A Matter of Economics

It is an economic virtue to be frugal corporately as well as personally. A strategy of waste reduction, pursuit of efficiency, and suppression of instant gratification just makes good business sense. There is, however, another subtle aspect of responsible economics that is sometimes less obvious: don’t let things go to waste just because they are in the wrong place.

Prior to the founding of Project C.U.R.E., I was involved in economic consulting in lesser developed countries. While working in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), I was taken out and shown that the grain storage facilities in Zimbabwe were full and running over with maize. For three years they had experienced bumper crops, and they had run out of room to store the grain. I was shown stacks and stacks of burlap bags filled with maize and covered with black plastic. The stacks were the size of very large buildings. But the rain was getting in from the top, and the rodents were getting in from the bottom. And all the while, the tribes across the Zambezi River in Zambia were starving. The irony was that Zambia was rich in copper production. The price of copper, however, had plummeted, and no one was buying Zambia’s copper, so they had no money to buy the maize.

There was nothing wrong with having the maize, and there was nothing wrong with having the copper. The commodities were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and they were not being utilized. It took a third party who was not involved in their tribal problems who could help them structure an exchange whereby Zambia could receive the needed maize for their hungry people, and Zimbabwe could take Zambia’s copper and put it in warehouses in London until the copper prices returned to normal. Everyone then came out better off!

Adam Smith, sometimes referred to as the father of modern economics, sought to explain that markets emerge out of the division of labor. When people divide up the labor and perform only certain specialized jobs as occupations, instead of trying to do everything for themselves, it is necessary for them to depend on others for fulfilling most of their needs. An efficient market will make those services and goods more readily available to meet those needs.

The word entrepreneur is sometimes a difficult word to pronounce and even harder to spell. The function of the entrepreneur is simple. It is to help the economy’s markets run more efficiently. The entrepreneur will see an opportunity to make the market run more smoothly by taking something from a position of “lower value” out of the economy and re-entering it back into the economy at a “higher value.” The idea is that the services or goods were simply in the wrong place in the economy.

For example, Jackson Brothers Investments (JBI), during the 1960s and 1970s, was our company that developed real estate in the ski areas of Colorado. We would purchase large, economically struggling ranch sites and develop them in accordance with the state and county regulations. We would provide roads, electricity, water and sewer districts, and approved tracts of land overlooking the ski slopes. The completed projects brought happiness to a lot of new owners, provided jobs, generated handsome profits, and greatly increased the tax base for the counties and the state.

The best example, perhaps, that I can think of regarding the economic principle ofdon’t let things go to waste just because they are in the wrong place, can be found in the phenomenon of Project C.U.R.E. Since its inception in 1987, it has aggressively collected, managed, and distributed over one billion dollars’ worth of goods and services to the neediest people around the world.

All of those goods and services, at the beginning, were in the wrong place. They were all subject to waste. Millions of tons of medical supplies, and countless numbers of pieces of medical equipment were vigorously pursued, secured, managed, and distributed. At one time those items took up space in someone’s warehouse with no plan for utilization. Countless hours of some of the most talented and devoted volunteers in the U.S.—medical nurses, doctors, physician’s assistants, and paramedics— have been focused on making well the sick and afflicted in the right places in over 130 countries around the world.

Of all people, I have been most fortunate, having been on the scene in university teaching institutions, hospitals, surgical centers, and clinics where those medical goods and services arrived at just the right time to save the life of some precious mom, dad, or child who would have died without the needles, syringes, sutures, IV apparatuses and solutions, scopes, monitors, and anesthesia machines.

I am, in another respect, one of the most fortunate persons on earth. The economic principle, don’t let things go to waste just because they are in the wrong place works in a spiritual realm. I clearly recall when I was personally in the wrong place and headed for the nearest dumpster, but the Eternal Economist graciously gave me another chance for recycle.

I have a faithful friend by the name of Paul Harris, who worked for JBI back in the 1970s. We made lots of money together in those heady days. Today, Paul takes his entrepreneurial skills every day to the offices of Project C.U.R.E. He knows well the economic concept don’t let things go to waste just because they are in the wrong place. He also knows the eternal value of saving a hurting life. His job is to vigorously go after medical things that are in the wrong place and save them from going to waste. In just the past few weeks he has located and procured through donations over a million and a half dollars’ worth of pieces of coveted medical equipment. Who can say how many precious families’ lives will be affected by just those pieces of equipment alone?

Whether you use this tested economic principle at your next garage sale, or to save the lives of thousands of hurting people around the world, never ignore the admonition, don’t let things go to waste just because they are in the wrong place!