You can’t count on greed anymore.

What is the world coming to?

While greed is most often disparaged as something quite evil – there are really two kinds of greed and whether we are conscious of it or not, we rather assume its presence in most of our dealings with other people. When it is suddenly withdrawn, it makes for confusion and uncertainty and, surprisingly, an element of chaos.

It could very well be the undoing of business.

Most of us expect humans to act like humans and that includes a certain element of “greed.”

The reality of the world is, in order to survive, human beings have to do things to sustain ourselves – and whether that means clubbing a wild beast over the head for food, or selling a widget at a price that covers costs and nets a profit – it makes no difference. We have to look out for Number One, before we can do anything for anyone else. In order to do that, we have to have some element of greed which, for the sake of understanding, is to say “we have to be of self-interest.”

But, that is different from wanting what belongs to others, or what we do not have a right to claim. Now, that is GREED. And, again it matters not whether one is trying to abscond with another person’s kill or trying to gain what another has earned – that is the “greed” which is evil. It is evil because it inculcates the undermining of civilization – of the lives of other human beings. The desire for the unearned – whether sought in a back alley or through a legalized process — undermines the peace and productivity that is necessary for individual happiness and success. So, it goes without saying, it is not good for business.

This is a change in ideas and business decisions of which everyone should be aware, and understand its meaning for – you guessed it – preserving your own self-interest.

What if people are so indoctrinated against “greed” — having never been taught the difference and having always been “kept” by others—  that they can’t accept the idea that profits are good. Where does that leave someone who goes into business with them?

They are in a very precarious position.

Chances are their partner — no matter what role they play – cannot be depended upon to make their decisions upon the same basis as one expects from players who have a healthy sense of self-preservation for themselves, and who respect the role that profits play in sustaining a business.

It’s tough to criticize good intentions – in fact, folks with good intentions often bring a wonderful new perspective at how businesses might improve. But to understand that their thinking is different from what you might expect is to be forewarned and prepared.

No matter how good their intentions, if they are willing to sacrifice profits to such goals, they may not deliver as promised, or if they own a business it will ultimately fail. And, for those around them, not to recognize that their ultimate goal is contrary to the fundamentals of good business, could spell problems for anyone dealing with them.

Nothing good comes of a failed business – ie. an unprofitable business —  just as nothing good can be achieved by someone who doesn’t first take care of themselves.

There is actually profound societal benefit such self-interest “greed,” because people who do not take care of themselves, become the responsibility of others. Sometimes that is unavoidable, and at times we all are in a position of having to depend on others, but that cannot be the standard for all, for the very obvious reason that there would be no one to depend upon.

There is just as much societal benefit of a sound profitable business. An unprofitable business that survives can only be doing so by being a burden to taxpayers. And, an unprofitable business does not have a surplus of wealth from which all things must flow – jobs, taxes, products and services, future investment, philanthropy, innovations that improve the quality of life and environment. 

In all those respects – greed is good.