Is Making A Profit Moral?

This post is mainly for my children.

I don’t spend much time “surfing” the Internet. I use the Internet mostly as a research tool. There was a time, before the Internet, where research required copious amounts of time in libraries searching through microfiche, magazines, newspapers, and books. The Internet allows me do research quicker, freeing time to pursue activities that are my passion; mostly camping, hiking, and backpacking.

As I have written many times, I do enjoy reading a few outdoor blogs. In order to save time, I don’t bookmark these blogs and go to each one. Instead, I use a website that collects new posts from my favorite blogs. A single click pulls up all the new posts in chronological order. This way I can skim through them, pick the ones that interest me, and read them. This saves me time. As you know, I view time as something to save up and use on important things, which is mostly my outdoor endeavors. Time is a commodity; something tangible that can be saved and used in the future. I can bank time, just as one can save money for the future.

Picture from andrewskurka.com
Picture from andrewskurka.com

Over the past month I haven’t had time to read any of my favorite blogs. This evening I checked the list and found one post that was somewhat disturbing. The post was authored by Andrew Skurka, a well-known adventure hiker. I don’t know Andrew, and have never met him. I know who he is, have read his book, and read his blog. I am not an Andrew “fanboy” – that is, I don’t view him as some sort of personal hero. He does provide some honest and extremely useful information when it comes to lightweight backpacking.

WHO IS ANDREW SKURKA?

I guess we can say he is a long distance backpacker and adventurer, who advocates using lightweight gear. During his 20’s he hiked the three major US long distance trails (Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Appalachian Trail). In addition to these he pieced together even longer treks in the US to include an epic Alaska-Yukon adventure. For him, a long hike is 7,000+ miles. To do this, one needs to hike long, high mileage days; be in phenomenal physical condition; develop extraordinary skills; have a tenacious and goal oriented mind-set, and become an expert planner and navigator. What he has done, 99.9% of us could never do. Andrew has become a backpacking subject matter expert.

Unfortunately, one cannot spend their entire life walking in the wilderness, unless they are wealthy.

So why am I writing about Skurka? Well, he has built a business as a public speaker, wilderness guide and instructor, and author. People pay him for his knowledge. It is a fair exchange of values. A while back I wrote about The Business of Backpacking, and in general was critical about it. Andrew is not one of those people I told you to beware of.

Recently he entered into an agreement with Sierra Designs, a 50 year old backpacking gear company, as an advisor, consultant, and spokesperson. Although Sierra Designs is not known for manufacturing “ultralight” gear, they are moving in that direction and apparently are seeking Andrew’s input. I think this is a good thing.

On the Web, some people are criticizing him for profiting from lightweight backpacking. These detractors say lightweight backpacking is a community and Skurka should be giving back to this community, not making a living from it. They say he has an obligation to help others; not charge for his knowledge. They accuse him of “selling out” by entering into a partnership with Sierra Designs. What kind of crap is this? Surely we would not fault a musician for selling CDs nor giving piano lessons, would we? These people are saying they have a right to his mind, without his consent.

All of this criticism caused him to answer his critics in this post. He should not have to answer to anyone, except himself; and he hasn’t done anything to be ashamed about.

My thoughts on all of this follows. To be honest, Andrew may disagree with much of what I say, but this is for my kids not him.

PROFIT

I can’t think of a more maligned or misunderstood word than profit. In business a profit is simply the difference between what a company spends and what it earns—to stay in business a company must take in more money than it spends. Profit is not a complex concept; in fact it is simple rational logic. Profit is used to invest in the future growth of the business and to return money to people who invested in the company. Since we are not a barter-based society, we trade goods and services via money. In other words, we can generate a surplus and store it as the money we earn and do not spend. Thus, we can make money.

It is mind boggling that our society has twisted the word profit into some anti-social criminal tendency, and hard working people who see profit as a good thing are embarrassed to use the word. They allow themselves to become victims of their own virtue.

