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Gray Matters: An Analysis on Profit, Markets, and an Enterprise Solution to Povery

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Gray Matters

While we do these things, these deeply momentous things, let us be very clear, and make very clear to all the world, what our motives and objectives are. (Woodrow Wilson 1917)

Most, if not all, of society's problems can be traced back to the human pursuit of profit. The current global economic crisis, violent wars, poverty, environmental destruction and energy exhaustion, unstable governments, and many other chaotic happenings in history can all be linked to a select few with immoral and greed-filled ambitions. Greed, itself, has haunted mankind since the dawn of civilization. A myriad of religions claim it to be one of the worst stigmas of man. Philosophers have debated on its dramatic impact on society. Psychologists and biologists deem it as an unmovable element of the human being.

However, humans all over the world work together to help each other in a time of need and to solve their economic, political, or social problems. They respond with aid to countries in the midst of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and political upheaval. Human beings care what happens to others because it is often in their best interest to do so. Caring is a distinctly human ability. Ostensibly, the goal of religion is to foster love and oneness among its members. Mormons, Christians, and Jews all help the other members of their community when they are facing any sort of crisis. Philosophers believe that humans are innately moral and fundamentally good. Some biologists believe that our morals evolved from our social behavior.1 Psychologists view humans who lack morality as having a “pathological condition”.2

Pits of Darkness:

Immorality in the Market

There are patches of darkness everywhere in the world, shadows cast by immorality. These are tales of desperation and survival.

The demand? A kidney. The supply? Minimal, with over 80000 people on the waiting list.3 The woman would die before a kidney became a remote possibility. How else could she get a kidney? The answer was the growing black market for organs. A call to a local dealer could give her a kidney within a week. This immoral market is nothing new. There is a profit to be made in this shady market of organ trading, and it draws those who are poor and have little. No one asks questions because all the buyers want is another chance at life, and all the brokers want is a little money. Well, a little money is not exactly what they get. The going rate for kidneys is around $3,000 to $10,000, depending on where the organ originates.4, 3 They can be sold to Americans, however, for upwards to $85,000.4 The sources for these organs are many and varied. Some are willing adults from poor slums who want to make enough money to survive.5 Some are adults who were deceived and their organs were stolen from them.6 Some are homeless people who are taken and never found.7 Some are children from Mexico or from orphanages in Eastern Europe who are kidnapped.8 Some are paid and some are not. The organ brokers are the ones who get rich off of these desperate sales. The buyers want a chance to live. The sellers, if they are willing, want a chance to survive. The brokers take advantage of both sides to make an immense profit. Humans acting in unethical ways similar to this for the sake of gain are not uncommon.

Sreypov Chan, a seven year old Cambodian girl, was sold to a brothel in Cambodia's capital by her mother.9 Pimps forced her to have sex with as many as twenty clients a day.9 If she tried to run, she would be severely punished.9 Some sex slaves reported being beaten brutally, electrocuted with cords, locked into a coffin filled with live maggots, or having nails hammered into their heads.9 When Sreypov refused to have sex with her first client, she was forced to drink the customer's urine, was whipped with an electric cable, and was covered with biting ants until she agreed to have sex.9 Why did Sreypov’s mother sell her own child into slavery? In deeply poor and corrupt countries such as Cambodia, daughters are merely property and their sole duty is to help and provide for their family. Despite the moral and ethical bonds of familial love, desperation for survival can often overrule those codes. In the case of Sreypov's mother, selling her daughter was necessary, though entirely self-centered, for her own personal gain and well being. Sreypov is not alone. More than 12 million people are now victims of forced prostitution and labor across the world. The buying and selling of humans is a $32 billion global business.10 Profit has blinded humanity's eyes to morals and values since the beginning of time. In this case, a mother's love for her child is overlooked for quick cash. Likewise, the driving force behind the pimps' behavior is gaining money to live comfortably in a crumbling city.

And the Light Blinded Me:

Morality in the Markets

The previous stories may inspire hatred of markets, but like the Earth itself, there is good everywhere. Even when there is darkness on one side of the Earth, there is always light on the other.

