Nov. 1, 2012
There is a telling story today in one of the nation’s premier business publications, Barron’s, called “Playing a Superstorm.” In it, we read about some home repair-oriented companies whose stock is rising in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Of course, this makes perfect sense: Given the hurricane’s devastation, the value of firms with the resources needed to rebuild is at a premium. However, as the article notes, “These opportunities to scalp some profits out of the aftermath of the hurricane are likely fleeting, so act fast or do not act at all.”
“Scalp some profits” - yikes! Profiting from disaster seems untoward. Yet in a market-based economy, such investments can animate economic growth in regions where it is most needed - places such as those destroyed by this week’s massive “Frankenstorm.”
Every action has three ethical dimensions: Its motivation, its implementation, and its effect. Those on the Left who insist on evaluating every action based on motivation (“greedy capitalists!”) rather than outcome (renewed businesses, reconstructed neighborhoods, etc.) are looking at only one aspect of a larger picture.
I’m not suggesting that motives are unimportant. Rather, at a time of national crisis, aspersing the intentions of those whose investments can help transform extensive damage into rebuilt lives seems a tired and useless exercise. The alternative - a government-run, command-and-control economic system - would never provide the diversity, quantity, or quality of products and services needed when disaster strikes. As scholar Jay Richards wrote in his book Money, Greed, and God, we must be wary of “contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives” (watch Jay’s thoughtful FRC lecture on this theme here).
Ultimately, it’s about what the Founders called “ordered liberty,” the freedom to make reasonable, moral decisions in an open marketplace. To deny such liberty to image-bearers of God is an affront to human dignity. Our Founders understood this, which is why they valued the right to private property ownership so highly. We should maintain their commitment to free enterprise and opportunity with intentionality and energy; unless we do, when a future “Sandy” hits, we will lack the means to respond with the rapidity and resources they require.