Too many people equate profit or making money as evil. They say the profit motive makes people bad; that people who want to make a profit will do immoral and unethical things to make money. Skurka was almost on the mark when he wrote in his post,

“Long-term, it’s counterproductive to be motivated by profits.

Suppose today that I convince you to buy a shelter, since I will get a small commission on that sale. I know it’s not the right shelter for you, but I pitch you on it anyway because it’s money in my pocket. Will you trust me again when you are shopping for a stove next month? No, you won’t, and you shouldn’t. Long-term, my authenticity and credibility are my most valuable assets. Without them, I would not have the trust of my community and I would be damaged goods”

In other words, his most valuable commodity, aside from his expertise, is his reputation. This is such an important concept. However, his misses the mark when he says profit is counter-productive. By saying this he has allowed himself to become a victim of his own ability.

You see, one can be honest and reputable and make a profit; they are not mutually exclusive atributes . He further states that he is just trying to support his family with a reasonable life-style, earning an average income for people similar to him. Now he doesn’t get into all his financial details, and it is none of our business. However, I suggest that he, if he isn’t doing so, strive for a more profitable position in life: that is, make more money than is need to meet expenses. You see making money is a virtue. Let me explain further.

THE PURPOSE OF LIFE

Our purpose, the highest achievement of the individual, is to live a good life. That means we have a right to our own life, a right to our freedom, a right to our property, and the right to pursue our own happiness. This doesn’t mean we can deprive others of the same rights. In our own pursuit of the good life, we must not interfere in others’ right to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness. This should be our moral and ethical code.

With this in mind, we have no claim on another’s life, nor they on ours. We cannot expect others to provide for us, nor can others expect us to provide for them. This requires that we do not simply work to make ends meet. We need to provide for our future, when we can no longer work, or when we want to stop working and enjoy our profit – our savings, bank account, 401K, etc. Do not plan on Social Security to provide for your future. Eventually it will collapse and fail. You need to save money. You need to make more than you spend. You need to make a profit. Businesses also need to make a profit. Without profits you would not be reading this post. Profits created the computer, smart phone, or tablet that enables you to go to the Internet and read this post.

A MILLION DOLLARS

Our society would say that if you have a million dollars, you are rich!

But consider this. Today the median income in the US is $51,939 per year. That is in today’s dollars. In 5, 10, 20 or 30 years it will be worth a lot less. Let’s say that you and your spouse retire today, you are both 60 years old, and you have $1 million in the bank. And between the two of you, you want to relish your retirement life, travel a little and do the things you enjoy. If you spend the median income of $51,939 each year, you will run out of money when you both reach 79 years of age. This creates a huge problem for you because the expected life expectancy is going to be more than 80 years! And if you live a healthy lifestyle your entire life, it will probably closer to 90 years or more. You are going to run out of money before you die. You are not going to be able to take of yourself. You put yourself in this awful position because you did not save enough money. You failed to make enough profit in your lifetime. You will be unable to live a good life.

You have a moral duty to provide for your own future and not expect others to take care of you, because you did not put aside enough money to secure fiscally responsible future.

WHAT WOULD I TELL ANDREW?

He is a young man in his early 30’s.

I would tell him it is his responsibility to provide for himself and his family. This means he must prepare for the future. He must create enough surplus wealth to be self-sufficient. He has a moral obligation to make money (a profit). The ability to make money is a virtue. He has invested a lot of time and effort to become an expert in his field. You do not become a backpacking subject matter expert by reading books or reading Internet forums. You become a backpacking expert by backpacking a lot. He became an expert by investing his time and putting extensive effort into it. He has earned the right to charge for his knowledge and expertise.

So go forward and be proud of what you have accomplished, make as much money as you truly need or want, keep your integrity intact, treat others as you would want them to treat you, love your wife, and most importantly love your work and your life. Your greatest asset is the productive achievement of your career.

I would tell him, “Job well done, young man.”

If you want to read more about Andrew and his adventures, go to his website.

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