Friday, October 12, 2007

Hurra! My best friend is not a "capitalist pig" anymore!

At 7:15 this morning my cell phone rings.
'Yeaaaaaaaaaaaah', I mutter to the receiver, yawning.
But my less than enthusiastic response has no effect on the enthusiasm level of my friend, Bonnie, who exclaims 'Congratulate me!'
'Any time' I answer, now enthusiastic myself 'but on what?'
' Today is the last day I am driving to my business as an owner!'
(Aah, I think, that would explain the early call. Bonnie has an hour drive from her ranch to her hardware store, and she loves talking while driving) '
I sold everything' Bonnie beams ' my store, Tim's (her spouse's) dental practice, I have achieved my and Tim's goals and in two weeks I am going to be retired! Hurrah!'

'Great news, Bonnie' I say 'Congratulations' . 'So you are not a "capitalist pig" anymore?

She laughs, she knows that I, like her former spouse, Konrad, was born and raised in a communist country. I told her about the relentlessness of communist propaganda against any form of entrepreneurship, which they called "private initiative", and made it sound like something very, very bad. Under communism don't ever dream of having any initiative, much less "private" entrepreneurial initiative, or you'll be a "capitalist pig", someone who profits at the expense of others.

And, although it seems that most of my compatriots, even from the same generation as I, have never let themselves be indoctrinated by that particular aspect of communist propaganda and after the communism's collapse went gladly to maximize profits at the expense of severely impoverished populace around them with a zeal of true "robber barons", true "capitalist pigs", I still have at best ambivalent feelings about profit.

Because, in truth, profit is to me a zero sum game: I win you loose. It may be attempted to be explained away, by arguing that the person, at whose expense you profit, profits also, because he/she gets a product or service he/she wants, but I do not buy that explanation. That person would be - in practically all cases - more than thrilled to be able to purchase that product or service at a lower cost. If he/she has to pay more, it is because of your profit motive and your "maximizing profit" mentality. Whether you are a rubber or shipping baron of the XIX century or a modern type hedge fund manager, oil sheik (both Arab and non-Arab like Texaco and other oil companies) , a Microsoft owner, etc., your wealth, being totally out of proportion to the wealth of most others, and out of proportion to your contribution to it, tells me that your profit is excessive, that it was achieved by taking advantage of others.

OK, I am not a communist, (far from it!) I am liberal. Contrary to communist propaganda I applaud entrepreneurship and I do accept a certain , let's say FAIR amount of profit, which would be defined as a reasonable compensation for your creativity, willingness to take risks, your business passion and talent. But greed, sheer, primitively egoistic, unmitigated with any concern for others greed, I abhor. Unfortunately the current business model, the "maximization of shareholders' value" ( at the expense of stakeholders) imperative, does not allow fairness and needs to be changed both for the sake of fairness and sustainability. But individual entrepreneurship does allow it - always have.

Thus I have always admired Bonnie, a totally self-made woman with a passion, a very hard worker, never wilting due to obstacles and occasional failures. She always treated her employees and customers fairly - which contributed to her success - and her profit from the sale of her business is not excessive, but well deserved.

Bonnie tells me she is now ready to buy that - modest - yacht, her spouse has been talking about for a few years now, to accompany a condo near the marina in Acapulco that she bought last year and completely refurbished, and enjoy her retirement.

'But wait' I say 'you do still have a ranch, don't you?' 'Not all of it' answers Bonnie 'but I still have some 600 acres. And animals, and ranch hands' she sighs ' so I guess I still am a "capitalist pig"'.
We both laugh.

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