Underprivileged children often do not have access to medical care on a regular basis, which can cause difficulties later in life. How do we prevent these debilitating problems? The Health Establishments at Local Schools (HEALS) clinic’s philosophy is to begin when the child is in school by providing free health care for those underprivileged children. NO:LIMITS, a school-based medically-oriented organization, wanted to help the HEALS clinic help the children. We planned and executed a fundraiser to raise money for the local HEALS clinic. We raised over $200 to help support the clinic. This might not seem like much, but for those little kids, something is better than nothing. Fundraisers to support projects like the HEALS clinic occur all over the world. Organizations such as the Red Cross, Bread for the World or Compassion International all have goals to gain money or products to help the underprivileged and disaster-struck people of our world. The people who begin these programs start with the dream of helping someone, not profiting, and the people they help just want to survive in our primarily capitalistic world.

Furthermore, while humans help each other, they also help our earth. Printing documents consumes trees; using electricity to power computers requires coal and oil. How environment-friendly are those computers and other electronic equipment that we use daily? When the computer first began, few people predicted that they would contribute to the contamination of the earth; few people cared. All they saw was a new invention that would make life easier and faster. But now, people are beginning a revolution that some call ethical consumerism. People are beginning to care what is in their products. They are demanding more environment-friendly computers, cars, and other electronic equipment, and companies are responding to this demand. Consumers are becoming more aware of the moral and physical implications that will result from the continued use of less environment-friendly products.

The Morality of Complex Interactions

The market began when people began to specialize.11 As they began to give certain jobs to certain people, who would become experts and thus become more efficient, it made sense to trade what a person had for what he or she did not. However, if you did not want what another person had, but the other person needed what you had, there was a problem. This became the reason for metal and paper money. This way, you could always be sure of getting what you needed, even if you didn’t have what a certain person wanted. As time went on, markets became larger and the means of payment more sophisticated. At this time, gain was nothing. People only engaged in markets because it was practical for survival. In fact, “the idea of gain was shunned” in Europe.11 People did not need more; they only needed enough to survive. However, as people saw that gain could increase their standard of living, they became more amenable to the idea.11 Then mercantilism came on the scene, and countries began amassing wealth in the form of precious metals.11 Their goal was to export more than they imported. Here, gaining more reached formerly unknown heights. Later Adam Smith introduced capitalism, saying that self-interest is the guiding star for markets. From there, theories expanded to encompass social Darwinism and Malthus’ cycle of population growth. Markets are thus completely man-made and are as moral or as immoral as we make them.

A market is defined as people meeting to trade, buy or sell, and it comes from the Latin roots mercatus and mercari.12 These roots refer to trade, which simply means to have dealings with another person or to exchange goods.13 So in essence, a market is not defined by its traditional sense as a “physical” marketplace, but is best defined as the exchange of (usually) money for goods, services, or information. Since a market is not a tangible object, but an abstract concept developed by humans to analyze the relationships between ourselves i.e. buyer, seller, or trader, the idea that markets are absolutely immoral or absolutely moral is just as useless as the idea that there is an absolutely moral and perfect or absolutely immoral and evil human being. Thus, markets are not inherently immoral. The point at which immorality or morality enters the scene is the point of contact between the buyer and the seller. Markets most commonly become immoral when the transactions between the buyer and seller become corrupt. Both the buyer and the seller have wants and needs. When one takes advantage of the other by playing off of those wants or needs, the market becomes immoral because the market is a human invention. This is similar to symbiosis, of which there are three types. When both participants benefit, it is known as mutualism. In another case, called commensalism, one participant benefits and the other is neither harmed nor helped. However, in the third case, parasitism, one participant benefits, while the other is harmed. Each wants something that will be the best for them in terms of survival. People need more to survive because survival is defined as living longer than any other person.14 The person who has the most has the best chance for survival. This is a natural urge. However, humans magnify this urge to greater proportions as the definition of “survival” changes with society. In Moldova, “survival” is making a living of maybe $2,500 a year, but in Luxembourg, “survival” is making a living of upwards to $81,200 per year. 15, 16

Profectus: The Koi Fish Swam

Profit is the money that people make off of a market transaction. Simply, profit means gain.17 It comes from the Latin profectus, meaning progress.18 When something is gained, it is increased. If something is increased, this can be an ends or a means. A means is used to produce something else, while an ends produces nothing tangible. Asking whether profit is a means or an end is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. No one knows, so one goes around in circles. Profit is a means in that it is used to gain other objects or services. However, profit is an ends in that many people only want to achieve profit to say that they have achieved it. There are many things in this world that end up being gray or multi-colored, instead of black and white. Profit is one of those things, especially because it is a human creation. In Chinese culture, the koi fish symbolizes balance like Ying and Yang. Both must exist, intertwined, for the stability of the world. Economics, profit, and greed can be seen in the same light.

