I had to take a decent amount of time off this evening to get our harp restringed. Beautiful instrument, but it requires a lot of maintenance. While talking with the fellow who travels the East Coast restringing and retensioning/regulating harps, I made the comment, “Capitalism isn’t about greed, it is about service.” He stopped for a moment, and said (something like), “More people need to hear that.”
Well, I’ll say it now, while Capitalism is at low ebb. Capitalism at its best is run by idealists who have great ideas about how to make the world a better place by offering more and better choices to individuals. They love their work, and are passionate about what they do. They are lifelong learners, trying to better themselves and what they offer others.
The value proposition is simple: Capitalism offers more than you previously could have done with your resources. For those willing to make the effort and run their own businesses, the principle can shine. Serve others well. There is no shame in service, as the Protestant Reformation taught, rather, it is the normal life for all people — we must do our duty in all of life, whether because of non-negotiable ties (Family, Church, State), or negotiable ties (Business Agreements).
Capitalism maximizes choice for those that study hard and work hard. By meeting the needs of others, there is a reward. The more people you help, and the greater the help offered, the better you can do.
Capitalism derives its moral legitimacy from service. The idea that greed makes Capitalism legitimate should be discarded. Greed is evil; it places personal well-being ahead of ethics. Service places other people in front of our own interests, and promotes harmony.
I’ve been in the financial world for 22 years — I’ve seen real service. I’ve seen greed. I’ve seen managements that motivate to excellence, and those that cheat the customer (and employees — the two phenomena are correlated). I have also succeeded in serving customers, and sadly, failed them (less often, thankfully).
It does not change my conclusion: Capitalism has moral legitimacy because it causes businessmen to deliver high-quality service to customers, not because it is the best way of channeling the energy of greedy men.