Now that the rains have stopped, we are seeing many farmers out in the field, either tilling the saturated soil, or finishing up their planting. They are putting in countless hours to try get a salvageable harvest on what has been a very difficult spring.
The reason farmers put in so many hours is the same reason oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller ended up saving the whales. It is because of greed, and that’s a good thing. The farmers want to make as much money as they can, just as Rockefeller did. Perhaps we can call it self-interest, instead of greed, but the concept is the same.
I’m reminded of a John Stossel special of over 20 years ago when he was on ABC News. The program was titled, “Greed,” and he explained that because of greed the rest of us benefit. Due to greed, or the pursuit of profit, people will work hard and cooperate with others they do not know, to provide goods and services that we the people need or want.
Economist Walter Williams was interviewed for this program and stated, “Those areas where people are motivated the most by greed are the areas that we’re the most satisfied with: supermarkets, computers, FedEx . . . How much would get done if it all depended on human love and kindness?” Williams then pointed out that farmers who raise crops and cattle here in the Midwest and supply New Yorkers with food, specifically steak, don’t love the people in New York, “they love themselves. And by promoting their own self-interest, they make sure New Yorkers have beef.”
The Stossel program then profiles the Wiese family who raise cattle on a farm near Manning. They chronicled the steps it takes for a cow to wind up in a grocery store in New York City. The Wiese family put in 14-hour days, doing various chores around the acreage, especially making sure their cattle had enough food and water.
The program then interviewed a man by the name of Virgil Rosanke, who delivered propane to the farm, which heats the water to keep it from freezing in winter months. “They have to drink water, and they can’t drink frozen water,” he pointed out.
Mr. Rosanke didn’t know or care who John Stossel was. He was doing his job because he wanted to get paid.
Then the Stossel crew interviewed people who worked in the packinghouse, who slaughter and cut up the beef. They described the gear that gets used in the packinghouses, and how many people are involved in that process. Then they interviewed the people who made the boxes that the meat gets packed into for shipping. Finally, they interviewed the truck driver who hauled the beef from the Midwest to New York. All these people do their jobs for the money, not because they care about New Yorkers.
This process takes hundreds, if not thousands of individuals, all working together so that people in New York can have steak and hamburger. Is it because of greed? Perhaps we’d feel better if called it ambition or promoting their self-interest. The rest of us are better off when the farmers and everyone else in this process work long hours to try to earn as much as they can for themselves.
Stossel, and Williams, are merely demonstrating the truth of what Adam Smith wrote in his influential book, “The Wealth of Nations,” back in 1776: “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 interest.”
So how are hardworking farmers like the “greedy” oil tycoon of John Rockefeller? Well, Rockefeller made money by getting people what they wanted too. He found ways to get crude oil out of the ground cheaper. He then found better and cheaper ways to refine that oil, so people could afford to fuel their lanterns at night. He helped reduce the cost of a gallon of crude oil kerosene from 59 cents per gallon in 1865 to 7 cents by 1895. In comparison, the price of a gallon a whale oil back in 1856 was $1.77, which made it too expensive for the average person to afford.
Due to Rockefeller, working-class people were able to afford kerosene for their lanterns, and to heat their homes, for a fraction of what it used to cost.
This benefited millions of people. And because of Rockefeller’s greed he eliminated the need for whale oil, which stopped the mass killing of whales.
He may not have intended to do this, but the slaughtering of whales ceased, all because he was an ambitious businessman.
John D. Rockefeller: Environmentalist hero. This is probably something your liberal college professor, or activist, has never considered.
Tom Kuiper lives in Sibley. He may be reached at email@example.com.