493 – The Intrinsic Morality of Business

by Cliff Ravenscraft on March 23, 2017

In this week’s episode, I talk about some of the thoughts shared in the first section of the book Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Essentially, if you believe that making money is a selfish activity, it will undermine your chances of financial success. I hope that this episode will be a catalyst for helping you develop a deep conviction about the intrinsic morality of operating a business.

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  • Hey Cliff,

    Great episode! (and the previous one)

    I just wanted to respond that *some* of the talk about Bill Gates is justified, in that he was pretty ruthless. He actually did a good bit of damage to technological advancement with his illegal methods to try and crush the competition and force his technologies to be used. But, I certainly get the point you are making…. as many would say the same about someone who wasn’t so ruthless.

    In economics, free-market doesn’t mean ‘anything goes.’ It means a free system in terms of proper justice and regulations to keep human nature in check. I think this was assumed in early economics, but isn’t any longer.

    Also, I think it would be good to point out (if you did, I missed it) that the theology around business, both on the ‘left’ and ‘right’ that we probably both grew up in within Christian circles (and certainly in other religions as well) is often a distortion of what the Bible really teaches on the subject. (I say this as a seminary grad.)

  • Steve, for sure. My episode was not meant to be an exhaustive resource on the subject. Just wanted to help offset on how much society and culture has downplayed the good that Businesses do in the world. Thankful to have you as a part of this community.

  • I think it’s also interesting to consider this particular discussion on that episode of TWIT came up in the context of Bill Gates floating the idea that we should tax robots (or companies who deploy robots) that displace human workers from their jobs. It was an example of one way to address the coming challenges of an increasingly automated society that needs fewer workers. Other topics they touched on in that discussion was the concept of universal income.

    Setting aside the question of whether or not specific actions by Microsoft were actually against the law in the 80s or 90s (and presumably your support of unbridled capitalism doesn’t extend to breaking the law), of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with business. Holding up Bill Gates as an ideal example of the good of unbridled capitalism in this context, when Gates appears to be arguing against just that, may be problematic.

    It’s also interesting to consider that as Microsoft created Microsoft jobs by crushing the competition, it was also leading to the elimination of jobs at those competitors. Sure, they hired a lot of people to code and sell Word. That success also meant that a lot of the folks who coded and sold Wordperfect or who coded and sold AmiPro lost their jobs. And at the broader societal level, sure the technology made people more productive and more efficient. As a result, an awful lot of file clerks, secretaries, and other people lost their jobs in the process. We’re on the cusp of another major transition in what it means to work and AI and automation moves into new areas. As a country, we need to figure out just what happens to all those long-haul truckers and local cab and Uber drivers in 10-15 years when self-driving vehicles are the norm.

    The bigger topic they were talking about when Ed Bott made the remarks Cliff quoted where also about the concept of externalities. Should a company be held responsible for the indirect costs it has on society and that it doesn’t pay for today?

    There is nothing inherently wrong with running a business. A business is just a tool for getting stuff done. And a successful business that adds value is a good thing. And while there may be a lot of criticism in our culture for corporations, that criticism does bring some needed tension to the system. Successful capitalistic pursuits shouldn’t be vilified. At the same time, they also shouldn’t be glorified. It’s a much more nuanced picture than that.

  • Tention is needed yes. However, the point is that the balance of the voice in culture is that Business = Villain. My episode wasn’t meant to be exhaustive on the matter, just the point that Culture paints a bleak picture of anyone who is pursuit of wealth through commerce and that it causes a lot of people to struggle with seeing their own worthy business pursuits as moral and just. The biggest problem are those who are afraid to charge enough money for their products and services so much that they can barely survive even when working 40 to 60 hours a week.

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