It’s 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’re in the wrong place.

Prior to founding 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 grain-storage facilities that were running over with maize. For three years, the country 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 into the sacks from the top, and 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 weren’t being utilized. It took a third party who wasn’t involved in their tribal problems to 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’s necessary for them to depend on others to fulfill 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: 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 placing 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, our company Jackson Brothers Investments (JBI) developed real estate in the ski areas of Colorado during the 1960s and 1970s. We would purchase large, economically struggling ranch sites and develop them in accordance with state and county regulations. We would also 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.

Project C.U.R.E is perhaps the best example I can think of to illustrate the economic principle of “Don’t let things go to waste just because they’re in the wrong place.” Since its inception in 1987, Project C.U.R.E. has aggressively collected, managed, and distributed more than one billion dollars’ worth of medical goods and services to the neediest people around the world. 

At the beginning, millions of tons of medical supplies and countless pieces of medical equipment were in the wrong place. They were all subject to waste. At one time, they took up space in someone’s warehouse, with no plan for utilization. But Project C.U.R.E. pursued and secured these items, and some of the most talented and devoted volunteers in the United States—medical nurses, doctors, physicians’ assistants, and paramedics—have spent countless hours sorting and distributing them to bring health and hope to sick and afflicted people in the right places in over 130 countries around the world.

Of all people, I’m most fortunate to have been on the scene in university teaching institutions, hospitals, surgical centers, and clinics where those medical goods 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, IVs, scopes, monitors, and anesthesia machines.

I am, in another respect, one of the most fortunate people on earth. The economic principle of “Don’t let things go to waste just because they’re in the wrong place” works in a spiritual realm as well. 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.

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 this admonition: Don’t let things go to waste just because they’re in the wrong place!