I have spent my life in business. It is something I love and in general respect. I bemoan the way Wall Street and the financial industry have twisted and perverted many aspects of business. I am grieved by the way those in charge of policing the excesses of capitalism (the SEC, the Federal Reserve, Congress, bank regulators, indeed the entire Executive Branch) have allowed themselves to be co-opted and fall under the siren song of the “self-correcting, all-knowing free market” illusion.
That said, business still has a noble purpose. While the primary mission of business is to make money, properly directed and channeled, business makes money by creating value and being rewarded for it. One creates value by providing a good or a service that people want, that motivates them to freely and voluntarily part with their money so to possess or experience whatever it is that your business provides.
In the process of creating value and harvesting profit, business creates jobs and prosperity. Business needs a prosperous society, otherwise there is no one to buy their goods and services. In the long run, there is no way that business as a whole can exist and thrive unless society as a whole thrives. We are all one.
In the words of John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods, the noble purpose of business is to “produce goods and services that make people’s lives better… provide jobs…. provide capital through profits that spurs improvements in the world… we take our citizenship very seriously at Whole Foods.” (The Wall Street Journal, “The Conscience of a Capitalist,” October 3, 2009)
The more that businesses embrace such Main Street values, the more that business and law schools teach and practice such ethics, the more we as a country expect and demand community-oriented corporate citizens (and eschew those whose main commitment is a marketing campaign!), then the healthier and stronger we will be as individuals and as a nation.