Profit and other motives
Some people take a dim view of profit. It evokes images of fat, top-hatted men raking it in. In the UK, that concept cannot provoke more outrage than if it is linked to the National Health Service (NHS), an institution only marginally less sacred than the Church of England. If health or social care are delivered by organizations that must make a profit, the idea that trade-offs will need to be made between profit and quality is not far-fetched. So, do those who oppose commercialization or privatization have a point? Should care be kept out of the hands of profit-seeking capitalists?
Very few people are able to meet their needs without any help from others. We cannot possibly grow all the food we need, make our own clothing, shelter and tools from scratch, let alone entertain or cure ourselves. So, what motivates these others to do something for us? In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, widely regarded as the father of modern economics, put it thus: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages”.
According to Smith, other people do something for us (and, by the same token, we do something for others) out of self-interest. There is something in it for us. That can be the money received from the sale of meat, beer or bread, but other, non-material instances of self-interest too may motivate us to do something for someone else. We may help out colleagues at work to establish a good reputation and build status; we may do a friend a favour because doing so reinforces a social bond of reciprocity; we may act as a coach for the junior soccer team because, directly or indirectly, it simply gives us pleasure. Even if there is a material, motive like money, there is often also an motive. Not everything butchers, brewers and bakers do directly provides them with more profit. They might put in extra effort because they want to do a good job and be proud of the result.