Thus, profit is not inherently anything. Good and bad are definitions of the relationship between humans and a thing or other humans. The pursuit of profit is not good in itself or a necessary evil. It becomes better or worse when the relationship among the people involved is good or bad. However, many philosophers believe that greed is a necessary evil.19, 20 Thomas Hobbes and Machiavelli both proclaimed that greed-filled people had a larger impact on society than giving people did, which is logical since the current global economic crisis can be attributed to a handful of bank chairmen and CEO’s who found loopholes in the free market to make large sums of money. However, Hobbes and Machiavelli did not acknowledge the goodness or evil of profit. Society tends to solely focus on the negative impacts of greed, but is blind to the good that greed delivers in some cases. Bill Gates had to make a vast amount of profit before he was able to give so much of it away. He pursued more than needed to survive and was therefore (by modern standards) greedy. With that being said, how could Gates do so much for the world without being greedy and seeking profit? This brings us back to the fundamental idea that pursuit of profit cannot be categorized as good or evil. The motives and objectives hidden within a person’s particular human mind determine whether profit is a good or a necessary evil.

Profit is often associated with greed. In modern times, greed has come to have the connotation of selfishness. However, if we trace greed back to its Old Norse origin, it comes from graðr, meaning hunger.21 Greed, according to Adam Smith, causes profit. Greed is a desire for more, and profit is what is gained. Greed is driven by human’s desire to survive, and is the difference between surviving and thriving. Surviving is meeting basic needs that will allow a human to live long enough to continue the human race. This is instinctual and evidences itself in biological populations. Thriving is thinking beyond living long enough to continue the human race, towards changing our standards of life. Aristotle included the concept of surviving versus flourishing in his analyses of economics. Greed is merely a desire to have more than is needed, so greed can be a synonym for thriving because thriving is attaining more than is needed. Some humans take this to a very high level, so greed can cause “competition in the market” that will put “people under great pressure to break the ordinary rules of decent conduct and then to produce good reasons for doing so”.22 However, greed can also lead to other, better outcomes. With our above definition of greed, we can say that people who pursue an education or run fundraisers to make money to benefit a charity are greedy, but anyone would say that these things are good and the outcome is good. All parties benefit.

Our responsibility as we seek profits should be to act ethically in all situations by creating good relationships among all of the participants in the market. If one of the participants believes that the relationship is bad, then the relationship is bad because the person will interact with the others based on that assumption. Respect is perhaps the most important good-relationship-maker, and participants in the market should be sensitive and responsive to each other.

If all profit-seekers acted ethically, then international development would slow overall, but become more equally distributed. Some free- market fundamentalist believe that free markets provide the greatest equity and prosperity, and that any interference decreases social well being. However, this theory has many critics. Some believe that the free market tends to ignore public interest.23 Moreover, ethics tends to lean towards the communist idea of equality as the best way to reconcile egalitarianism with humanity’s natural drive towards survival of the fittest. If a majority of the profit-seekers acted ethically, then international development would remain concentrated in certain areas and less in others, but the concentration rate would be lower. If a majority of profit-seekers did not act ethically, international development would be highly concentrated in certain areas and completely nonexistent in others. Solutions to poverty would be best developed, I think, in a world where the majority of profit-seekers act ethically. In this world, there is a better balance of natural human drive and morality, a thing created by the mind of man.

Poverty is another peculiar institution that we have avoided addressing in depth. There is no one solution that can ever truly solve poverty, and, since humans cannot achieve absolutes, it is unlikely that poverty can be completely removed. A start can be made through education, not the typical Western education, but culture-specific education that encourages heritage pride and self-motivation. It is said that poverty is a state of mind, so by developing pride in one’s background, one can get rid of the feeling of degradation that is poverty. Everything begins in the individual. If people began acting ethically in business, making decision to benefit the many as opposed to the one, if people helped others, if people cared and displayed compassion, we could make an indentation in poverty. Compassion is what defines our humanity. This is what will help us overcome the animalistic state of some having more and some having less. It is impossible to create a utopian society where everyone has the best quality of life, but we can work together to lessen the extent to which some profit at the expense of others through education and compassion.

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