A venture capitalist gave an unusually frank interview to NPR that made me think about how business operates. He gave honest answers to the interviewer's questions, which I found rare and unusual and made me appreciate him even though I loathe everything he stands for. Anyway, he argued against seeing businesses as "job creators," explaining that every business wants to avoid hiring people since that interferes with their basic objective of making money. He backed off from saying that we shouldn't give businesses perks to be "job creators"--he's not totally honest here--and said that we should still see business as the engine of growth and job creation in the long run, just reminding us that government can't force corporations to hire people since providing people with a livelihood and benefits is far from the interest of business. Business exists only to make a profit, dammit. How dare anyone ask anything else of them?
His comments dovetailed with my frequent and frustrating conversations with my father, about the necessity of the profit motive. He reiterates over and over again that without the goal of making money, no one would ever do anything. Everything good happens because someone wants to make a profit.
I have my differences with my father, to be sure; but if he ever in his life did anything to make a profit, he hid it well from me. Dad worked some jobs he didn't like to pay for college, sure, but then became a pastor and was one 24-7. He is a living refutation of people's "need" for profit. No one really requires him to go visit anyone who asks for it, any time of the day or night; when I was a child, we'd often hear him getting up at midnight or one to go to the hospital to comfort a grieving family, or to be with one of his hospice patients. When I hear of other pastors who have up-front prices for presiding a weddings or funerals or baptisms, I shudder a bit in horror; while he usually did get some sort of honorarium at such events, Dad would die of shame before charging anyone for church work.
What I am trying to say is that while he says he believes in profit, he has never, ever acted on that belief. This is the spirit in which my parents raised me--try to find something you can do that is good for the world, and someone can pay you for so you can live. I have struggled with much of my upbringing, but this I can embrace and thank my father for: he gave me an example of someone who does things because they are right, not because they are profitable, and encouraged me to do the same.
I agree with the aforementioned venture capitalist that business exists (right now, in our cultural climate) to make money. I disagree that this is right, or acceptable, or necessary. A healthy society cannot survive having organisms whose sole goal is to extract resources from their environment.
Now, as an anarchist, I am not actually against good business practices--if we redefine good business. No organization should be permitted to have profit as its only goal, and none of us should patronize or have to patronize such groups. This is totally different than encouraging innovation in the provision of goods and services. We should be free to pursue interesting ways of making a living that enrich society. The goals of providing tasty food and coffee to people and a nice place to sit and talk with peers, for example--those are fine goals. Growing food because people need it and you enjoy the process--good goal. Developing new medicine--good goal. Prompt service, quality products, medical care--providing all of these things are fine goals, and if people can make a good living doing those things, more power to them! But any time that people's lives are reduced to labor whose only purpose is to earn money, they are forced into prostitution. When profit is the motive, all else suffers--the employees, the customers/clients, those who are forced out of work and can no longer be employees OR customers.
This is why we need the Occupy Wall Street movement. We need to have spaces in which we consider how profit has seriously messed up our society, how our economy is not a process for providing goods and services and livelihoods to all, but a process for squeezing the lifeblood from all of us for the "benefit" of a few. Even for those few, what have they gained if they steal the whole world but lose their souls? Jesus warns of the evil in the love of money, and we must resist this love. At the risk of repetition--people are not for money! Money is for people!
If you are in Lawrence, join us at Occupy Lawrence on Saturday--12:00-3:00 in front of US Bank. (I will not be at this event, as we are visiting our newborn niece--the reason for trying to make a better world).