Leadership

The Profit Motive and the Common Good

The Profit Motive and the Common Good

I’m not someone who’s opposed to working for a living.

I’ve been working in one form or another my entire life, from delivering newspapers when I was 12 to working at the Army Navy Store my whole senior year of high school. I promoted my first New York Times-bestselling author before I was a junior in college, and at 24 I started a company out of my living room that grew into the eleventh-ranked public relations agency to work for in the country. In many ways, I’ve achieved the stereotypical American Dream of material success through blood, sweat, ramen noodles and all-nighters. I lived the “start-up life” long before it was an inspirational hashtag, and I’ve paid my dues along the way. So perhaps people will listen when I say that earning your way to the top shouldn’t be the non-negotiable cost of having a secure, decent, happy life.

I am not entirely certain why this is controversial.

But controversial is exactly what it is. We have an entire culture centered around the idea that you are worth your economic productivity and nothing more – where martyrdom is lauded and a lack of sleep and free time are held up like trophies where basic life-saving medical care comes at an exorbitantly prohibitive expense and a single misplaced step can throw your entire life (and that of your whole family) into financial chaos that can resonate for decades. For millions upon millions of Americans, the basic necessities of life are subject to the whims of an uncontrollable economy.

Which is, it seems, exactly how Donald Trump and many in the GOP seem to want it, at least if their budget and health plan are to be believed?

Last week, the administration unveiled its 2018 budget, called “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” featuring literally trillions of dollars in cuts to the assistance programs economically distressed Americans depend on most. This should surprise no one; since day one, Trump has been promising cuts in essentially everything save the military: defunding Obamacare, defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Cutting the NEA, the NSF, the EPA. Medicaid. The Departments of Energy and Education. Low-income energy assistance.

School lunches. Food stamps. Meals On Wheels.

And these are just the most high-profile of cuts to programs that provide necessary social services. The assumption behind each of these cuts is that private initiative can (and should) fill the gaps. It’s the expansion of charter schools. It’s the empowerment and enrichment of insurance companies. It’s letting corporations drive scientific research in directions that benefit them directly.

In other words, it’s about breaking down one of the core functions of what the government is supposed to do, supporting the common good, and replacing it with self-interest and the profit motive, and by extension, restricting a secure and good life (and access to the tools that make it possible) to the already well-off.