Thursday, July 14, 2011

Business – good and bad.

Business is all about making money and that seems perfectly all right. After all, money allows us to buy what we want and what we need. More money allows us to satisfy more needs and desires.

But, off course, at some point, you run out of time to enjoy all the things that money can buy. Hedge fund managers who earn $10 or even $100 million a year will not be able to spend all that money and enjoy the goods 100 million can buy. You may own nine houses in different parts of the world, but how much time will you have to lounge on the veranda of your house in north India or overlooking a volcano in New Zealand?

Some people have more money then they can spend. So what do they do? They invest it in the hope of making more money.

Here we get to the heart of capitalist business: The central aim of capitalists is to make their capital grow, to lend out or invest money in order to get more back than paid out originally. Making money is no longer a means to a more leisurely and comfortable life. Making money becomes an end in itself.

But money, as we all know, does not buy happiness. Devoting life to making more and more money is throwing that life away. In the myth of Midas the ancient Greeks expressed that insight. Midas, having done a favor for the God Dionysius, was given a wish for anything he wanted. “I want that anything I touch turn into gold” said Midas without a second thought. The food he tried to eat, the child he caressed all turned to gold. Midas was the first capitalist.

But, obviously, making as much money as possible is not only bad for the capitalist but for many other persons affected by the frantic desire to grow their capital. We owe the 2008 financial meltdown to people who tried to grow their capital by taking excessive risks, to be born by other people.. We owe the export of American jobs to Asia to industrialists trying to grow their capital. We owe increasing inequality and, with it, increasing poverty to the capitalists' desire to make more and more money.

There is nothing wrong with making money, if that is not your main purpose in life.

Any sensible person knows that what they need is human connection, love, friendship, community, sharing of resources, ideas, and pleasure. Admiring the accomplishments of others, whether they be writers or artists or athletes and trying to do well oneself are very important. Money, sought for its own sake, is a distraction from all that.

A good life includes those values and enjoyments. A good life tries to provide those not just for oneself but also for others.

Good business enriches lives not pocket books. When you start a new project, you will need to ask yourself what it will cost and whether the money will be well spent as far as you could tell beforehand. But whether to undertake a project, one should not ask oneself whether it will grow one's capital, but whether it will make life better for someone. That includes asking oneself what it will be like to work in your new enterprise and what the effects of this new enterprise will be on our natural environment and our social environment.

All of this is merely elaborating on the old familiar slogan: “People before profits.”