The Profit Motive Isn’t Greed

We live in interesting times. Basic concepts that were taken for granted for all of human history are being eroded in a storm of blithering ignorance and banal platitudes from elites who have been educated into ignorance. One of the ideas in the crosshairs of these alleged intellectuals is the rightness of the profit motive. The contention of leftists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is that it’s wrong to profit from your work because it’s greedy. The fact that a known Soviet sympathizer like Bernie is pushing this idea should be enough to raise some red flags (pun intended), but there’s more to be considered. The socialist left has made such progress not on the strength of their ideas, or because they work (see Venezuela, Cuba, the USSR, etc), but because it sounds nice and it appeals to our sinful nature (covetousness). By equating the profit motive with simple greed, Bernie and his fellow socialists are saying that those who want to profit from their labor (which is everybody, not just the wealthy) are morally corrupt and, by extension, shouldn’t have all that money. They contrast this with their own system in which everyone supposedly gets just what they need (except the leaders, they get more for being in charge). On the surface, it sounds nice (so long as you ignore the oppression in socialist countries like the USSR, Nazi Germany, Venezuela, etc), but it is actually, in addition to being a ridiculous fantasy, founded on the denial of a basic human right; the right to profit from one’s labor.

God, who is the source of our rights, is very clearly in favor of profit in the Old Testament, and make it clear that withholding wages (a form of profit) from a worker is a form of robbery and oppression.

You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.

Leviticus 19:13 (NASB)

The laborer, as we see here and in Deuteronomy 24:14-15, has a right to his wages, because of the work he has done. Jesus Himself made this clear to his disciples in Luke 10:7, where he explicitly states that “the laborer is worthy of his wages.” The teaching of Scripture is clear, doing work for another entitles the one doing the work to compensation. A worker is worthy of wages because he has agreed to perform a service or provide a good to another in exchange for those wages. If the worker does not receive the wage that his employer agreed to pay him the employer is literally stealing his employee’s labor.

Profit, in its most basic form, is simply gaining something of more value to oneself than that which was given to obtain the thing gained. In this case, the laborer’s wages are his profit, because he values them more than his labor, while his employer’s profit is the completion of the task for which the laborer was hired. It’s mutually beneficial, and both profit.

The profit motive, i.e. doing something with the intent to profit from it, isn’t bad in and of itself. It is not wrong to want to exercise your God given rights. For example, everyone has a right to not be murdered; and it’s not a sin to expect to not be murdered. In the same way, if you agree to perform a service for a wage you are right to expect to be paid as agreed. It is not wrong to want to do something for profit and to gain by honest work. Where it becomes a sin is when it becomes an inordinate desire for stuff or money. When one is consumed by a desire for possessions and the accumulation of wealth for its own sake, that is when they have become greedy. It is thus possible to become very wealthy without being greedy, and to be very greedy yet destitute.

The right to profit from one’s labor was ordained by God, and any system that seeks to eliminate profit (like socialism) is seeking to take away that which was given by God. Equating the profit motive with greed is, in reality, nothing more than a dishonest attempt by fatuous politicians and ideologues to re-write morality to suit their own ends. God has given us the right to profit from our labor, and anyone who wants to take away what God has given us shouldn’t be ‘the boss’ of anything.

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