The first scene with Peachum demonstrates the arbitrariness of values in the play. Peachum’s opening speech indicates that he only cares about how much he profits from his business. His concern for his daughter’s relationship lies in the fact that he thinks her absence will hurt his company. As a father, his responsibility should be with this family, as well as his business. Yet Peachum’s only motivation is making money for himself and defending his own interests. His concern is not for his daughter’s involvement with a notorious criminal but for his company that could suffer as a result. Another example of the arbitrariness of values is Peachum’s use of the Bible. As a Christian, he frequently refers to and quotes the Bible. However, the only reason he is Christian, though, is because he finds Christianity to be helpful. He uses biblical quotes to make people feel guilty and to justify his exploitation. Peachum emphasizes his self-serving Christianity through the interaction with Filch, in which Filch employs one biblical quote to ask for mercy, and Peachum responds with another quote demanding that Filch pay up. Despite Peachum’s attention to the Bible, some of the verses he recites have multiple meanings that are antithetical to the intention of the Bible. Peachum thinks the quotations will help support the way he conducts business, but instead he misuses them and only applies the verses to himself. Peachum is the embodiment of the arbitrariness of values because he uses the Bible as a means to justify his treatment of others and to aide in the success of his business.
The Peachums’ view of their daughter’s relationship with Macheath emphasizes the conflict between self-interest and love. They do not consider Polly’s happiness and only think about how much money they are going to lose. The discussion of Polly’s effect on their business also emphasizes the Peachums’ own self-interest. The loss of their daughter will threaten their business, so naturally Macheath must be stopped at all costs. The motivating action of the play is not a psychological conflict but a conflict of material interests. From Peachum’s perspective, the problem is that love is not compatible with (his) self-interest. Love requires giving oneself to another, while self-interest only demands incompatible solipsism, which is the idea that one’s mind is the only thing that exists. Clearly self-interest motivates Peachum to only think of how the marriage will hurt business because he does not give another thought to his daughter being in love. The song that the Peachums sing at the end of the scene portrays the view that love is foolish and makes the young lose sight of what is best for them. Polly’s primary sin, in their eyes, is that she stopped looking out for herself. The Peachums imply that Polly should only think of herself and not consider others in her actions. Together, they argue that self-interest is more important than love because love gets in the way of what is most important.
Peachum’s business of outfitting beggars is an important way of understanding the competitiveness of the capitalist system. The capitalist system creates incentives for people to sell anything that will make money. Instead of making shoes or cars, though, Peachum “makes” pity by depending on the charity of others. His profit highlights the competitiveness of the capitalist system. The incentives to make money are so strong that people will sell anything, even an emotion. Peachum serves as a stand-in for capitalism because he does not care about anyone else’s feelings, and his only concern is generating revenue. Peachum acts as a monopolist, the one man who controls the business of begging in London. He vigorously protects his business from all competitors. Through competition, capitalism rewards those people who can make whatever it is they are selling better. When Filch first enters, he launches into a heartfelt speech about his misery. Peachum is unimpressed with the string of clichés that Filch uses. As a professional, Peachum has studied the art of creating pity, and he knows what does and does not work. His five outfits of misery are evidence that he is educated in the art of begging enough to know that no one can make suffering sound convincing on their own. By creating beggars that are better than the real thing, Peachum takes the capitalist system to its logical extreme by selling an emotion.