A good deal of the Obama campaign is dedicated to the proposition that “profit” is evil. The quintessential Marxist formulation holds that capitalist profit is the theft of surplus labor value from workers. Obama sometimes modifies Marx to portray excessive profit as theft, while fair and reasonable profits are acceptable.
Of course, he’s the one who gets to decide what constitutes a reasonable profit margin – an entirely arbitrary decision that changes based on the nature of the industry in question, and how it intersects with political agendas. You’ll never see a chart that would bind the Left to a commitment that this industry can make 40 percent profit, while that industry is “greedy” if it shoots for more than 35 percent. And of course, those calculations would never account for fluctuations in profit and loss over time, the enormous expense of launching a subsequently profitable operation, or the level of risk undertaken by investors.
The fashionable modern Leftist, deeply sensitive to comparisons with the philosophy of Karl Marx, pretends to treat this issue as an incredibly complex topic, fit only for the vast intellect and boundless compassion of liberals, but it really isn’t. You either believe lawful profit should be subject to political judgment, or you don’t. And if you do, you are comfortable with placing the ambitions of the ruling class above those of free people, whose hopes and dreams become subject to weight and measure by their rulers.
Obama used to express his hostility to profit as the rendition of his superior wisdom to the benighted, money-grubbing populace (“I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money”) but these days he mostly uses it as a cudgel against Mitt Romney’s vastly superior business skills. “When you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits,” Obama sniffed in a May press conference. “Your job is to figure out how everyone in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who get laid off and how are we paying for their retraining? Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so they can attract new businesses. Your job as president is to think about how do we set up an equitable tax system so that everybody is paying their fair share that allows us then to invest in science and technology and infrastructure, all of which will help us grow.”
Actually, none of those things is part of the Constitutionally-defined duties of the President, whose sharply limited powers have nothing to do with deciding which workers get laid off, how local communities strive to attract business investment, or how to redistribute wealth according to his personal, ever-shifting vision of “fairness.” The part about getting everyone a fair shot might be considered valid, if generously interpreted as the duty to ensure people – individually, in concert, or as members of a government agency – don’t rob or defraud each other.
By a similarly generous evaluation, the President’s job does involve maximizing profits, because that is the only route to healthy job creation. As Obama has so expensively demonstrated, government edicts are a very poor substitute. Profit results when a good opportunity is skillfully exploited by free people. Free people are several orders of magnitude better at detecting and exploiting those opportunities than politicians. Just for starters, free people are far more numerous than government bureaucrats, and they take the menace of loss far more seriously.
Take away the profit motive, and the only possible motivation for producing employment opportunities, excellent products at low prices, and tax revenue is force. People who have never started a business often underestimate the difficulty of start-up, successful competition, and growth. They underestimate the general level of productivity necessary to sustain both the American lifestyle and our expensive government.
Peter Schiff, a prominent defender of capitalism, had some fun by posing as a liberal and asking audience members at the Democratic convention to vent their hostility to profits. He went as far as asking them if they’d support banning corporate profits altogether, and returning all the money to workers. That’s pure white-lightning Marxism, without Barack Obama’s elegant pretensions of technocratic wisdom. Schiff had plenty of enthusiastic takers on the floor of the DNC. Weep for a nation filled with so many people eager to throw away their own liberty, and place complete faith in the judgment of their betters.