have tried to serve kids in the public schools over the years, but when stacked up against what the government offers, the weight of the competition thwarts my enthusiasm. I’d rather create on my own with a smaller market.

Nationalized education is just as difficult to work in as nationalized steel and coal industry (where the plot of Atlas Shrugged resides). Government grants for education is in the billions, and every single grant has strings attached. I entertained myself years ago and considered applying for a government grant. I was surprised at the hundreds and thousands of dollars available to me if I were to liberalize my message to promote something the government decided was worth promoting.

Thinking, speaking and persuading was difficult to find support. Go figure. “Training minds for action” didn’t have a grant available, so I had to be creative. If I wanted to develop a curriculum to help save polar bears, or help bring Native American awareness to inner cities, or educate people on the benefits of solar and wind power – I would have ample funding. A good deal of time was spent searching through the “opportunities” for government funding. For a short while, I considered changing my educational objectives in order to gain the funding.

Then I realized: I was being pushed around by government. 

I was adapting to the desires of big government, not the creative ingenuity that I was created to advocate.

And money was the lure. It was subtle, but I realized it and “shrugged” it off, refusing to bend my organization to the whims of government. Today Training Minds does great work for kids all across the country. But I could have changed the direction and its purpose years ago at the bidding call of bureaucracy that tempted me to follow its idea of what is more important for kids.

For what? Money. The government has boatloads of it – none of it theirs, mind you, but they operate as if it is – and they create educational powerhouses that ultimately compete for the minds of the children of America.

Do you see my point? It is difficult to measure the opportunities lost. On the one hand you could argue that I let go of hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have made growth much easier. But on the other hand, I would have had to change the direction of the organization to do so, pouring in resources and energy that would have taken away from “training minds for action.”

Question: Have you felt the “encroachment” of government in the work that you do?

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • RickStevens

    I don’t know if I find the government to be an unfair competitor or more along the lines of the “stifler of creativity”. Many times, there are excellent ideas that need funding in order to get off the ground. However, the creativity of the concept is such that no one has developed a grant program for it and won’t adjust the “rules” to include any new ideas. Generally, anywhere I have seen government “oversight” of something, the creativity of it has been sucked completely out. The last school that I taught at challenged us to be creative in how we taught our classes, but in order to use that creativity, we had to go through a process that evaluated us on whether we conducted the research to determine if the new method was effective elsewhere, then had to share that research with at least one other colleague who taught our subject and two who did not. Next, we had to write a proposal for how it would impact the classroom outcomes, how it would affect the overall test scores of our students. This proposal was to go in front of the Steering Committee, then in front of the School Accountability Committee and, if both of those committees approved, it would go before the entire district for a “vote”. All because I want to find and implement a new way to teach something in my classroom. Needless to say, there was much lipservice paid to being creative or “innovative” and little to nothing that actually happened.

  • jess

    Interesting to see a debate teacher used such terrible lines of reasoning. Your prejudices are showing. What proof did you have that a curriculum about polar bears would get a grant?

    I work in a public school, in a very liberal school district. Our curriculum emphasizes evidence based writing, research and developing arguments using text. Even my first grade students have to use text to base their opinions and arguments. This curriculum is being adopted all over the country and is very popular because it promotes higher level thinking.

    I find that homeschooling/private school curriculum by comparison to be often lacking in oversight which leads to poor quality instruction

    I also started a debate club last year. I suspect the biggest obstacle for me to even consider buying a debate curriculum is that our school has no budget for clubs or extras.

    • Gosh, Jess. You’re throwing a lot at me in this one post. I’m interested in your debate club, and your reference to the “very popular” text-based curriculum. Can you post some links?