Business Is Good

No, I’m not answering a question about whether sales are up or whether we’re gaining market share. It is a simple statement, and (really) it should be completely uncontroversial.

Business is good.

It’s kind of like saying that food is good or air is good or, for that matter, people are good. On the one hand: of course. Everybody knows that.

And then on the other hand: are you out of your mind? Some food will kill you. Sometimes air is polluted. Some people are pyschopaths (and many of those who aren’t are no damn good anyway.)

And business? Where to begin? It pollutes the environment. It callously exploits, manipulates, and endangers people all over the world. It fills our lives with unhealthy food and endless cheap consumer products. It makes us materialistic. It empowers the greedy to hold us all in thrall.

It pretty much ruins everything.

Now to be honest, my own exposure to the evil side of the business world is limited to this kind of thing…

…which is still pretty bad. But I don’t for one second deny the rest of it. Business has enabled and continues to enable all kinds of appalling things to happen.

So how can anyone with a straight face argue that business is good?

Actually, it’s not that hard. I’m perfectly willing to concede that air is polluted at times. I readily concede that some food will kill you. And I know all too well that some people are psychos and multitudes more are just plain assholes.

And you know what? None of that matters. Air is good. Food is good. People are good.
Likewise, business has enabled all manner of greed, manipulation, destruction — you name it. And that, too, does not matter. Two reasons.

1. As Matt Ridley explains in The Rational Optimist, the free exchange of goods, services, and ideas is one of the principal drivers of the rather sharp curve we see in this graph.

2. As Steven Pinker explains in The Better Angels of Our Nature, commerce is one of the principal drivers of the rather sharp curve we see in this graph.

That’s the homicide rate per 100,000 people, btw. The numbers we see here are for Europe, but similar trends can be shown everywhere in the world. And it isn’t just murder — all forms of violent death and in fact all forms of violence are in decline, as difficult as that may be to believe. (Read Pinker’s book — it’s astounding.)

As I noted, business is a major driver for each of these changes, but it hasn’t acted alone. Two other good things have helped and, yes, they’re fundamentally good just like food and air. I’m going to do separate posts on each of them — can you guess what they are?

To conclude: for all the harm it may have caused, business has played a significant role in making the world massively more prosperous and at the same time, safer and more peaceful. It is a good thing. Anything else we need to say on the subject needs to begin with that understanding.

Cross-Posted from Transparency Revolution


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