Lots of people like to disparage business and the business world. They say that it is cold, full of people only looking to make a buck, and that businesses are unable to empathize with people on a human level. What they overlook is that business and the act of doing business, whether as a consumer, an employee, or an entrepreneur, makes us better. It makes us better not only by making us better off , but also by actually making us better.
While businesses do only exist to maximize profit, that’s okay. Consumers are made better off by buying a product they value and the company is made better off by providing a product at a profit. Underneath all of this desire to maximize profit and desire to buy neat new services and products is a very basic human drive to make ourselves better off. Social scientists call this homo economicus (economic man). By putting our self-interest first, we actually end up putting the needs and desires of others first, too.
This is all basic truth to anybody who thinks of the benefits of voluntary exchange. Jane won’t give Bob $10 for his bushel of apples unless she views the bushel as more valuable than $10. Fair enough. But how can doing business actually make us better?
Take the example of airbnb. People looking to make a buck off of having a free room are willing to trust total and complete strangers in their house and with their keys — something that would normally be totally unheard of prior to a product like airbnb. Why not just tell them to get a hotel? It’s bad for business.
Or consider car sharing services like Uber and Lyft. Out of the desire to make a few extra dollars on the side, drivers will let complete strangers get in the car with them and drive them all over town. Similarly, customers will get into cars with strangers who could just as easily kidnap them. Taxi companies, threatened by disruptive competition like Uber and Lyft, have tried painting the drivers as potentially dangerous. But they haven’t proven to be. Why? It’s bad for business.
Even in China, businesses have propped up where customers call a substitute driver for when they are stuck in traffic. The driver shows up on the back of a motorcycle and swaps places with the customer, who then rides off on the back of the motorcycle. Why don’t drivers steal cars? It’s bad for business.
The options go on and on. This economy of trust, one grounded in nothing but consumers’ and entrepreneurs’ own self-interest, is burgeoning with the proliferation of technology that allows it to do so. It’s getting better, but it is nothing new. Even during times of great social and cultural assimilation, businesses are at the forefront of incorporating new values into their models. It’s bad for business to discriminate against customers unfairly.
From this self-interest and this freedom to innovate, we not only get better products and a better quality of life, but we get a better society. And that is something to celebrate about doing business.