During a time when many people want to blame businessmen for their trials, they should keep in mind the words of Ludwig von Mises in the section titled, “Businessmen Improve Social Cooperation and Economic Welfare by Earning Profits” from a paper titled, “Profit and Loss.”
The businessmen are blamed because the only thing they have in mind is to succeed. Yet everybody—without any exception—in acting aims at the attainment of a definite end. The only alternative to success is failure; nobody ever wants to fail. It is the very essence of human nature that man consciously aims at substituting a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory. What distinguishes the decent man from the crook is the different goals they are aiming at and the different means they are resorting to in order to attain the ends chosen. But they both want to succeed in their sense. It is logically impermissible to distinguish between people who aim at success and those who do not.
Practically everybody aims at improving the material conditions of his existence. Public opinion takes no offense at the endeavors of farmers, workers, clerks, teachers, doctors, ministers, and people from many other callings to earn as much as they can. But it censures the capitalists and entrepreneurs for their greed. While enjoying without any scruples all the goods business delivers, the consumer sharply condemns the selfishness of the purveyors of this merchandise. He does not realize that he himself creates their profits by scrambling for the things they have to sell. (Emphasis added.)
Neither does the average man comprehend that profits are indispensable in order to direct the activities of business into those channels in which they serve him best. He looks upon profits as if their only function were to enable the recipients to consume more than he himself does. He fails to realize that their main function is to convey control of the factors of production into the hands of those who best utilize them for his own purposes. He did not, as he thinks, renounce becoming an entrepreneur out of moral scruples. He chose a position with a more modest yield because he lacked the abilities required for entrepreneurship or, in rare cases indeed, because his inclinations prompted him to enter upon another career.
Mankind ought to be grateful to those exceptional men who out of scientific zeal, humanitarian enthusiasm or religious faith sacrificed their lives, health and wealth, in the service of their fellow-men. But the philistines practice self-deception in comparing themselves with the pioneers of medical X-ray application or with nuns who attend people afflicted with the plague. It is not self-denial that makes the average physician choose a medical career, but the expectation of attaining a respected social position and a suitable income.
Everybody is eager to charge for his services and accomplishments as much as the traffic can bear. Lu this regard there is no difference between the workers, whether unionized or not, the ministers, and teachers on the one hand and the entrepreneurs on the other hand. Neither of them has the right to talk as if he were Francis d’Assisi.
Planning for Freedom: Let the Market System Work
A Collection of Essays and Addresses
by Ludwig von Mises
Edited by Bettina Bien Greaves
Liberty Fund Inc., Indianapolis, 1952, 1962, 1974 and 2008