The Myth of Capitalism 8

The Myth of Capitalism 8

On Friday we discussed how “job creators” are not necessary for conducting the work of a decent society.

Today we will see that Capitalism’s prime directive, the profit motive, is in very great conflict with being decent and virtuous, because profit itself can be more enticing that the Good.

The profit motive conflicts with the Good

Profit, the highest good of Capitalism, can be pursued morally or immorally. There is nothing inherently good about profit, although, if you listen to some people talk about it, you would think it provides the existential reason for human life. How many times have you heard the vapid truism “The company exists to make profit for the shareholders,” uttered as if it were completely self-explanatory and needed no defense whatsoever? Is profit really the reason why anything exists? It is unquestionably good to make profit?

This is patently false. Decent people rightly regard some forms of profit-making as despicable—for instance, loan-sharking, dealing in life-destroying drugs, pimping, and any activity that harms others. Making profit is not a self-explanatory reason for the existence of any activity. At the very least, one would have to defend making a profit by showing that it is being done without harming others. And a decent person would want to show that it is being done while benefitting others.

On the other hand, it goes a bit too far to say that profit itself is inherently bad. People who say this are probably misremembering 1 Timothy 6:10, which does not say “money is the root of all evil,” bur rather, “love of money is the root of all evil.” As is usually the case regarding use of worldly goods, it is not things themselves that are wicked; it is our inner relation to the things that determines whether we are using them virtuously or wickedly.

Be that as it may, it is a commonplace both in life and in art that the allure of profit quickly tempts those who are weak in character to war against the Good. The many stories of corruption coming out of the most recent Wall Street collapse are proof of that. Once people start down the path to producing profit, they can easily lose all sense of right and wrong. Focused solely on the bottom line, aiming directly at the target of making as much money as is humanly possible, people like Jack Abramoff and Bernie Madoff get lost in a maze of rationalization and self-justification. They continue to pursue money instead of looking for the way out of the maze. Their judgment is impaired by the intoxication of ever stronger hits of profit.

There can be no doubt that the profit motive forcefully conflicts with the Good.

Tomorrow we will see how the profit motive degrades personal morality.

Until tomorrow, then.

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