No Cheers for the Profit Motive

“No Cheers for the Profit Motive,” Wall Street Journal, February 20, 1979.


It is, in my opinion, as absurd to praise the profit motive—i.e., economic action based on self-interest—as it is to condemn it. The human impulse to such action is, like the sexual impulse, a natural fact. So far from being a virtue, self-interested action (again, like sexual action) is an intrinsic aspect of human nature that falls under the shadow of “original sin” (or whatever the theological counterpart is in non-Christian religions, and they all do have such a counterpart). Perfect human being—i.e., saints—do not engage in such self-interested, acquisitive actions; and it is quite impossible to believe that, after our Redeemer cometh, business will go on as usual. Or sex, for that matter. Or politics, which is still another natural activity of unredeemed humanity.