Elgin Hushbeck – Question 6 (Profit) – Answer
For we do not aim to be rich merely for our own sakes, but for the sake of our children, our neighbors, friends and most of all, for our community. For the private fortunes of individuals are the wealth of the state. (Cicero, De Officiis)
St. Thomas Aquinas cites Augustine in saying “The businessman who is eager for profit blasphemes at his losses, and he lies and swears falsely over the price of his goods. These, however, are the vices of the businessman himself, not of business in general, which can be conducted without these vices” (Summa Theologica II-II, 77, 4)
For more of what could be considered my philosophical starting point, see here.
1.) What is the value of profit as a motive for action in the marketplace and competition as a regulating force?
The theology of the scientific theory of evolution is one benefiting us here, I believe. “Life will find a way” is a statement common in movies about dinosaurs resurrected for our benefit and the creators’ profits. But, in this Hollywood statement are tenets of great philosophical struggles. Life will find a way.
Why must life find a way? Because the forces of non-life are always present and are the primary substance of the universe. As of yet, we have found life only on one planet, in one solar system, in one small part of the growing universe. Non-life is the constant of the universe. Yet, we have life.
“Find.” Find implies motive. We must find a way because it is natural. Competition and push-back are those things that drive us in our need to find a way to survive.
The same thing occurs with profit. Without the desire to live by what we make, we do not flourish as humans, but languish as natural beasts of the field. I believe in the concept of human flourishing, that of finding out who we are meant to be. I believe humans are naturally competitors. We compete against our siblings, against our schoolmates, and against one other in the pursuit of jobs, fame, and fortune. Profit and not material gain such as land, goats, and children is the modern goal of that pursuit. To deny, then, the pursuit of profit as a human need is to suggest we have somehow “become as the angels” have thus have need of nothing, not even love. The pursuit of profit is part of human flourishing.
At small levels, competition does present a regulating force; however, when profits are too large and thus power too easily bought, competition is easily snuffed out. Even Adam Smith knew this. When profits are kept low, competition is naturally occurring because more people are able to invest in order to achieve profits. Further, when profits are kept low, this means consumers have more money to spend. But, to keep them low, one must employ external forces, such as government regulations.
2.) Do you trust profit making organizations more than non-profit? Under what circumstances?
This is a rather difficult question to ask, given the wide range of organizations under those banners. Even non-profits must make money in order to say afloat.
I would venture to guess that the reasons many non-profits form as such are the tax laws. If we were to rectify them first, we might see the end of this dubious separation.
As far as a matter of trust, I do not think I can fully apply that term to a non-human entity. Corporations are not persons, my friend. I do, however, have different expectations for the two groups.