Altruism, we’re told is noble and good. Altruism is the selfless concern for the well-being of others. You know, we are our brothers’ keepers; we must care for and help the “less-fortunate”. And by powerful implication, that means that, because we have been successful, accumulated some wealth, and are happy, we have been “more-fortunate”; not smart, not diligent, not industrious, not focused, not long-term-oriented, not people-skilled, not disciplined, just “more-fortunate”. “. . . you didn’t build that.” Altruism, I contend and assert is not noble, and not good.
Altruism is the enemy. Altruism is the enabler of statism, and, thus, socialism, communism, and fascism, ideologies that have resulted in the killing of hundreds of millions of people. Altruism reduces the standard of living of everyone. Altruism, if it carries sway, takes a prosperous society and renders it third-world. Altruism, if it continues to carry sway, will render the United States another Argentina. A century ago Argentina and the United States — both blessed with similar natural resources — had virtually identical GDP. Argentina adopted socialism while the U.S. began accepting the painfully-slow creep of progressivism. While the U.S. has lost economic freedom, Argentina has become third-world, a mere shadow of its former self.
American Progressive people preach altruism. So do Catholic priests and Protestant ministers and Jewish rabbis. So do kindergarten teachers in our awful government-operated schools. And so do government-school-educated and religious-zealot parents starting with the first time their first child has a play date or an encounter with other kids at the park.
Concern for the well-being of others is part of human nature, is natural, and an important component of enlightened self-interest. Concern for the well-being of others is, indeed, given human nature, selfish, and selfish is good and natural. Being selfless on the other hand is stupid, self-destructive, counter to human nature. Being selfless is to diminish the importance of self to less than that of anyone else. If you subscribe to PETA or an “environmental group”, you diminish the importance to you of you to less than any other person and as well any animal, plant, body of water or mountaintop.
Reflect for a moment on how the world works. Consider the relationship between a weed and your lawn. Consider how each tree competes with others for sunlight. Consider the plight of a selfless lion; it’s called starvation. Consider how each gazelle races all the others to not be back-of-the-pack when a hungry lion is chasing. Altruism is counter to natural law, i.e., what can and cannot make rational and logical sense.
So the good and caring mom takes young Johnny to the park with his toy truck. Timmy’s mom brings him, but with no truck. Timmy tries to rip off Johnny’s truck. Johnny’s mom scolds him, admonishing him to share because Timmy has no truck. Timmy’s mom admires Johnny’s mom. Someone — apparently, it won’t be Timmy’s mom — should ask Timmy what he brought to share. Later, Johnny’s mom will get him ready for his first day of school with a shopping trip. They’ll buy paper, pencils, crayons, a notebook, some glue, a ruler . . . Johnny will spread it out, admire it, organize it, and pack it for the trip to school. The first morning of kindergarten the teacher will have all the kids deposit all their goodies in the front of the room so as to distribute everything equally among all the young students. Later, either a priest or a minister or a rabbi will preach to Johnny about caring for the poor and needy, and that only the poor shall inherit . . . If Johnny is Jewish it’ll be a cakewalk because Jews seem born with altruism borne of guilt in their DNA.
In business or the world of work any arrangement, relationship, or transaction must be a win-win. I offer you a job with compensation and you either decide to accept or decline. We become employer-employee if, and only if each of us sees it as a win. I offer a product at a price. If you’d prefer to have the product to keeping the money based on the price, you buy. If not, you look elsewhere . . . for a win-win. As a business owner or executive, I can only succeed if I satisfy or exceed the wants of lots and lots of people for a long long time; customers, employees, shareholders, lenders, suppliers. So the constant question is what you bring to the table and what does the other guy. It’s that way at the park for the crumb crunchers too. It’s that way in a marriage . . . if it’s to succeed. If someone is sacrificing at the park or at work or in a marriage, that’s a recipe for disaster. Altruism is self-destructive and self-defeating.
Having asserted principles of business above, it’s probably apropos here to mention what is erroneously called “crony capitalism”. It’s misnamed that intentionally, that to besmirch capitalism. When a business or industry colludes with government officials in a quid-pro-quo-one-hand-washes-the-other, it is unprincipled on both parts, but the fault of government, given that government has defined badly fiduciary responsibility. The business executive must by law maximize value for shareholders and investors. Then, there’s labor unions. They seek win-lose, that despite the strategy ultimately causing their members to lose. Collective bargaining is collusion in restraint of trade, a violation of the unalienable right to liberty, unconstitutional, and violation of the Sherman Act of 1890. Both “crony capitalism” and union collective bargaining have a long-term effect of reducing standards of living for everyone.
It’s fine to give of your time and treasure. If you think you want to because it’ll make the community, the world around you a better and more-satisfying place, hey, knock yourself out. Enjoy doing it. Do it of your own free will. Don’t feel obligated, however. And don’t have the business be charitable. Businesses are the one and only vehicle for creating wealth, and creating wealth is more difficult than giving wealth away.
For decades now, I saw the Ted Turner who started the 24-hour cable-news channel CNN as genius. I also saw the Ted Turner who gave millions to the United Nations as an idiot. I wish that Turner had invented something else instead of “giving back”. Bill and Melinda Gates may do much good with their foundation, but I just have to wonder whether more customers, employees, shareholders, lenders, and suppliers, and, therefore, society and the world would be even better if he’d kept working at being an innovative genius.
I have noted here before that our language has morphed over time, and that certain terms in the United States Constitution had different meanings when written in the 1780s than now. For example, “regulate” then meant nothing more than “make regular”, and “commerce” was not manufacturing or agriculture or service, but merely payment terms (e.g., 5 net 30, etc.) and transport (so, involving tolls at borders, etc.). It seems to me apropos that I mention that in the Declaration of Independence, when the Founders chose to identify an unalienable right as “the pursuit of happiness” rather than “property”, “pursuit” then meant “earning or achieving”, not begging or demanding, or even just seeking.
When I was but a small boy, my mom told me that it was better to give than receive. This was an intended life-lesson for the coming Christmas Season. I replied that, “It’s easier to give than to receive.” Do I think that Americans in the aggregate can be persuaded that enlightened-self-interest is good and altruism bad, that selfishness is good and selflessness bad? No. “The meek shall inherit the earth”, and we’ll all meekly suffer the consequences.
I reflected on who has helped me with these insights, for whatever they’re worth, or gotten me thinking on the subject. Certainly the irascible Neal Boortz, now retiring from talk-radio-hosting after more than four decades, And certainly John A. Allison, former CEO and Chairman of BB&T (Branch Banking & Trust), current President and CEO of the Cato Institute, distinguished professor of finance at Wake Forest University, and author of The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure. Also, I think, a self-identified Jewish M.D. commenter to letters to the editor at the Knoxville News-Sentinel, using the handle “marcomd”. Hard to know whether to thank them or not.