Profit: The Human Side of the Free Market

[To see why Christians especially have an obligation to be value creators and to promote profit within an economic system, read the “Parable of the Talents,” in Matthew 25:14-30.”  Notice that the master in the parable heaps reward upon the men who created value with the money that he entrusted to them instead of redistributing it to the other man who merely hid his talent in the ground.]

Something that really annoys me is when people talk about how the free market “dehumanizes” individuals.  Often, you’ll hear people complain that capitalism has turned everything into a commercial.  All of life is subject to the forces of profit.  Sure, we are richer, but in the process we’re turned into programmed robots that evaluate life through a series of formulae that center around the ever-elusive variable M: money.   Wouldn’t it be nice if we all were more in touch with ourselves and each other instead of scrambling madly through the rat race of life?

This all sounds great.  Most importantly, it connects with people’s experiences.  We’ve all (presumably) been in that situation where a friend is not paying attention because they’re texting someone else.  We all know people who are addicted to social networking.  We all have probably reproached ourselves many times for our overconsumption of technology.

But, if this is our attitude, the problem is that we’ve got everything upset down!

No other economic system provides a way for millions of complete strangers to provide for each other’s needs and wants in a way that incentivizes service in return for profit.  I was reminded of this today when I forgot to take my lunch to work.  I had cooked some pasta for dinner yesterday night and I put the leftovers in the refrigerator to take to work today.  Unfortunately, I packed my sides and my drink without actually packing the pasta!  So when lunchtime came, to my chagrin, I opened my lunch bag to find out I only had a few snacks, but no real meal.

So, I decided to go grab something cheap that could serve as a main course for my lunch.  In order to make sure that I accomplished my goal in the most “human” and invigorating way possible, I tore up the brick sidewalk next to the building where I work and planted some grain.   While I waited for it to grow, with all the skill of Katniss Everdeen, Hawkeye, and Legolas combined, I shot a rabbit with a bow and arrow.  I returned to work with a full belly and a triumphant feeling that I had completely provided for my own lunch myself.  It was amazing…

Actually, the story is not so enthralling.  When all was said and done, I merely took the elevator downstairs, trudged down the street a few blocks, walked into Wendy’s, and bought a couple of burgers off of their value menu.

But I was hit with a startling realization as I was standing in line at Wendy’s.  In a non-capitalist system, I would have had to take a much more drastic measure to guarantee the satisfaction of my lunchtime hunger.  I would have had to rely on someone to hand me food out of the goodness of their heart or I would have had to shoot a rabbit for myself.

But because of the possibility of profit under a free price system, I was able to walk down the street into a building run by total strangers, ask for some food, and have it given to me.  In exchange, I merely handed over a couple of dollars.  In the end, we both benefitted.  My money goes towards Wendy’s revenue, which is dispersed back through its CEO, its store managers, and its laborers (and unfortunately, to the parasite known as the government, but that’s outside of the scope of this post).  I didn’t plan for my lunch not to be packed and nobody at Wendy’s ever planned to serve me specifically because I forgot my lunch.

Yet, it was there when I needed it because the possibility of serving me and others like me produces profits for Wendy’s.  No central planner determined that there needed to be a restaurant near where I work, but Wendy’s (and many others) have figured out a way to make a profit by satisfying consumer needs and wants.

This is how a market economy works.  It takes total strangers who never knew each other, who probably have different religious, political, and ethnic backgrounds, and causes them to serve each other.  There is no political solution, no central plan, no government mandate that can provide this kind of alliance between people to help each other combat the dangers and uncertainties of life’s hardships.

At this point, some would say that socialism could do that for us.  If we would all be willing to live for the community instead of for our own personal profit (an allegedly poisonous “bourgeoise” concept), then we all could progress toward social betterment as one whole.  Life would not be a blazing race for profit.  People would not be slaves of their budgets, their money, and their scarce time.   Technology would not displace the worker, would not displace face-to-face interactions, and would not displace our very souls.   It would be more human and our wants would be satisfied.

“Every day that we delay the extrication of our country from the wretched maze into which an aberration of mind has led it, takes us nearer and nearer to the abyss. Hence I say, ‘Down with the socialistic jail regime! Long live Liberty.’” – Eugen Richter, “Pictures of a Socialistic Future”

But that’s just the problem: to deny people their right (indeed, their very nature) to take satisfaction in the fruits of their labor is to dehumanize them.  It is to view them as a means to an end.  Instead of being viewed as people with souls that have the ability to freely create value, they are viewed as sheep that need to be led from pasture to pasture, as beings who do not deserve to think and provide for themselves.   When you outlaw the profit motive, you outlaw one of the very things that makes us human…you further outlaw the source of social cooperation.

And that’s when people really start to hate each other.  That’s when things become political and life becomes not about serving others but about getting the law to make others serve me.  That’s when starving masses get into line in order to just have a chance to get a half bowl of soup from the government’s kitchen service.  That’s when guns are used to keep people from escaping the country.   Slavery does not return humanity back to its “human-ness,” it destroys it.  If you don’t think this is the case, read Eugen Richter’s Pictures of a Socialist Future, a book that was written in the late 19th century prior to the rise of national socialism in Germany and the eventual domination of East Germany by the Soviets.  It’s chilling predictions became the dehumanizing reality for millions of Europeans, Russians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and more.

Sure, the free market isn’t perfect.  There are days when we’re tired and stressed.  There are days when we’re overburdened with commercials and technological gadgets.  There are days when we just want to lie in bed and not do anything.  There are days where we just want to go on a canoe trip or hike in the mountains.  These challenges are a part of being human…we cannot simply wish them away by turning our lives over to the benevolence of central planners.

But then, there are the days when we forget lunch.  When a tire on our car is blown.  When we’re glad we have the finances to pay for a good education.  When we get our checks on payday.

Then, we don’t rail against capitalism and property rights.   Curious, is it not?

So, for those days that you want to take off, work hard now–don’t think of the capitalist system as dehumanizing.  It’s easy to call something dehumanizing because it requires you to work hard and take responsibility for yourself.  Instead of complaining about the imperfections of a system that daily provides you with thousands of services made possible by millions of people on a global scale, be grateful that you have the opportunity to make an honest living by creating value for others.  If you’re annoyed by some of those services, don’t use them.  Turn them off.  But don’t demand that others around you be held to the same standard that you hold for yourself.

And in the meantime, build up some savings.  Provide for your financial security.  Then, when you can afford it, go on a vacation.  Turn off your laptop.  Enjoy yourself.  Work hard at serving others and then you can reward yourself.  After all, you earned it.

That’s the message of a free market economy.  That’s the message of liberty.  That’s the message of social cooperation.

Anything else is slavery.


About Jason Hughey View all posts by Jason Hughey

2 responses to “Profit: The Human Side of the Free Market

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