The problems with profit

There are things government can’t do that well. There are also things the private sector, with its profit motive, really messes up.

One example of the profit motive doing much more damage than good was the Iraq war, where firms like Halliburton were in effect profiteering, were financially rewarded for an invasion based on a lie told by the vice president who had financial ties to that firm.

Another example is private prisons where profit-making has driven prison firms to lobby for stricter and longer sentences, drumming up customers. This transferring of public funds to private businesses has nearly bankrupted some states. And our nation now incarcerates a ridiculously high percentage of people compared to all other nations.

Another example is charter schools where the main result seems to be the private sector feeding well from the public trough.

Yet another example is our oil field. We are wasting one-third of the natural gas brought to the surface with fracking because there is more immediate money to be made with oil.

And we shouldn’t forget big investment banks almost totally crashing the national and world-wide economy with their unsound and risky business practices designed to redistribute money from Main Street to Wall Street.

Good old profit. Pursuing it can become addictive and can severely narrow our focus and blind us to human and natural realities. No matter how some cable TV economic experts spin it, profit is definitely not pro-life. It is only pro-profit.

Of course this is nothing new. The bible, both the old and new testaments, is shot through with reminders of how the love of money is the root of all evil.

In fact, the very early church leaders did not consider lust as one of the seven deadly sins; it was listed as a type of greed or possessiveness, treating persons as objects.

The other night on TV there was an up to date presentation of the blindness and inhumanity of profit pursuit.

I recommend looking up on the Internet the first eight minutes or so of the Dec. 5 Daily Show. There are nights when this 8-10 minute opening segment is brilliant, although at times scattered with bleeps. This particular show is brilliant and has only two bleeps as I recall.

In this case, host Jon Stewart aligns himself with the pope against so-called economic experts on TV who commented on the issue of raising the minimum wage. They of course saw such a raise as much, much worse than some families being short on food because of low wages.

Stewart, with well timed video clips of their statements, showed these well-heeled commentators as the Scrooges they are.

When they “respectfully and humbly” disagreed with the pope’s critique of unfettered capitalism, of how it can be blind to basic human needs, Stewart asked incredulously, “You’re going up against the pope on this? You’re telling him how to do his job?”

To get the full impact of his comments, well, you gotta look at the video.

It’s as much the visual aids, the clips and other graphics as it is Stewart’s comedic comments and timing that make it go, that deliver the message, which is an updated version of biblical prophets (his people) cautioning us about profits.

In this segment, he’s a hip, modern-day prophet with bleeped out words, speaking about money and how easy it is to fall under its spell and forget about people and the common good.

(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)