Friday, April 08, 2005

Sequi Praemium Non Est Vitium

Back in the 1970's, there was a lot of leftist hype in Canada about 'corporate welfare bums,' a term coined by then NDP (New Democratic Party) leader David Lewis. While there is no doubt that some corporations, large and small, feed at the public trough and are no better than any other welfare cheat, the notion that all businesses who supply jobs and opportunities to the community be singled out and maligned offended me. It got so that many businessmen didn't like to admit that they were one of those vilified 'greedy capitalists,' lest they be shunned or ridiculed by their neighbours.

I have always been proud to be a businessman. I have encountered some unethical business owners and managers over the years, but not proportionately more than one might expect to find unethical people in the general population. Crooks are crooks. It is not their vocation that somehow makes them lie and steal and cheat, it is just what these people are personally. Some of them become lawyers, some become doctors, some become university professors, some become businessmen and some become salesclerks at the mall. Some people cheat in small ways by stealing pens from their employers. Some people cheat by stealing millions from pension funds or shareholders. I don't distinguish between the two. You are no more entitled to a pen I have paid for than you are to the assets of a hypothetical Metacorp Inc. pension fund.

Being a businessman is not a crime. Making money is not a crime. Looking for honest opportunities for financial success is not a crime. In fact, if more people looked for honest ways to make money and to improve their lives, the better it would be for everyone, especially for the beleaguered taxpayer who is carrying the burden of subsidizing the lazy and unproductive and yes, those corporations who are sucking up taxpayer-funded subsidies.

When I started a company in the 80's and wanted a 'hook' to interest potential clients in what we had to offer, I decided to be very forthright and to put my thoughts on the subject right on my business card and letterhead. I decided to create an appropriate slogan and, because I have a bizarre sense of humour, to present it to the world in Latin.

One problem. I got kicked out of Grade 10 Latin, so I couldn't translate anything that complicated into Latin myself. What to do? I contacted a local high school and got the Latin teacher there to perform the chore for me. I wanted to translate: The pursuit of profit is no vice. She responded with Sequi Praemium Non Est Vitium. That slogan has been on my letterhead and business cards ever since.

My views on business and capitalism are not always popular. My wife and I attended a party years ago where most of the guests were school teachers and professors. All went well while we all discussed the weather, skiing and the hors h'oeuvres. Then the conversation turned to vocations. That's when things got nasty.

I left university in 1968. The party was in the late 80's. I had no idea how much things had changed in academia since I left school. I didn't know that universities everywhere were stacked sky-high with socialists and worse. I sure learned that day.

The host of the party made a comment about how proud he was of being able to mold and influence young minds and to prepare them to become good, responsible citizens. It wasn't so much what he said, but how it said it that tweaked me. There was a certain smugness about his statement and I, honestly thinking that no-one could be that self-absorbed and delusional, thought he was speaking tongue-in-cheek. My aside to the person sitting beside me was: "he said with no small amount of irony."

The host heard me say something and asked me to repeat my comment. I did so. That's when things degenerated. The host appeared hurt by my comment and I, trying to clarify, explained that I thought that he was joking, and why. He accepted my proffered apology with good humour. That should have been the end of it. But it wasn't.

A female professor from Montreal had wandered into the room. She listened to the exchange between the host and me. She asked me what I did for a living. I told her I was a businessman. She asked me how I could dare to question the contribution of a university professor while I myself contributed little of value to the world and was a parasite living on the cumulative efforts of my workers. I attempted, very calmly, to explain how business people took ideas, built the ideas into enterprises, employed workers and paid them wages and generally contributed to 'the common good' in diverse ways. Little of what I said was actually heard by anyone as she became hysterical and shouted me down.

I was male. I was a capitalist. I was the enemy.

My wife and I left soon after. The host and his wife apologized at the door. I learned a lot that day. As I was being berated, I looked around the room to see the reaction of the other guests. Judging by the facial expressions I saw, I was definitely in the minority. I would have loved to carry on a real debate with the female professor and others in attendance, but it was impossible. These members of academia, these teachers of our children, these people who were supposed to encourage thought, discussion and open minds were instead closed minded.

I admire teachers and professors in the abstract. Someone has to teach our children. I couldn't do it. It is a grinding, often thankless job. But, face to face, I have discovered that many teachers are just about as far left as you can be on the political spectrum without falling off. I am apprehensive about the likelihood that our children are being indoctrinated with these political views while we think they are being taught differential calculus or Psychology 101.

It is time that teachers and professors understand that it is business which allows their substantial salaries, their tenure, the beautiful campuses and the fancy labs and other amenities. Taxes. Corporate taxes. Income taxes paid by employees of the corporations. Property Tax. Sales tax. And, wages paid to employees which can then be paid as tuition for the employees' children.

I suspect that I will be waiting a long time for that understanding.

Yes, I am proud to be a businessman.

Sequi Praemium Non Est Vitium.


  1. Crooks are crooks by nature, not vocation. And, ignorance is not limited, especially in academia. Loved the post. I wish you could have had her one on one as well, I would have loved a slightly different ending. Happy to know you enjoy your successes in life. Happier to read that you stand by them.

  2. Thanks, Penny. I like a good debate, even if at the end no-one's position has changed. It is the smug attitude of the I-know-better-than-you types that offends me.