In Search of Leadership
From the Austrian School of Economics to its Chicago School descendent, it has been an article of faith that if left to its own devices the marketplace will perform more efficiently than if the government had anything to do with it. The rule of law, of course, should be upheld and deviant behavior—cheating, stealing, and misrepresentation—would be handled by courts of law.Businesses could rely on the government to step in when needed, not too often but forcefully enough to punish and deter potential abusers. According to this model, political (and legal) authorities play a reactive (rather than proactive) role. So who leads the marketplace? Is it Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” or “impartial spectator”? Are the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerman needed?
Leadership is defined in most cases in terms of the social influence a leader exerts over others so as to move them towards the accomplishment of a common goal, whether it be military or moral. In some cases, we have tried to transform battlefield leadership into politics, assuming that the one is a proving ground for the other (from Washington to Eisenhower). What about market leaders?Some argue that leadership grows organically when one company increases in size and importance and eventually sets the trends of the marketplace. Others suggest that trade organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, provide cooperative objectives that benefit all participants as a way of leading. And yet others are appalled by any claim for market leadership because it reeks of socialist-like planning that constricts the untethered competitive and entrepreneurial spirit.
When we think about our own microcosm, General Palmer and Spencer Penrose come to mind. In their respective ways, they have demonstrated how leadership in one field could be translated into founding a city and turning it into a mecca for prospectors as well as a health retreat for tuberculosis. Who are their successors today?We have plenty of former military leaders in our midst, some retired generals and colonels; we also have some entrepreneurs for whom the city has been a source of wealth. Are they stepping up? Have they done more than field surrogates whose own statures aren’t up to par? Perhaps the conditions of a century ago don’t fit the present.
To begin with, the city’s reliance on government largesse flies in the face of its claims for conservative ideals of small or no government. Between military bases and a growing population of retirees (with “entitlement” benefits, Social Security and Medicare), it seems that the city’s marketplace is relatively small.Second, if the city’s political leaders are indeed representing the sentiments of their conservative constituents, why aren’t they allowing a more laissez-faire economic climate in the city? Why outlaw recreational marijuana retail shops?
Third, given a utilities monopoly and a choice to retain it as a municipal entity, there is no political oversight. Instead of the CSU serving its ratepayers and minimizing waste, it has become its own political power-house insulated from transparency and accountability. Would Palmer or Penrose tolerate this situation?Fourth, to promote economic growth, some forward-thinking and vision are required. Who, outside the embattled Mayor and the distant State authority, is leading the local charge for the City of Champions? If our local millionaires were more vocal in support, would the dysfunctional Council or Chamber of Commerce step in line?
Are the conditions nowadays so different from a century ago that no leadership can be expected? All we need to do is look at UCCS’ Chancellor as a leader. Perhaps her academic specialty gives her an edge; perhaps it’s the mountains where the university is perched that allows her to see farther; perhaps it’s just her DNA that makes her an effective leader. Whatever the reason, she leads.Is UCCS all alone in this visionary quest for greatness? Is the city happy to slumber in its complacent hibernation since the days of Palmer and Penrose? With a contracting federal budget, perhaps it’s time to focus on the athletic and health advantage of our altitude. And while the winter Olympics is fresh on our minds, it’s time to focus on doing more for the USOC’s headquarters here than anything else.
Wake up Colorado Springs! Every century we get an opportunity to remake ourselves. The City of Champions and the legalization of marijuana provide such opportunities. Since the “next Penrose” seems reluctant so far to do more than buy local gems (Broadmoor) or duds (Gazette), we have two choices: either implore someone to lead us to greatness or use what is within our reach to become a vital city that attracts young professionals to invest their energy here and now.
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com