About the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In my readings and in my dealings with people,  I often encounter unfortunate anti-capitalist and anti-market tendencies which to me as a business person sound senseless, unfair, and offensive. These attitudes don’t make any economic or moral sense, they are nothing but emotional, “feel-good” bumper-sticker slogans. For example, it’s considered good when services are given away for free or when we buy local even if the quality is worse and the price is higher; it’s considered bad when one’s goal is to make a profit and to grow wealth; and teaching children to earn and manage money instead of letting them “enjoy their childhood” is considered outright ugly.

Here are some of the common stigmas that I have encountered:

Children are Too Young and Too Innocent to Learn About Money

Many parents think that childhood is only about playing and having fun and that it should not be spoiled by such earthly and boring matters as learning to earn and manage money. They think that making money is a necessary evil that should better be left to adults while children’s innocence should be protected.

This is extremely short-sighted. Sheltering children from money results in young adults who are up to their ears in debt, who waste any money that comes their way, and who are unable to sustain themselves financially until they are well beyond their mid-twenties. Such entitled young adults take their parents’ financial support for granted and stay convinced that they are free to enjoy their lives without burdening themselves with financial responsibility and without any sustainable plans for the future.

I want my children to not only be financially independent when they get older, but to also start their businesses and to grow wealth. As with any type of learning, it’s important to develop the right habits early on, and this is why I think that it’s absolutely necessary to teach children about money as early in their childhood as possible. I encourage my children to come up with interesting ideas and to think of realistic ways to monetize these ideas. I educate them about money management, saving, and investing. If they want an expensive toy, I don’t rush to buy it and neither do I tell them that we can’t afford it. Instead, I tell them that once they learn to make money they can buy anything they want themselves. This way I try to give them hope and to show them how they can achieve the outcome they desire.

Buy Local

I see this a lot when reading magazines about food, but this sentiment also applies to other types of products and services. Note that “local” in this context implies not just “domestic” from anywhere in the States, but local as in “next-door” or “next town over.” For some strange reason local food, local products, local vendors, and local labor are often considered superior due to the mere fact that they are local.

This is unfair. If the ingredients in my food are high quality and don’t contain chemicals or GMOs, why should I worry whether these ingredients are sourced locally? Let’s not be misled by this “support local economy” myth. Fortunately, the consumers today have a much wider choice and a better variety of products and services because we don’t live in small enclosed communities anymore. The “Buy Local” movement has inflated demand for an artificial value that has no real substance, thereby making many local products unjustifiably expensive while not necessarily better. Products and services should compete on price and quality, not on their geographic proximity, and local should not be given any unfair advantage. If a local vendor doesn’t stand the competition, let’s reward the remote vendor that does. For example, when I see fresh organic tomatoes from another part of the country that are the same price or cheaper as the local ones that are not organic, I buy the organic tomatoes from across the country without thinking twice.

Some people enjoy that warm “small town” feeling when they frequent the same local shops, vendors, and farms and personally interact with the owners. This is understandable, but it still doesn’t warrant such widespread “buy local” mentality because choice, price, and quality are more important considerations for most people, as I would imagine. Besides, remote interaction by email or phone can be just as convenient and pleasant. Not all local shop owners are nice but there are many remote vendors who are polite, professional, and who are a pleasure to work with. Friendliness and pleasant attitude come from one’s personal qualities, not from one’s location.

Help Me for Free

How would you feel if someone asked you for free help with back-breaking work such as moving? Or if they asked you to pick them up from the airport late at night though you have to get up for work the next morning? Or if they wanted to stay over at your small crowded apartment for a few nights? If you jump in and go for it, I admire your kindness.

Generally, this is disrespectful. Let me start with a disclaimer: no, I am not saying that we should always charge for our help. I am convinced that immediate family members must help each other for free and unconditionally. It’s also beautiful when people help their friends, neighbors, and strangers. I think it’s a good thing to help, as long as the helper volunteers out of their free will and at their discretion, and the person on the receiving side is respectful and not demanding. Unfortunately, I often see the opposite: people make demands and expectations and try to guilt others into providing uncompensated help.

In general, people must be respectful and mindful of each other’s time and ability. I would always seek to purchase services rather than to ask anyone outside of my immediate family circle for free help if I sense that it will cause them sizable inconvenience such as a physical hardship, a considerable amount of time, or if they would have to go out of their way in any other manner in order to help me. Even if I think that I am asking for a small thing and it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me, how would I know? It may be a major inconvenience to the other person. I think it’s best to buy help rather than to burden someone.

