What did you have for breakfast today? If you’re like many Americans, you ate a bowl of cereal. And, perhaps, the man most responsible for breakfast cereal’s current popularity is Will Kellogg.
Though, at the end of his life, Will was a successful businessman and generous philanthropist, he spent much of his adulthood playing the flunky to his imperious and flamboyant older brother, John Harvey Kellogg. (J. H. was the founder of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a fashionable health spa for the glitterati at the turn of the century.) One day, while preparing breakfast (one of his many odd jobs), Will accidentally discovered how to make corn flakes. Will saw great potential in this recipe; J. H., however, saw no profit in it, preferring to focus on the management of his sanitarium. The brothers parted ways, and Will, at the age of forty-six, went into business for himself. Through a combination of creative advertising, innovative production techniques, and dogged commitment, Will Kellogg helped transform the way Americans, and now much of the world, eat breakfast.
Notice how Will Kellogg’s story highlights one aspect of capitalist morality; it encourages the development of practical virtue. The heart of capitalism is enterprise, and enterprise is a practical virtue, akin to prudence. The virtue of enterprise has two attributes. One is insight, the capacity to see what others miss, just as Will could see the potential in corn flakes and his older brother could not. The other is the ability to bring that insight into reality. It was not enough for Will only to see the potential in corn flakes; he had to do the hard work of producing, distributing, and advertising them.
Capitalism is morally superior to other economic orders because it tends to encourage practical virtue in those who participate in it. I thank you for the support that helps us present this ignored perspective on free markets to our future religious leaders.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico