How Much Profit Do You Need?

Writing for The Huffington Post about the American health insurance industry, Bill Moyers and Michael Winship wonder, “Why is too much not enough?

Living in these United States, there comes a point at which you throw your hands up in exasperation and despair and ask a fundamental question or two: how much excess profit does corporate America really need? How much bigger do executive salaries and bonuses have to be, how many houses or jets or artworks can be crammed into a life?

Note the use of the word “excess” when complaining about profits. According to the authors, there can be a certain norm apparently over which profits may be considered “excessive” and thus immoral. They conveniently provide something of an objective standard according to which the “excessiveness” of profits may be measured: to own multiple homes, airplanes or works of art isn’t necessary, they argue, so if you’re working hard to buy that next Picasso, you should be ashamed of yourself!

Moyers and Winship go on to blast the insurance industry for making profits while people suffer and die, unable to afford medical care. They blame greed — the selfish pursuit of profit so typically associated with the morality of the businessman in a culture that loathes capitalism.

In popular usage, “selfishness” is understood as synonymous with evil. In conjures the image of the cigar-smoking industrialist who tramples over piles of helpless workers, turning massive profits at the expense of the people’s freedoms and rights. The precise meaning of “selfishness” however is simply: concern with one’s own interests.

In a society that values man’s natural rights to life and liberty — a society as the United States — each man is equally endowed with such rights, which is to say: to advance one’s life (by making money for instance) or to express one’s liberty at the expense of others is always wrong. Selfishness on itself however; the pursuit of happiness, is as essential to a free and virtuous society as the two aforementioned entitlements.

There is a stark and fundamental difference between the man who pursues his self-interest in terms of production and trade and the man who pursues it by robbery. The immorality of the robber is not his selfishness; it is not the pursuit of “excessive” profits — there is no such thing — nor an insatiable greed for more vacation homes in the Hamptons; his degredation is the violation of the inalienable rights of other men.

There is no such thing as an “excessive” profit if rightfully earned. Justice can never permit one man to decide for another what is proper or “necessary” for him to own. The only people with the power to determine the size of a businessman’s profits are the consumers who buy his products or don’t.

Comments

  1. “Living in these United States, there comes a point at which you throw your hands up in exasperation and despair and ask a fundamental question or two: how much excess profit does corporate America really need?”

    If our country is truly free then it is to be determined by the corporation itself.

    The government is already taxing individuals based on their income, which means on that level they are already defining excess. While simultaneously punishing people that are more fortunate or work harder.

  2. This is a comment from the article:

    “In my America, anyone willing to work a 40 hour week doing something that needs doing should receive a livable wage – enough to feed and clothe a modest-sized family in a decent home, own a reliable car, and send their kids to college if they choose. That’s the baseline. It’s affordable. We’re all to blame for losing it over the past 30 years, for letting them steal ti from under our noses.”

    The truth is, America is about equal opportunity, not equal outcome. There is no official baseline, the only baseline is what you make decide it is for yourself! That’s the beauty of true freedom.

    The USSR decided X number of rolls of toiler paper, X number of loaves of bread, etc was the appropriate baseline. Do you want the government to have the authority to regulate this stuff when they are likely to be just as or more excessive than the corporations and individuals? At least we do have the ability to stop supporting businesses and individuals.

  3. The complaint against corporate America is a moral one and it lies within the word alluded to in your writings- profit. The corporation was explicitly created with a single goal in mind: making a return on investment. Hence the common refrain of the critics “all they care about is making money”

    But those who condemn a corporation for making money cannot tell the difference between a businessman and a thief. They can’t or don’t recognize that making money is more difficult and different than fooling your victims. Its suffice to say that the success of a corporation is built on trust, quality and offering honest value for customers. Virtue not vice is the key to profitability.

    Contrary to the denunciations made making money is moral and rational. For a rational individual money is not an end in itself but the means to achieve other possible values. This is a crucial distinction because while the corporate body holds making profits as its goal the people who make it up do not. Every individual from CEO to entry level employee is voluntarily participating in what he judges to be in his best interests- own life and happiness.

    To me the corporation is essentially an American institution.

  4. anyone willing to work a 40 hour week doing something that needs doing

    “Needs doing”? According to whom?

    those who condemn a corporation for making money cannot tell the difference between a businessman and a thief.

    Exactly! That’s what I tried to allude it in my article as well. There is, in fact, a fundamental difference between the two, of course.

  5. “those who condemn a corporation for making money cannot tell the difference between a businessman and a thief.”

    But a clever businessman that convinces you into paying him for his product and/or services? Well it depends on what you mean by convince. If the business man lies, cheats or cons then they are more of a thief. But if they use attractive marketing and have a good value proposition, they are just being a good business person!

  6. Indeed. Of course, it’s difficult, at times, to tell the difference between aggressive marketing techniques and outright deceit, but the difference is there.

  7. But a clever businessman that convinces you into paying him for his product and/or services? Well it depends on what you mean by convince. If the business man lies, cheats or cons then they are more of a thief. But if they use attractive marketing and have a good value proposition, they are just being a good business person!

    thats why I mentioned that making money is moral and rational. It has to be otherwise your acting on whims and irrational premises. The first rule of money making is integrity. If the businessman attempts to fake reality in order to sell you a product then he is committing fraud and should be punished by the government.

    A rational businessman and a true capitalist however— unlike the whiny and spineless anti-capitalists of today— will value the trader principle. he or she will exchange value for value. that is what business is about. expression of values.