Ask the business owner

In response to Brian of Peeve Farm's statement about business owners...

I had the following get stuck in my brain like a kidney stone, so here it is:

Q: What is the primary function of a business?

Liberal: To give jobs to employees.
Conservative: To make money for the stockholders.
Free-Floating Whatever: To create goods & services.

...Aziz Poonwalla of Unmedia responds...

Liberals believe that it is possible to pursue the profit motive with an enlightened sense of self-interest. For example, if you treat your employees like chattel, pay them rock bottom minimum wage, begrudge them benefits, deny them maternal leave, etc, then you will (1) attract only the most desperate employees, and (2) have poor productivity of those dregs of employees you do retain. Note that there is also a parallel moral imperative, drawn from multiple philosophical and religious sources, that states that exploitation of the poor and abuse of the human spirit is wrong in a fundamental sense. For a true liberal, the moral imperative drives the enlightened self-interest, not the other way around. which I responded in the comments section:


I'm not sure I agree with a lot of that.

What is the purpose of a business? Ask the business owner.

Let me start off on a tangent and hopefully arrive back to my main point. Many, maybe even most, small business owners, if they were to add up the money they make in a given year, they would find that they could make just as much, and many times more, working for someone else. So why do they keep their small business? Why aren't they chasing more monetary profit for themselves? The main reasons are that they obtain satisfaction from being their own boss, working their own schedule, and pursuing their own destiny. They are willing to give up monetary profit to obtain something much more personal - self-fulfillment.

I consider my blog to be a business in a sense. I put in long hours, sell my product, advertise on other people's blogs, work with other 'co-workers', continually try to improve the blog, strive to keep the 'customers' happy, and aim toward a specific goal, all in the name of getting something in return. That psychic profit I obtain in return comes in many forms - the stroking of my ego when someone reads my stuff, the satisfaction of being able to express myself, the ability to spread ideas, and the power to add something to the conversation of the blogosphere. Yet, I pay money to do this, and get no money in return.

Oscar Schindler used his business to obtain what made him happy - saving people from concentration camps - and cared very little about the bottom line of his operational expenses.

Each business owner has his own goal, which is some combination of monetary profit, lifestyle, personal fulfillment, and satisfaction of accomplishment, among many other things. Each contribution of these various factors is different and results in a combination as unique to the individual as a fingerprint. You likely have your own goals for a business if you were to start one. To say that one resultant combination is better than others, or that your particular resultant combination is the right one, is simply imposing your view onto others.

As you state, the neat categories of political ideology listed above are just caricatures. But I would take it further; they not only exaggerate and hyperbolize the nature of prevailing wisdom, but they also frame a poor construction of philosophy. The label "liberal" is one that I believe fits me well; however, I disagree with most others who call themselves "liberal". The reason I consider myself a liberal is that, above all, the most ethical system of human interaction is one that respects the free will of each and every individual. If I truly want to stick to that principle, and I consider principles to be very important, then I have to eschew violence in all its forms. Violence spits on a man's dignity and violates his free will.

To recognize that each of us is unique in our dispositions resulting in different ends which we would like to pursue is a very liberal worldview. To say that one particular end is the correct one, of worse, that your particular ends should be pursued by everyone, is unsophisticated; to actually use violence to force others to accept your ends is by description illiberal, and by definition, savagery. Yet most people who call themselves "liberal" are more than happy to do just that.

So what is the purpose of a business? Ask the business owner.

And then be a principled liberal and allow him to aspire to it.

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