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Philosophy: Root Of All Evil Essay, Research Paper

The Root of All Evil

An obsession of any kind is usually unhealthy, but obsession with money can destroy the soul. Karl Marx believed that human activity is paralyzed by the capitalist system. To be sure, the all-encompassing passion for wealth and power is unchristian, but is all capitalism evil? If the answer were yes, then abandoning capitalism, with its central goal of profit, would seem to be an obvious solution to the social ills of mankind. Of course, eliminating capitalism is not the answer. The fact is that capitalism, based on free competition without deception or fraud, can lead to justly obtained profits, while serving the common good.

Consider the entrepreneurs Eli Whitney, John Deere and Henry Ford, and the enormous contributions they made to society. No matter how much money they may have earned, it was insignificant compared with the tremendous economic benefits, shared by millions of people, due to the innovation of these great American inventors. Often the greatest criticism of capitalism comes from social visionaries, such as Erich Fromm. He proposes that mankind must cease living in the having mode, concerned only with material wealth and power, to enter the being mode, and abandon their selfishness and greed. Fromm states, “In the having mode of existence my relationship to the world is one of possessing and owning, one in which I want to make everybody and everything, including myself, my property” (12). This view of the having mode would certainly explain the obscenely extravagant impulses of residents of Beverly Hills, California, but would it apply to corporations, whose contributions ultimately raise the standard of living for all?

Advocates of social responsibility often point to philanthropic activities, as typifying their vision of corporate citizenship. If one strolls through the halls of a major-city hospital, library, or college, they will come upon a list of patrons responsible for the funding of these institutions. The John Echlin Foundation, for example, is one major contributor to The Hospital of Saint Raphael, in New Haven, Connecticut. Firms not only built and funded many hospitals and schools, but they essentially created such national nonprofit organizations as the YMCA. Companies created hospitals in areas where their employees lived, so future workforces would be healthy. They funded community chests devoted to social, educational, and recreational amenities for employees, and even gave money to employees’ churches so that their spiritual needs would be met. Railroad companies built a system of YMCAs to give itinerant employees a place to stay the night and get a hot meal. These expenditures were relatively easy to defend to directors and shareholders, because the connection between them and the profits of the business were clear. Amoco Foundation executive director Patricia Wright put it, “anyone involved in the corporate world knows that it is necessary to have a strong strategic link between charitable giving and the corporation’s bottom line” (Hood 20).

The nature of corporate giving has changed through the years. During the 1950s and 1960s outside directors of foundations, made decisions on the basis of social and humanitarian issues, not corporate goals. The Amoco Foundation had traditionally given money to a host of causes, from the arts to medical research. In 1992, Amoco decided to focus philanthropy in just two areas, education and inner cities. American business executives have increasingly embraced this concept, often called strategic philanthropy. Strategic philanthropy simply involves ongoing consideration of how corporate giving ties into the firm’s need to attract good employees, enthusiastic investors, and loyal customers. As long as corporate philanthropy has a business interest, companies have a legitimate role to play in addressing social problems, and will deploy all of their resources in the effort.

Philosophers such as Erich Fromm often suggest expanding the government’s role in business. “Sane consumption is possible only if we can drastically curb the right of the stockholders and management of big enterprises to determine their production solely on the basis of profit and expansion” (Fromm 164). Fromm goes on to state that, “…the tastes of the consumers will decide what is to be produced, once the suggestive power of advertising is ended” (165). During the 1970s, this is precisely what occurred in the automobile industry–without the government’s interference. When consumers were given the option to purchase fuel efficient, reliable, and inexpensive cars from the Japanese manufacturers, or the miserable offerings from the American makers, the choice was clear. As they saw car sales fall, and profit shrink, the American companies had to respond to market pressure with smaller and more efficient automobiles to remain competitive. Expecting the government to devote valuable time and resources to directing production is ridiculous. Should not the consumers decide how to spend their hard-earned money, rather than political bureaucrats, with little or no understanding of the free market system? The government’s role in business is, and must continue to be, as enforcer of fair market rules. Deliberate acts of deception, fraud, or unfair business practice committed by any corporation, must be severely punished as a strong message to those who would consider an unethical path to improving their balance sheet.

Often in criticizing the profit motive, author Erich Fromm refers to the teachings of Christianity, and the writings of The Holy Bible. This would certainly suggest to the reader that the motivation of profit as a goal in doing business, is patently evil. Anyone who has read the Bible, of course, would call this perception nonsense. Fair trade and profit motivated business were an everyday part of life in biblical times. A key issue mentioned, for example, in Chapter 8 of the book of Deuteronomy, is the danger of prosperity. However, it is not the obtaining of wealth that is considered sinful, but the failure to acknowledge the Lord’s hand in granting one the power to acquire this wealth.

Social responsibility and the earning of fair profit can coexist. Successful companies recognize the essential connection of charitable giving to profit. McDonald’s Corporation has found that its Ronald McDonald Houses, created in the mid-1970s for sick children and families, have yielded tremendous social and financial benefits. Franchisers have found that after they run a Ronald McDonald House promotion in their restaurants, sales in that community increase significantly. Once again, in a fair and unfettered market economy, the activities of companies can be both socially beneficial, and at the same time, provide greater rewards to shareholders and management. It is obvious that business enterprises that adhere to the rules of democratic capitalism, have had a great impact on improving the human condition, perhaps greater than any social program concocted by government, or theorized by social activists. No reasonable person could argue against the recommendations made by Erich Fromm, regarding mans cruelty to others, protecting the environment, and dismantling the nuclear arsenal which threatens the very existence of the human race. Resolving issues of such magnitude will require courage, moral ethic, and strong leadership. However, the wholesale condemnation of capitalism and the profit motive on the basis of some threat they pose to mans survival cannot be justified. The historical record of the corporations in America indicates that the opposite is true. The positive changes that businesses have made on society are enormous. The common good has been well served by the decisions of many corporate leaders, and one might even consider their action to be almost heroic in nature. The reality is that regardless of the long-term benefits to their communities, the choices made by leaders in business have been, and must continue to be, motivated by profit, and profit alone.

Fromm, Erich. To Have or to Be.

New York: Bantam, 1992

Hood, John M. The Heroic Enterprise: Business and the Common Good.

New York: The Free Press, 1996

The Holy Bible: New American Catholic Edition.

New York: Benziger Brothers, Inc., 1961

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