On Profit and Loving Your Neighbor

This letter to the editor by Don Boudreaux contains some deep and profound truths, if you’ll take the time to reflect upon them. Here’s an excerpt:

“..because no private business (without special privileges granted by government) can force any consumer to buy its products – and because no private business (without special privileges granted by government) can prevent other businesses from competing for consumers’ dollars – no private business (without special privileges granted by government) can survive unless it supplies ‘products and services that make people’s lives better.'”

In a word, it is NOT “a mere occasional happenstance that the best way for businesses to make money is to supply goods and services that improve people’s lives.” Profit is so often a four letter word to many, but it is simply the money people freely give us because they value the good or service we provide more than they value their money, minus our costs for producing those goods and services.  Unfortunately, many markets do have government privileges granted to some suppliers over others, which skews how those markets work and how profits are distributed. Boudreaux notes, “…in private markets the profit motive generally drives businesses to seek ceaselessly and frantically for ways to supply outputs that improve people’s lives…”Profit leads perfect strangers to love and serve one another; without it, there would be little external incentive to provide for others; we would be cast solely on the mercy of others – which, as a believer in total depravity (and even though I do believe in common grace), I view as a doubtful proposition in general, for a sustained period of time.

One question that still floats in my mind is how the desire for profit, the desire to serve your neighbor, and the sin of greed interrelate. Is it always wrong to seek profit? Is a desire for money always greed? How would goods and services be provided apart from the profit motive? Would this be a more efficient system? I have some thoughts concerning these questions, but I’d love to hear any ideas others might have.

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