Definition and Means of Attainment
We've heard it said, "business exists for one thing: to make a profit." Profit is loathed by many who perceive the severe injustice and putrid corruption that occurs when big corporations use the government to hedge out competition, stockpile subsidies, and acquire various other special privileges and legal immunities. Yet profit itself is not to blame, but rather unjust means of attaining it. Profit, by definition, and when justly pursued, is an essential, spontaneous feature of human society which promotes efficiency and productivity in all economic activities.
The subjectivity of value is critical in understanding markets and how different valuations can be placed on the same things by different people. Also vital is an honest and realistic appraisal of the motivation behind all human action. Some will claim that a few people, particularly preachers and politicians, are motivated by altruism and the good of others or society as a whole. I am convinced this is not the case. Even the monk or missionary does not carry out their duty strictly for others, but for the rewards of God and Heaven as well as the blessings of piety on Earth. Self interest is the root motivator for all human action, conscious and subconscious, and — when applied rightly — is not only healthy and natural, but necessary for survival and growth.
The dictionary defines profit as "the difference between the amount earned and the amount spent buying, operating, or producing something." But that alone is not sufficient for our purposes, as it does not begin to suggest why such a difference exists. In a free market, profit is the measurement of the value created by an economic activity. For example, to transport a resource from where it is valued less to where it is valued more can be profitable if the cost of doing so is less than the difference in valuation between the origin and destination. Similarly, to refine, improve, or combine a resource into something valued more highly can be profitable if the cost of doing so is less than the difference in value between the former and latter condition. In both cases the action delivers value to the marketplace, and profit is the measurement of and reward for doing so.
But all this is in the absence of corruption. Due to its nature, government provides an excellent vehicle for people who wish to use force to impose their values on their neighbor and benefit at their expense. Big corporations leverage their power to influence politicians to enact taxes, subsidies, codes, and regulations that favor their organization while frustrating existing competitors and entrepreneurial newcomers. Many times they manage to convince the general population that these political measures will threaten the hegemony of the corporate giants. Revenues exacted through governmental interference are nothing respectable, nor deserving to be called profits. The term "profit" implies the creation of value and the efficient use of resources, both of which are subverted by corporate government entanglements.
Profit is not an evil, nor the pursuit of it inherently wrong, provided it is pursued with just and ethical means. Profit is the natural force by which we are informed of and directed into the most productive and efficient economic activities. Its inverse, a loss, likewise punishes us for waste and inefficiency. As value is subjective, and ethical profit is achieved by efficiently catering to the values of others, pursuit of profit is a well balanced, mutually beneficial motivation which requires discipline and self sacrifice. Since resources are finite, this natural economic force is vital for ensuring their efficient use and avoiding their depletion. Thus we should encourage ethical profit and discourage corruption for the betterment of ourselves, our society, and the world.