Profit From Misfortune? That’s great!

“I don’t like that doctors profit from people’s misfortune.”

Ever heard this one before? It’s a popular idea. After all, no one should profit at all from other people’s misfortune, right? That’s just greed.

Or is it?

I’d like to remind people that everything in this world that generates income is due, largely, in some way, to misfortune.

You see: life, reality and everything is full of really crappy stuff. As in, you don’t even have to go looking for it. Ignoring enemies and armies and thieves and rapists and, well, just other human beings, nature is constantly trying to kill you.

Then throw in people, who are just as broken as you are, and what you have is a pretty big stew of crappiness, full of things trying to injure, starve or burn you to death.

Sound dismal? Of course it does. 94% of all humans suffered under just such terrible conditions for the vast majority of human history. Humans have had to suffer plagues, droughts, animals, warring parties and every other terrible thing since the beginning of known history with no real solution to it.

And the only thing people really profited from was everyone’s misery, in some fashion. The rich took from the poor and the poor were just F’d in the B over and over again.

That is until capitalism.

Capitalism, as we would define and understand it to be now, is a system by which one human solves another human’s problem by trading value for value. At its root, that’s capitalism.

While many would say capitalism is a system by which the rich plunder the poor, this only illustrates a very ignorant understanding of capitalism. Too many politicos attempt to mix cronyism and capitalism and say they’re the same thing. But cronyism is an improper mix of government into a system of free trade, originally known as laissez faire, which unfairly tips the balance of favor toward one or another corporate or other-governmental entity without having to compete by quality of offering in the marketplace.

Capitalism is the trade of value to solve problems. Originally, it expressed itself in bartering.

  • I have a cow, and need lumber.
  • Woodsman Bob has lumber and needs a cow.
  • I trade for the lumber, Woodsman Bob trades for the cow.
  • We both profit.

Simple, right? Many believe there can be no trade in which both parties profit. This is a very narrow understanding of value. It assumes that only one person can win during a trade. But what in life is EVER so simple? Trade, by its very nature, is a positive-sum agreement between two parties.

“But why need money?” some ask.

Well, we operated without money in our earliest days, but we encountered a problem.

  • I have a cow and need lumber.
  • Woodsman Bob needs a wagon and has lumber, doesn’t need a cow.
  • Wagonsmith Cindy needs a cow and has a wagon, doesn’t need more lumber.

In the barter days, I would have gone to Cindy and traded for the wagon, then traded the wagon for the lumber. Simple, right? But pretty damn heavy and very time consuming.

So we got smart and chose something small and portable that was rare enough to stand for value. Ranging from certain types of shells to rock to metal, we created something called “currency.”

Currency would represent the value of other things.

  • I need lumber.
  • I sell my cow to someone who needs the cow for currency.
  • I spend that currency on something else I need — the lumber.
  • I avoid thrice- and four-times-bartering and only need trade something I don’t value  as much for something I do value — cow for currency.

Make sense? The money meant more to me than the cow. The cow meant more to the buyer than their money. When the transaction is complete, we BOTH profit from the exchange.

At its root, that’s capitalism and free trade. I trade value for value. Things we hold of value include:

  • Service / Labor
  • Products

That’s it. These two, in some fashion, represent all forms of value we use as trade. Whether I own land, rent out a room, offer my skills or hard work, all of it begets value.

So, when I perform manual labor for someone and they pay me money, do I profit and they lose? Why would they lose? They just traded value for value. Old Man Bill valued his lawn being cut for his peace of mind more than the $20 in his pocket. I valued the $20 in his pocket more than an hour of my labor.

When you have an entire system built around people focused on solving other people’s problems, you have a positive yield on both fronts. When one man can generate wealth simply by working, it invalidates the “zero-sum game” concept that drives many to believe that for the rich to be rich, the poor must, necessarily, be poor.

After all, if the rich make billions, the poor must be losing out of money, right?

To be sure, there are rich people who profit at the loss of the poor, but when you understand the base concepts of trade and economics, this concept as a blanket goes out the window.

