The Not-Golden Rule
Greg Iles is one of my favorite authors. If he has written a novel that I haven’t read it’s because I don’t know about it. His latest, Cemetery Road (2019) continues his tradition of excellent storytelling with great character development. In this book the spokesman for a local group of ruthless entrepreneurs explains what underlies their little cabal:
“We are businessmen. We make no pretense of being anything else. We exist to earn profits, expand our businesses, and consolidate our power. We create wealth. If the lot of others happens to improve while we do that, that’s fine, but it’s not our concern.”
There are exceptions, but that, indeed, is the flag that flies from the mast of the ship Private Enterprise.
In the 1980s I taught ethics courses at a private high school in Regina, Saskatchewan. One of my teaching devices was a slide/audio presentation borrowed from the local Roman Catholic diocesan office. It was titled “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast,” and was an exposé of the multi-international corporations’ domination of world commerce. The resolute, unyielding maxim driving this purposefully-designed machine: Maximization of Profits. Ethical concerns rarely get in the way. Both shareholders and corporate leaders are committed to one thing above all else: maximization of profits. Put another way, there is a commitment to a perversion of the Golden Rule: the one with the gold rules.
Please do not jump to conclusions. I am not against private enterprise fueled by personal initiative and the profit motive. The problem that rears its ugly head is when the quest for wealth and power override all else. There is something wrong when a CEO can own a $300 million yacht (costing $375K/week to maintain) while many of his corporation’s workers can’t afford a 14-foot dinghy. Or when factory workers struggle to feed and clothe their children while the executives live in opulent mansions and dine nightly on steak and lobster.
The goal is not undesirable and unattainable equality. The goal is that everyone has at least enough. The goal is that a society of interdependent people be organized in such a way that a few do not have way too much while many have way too little. Call it what you will: capitalism with controls, socialism with incentives, whatever. Without a proper balance, people die. The filthy rich die of cancer of the soul and the lowest economic strata die from lack of proper food or healthcare or both.
Without question, astute businessmen and businesswomen are needed for an economy to thrive. But the goal should always be that everyone within the society the businesses serve has an equitable share.