A profound question. Are businesses just for money? Are they just for profit? The most interesting word in the previous sentence, arguably, is “for.” We might try to explain a business simply by citing the obvious connection with money. Is this all of what they are for? Or is there something else? We could, for example, claim that when businesses make money, that makes for a great society, or provides jobs, or that having a job gives people something meaningful to do in life. Or: is it better to just say business is there for making money?
It is true that in our society a person is faced with this need to make money, and there seems to be something fundamental there, something fundamental about the money motive. After all, it exists for all urban societies. Everybody in that kind of society needs money. That we can say with a reasonable (i.e. for social science) degree of certainty. However, one might also suggest that a business enterprise has many other characteristics (unless it is a bank – but that kind of proves my point). If it is a small business, it probably involves an individual working hard all day – for as the common wisdom would have it, the sole proprietor tends to be a hard worker. If a big business, then there are other considerations. It may therefore be that “just making money” is too narrow, as the explanation of why businesses exist.
To repeat the question, are businesses just there for money? If the individual wants, actually needs money, and businesses are run by these same individuals, are businesses simply the functional translation of that very need? It is time now to introduce a further consideration. The further consideration is societies with businesses in them only do well when they involve the free interaction of human beings. In this connection, I will suggest that capitalism regulates that freedom, but does not eliminate or remove that freedom. The freedom may not be removed. The system of business therefore forces this necessary human freedom into guidelines, or it forces it to follow certain rules. But the reasonably well-compensated individual lives in a free society. We just said that capitalism needs that freedom, and thus it is inconsistent to now say that it goes away.
We therefore may conclude that businesses are not there to get money, to make a profit. They are doing that, but with the added consideration that participants have freedom, and that the society that results, and that has all of this business activity going on all the time, involves the free interaction of human beings. Anyone that believes this to be unimportant probably does not care much about freedom.
Our process of inquiry has now taken us out of the tight circle of business being “only for money” and thus we have placed ourselves into a slightly broader view of the matter.
Business actors are not involved merely in self-interest. They are acting as social beings. They are perpetuating a society that is reasonable, and that is fair. They are perpetuating a society that contains human freedom.
When a person goes to work, is she “just trying to get money”? Persons often used to say that. They would tell you: “I am just trying to make a living.” It is time to give up on that excuse. We need to take seriously the idea that we have responsibilities to others.
An individual who is involved, as a free member of a free society, in business, whether as owner or employee is not just there to make money but has the responsibility of upholding a society that contains human freedom as an absolute requirement for its success. How an individual goes about doing that is his or her own business, but if it is not done, it is the worse for all of us.