DISMISSING AND DISTRUSTING THE PROFIT MOTIVE
In most quarters of our society there’s no shame in possessing money (or the flashy signifiers of wealth and comfort) but there is an odd unease over admitting the means by which those resources were acquired. We all benefit from the unparalleled and prodigious productivity of the capitalist system but feel uncomfortable in embracing the pursuit of profit at its very core.
Recent surveys, for instance, display startling levels of contempt for leaders of business, reflecting the assumption that entrepreneurs and executives count as sleazy, greedy, selfish and unreliable. In February, 2009, a Harris Interactive poll asked 1,050 respondents if “people on Wall Street” were “as honest and moral as other people”; a stunning 70% said “no.” In November of 2008, a Gallup Poll evaluated the “Honesty and Ethics of Professions.” The category “business executives” ranked near the bottom --- even below such frequently reviled occupations as “Lawyers,” “Labor Union Leaders,” “Funeral Directors” and “Real Estate Agents.” (The businessmen beat out only “Congressmen,” “Car Salesmen,” “Telemarketers,” “Advertising practitioners” and, at the very bottom of the barrel, “Lobbyists”.)
In a similar survey of “America’s Most Admired Professions” for the Harris organization, the designation “Business Executive” fared even worse. The bulk of 1,020 respondents felt that these capitalist commanders deserved “hardly any prestige at all,” ranking them 21st out of 23 categories – barely outpolling only “Stock Broker” and “Real Estate Agent.” The most prestigious professions, in order, were “Firefighter,” “Doctor,” “Nurse,” “Scientist,” “Teacher,” “Military Officer,” “Police Officer,” “Clergyman,” “Farmer,” and “Engineer.” As Forbes Magazine aptly observed, “none of top-ten most admired jobs can be accurately described as being driven by the profit motive – quite a contradiction in a country that was built on it. The A-list is comprised of those who serve others, including engineers (they build things) and farmers who ‘feed the world.’)”