In her blog post, Arianna Huffington talks about how improving the lives of others can improve your life. The article talks about people who have started up various organizations for various causes. She speaks about the higher human need to do something to help others (higher needs are needs that appear once the basic needs of food, clothing, safety, and shelter are met).
Unfortunately, when people think of doing things for others, they usually only think about volunteer work and charitable contributions. Those of a certain political persuasion also think that the government should be charitable by taking through taxes to take care of basic needs of society. People fail to see that providing needed services and goods for a fair price is every bit as valuable as serving in a soup kitchen – maybe more valuable.
When you run a successful business you are providing for the needs of others. The reason you are successful is that you provide something so necessary that people are eager to pay you for it. The more pressing the need, the more people are willing to pay. The more people you help, the more money you make.
Think of all of the people who provide for the critical needs of society for profit. Food is readily available in infinite varieties because farmers grow food for profits, companies process and distribute it, and supermarkets distribute it to consumers in convenient locations. Homes are available because people manufacture the building materials and others build houses in the locations most in demand because people need places to live. Consumer electronics are produced, clothing is produced, and even music is produced to satisfy needs, all for profit.
Even if you don’t run the business, just doing a good job as an employee also helps others. Your employer may provide the building, the products, and the idea, but good employees are needed to provide the services to the customers. Employees who are most efficient at meeting the needs of more people, which in turn results in more money for the business. Normally, such employees end up receiving higher rewards for their efforts.
Serving others through trading goods and services – which is the basis of any commercial business – is actually more beneficial for society than doing charitable works. The reason is that trading, in which each party provides something of equal value, encourages people to be productive and do useful things for other people. By contrast, when people are simply given things, only one person is producing useful things and services. While this is necessary in the case where only one person can produce things, such as when one party is sick or disabled, it encourages bad and destructive behaviours when things are given to able-bodied people. For example, support from a family member or a welfare program may enable one to continue a drug or alcohol habit since being able to hold a job is not needed for survival. The idle time provided by not needing to work can also lead to social problems such as unwanted pregnancies, vandalism, or even violent crimes.
At the very least, unneeded charity and forced redistribution drives behaviours that do not benefit society. It discourages work since more income would result in lowered hand-outs. A sense of “getting something for nothing” prevails and eventually the sense of shame from taking something that was not earned fades. In particular, taking from the government is accepted and promoted since the source is seen as a limitless abstraction rather than one’s neighbors. It promotes fraud and eventually those who live responsibly are seen as foolish. Even Money magazine is full of tips on getting grants for college and medical costs when one’s income is too great to qualify.
Large amounts of unwarranted charity also causes a reduction in the amount of wealth available for everyone. Not only is something consumed that was not produced, but less was produced overall. The late 1990’s were seen as a time of great economic prosperity. Was it coincidental that welfare reform caused thousands of people who had never supported themselves before to find a job was passed just before this period?
So while it is great to help out others in need – and becoming financially independent makes this easier to do – one doesn’t need to start a foundation to meet the higher need of helping others. Just doing a good job helps others even when paid to do so.
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