Some go to extremes in glorifying the human impulse toward greed. Ayn Rand, with shades of Nietzsche, contrasts what she calls the lifeless, nonproductive life of altruism to the one structured around the “virtue of selfishness.”20 In its crudest form, this ideology is popularized in the marketplace as the “winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing” philosophy. Winning is profit making and the larger the profit the better.
Few theoreticians are as crudely open about the “rightness” of greed as Ayn Rand. More than caricature is at stake, however, when critics charge that stressing the profit motive tends to give license to practices that are terribly problematic. If profit is to be maximized, anything that adds to the “cost” side of production may be given extremely low priority. Refusing just wages and decent working conditions for laborers, dumping harmful waste into the environment, poor quality workmanship, and unscrupulous business deals all may be justified as the need for profit. One official told of burying arsenic used in industrial processes in containers designed to last fifty years. When asked what happens after that, he replied that he would not be around to worry about it and that profit margins did not permit the extra costs of neutralizing a dangerous substance. Hooker Chemical Co. left a pit of poison at Love Canal, New York. The by-products were said to be harmless though the real motive was the maximization of profit.