Don’t fear the profit motive |

Don’t fear the profit motive

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

What in the world has happened to us? When did success turn into something to be suspicious of instead of lauded?

I read a recent example of this in one of the Denver papers the other day, a story about Texas zillionaire T. Boone Pickens’ continuing campaign on behalf of a giant national drive to create more wind power.

Pickens’ idea is use wind power to generate as much of our country’s electricity as possible, freeing up natural gas to power vehicles. The idea has merit, and, perhaps, a real shot at reducing the country’s need for oil.

One of the skeptics at the meeting, though, wondered if Pickens’ campaign isn’t just a ploy to make him even richer.

Pickens, who’s in his 80s these days, has been quoted as saying “I have enough money,” and he probably does. But even if Pickens was in his 60s and down to his last $500 million, so what?

As long as they’re obeying the law, people ought to profit from great ideas. Until they became robber barons, no one seemed to mind that a few people became ridiculously wealthy building rail lines across the country, or putting the country into automobiles (which remains perhaps civilization’s biggest development in personal freedom).

Bill Gates earned more money than the fourth generation of his heirs will ever be able to spend because he and his minions at Microsoft invented software that runs about 90 percent of the world’s personal computers.

Still, we often hear people accuse entrepreneurs of being involved in a venture just to line their own pockets.

Again: so what?

If a company, say Vail Resorts ” work with me here ” presented the Vail Valley with an idea that would take care of the resort company’s housing problems as well as those of the town of Vail, and, in the process, put another $1 billion on the company’s bottom line, what would we do?

One would hope that the community leaders in Vail would carefully examine the plan, then welcome it with open arms.

But I guarantee that any such idea, even after passing community scrunity ” although who knows how long that would take in Vail ” would still be criticized by some as just another way for the grasping resort company to make money on the backs of hard-working locals.

The same would be true if a private company proposed a solution to weekend gridlock on Interstate 70 between here and Denver.

Most of us are powered primarily by self-interest to one degree or another. Whether it’s money, stuff, or even the good feeling that comes from donating blood ” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a volunteer tell me “I get much more out of this than I put in” ” most of us act because there’s something in it for us.

The problem we’ve had so far is that building expensive mansions or fractional fee condos has a greater return on investment than finding a way to house Joe Everyguy. That’s why our local governments are forcing developers to at least pay lip service to housing these days.

But imagine if a great idea on transportation or housing did hatch from an entrepreneur’s brain. We’d be fools if we sent him or her packing just because the idea would be a one-way ticket to a fortune.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott N. Miller writes about valley business every Saturday.

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