Wealth and Profit

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You've heard the argument. Business creates wealth and jobs; taxes leave less money for salaries; individual spending fuels our economy; taxes leave us with less to spend. The conclusion: taxes and public spending sap our economy. I don't dispute the premises. But I question the conclusion because the premises are incomplete. Something is missing.

I teach in a high performing school. When they finish college, many of my students will have several times my earning potential. I give them and their employers wealth in the form of agile, vigorous, well-informed minds. I just don't share directly in the profits.

My father was a chemist for the USDA. He wrote many articles and filed many public patents later used by businesses. He created wealth, but didn't share directly in the profits.

Companies only invest in research with a high chance of return. For every profitable path, there are many dead ends. Venture capital can't be too adventurous. But scientists, like my father, unfettered by the profit motive, can travel those paths and freely publish their findings to be exploited by industry.

Imagine our economy without the microchip, the Internet, the human genome project, and a host of other government developments, all offered freely to industry. And the list of government services that create essential conditions for businesses to thrive is endless.


Let's not confuse profit with wealth. The public sector may not make a profit, but it does create wealth. That's the missing premise.

In the current budget debate, we need to acknowledge our interdependence and discuss the right balance between the two sectors. In these negotiations, I'm prepared to sacrifice. I know I won't get through this crisis without some loss of salary or benefits. But I hope you won't see me as a drain on the economy because I don't make a profit. I may not write salary checks. But I provide resources to those who do.

And I don't come to the table as a pauper; I bring considerable wealth.

With a Perspective, I'm Greg Stevens.