The Moral Imperative of Profit

If you’ve been paying any attention to politics lately, it seems like the nation has slid into the pages of a George Orwell or Ayn Rand novel. Capitalism is under attack from demagogues on all sides of the ideological spectrum. Business has never been more demonized and profitability has never been more derided. Our nation’s leaders are acting as though businesspeople should be ashamed of making a profit.

Enough! Profitability isn’t shameful. It’s moral. The ethical generation of profit is a business’ single most moral act.

Businesses don’t exist to create jobs. They exist to maximize shareholder value and that requires profitability. Grow a profitable business and job creation naturally occurs. Fail and jobs cease to exist.

Samuel Gompers, one of the founders of America’s organized labor movement said, “The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.”

How can a union guy understand what America’s political elite fail to comprehend? Gompers learned and practiced a trade before becoming a union organizer. Unlike academics, professional politicians, and many of today’s labor leaders, Gompers once held a real job. He saw how business worked. Plus, he was a capitalist, correctly believing that the lot of the working man was better under capitalism than socialism.

To Gompers, profit was moral. Profit was imperative. He was correct. Profit is both moral and imperative.

Do you doubt the morality of profit? In Christ’s Parable of the Talents, which appears in the books of Matthew and Luke, the servants who doubled their master’s capital were praised and rewarded with more gold and responsibility. Yet, the servant who did nothing with the capital entrusted to him was called wicked and lazy and thrown out into the darkness.

Christ declared, “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

It sounds like Christ was a capitalist to me. Even if one argues that the parable was about faith, works, or stewardship, Christ used a business analogy that was comfortable to Him and His Disciples. Those who invest wisely and work hard, profit and prosper in accordance to their ability and fortune, which is praiseworthy. In other words, profitability is moral.

Furthermore, Christ didn’t set a limit. He didn’t say that a little profit is okay, but a LOT of profit… well, that’s just immoral. He did just the opposite. He noted that the greater the profit, the greater the servant’s reward and responsibility.

The Bible is the most moral book ever written. Nowhere does the Bible promote the virtue of poverty. When wealth and money are discussed, it’s usually in the context of how it’s earned and the importance one places on it. Solomon wrote numerous proverbs about creating wealth honestly and ethically.

Christ warned about coveting money. Paul encouraged generosity. David summed it up in the 62nd Psalm stating, “Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.”

The Bible doesn’t celebrate poverty. The celebration of poverty is not moral. It’s sad.

It’s the ethical pursuit of profitability that’s moral. It’s only when a business is profitable that it can pay employees and fund benefits. It’s only when it’s profitable that it can invest in future growth. It’s only when it’s profitable that it can pay suppliers. It’s only when it’s profitable that it can support the local community. It’s only when it’s profitable that it can pay taxes. It’s only when it’s profitable that it can reward investors.

This seems obvious. That’s why it’s stunning to hear the anti-capitalist rhetoric from our nation’s leaders. It’s the pursuit of profit that fuels the pursuit of innovation, improvement, and wealth creation. Absent, the profit motive, society stagnates.

When everyone lines up to collect their take from a business, the investor finds himself standing last in line. Given the risk, why should an investor bother? Why not keep the money safe? In a word, he seeks to profit.

It’s the pursuit of profit that lures wealth from safety towards the risk of new business ventures. The greater the risk, the greater potential for profit must be to attract investment. When investments are made without an eye towards profit, the result is Solyndra. It’s the Travant. It’s the Chevy Volt, which no one seems to want despite a quarter of a million subsidy per vehicle shipped.

As businesspeople, take pride in your profitability. Shame rests not with you, but with the protesters and politicians deriding capitalism and free enterprise.

Solomon had something to say about the results of real work versus the results of political rhetoric. In Proverbs 14:23, he wrote, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”

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