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Author Topic: the profit motive
Lima Bean
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posted 22 October 2003 11:11 AM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think it's insidious and toxic.

I think it's at the root of most, if not all, of our society's ills.

I wish we could replace it with the wellbeing motive.


From: s | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
paxamillion
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posted 22 October 2003 11:14 AM      Profile for paxamillion   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Looking a little further, you'll see greed and self-centredness. How would you systemically address those?
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Mandos
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posted 22 October 2003 11:36 AM      Profile for Mandos   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
To deal with the profit motive, you'd also have to deal with the desire to get out more than you put in.
From: There, there. | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged
Lima Bean
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posted 22 October 2003 11:48 AM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Looking a little further, you'll see greed and self-centredness

I guess I see these as synonymous or concomitant with the profit-motive.

We say so freely and so resignedly (is that a word?) that greed and self-centredness are just natural, human instincts, but I don't really feel comfortable just accepting that. I believe that they're learned in much the same way as sexism or aggression are learned--by myriad influences on our conscious and unconscious development throughout life.

We only think that we're naturally greedy because everyone around us is steeped in greed so that it can be perpetuated, so that the most greedy of us all can continue to profit in the utmost...


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Mandos
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posted 22 October 2003 11:51 AM      Profile for Mandos   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What is greed, in the first place? If greed is the desire to maximize your chances of survival/minimize your chances of suffering, then how can it not be natural? I do think that there are negative aspects of humanity that are not learned. We only hope we can work around them.
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Lima Bean
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posted 22 October 2003 12:03 PM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think greed goes beyond survival instincts. In the concise oxford dictionary I'm looking at, it's defined as "intense or excessive desire, esp. for food or wealth".

I think greed has to do with taking more than you know is fair, more than you need, and being insatiable--always wanting more and more and more and more and more....ad nauseum.


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Smith
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posted 22 October 2003 12:03 PM      Profile for Smith     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think it's natural. But then, so are behaviours like soiling oneself and masturbating in public.

One thing this reminds me of is the "clean plate club" - an idea that comes up in a lot of weight loss programs. Left to themselves, children will eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full. Parents train them to eat what's on the plate, however much or little it is, and in some restaurants, what's on the plate is a whole day's worth of food. And the result is weight gain.

I expect greed as it manifests itself in adults is also learned, in some ways. But yes, it is natural. I mean, watch a two-year-old with a box of toys.


From: Muddy York | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged
Mr. Magoo
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posted 22 October 2003 12:06 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
We only think that we're naturally greedy because everyone around us is steeped in greed so that it can be perpetuated, so that the most greedy of us all can continue to profit in the utmost

Actually, to whatver degree we regard greed or the desire for profit as natural probably comes from nature.

Give an animal a choice between a big, ripe, low-hanging fruit or a small meagre fruit at the top of the tree, and naturally they'll go for the option that gives them the most fruit for the least investment.

Likewise, give animals the choice to either expend their own efforts to hunt (or locate) food or simply take what another animal has killed or found, and most will take the second option if they can.

Give a hamster an unlimited supply of grain and it will hoard as much as it can in its cheeks, hide it, and come back for more. If it can, it will hoard more food than it can even eat, and if the hamster two cages down doesn't have enough... well, it's not gonna lose sleep over that because that's not what nature programmed it to do. It's acting in its own best interest because that's what nature demands of it.

Even what passes for altruism in animals (prarie dogs helping other prairie dogs raise their young, for example) has been shown to be self-interested activity - typically not done for some kind of "greater good", but to increase the chances of one's own genes making it into the next generation.

I'm not suggesting that nature wants us all to be horrifically ruthless, mind you, nor giving permission to everyone to behave in a laissez faire manner just because the other animals do, but I think that it's worth noting that greed, self-interest and the idea of getting out more than you put in aren't evil human corruptions - they're part of nature.


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Lima Bean
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posted 22 October 2003 12:23 PM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
it's worth noting that greed, self-interest and the idea of getting out more than you put in aren't evil human corruptions - they're part of nature.

I do think that greed for money and wealth and status and prestige are definitely human perversions of a natural instinct. I think I have to agree with you that it's a survival instinct, and that we're naturally inclined to provide for ourselves in the best way we know how. It makes sense to build reserves and have a bank of food/money/whatever to draw on in hard times.

But, as with the examples given above, soiling oneself and masturbating in public could also be considered natural, and perhaps instinctive, but nonetheless, we've managed, as a society, to curtail such behaviors fairly significantly. And for the most part, this has been beneficial to the whole of society, I think.


From: s | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
Mr. Magoo
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posted 22 October 2003 12:37 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I do think that greed for money and wealth and status and prestige are definitely human perversions of a natural instinct.

Yes, probably the sex instinct. That is, after all, at the root of any desire for the fanciest jewelry or the most pretigious car.

quote:
But, as with the examples given above, soiling oneself and masturbating in public could also be considered natural, and perhaps instinctive...

