C.S. Lewis has shown us how self-interest is different than selfishness. Since greed and self-interest are not the same, what are the implications for how we participate in our economy?
Let’s circle back to Adam Smith’s appeal to the self-interest of the butcher and baker. Their self-interest could – and should – be motivated by a desire to provide the best meat and bread for their customer.
If we take the Biblical doctrine of work seriously, our work should be motivated primarily by a love of our neighbor.
Of course, there needs to be profit. Profit is one of the most misunderstood terms in economics.
Profit is the is reward for serving the needs of your customers. If you don’t serve your customers well, you will eventually experience financial loss. Profit tells you how well you are serving your customers.
In God’s economy, the desire to serve should be primary. The pursuit of profit, though necessary, is secondary.
Profit is a means to your ends – love and service. Without profit, you will not be able to continue serving others through your work. It is the fuel powering what you do. It is essential, but not the primary thing.
It is possible to be driven by greed. However, if the butcher and baker fail to:
- provide a quality product,
- serve the customer, or
- charge more than the customer wants to pay…
…they will eventually lose business. Whether their motive is love or greed, they still have to serve the customer.
The point is that the primary motive for business – and capitalism – need not be greed. It’s not in our self-interest.
The next time you hear “capitalism is greed,” you might ask: “Can’t you have self-interest without selfishness or greed?
An ancient saying holds that “an argument against abuse (greed) is not an argument against use (self-interest).” Capitalists can be greedy, but if they pursue their own true self-interest, they need not be.
What are your motivations for pursuing your work and vocation? What drives your business? Leave your comments here.