Profit Within Reason

Capitalism is great, unfettered capitalism, not so much. Put another way, profits are desirable, but the same cannot be said for profits at any price.

Making money through premeditated destruction of a company and its employees' livelihood, or by financing a project that severely damages the environment might be technically legal, but in essence are examples of capitalism running morally and socially amuck.

Capitalism is often described as a free market economy based on "survival of the fittest." Such a system can easily devolve into anarchy devoid of humanitarian sensibilities, which is why it is imperative to place some regulatory restraints on the workings of the marketplace.

Capitalism may generate a highly competitive atmosphere in which there are always winners and losers, but "survival of the fittest" is the law of the jungle. Civilization is supposed to have advanced beyond the "kill or be killed" modus vivendi of lower life forms.

Although profits may be the life blood of capitalism, making their maximization top priority regardless of the societal consequences violates the spirit if not the letter of our laws. It should first be determined how best to minimize a business venture's potential risks of damage to the general public and the environment. It is from that paradigm that profit projections and targets should be formulated. If the likely damage far exceeds the potential benefits, the ethical course of action would be to voluntarily abandon the proposed venture in the absence of it bumping up against the law.

Placing human health and the environment ahead of maximizing profit is not as farfetched an exercise in our capitalist-oriented society as one might think. Congress incorporated "money isn't everything" into the Clean Air Act decades ago with the requirement that anti-pollution standards only be set on the basis of health concerns. Economic factors were not to come into play until time for the standards' implementation.

How should one rate the brand of capitalism practiced by Governor Mitt Romney's private equity company, Bain Capital? When Bain gave new life to a fledging or floundering company, it was capitalism at its best. When Bain picked the financial bones clean of a struggling enterprise and left it for dead, that was capitalism without a heart.

If private equity companies should profit through cut and run destruction of an organization and/or precious natural resources, you have a "dog eat dog" economy, and that never ends well.