I Composed this Letter on My MacBook Pro While Sipping Gourmet Coffee from Guatemala

by Don Boudreaux on September 14, 2012

in Complexity & Emergence

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Edward Sage ridicules Charles Koch’s claim – from Mr. Koch’s essay ”Corporate Cronyism Harms America” (Sept. 10) - that “the role of business is to provide products and services that make people’s lives better.”  Mr. Sage asks in response: “Since when? This sounds much more like a liberal take on the role of government. As a liberal I’d be over the moon if companies cared primarily about making lives better. Instead, this only happens if it’s the best way to make money” (Letters, Sept. 13).

Mr. Sage uses the word “only” to imply that it’s a mere occasional happenstance that the best way for businesses to make money is to supply goods and services that improve people’s lives. But because no private business (without special privileges granted by government) can force any consumer to buy its products – and because no private business (without special privileges granted by government) can prevent other businesses from competing for consumers’ dollars – no private business (without special privileges granted by government) can survive unless it supplies “products and services that make people’s lives better” (as judged by consumers themselves, of course, rather than by Mr. Sage and his fellow “liberals”).

Businesses do sometimes err. Consumers do sometimes err. But for Mr. Sage not to see that in private markets the profit motive generally drives businesses to seek ceaselessly and frantically for ways to supply outputs that improve people’s lives is for him to be blind to one of the most remarkable and transformative facts of the past two centuries.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

(Thanks to those who sent me the link to Mr. Sage’s letter!)

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