Profit and loss
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on March 29, 2007.
"When I disagree with a rational man... both will profit." -- John Galt
This is my final "Liberty Beat" column for Boulder Weekly. Pamela White, my editor, tells me the paper is moving more to syndicated content. She kindly granted me a final bow. I'll continue to cover Colorado politics and culture elsewhere: send me an e-mail to join my weekly e-mail list, and visit my web page at FreeColorado.com.
Since "Liberty Beat" premiered on October 23, 2003, my dominant theme has been individual rights. The basic philosophy, laid out most forcefully by Ayn Rand, is that each person's life is his or her proper moral end, we further our lives by the use of reason, and reason requires the ability to think and act free from the initiation of force. The proper purpose of government is to protect such freedom for every individual. We may not use force against others, except in self-defense; nor may we damage the property of others or obtain values fraudulently.
In the personal sphere, we have the right to choose which consenting adults to join as romantic partners, which books to read and recreational activities to pursue, and which substances to consume.
In the economic sphere, we have the right as individuals to control the product of our labor. Property rights are the legal recognition of our moral right to use our own property (as well as previously unowned natural resources, to draw on Locke's ideas) to produce the things we want and need and to freely trade the product of our labor with others. This is called capitalism or the free market.
Personal and economic freedom are two aspects of the same thing. We can pursue personal goals only by physical means. For example, we cannot pursue a romantic relationship unless we have the right to use our property to create an appropriate environment, such as a home. Freedom of speech cannot exist without the freedom to produce and trade books and the like.
With "Liberty Beat," I've applied the concept of individual rights to such issues as the drug war, corporate welfare and immigration. For the last act, I'd like to discuss profit, something the Left tends to see as inherently corrupt or at least suspect. The following are three recent examples.
In a March 12 letter to he Denver Post, Boulderite Frederick C. Sage writes, "The elimination of profit-driven health insurance is the sine qua non of health care financial reform." Sage wants "those entities planning new facilities, expansions, services, etc. to demonstrate to a review commission that the proposed expenditures are truly needed and cost effective." He also calls for (government) "systems to monitor appropriatness [sic], cost and quality of services." I.e., Sage wants to replace the market with government rationing.
In his Feb. 17 column for the Rocky Mountain News, Jason Salzman writes that, while newspapers remain profitable, "Wall Street is greedy" and creating "rough going for newspaper companies." Part of his answer is to spend tax dollars both to subsidize newspapers and to help nonprofits purchase newspapers.
Last week, this paper published a letter by Evan Cantor, who wishes to "socialize energy, transportation and health services." Cantor suggests that this would "provide the greatest number of people with the greatest benefit across the board." He adds, "Today's tragic status quo rewards a miniscule percentage of our population with wealth beyond even Croesus' imaginings."
Cantor's reference to Croesus is telling. According to Herodotus (using George Rawlinson's translation), Croesus was "lord of all the nations west of the river Halys," or part of modern Turkey, in the mid-6th century B.C. Solon of Athens (by this account) called him "wonderfully rich." And how did Croesus grow rich? Herodotus says that he forced Greeks "to become his tributaries," "made war in turn upon every Ionian and Aeolian state," and "held in subjection" those he ruled.
If profit is taken broadly to mean the acquisition of material goods and other benefits, then profit can be good or bad. So let us distinguish profit by plunder from profit by consent. Profit by plunder means taking wealth from others by force, threat or fraud. Profit by consent means making mutually beneficial, voluntary exchanges, in which both sides profit. Profit by consent is the only sort of profit allowed under individual rights.
While Sage, Salzman and Cantor criticize profit, really they advocate profit by plunder. Taking wealth from people by force to fund and/or nationalize energy, transportation, medicine or newspapers is morally wrong and economically harmful. Profit by consent promotes the creation of wealth and social harmony, while profit by plunder reduces wealth and fosters conflict.
Even market nonprofits generate profits of consent. Those who give to nonprofits do so because it advances their values or gives them satisfaction. Those who work for nonprofits gain monetary and/or spiritual rewards. Conversely, when Soviet Russia outlawed markets, profit by plunder ruled, as the limited wealth was forcibly distributed to party rulers and their bootlickers.
You can't get rid of profit. Your options are profit by consent or profit by plunder. Choose one.
It has been my pleasure to defend individual rights in this column. While the column now comes to an end, the fight for liberty continues always. The beat goes on.