“Profit” is a dirty word in our modern discourse, reviled as a necessary evil at best and sure evidence of corruption otherwise. Mission statements flee from the word, describing all manner of corporate penance in restitution for making money. Consider the mission statement of Starbucks:
to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
Nothing in there about making money, it turns out. Of course, if they fail to remain profitable, their mission to inspire will soon end.
That’s not to suggest that a coffee company cannot “inspire and nurture the human spirit.” To the extent Starbucks customers find such inspiration in a cappuccino, they are willing to part with some of their hard-earned money in trade. While some may describe the prices which coffeehouses charge as theft, in truth nobody holds a gun to anyone’s head.
Why then the penance? Why the need to justify profit-making? Why must it be cloaked in missions to inspire the human spirit or foster sustainability or enrich the community? Aren’t the companies (and, more fundamentally, the individuals) who provide us values like smartphones and premium coffee earning the profit they make? Aren’t they providing us with something we’d rather have than the money we exchange for it? Why else would we agree to the trade?
Pondering such questions takes us beyond simply tolerating profit to fostering gratitude for the products in our lives. The feeling is one we intrinsically express every time we shake hands and say “thank you” upon completing a transaction. What are we thanking each other for? If one party is stealing from or exploiting the other, is thanks the proper expression? Of course not. The reason thanks is given is because both parties believe they have come away better off than they were before. The magic of the market is, they are both right!
Not only is gratitude an appropriate response to trade, it is justly owed. Yet our culture has devolved to the point where producers of value are derided rather than thanked. PJTV’s Bill Whittle expertly demonstrated the absurdity of this circumstance while speaking at last year’s Restoration Weekend.