Call me a businessman if you like; an entrepreneur, a capitalist even… but I am not a Ferengi, dedicated to grabbing as much of your money as I can, however I can.
If that was all I wanted, I’d be exploiting Washington and Wall Street, or maybe I’d see if I could wriggle my way into central banking.
And just in case some of you are not familiar with the term, the Ferengi are a fictional race of aliens in the Star Trek universe. They are characterized by a completely amoral obsession with profit. Here, to illustrate, are a few of their Rules of Acquisition:
The best deal is the one that makes the most profit.
Anything worth doing is worth doing for money.
A deal is a deal (is a deal)… until a better one comes along.
Expand or die.
Learn the customer’s weaknesses, so that you can better take advantage of him.
The reason I bring this up is that I have, for too many years, heard people repeating the slogan, “The job of a company’s management is to maximize profit for the stockholders.” If you want to define “profit” more broadly than currency units, the statement is okay, but I’ve very seldom heard it used that way.
If all that matters to you and your company are the Rules of Acquisition, you should be bribing politicians and marketing cocaine. And yes, sadly, there are companies whose managers believe in the Rules of Acquisition but are too slick to admit it.
I happen to think that business is much bigger and much better than that.
“Why Is the Hippie in Crypto?”
I manage a company called Cryptohippie, and this is a question I get from time to time, and I think the answer is illustrative:
The people who run our company decided on this name to make what we think is an important point. This is a humane mission for us and not about the maximization of profits. We all had other careers; we didn’t need to start the company. We did it because it needed to be done and because no one was doing it even remotely well.
We see profits as a tool, not as the sole purpose of our lives. And that’s my point today. There has to be something more to your business than profits alone, or else you may as well exploit human weaknesses, spread enough money around to secure profitable legislation, and pay off whatever enforcers you need to.
I believe the contrary: that business can be a great, creative venture, delivering real benefits to humanity. Businesses feed people; they move them effectively; they house them, clothe them, cure their diseases, and so on.
Businesses bless humanity.
Good businessmen and women are blessings to the world. They are not craven Ferengi, perpetually grasping at everyone else’s wallet.
Yes, Profits Are Important
Indeed they are. And in truth, profits are far more than important; they are no less than essential. And here’s how necessary I believe they are:
Without profits, we go back to slavery.
If you’d like support for that statement, you can find it here.
To portray profit as something dirty is immensely ignorant. Sure, some Ferengi-type operators may be dirty, but as an ancient prophet once wrote, “What is the chaff to the wheat?”
Why I Love Business
If you look carefully through history, one of the things that will jump out at you is that the real good of mankind doesn’t come from governments, but from business: from traders, from the financiers who make trade possible, from hustlers, smugglers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and small business people of all sorts. Governments and other hierarchies just get in the way to a greater or lesser extent. Commerce frees people from poverty and grim lives of bare subsistence.
Think of a poor boy growing up in a small village, living in the same primitive squalor that his great-great-great-grandfather did. Then he gets a chance to work in a condition of market-based trade. He works very hard, lives responsibly, and makes a beautiful life for himself, for his wife, and for his children.
It’s commerce that makes that possible, not rulers.
My point is that “businessman” should be a term of honor.
Yes, I know, we’re coming out of a century where Marx ruled the university, ruled half the political dialog, and ruled over a goodly portion of the planet. And I know that even with the sickening death toll attributable to Marxist ideas (or at least Marxist-Leninist ideas), the slander on profit continues. Businesspeople and economists, however, should not be helping such ideas along.
Good businesses bless the world, and if that isn’t what we’re doing, what’s the point?
Business is not a competition to stack up the most game chips and to declare ourselves the monkey with the most… or at least I don’t think it is.
The point of business is to bless ourselves while blessing others. There is virtue and beauty and honor in that. To portray it as anything less is to devalue ourselves.