After all, where could all those trillions of dollars have come from that the rich supposedly stole from the poor, if the poor don’t have the money in the first place?

It’s because in economics, you can generate wealth that can be represented later by currency in trade.

For example, say I’m a poor man in the ghetto. I have no skills or training and my culture is very anti-establishment, meaning learning to engage economically is discouraged. I educate myself to understand how to improve services for small businesses. I start a delivery service for office supplies using my hands and feet and the local bus route.

In creating that business, I have CREATED VALUE that I can trade for currency and build that business into a machine that over time generates wealth for myself. I needed not take money from other people. Instead, I found a way to create something more valuable than the money in the pockets of local entrepreneurs.

By offering a service of value, I saved them precious time they could spend on generating more business and more revenue, making my service invaluable. I expand, grow, and eventually become the wealthy man I used to complain about due to an ignorant understanding of where wealth came from.

And I should clarify something here. It wasn’t the work, itself, that represented value. 

If I spent six hours digging a hole in my own yard and spent another four hours filling it back up, have I created value?

Some believe in the labor-theory of value, in which the amount of effort someone puts into work is what makes that work valuable. This is also economic fallacy. Like I said, I could waste my time digging a hole that serves no one, including myself. Labor that produces no value has no value, itself, which is why making jobs just to put people to work doesn’t actually benefit the economy.

But what if I could spend one hour of my time creating something of great value and save tens of hours for someone else? Especially as my skills grow and I become an expert, I will be able to spend hours accomplishing a task that newbies might waste days upon. Should they be paid more because it takes them longer? Or is my time worth more than theirs because I can accomplish more than them, in less time and greater reach and yield?

Value comes from what labor ACCOMPLISHES, not the labor itself.

So, let’s go back to my original point (after a lengthy breakdown on capitalism).

You don’t like that doctors make money on the misfortune of someone else?

You should, then, hate the following:

  • Restaurants for feeding people who are away from home
  • FedEx Office for offering print solutions to entrepreneurs who can’t afford a printer
  • Taxi drivers for carting around people without cars
  • Shipping companies who move products over the ocean
  • Pilots who fly people across the country in hours
  • Firefighters who fight fires
  • Police who fight crime
  • The guy who invented the Google Maps app that allows your directionally challenged self to find the laundromat run by the guy who built washing machines so the guy who built your building could build it cheaper so you could afford to start a life in New York City where you process insurance paperwork for people who suffer hailstorms and floods and hurricanes and other nasty weather.
  • Yourself, because without this system that has everyone serving everyone else, you’d be a lowly peasant, owned by a local lord, with no form of equality of opportunity to actually pursue your dreams of acting or singing or driving a race car or engineering the next skyscraper or saving lives with a scalpel or anything else that we can link directly back to man’s ability to trade what he can do for what he really wants.

The doctor who saves your life worked her ass off to go to school, to suffer endless sleepless hours of work and stress and self doubt to learn how to save your kid from swallowing that marble you never took away from him. Who suffers questions from idiot patients who think they can eat whatever they want but get angry their doctor can’t magically save their arteries. Who sue the doctor because his recommendation didn’t save their 85-year-old grandfather who honestly had already lived past what nature ever intended. Who shows up every day to save lives with rare gratitude.

That doctor deserves money for your misfortune, because without him or her standing at that line, offering incredible value for your ability to live well and recover, you’d still be burning incense to the wind god asking for mercy when your appendix bursts or when that compound fracture rots and poisons your blood or, best of all, when he saves you from the flu, one of the world’s single greatest killers of man of all time.

She doesn’t deserve it because you’re misfortunate, but because she’s willing to try his or her very best to solve something she has no responsibility for: You.

And yes. There are issues with our medical system, full of cronyism and pharmaceutical gerrymandering and all sorts of issues. But that’s another topic. Today, I present to you the fact that a doctor works hard for her keep, just like the trash man and the construction worker and the computer programmer.

So next time you think it’s wise to say you don’t think doctors should make a good living off other people’s misfortunes, or any other stupid idiocy ignoring that our entire wonderful modern world is built on everyone solving everyone else’s problems, do the world a favor?

Shut up.

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