Many animals will make certain that these functions are private - not out of modesty, but rather because it benefits them (and others at the same time). Cats, for example, won't leave their droppings around, but only because they might attract other predators.

Before you convince people to give up their "greed", you'll have to show them that it's better in a real, material way. I don't think most people are going to be swayed by any philosophical or purely moral arguments on this one.


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Skye
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posted 22 October 2003 12:44 PM      Profile for Skye     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think that rather than greed, co-operation is actually our most natural human instinct. If you look at any of the really early societies, they were nomadic communities that travelled together and depended on one another to survive. Co-operation was an absolute necessity.Individualism and greed would not have got you very far.

Sometime around the beginning of industrialization or before, we replaced co-operation with the ethos of greed and individualism.


From: where "labor omnia vincit" is the state motto | Registered: Jun 2003  |  IP: Logged
Lima Bean
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posted 22 October 2003 12:54 PM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What prompted me to start this thread was thinking about things like the exportation of labour, the privatization of social services like shelters (I know it's only a proposition, but it's disgusting) and health care, and the rape and pillage of the earth's finite resources. I'm thinking of the war in Iraq and other such imperialistic decimation of land and culture. I'm thinking about the AIDS epidemic and the pharmaceutical companies' deathly grip on their patents--and profits. Etc. until it makes you dizzy and sad.

Don't people see straight off that we'd be much healthier and happier a planet if we could find a way to rid ourselves of the greed that motivates garbage like this? How could I possibly convince them if it's not already painfully clear?


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Mandos
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posted 22 October 2003 12:57 PM      Profile for Mandos   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The problem is that many people see themselves as being better off in the future through greed. They'll be healthier and happier if they own a mansion. You know the phenomenon where people won't vote to tax the rich because they're afraid they'll be taxed when they themselves are filthy rich?
From: There, there. | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged
Lima Bean
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posted 22 October 2003 01:04 PM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I think that rather than greed, co-operation is actually our most natural human instinct.

This is what I think too, and that it's been squelched by so many years of brainwashing. It makes sense that the Industrial Revolution would bring with it a new set of survival instincts, or simply a need to make us want for more material things, and then of course, more wealth to be able to dispense in the acquisition of these new material things.

A thought on instinct...

Imagine you're walking down the street and you see someone fall over and crack their head on the sidewalk. What's your first reaction--the most instinctive one? Is it to grab the poor fellow's wallet and take off with his cash, or is it to rush over and try to offer assistance in some way?


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nonsuch
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posted 22 October 2003 01:09 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Yes. (To all, but i particularly meant Skye88)
It's natural to want security, to store up food and supplies for lean times. But we used to do this together, co-operatively, for the benefit of the whole group. In civilized - and most markedly, industrial - times, the group has been fragmented. Thus, individual acquisition has displaced collective provision.
Much worse, money (a symbol; an imaginary substance) has replaced necessities in the act of hoarding. And the language of money has confused the hell out of our natural instincts.

I saw a really good film the other day, called Who's Counting?, made by the National Film Board in '95 (and probably available at the library). It's about Marilyn Waring, a New Zealander, ex MP and economist. She illustrates the nonsensical language of economics and uses wonderful comparisons between productive, useful work that doesn't count in the GDP because it is unpaid (has no $ value) and activities that are unproductive or destructive, which are counted as a value, because people get paid for it.
I understand she's also written a book that would help people understand this. I'm looking for it now. ("Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth").

[ 22 October 2003: Message edited by: nonesuch ]


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Mr. Magoo
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posted 22 October 2003 01:09 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
If you look at any of the really early societies, they were nomadic communities that travelled together and depended on one another to survive. Co-operation was an absolute necessity.Individualism and greed would not have got you very far.

Then along came pluralism. It's a lot easier to have a more communal way of life when everyone is of the same mind. You can contribute to communal resources, knowing that they'll be used in a way that will benefit you.

Today we have too many opinions, traditions and cultures for this to work the same way. If we have a finite amount of money to be used to educate the next generation about sex, for example, should it be used to a) discuss and provide condoms, b) promote and enforce abstinence, or c) deny that sex even exists? Should our children be taught about God? Which God? Should school cafeterias serve pork? Why or why not?

Sometimes individualism is the only way you can protect those things that are important to you. If anyone has any ideas as to how we can all return to one mind, I'm all ears, but I think the pee is in the pool, as far as individualism and cooperation are concerned.


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Skye
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posted 22 October 2003 01:18 PM      Profile for Skye     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think though, the politics of Greed and profit only go so far until people start to see the light.

Right now, there is an absolute dire mess in the United States in the form of for-proft Health Care. Massive strikes are taking place across the country right now, with employees fighting to maintain their health benefits. Even major corporations are speaking up for Nationalized medicare to avoid the ever increasing premiums they must pay. There is an absolute groundswell of support right now for the idea of Public Health Care, so much so that it is becoming a major 2004 election issue.

