Extract from Capitalism & Commerce
by Dr. Edward Younkins
Professor of Accountancy and Business Administration at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia and author of Capitalism and Commerce.
Chapter 12 Business
A sense of suspicion and grudging tolerance looms over business. America is culturally prejudiced against commerce. Anticapitalist ideas have had a dramatic impact in this country. Business and businessmen have been maligned as dishonest, unfair, greedy, insensitive, underhanded, evil, and morally deficient. Negative images have been promulgated for centuries by intellectuals, the Church, socialists, popular culture, storytellers, aristocrats, Supreme Court justices, historians, and others. The focus of business on profit and its preoccupation with prosperity and earthly happiness have been declaimed as immoral.
Certainly, there are bad businessmen just as there are bad men in other walks of life. Businessmen don't always act virtuously. Capitalism is simply a socioeconomic mechanism that permits individuals to act morally or immorally. Capitalism is, without doubt, much better than its image. Its economic freedom is consistent with underlying moral principles of life itself. Capitalism relies on a system of rewards and punishments that minimize coercion, prejudice, and irrationality in human relations. Business in a free society rewards businessmen who are honest, trustworthy, understanding, self-reliant, rational, and hard working. Whereas practices such as lying, deception, fraud, and theft might lead to short-term gains, such practices would certainly lead to ruin in the long run. The term society refers to voluntary interactions among consenting human beings. The market is a process of social cooperation, employing a division of labor, where people specialize in a variety of tasks in expectation of demand for the goods and services they produce. The business realm is thus a cooperative system of value-seeking individuals who produce and trade for mutual advantage.
Businessmen must be committed to reality. After scientists and engineers uncover new knowledge, it is the task of the businessman to determine how to use that knowledge. Rational thinking is the cause of wealth production. The businessman searches for opportunities and combines land, labor, and capital to create wealth. The market creates benefits in the form of new and better products and lower prices. A businessman benefits only by offering goods and services that others are willing to buy. If he does not cater to the desires of others, he will not prosper. He enables others to attain what they want and to pursue their visions of happiness. The businessman is an appropriate symbol of a free society. Capitalism inspires business behavior that is prudent, diligent, prescient, innovative, imaginative, and virtuous. The successful businessman must be a risk-taking man of ideas and moral action. ...
Business Is a Noble Calling
Although businessmen represent one of the leadership groups in society, they tend to feel uneasy, self-conscious, and even guilty about their positions. After all, Western culture has frequently derided and criticized the free enterprise system and generally holds business in low esteem. Although the benefits of business are welcomed, there has been a general predilection for people to begrudge productivity and those who cause it. As a result, many businessmen believe that if they are to earn respect, they must do so by doing more than performing well in' business. Many attempt to prove their value by "giving back" to education, the arts, the community, etc. There is a tendency to defend their profession by pointing to socially responsible activities such as charity and philanthropy or to external consequences of their commercial activities such as jobs created or taxes paid to the government.
The goal of many business critics appears to bring down the more able to the level of the less able and to make the producers feel unearned guilt for their accomplishments. This envy can be viewed as an egalitarian outcry against the reality of individual differences in abilities, attainments, and rewards. These critics appear to be opposed to the departure of business and the free market from their unattainable ideals of egalitarianism and collectivism. They also do not like the fact that capitalism permits moral pluralism. Many social critics would prefer a universal ethical code imposed by fiat or at least by consensus.
Most professionals are viewed mainly in terms of services provided and only secondarily in terms of their profits. Businessmen, on the other hand, are primarily perceived in terms of their profits. Many people do not seem to understand that to be a businessman is to serve others. Businesses must satisfy their customers if they are to survive. Service is a prerequisite of profit. Businessmen create goods and services for themselves and others. Every product and service that sustains and improves human lives is made possible by the world's creators. Businessmen should take pride in their achievements and their virtues of rational thought and productive work that make them possible. Business is a noble calling. There is no justified reason for an honest businessman to be ashamed of his profession or to feel guilty about his earnings.
Too many misconceptions and misstatements have been disseminated about business. Business has rarely been treated fairly or accurately. We need to proclaim the truth about business. Many Americans are uninformed about the workings of business, the free-market system, and the nature of government powers. They have not been taught the concepts underpinning free enterprise. Many do not realize that the American economy has moved away from capitalism and, thus, they frequently blame capitalism and businessmen for faults of the "mixed economy." Each of us needs to do our part in words and deeds to improve the image of business and the businessman. Our goal should be to match the image of free enterprise with its reality.