This also applies to professional services that people sometimes seek for free or for an insufficient pay because they claim that they don’t have the money. I think that requesting professional services without offering proper compensation is disrespectful. If someone doesn’t have the money, they can offer barter or they can fundraise on crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe. There is always a way to avoid taking advantage of others and to offer something in return.

Business Owners Must Give Back

As President Obama puts it, “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” In other words, the business people are rich, they owe their success to society, and they must give back.

This is unfair and offensive. As a small business owner myself, I think that I can speak on behalf of other small business owners when I say that many people have no idea how much effort, perseverance, patience, frustration, time, investment, and sacrifice goes into maintaining and growing a business. We cannot afford to spend all our hard-earned money because we must continuously reinvest into our businesses. We pay a much higher tax rate. We work nights and weekends. We constantly take risks, we reinvent ourselves to stay competitive, and we carry a huge responsibility.

However, the reward for all this hard labor is being able to claim ownership of your achievements. If an entrepreneur becomes successful, they should credit their own vision, ingenuity, skill, and their management and leadership abilities. Business owners can share their profits if they want, but no one has the right to guilt them into sharing or to claim their wealth. Entrepreneurs already give back enough by creating value and by improving people’s lives. Everyone in the society ends up benefiting from the free-market economy saturated with entrepreneurial innovations and with products and services created and provided by those same business owners who work hard and take risks. Entrepreneurs do not owe anything to anybody. No one shares the risks with a business owner, so no one should be entitled to share the rewards.

“Profit” is a Curse Word

There is a common stigma around such concepts as profit and wealth. No one admires honest hard-working businesses and individuals who make money and who grow wealth. The notion that companies and entrepreneurs need public support and validation hardly crosses anyone’s mind. On the other hand, people and organizations that claim to be nonprofit and altruistic are put on the pedestal and are widely glorified and applauded. The common attitude is that only selfish and greedy people want profit and wealth; the good people are selflessly committed to the well-being of others and are concerned only with the social good.

This is naive at best and perverted at worst. I am not an advocate of relying exclusively on selfish motivations, but I am also not naive enough to think that selfless devotion to the public good and the welfare of others will make the world better, either. Throughout the history of the humankind, businesses and for-profit entrepreneurship have contributed a lot more to the society than nonprofits have. The majority of famous artwork, musical compositions, and other cultural treasures were commissioned and created for profit. Financial self-interest has always been the major driving force behind innovations, discoveries, technologies, products and services that have been continuously improving the world and that we all, even in the poorest of countries, enjoy today.

As any business person knows, it takes skill, time, and effort to produce something of quality. How can one be expected to perform such hard work without compensation, out of pure selflessness? I am skeptical of spiritual mentors, religious leaders, and other organizations and individuals that claim to work not for personal profit but solely for the public good and who try to teach us how to live our lives. Claiming altruism is insincere because we all need money to survive, so you either support yourself or have others support you. Personally, I do not respect people who don’t work and who live on donations because I don’t believe that making a living out of other people’s financial support is the right and moral thing to do. One can only be a mentor, a role model, and a leader if they themselves are going or have gone through the trouble and sweat of earning money and supporting the family. Only someone who got his hands dirty, who worked for a living and who produced something of value, who did things and succeeded has the right to preach to others.

In one of my favorite books, “The Morality of Capitalism”, it says:

“The correct history goes like this: Until the Dutch around 1600 or the English around 1700 changed their thinking, you got honor in only two ways, by being a soldier or being a priest … People who merely bought and sold things for a living, or innovated, were scorned as sinful cheaters … Then something changed, in Holland and then in England. The revolutions and reformations of Europe, 1517 to 1789, gave voice to ordinary people outside the bishops and aristocrats. Europeans and then others came to admire entrepreneurs like Ben Franklin and Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates. The middle class started to be viewed as good, and started to be allowed to do good, and to do well. People signed on to a Middle-Class Deal that has characterized now-wealthy places such as Britain or Sweden or Hong Kong ever since: “Let me innovate and make piles and piles of money in the short run out of innovation, and in the long run I’ll make you rich.” And that’s what happened. Starting in the 1700s with Franklin’s lightning rod and Watt’s steam engine, and going nuts in the 1800s, and nuttier still in the 2000s, the West, which for centuries had lagged behind China and Islam, became astoundingly innovative.”

So it weren’t the priests nor the rabbis nor any other nonprofits or professional altruists who ended up improving society and the entire Western civilization. It were the ordinary people who worked hard, who supported themselves and their families, who started businesses, who created wealth for themselves and produced value for others. Free-market capitalism is what makes our society moral, prosperous, and liberated, and entrepreneurs and businesspeople are really the ones who deserve our gratitude and recognition.