People in the U.S are demanding that the profit motive be taken out of healthcare, in favour of a more caring and humane public one, like the rest of the Western world enjoys.

I really believe that you can only keep people down for so long until the politics of greed and inequality are cast aside for something more just and fair.


From: where "labor omnia vincit" is the state motto | Registered: Jun 2003  |  IP: Logged
nonsuch
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posted 22 October 2003 01:29 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Sometimes individualism is the only way you can protect those things that are important to you. If anyone has any ideas as to how we can all return to one mind, I'm all ears, but I think the pee is in the pool, as far as individualism and cooperation are concerned.

There is nothing wrong with individualism. There is no reason why a balance can't be achieved between individual liberty and the common weal.
We don't need to be 'of one mind' on all subjects, in order to recognize the basic needs we all share - and that we must share, if the whole society is to survive. We just need to take a slightly longer view: what benefits me today may hurt me next week. And we need to keep the concept of monetary gain seperate in our minds from the perception of real benefit: they are different and often inimical one to the other.

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Lima Bean
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posted 22 October 2003 02:01 PM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Thank you for bringing money's symbolic and somewhat mystical nature into the discussion, nonesuch.

When I said in the first post that the profit motive is insidious, I was thinking mostly of how it's crept into every aspect of our lives. Now we can't get food without someone making a profit. We can't even wash our hands without someone demanding a profit for the water, the building and all the pipes and ceramic involved.

I think nonesuch hit the nail on the head when she spoke of a longer term view. I think, if we looked at things more holistically, we'd see that a lot (most? all?) of what we do in the name of profit is actually extremely destructive, and while it might fill your bank account today, it's paving the way for destitution in the future.


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Sisyphus
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posted 22 October 2003 02:22 PM      Profile for Sisyphus     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
An interesting take on the issues of individualism vs community, cooperation vs defection and the functioning of pluralist society is provided by Joseph Heath's The Efficient Society: Why Canada is as close to Utopia as it gets. One of the main ideas is that the profit motive helps markets drive the efficient distribution of goods and allocation of resources, but that overall societal efficiency (providing the most goods/services to the most people) requires that certain insitutions (e.g. health care) must abandon the profit motive to be efficient.

I don't think that science counts either selfishness or altruism as "essentially human" characteristics. They are both behavioural strategies that are more or less successful in particular circumstances. Game theorists, who Joseph Heath cites at length in The Efficient Society, have shown that an imbalance of selfishness or altruism leads to severe instability in populations and that stable populations always display a balance.

The problem, then, is not that the profit motive is inherently evil, but that it can only produce beneficial results in societies where it is applied only in those domains where it works.
Clearly, health care, education, criminal justice and poverty eradication are areas where profit is a ridiculous objective

[ 22 October 2003: Message edited by: Sisyphus ]


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DrConway
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posted 22 October 2003 05:11 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The latest round in people trying to chisel every damn cent they can out of your wallet is the "micropayment" system where you get nickel and dimed to death in a literal fashion.

Greed, as I see it, is not a natural human instinct. What is natural is a related instinct, which is laziness. Nobody wants to do more than the absolute bare minimum required if they can avoid doing so.

Getting other people to do the work for you, in effect, validates your laziness as "good business sense", and along with it comes a sense of entitlement to the excess of reward you gain by paying people less than the value they add to your company (take a microeconomics course; a firm will only hire up until the last worker hired exactly outputs the marginal product of labor, meaning that the last worker hired exactly adds just enough value to justify the wage, but the next worker hired will not) - as explained parenthetically, this is acknowledged in classical economics and is not strictly Marxist.

This sense of entitlement, in its most virulent form, is greed.


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nonsuch
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posted 22 October 2003 05:15 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
...and, of course, war, which is extremely profitable to certain individuals or even whole nations in the short term, but destroy real value and social stability in the long term.
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Smith
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posted 22 October 2003 11:44 PM      Profile for Smith     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I read something about a tribe called the Ik once, who went from being a fairly cooperative, friendly society to an extreme dysfunctional individualism in a generation. They were moved inland to a rocky, mountainous region with little food, and there was no longer enough for them, so everything deteriorated - soon they were throwing children out of the house as soon as they were weaned, snatching food from the mouths of their dying parents; friendship was impossible, normal family relationships no longer existed. Even sharing one's food with one's family was regarded as stupidity.

Today, the divorce rate rises and falls with the unemployment rate; relationships - which require a certain degree of altruism - break down under material pressure.

I think destructive greed appears when people perceive scarcity around them. The problem is that a consumer capitalist market thrives on people's perception of scarcity - people will not buy more things if they believe they already have enough.


From: Muddy York | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged

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