Business Is a Pillar of a Dynamic Society

27 Dec 2017

Lest business in general be tarred with the same brush as the financial system whose shortcomings have been notorious at least since the financial crisis, we share some of Robert P. George’s reflections on the role of “Business in a Decent and Dynamic Society”.

According to Professor George, a decent society is fundamentally based on respect for the human person, as well as on firm principles that permit strong, effective government and support the institution of the family, which George calls “the original and best ministry of health, education and welfare.” In a dynamic society, other institutions, notably business and the university cultivate dynamism.  Each of these “pillars of society” support and is supported by, the others.  Below, George expands on some of the ways business contributes.

While it is true that some business firms have exploited workers, many have enhanced the dignity of individuals by offering challenging and decently paid jobs, providing opportunities for further education, either on the job or in training programs, and encouraging workers to think creatively about how to improve the quality of products and services and the efficiency of production and delivery. Moreover, business has made upward economic and social mobility possible for countless persons. The free enterprise system has given many people the freedom to pursue fulfilling and remunerative careers that would have been unimaginable as options for their grandparents, and provided opportunities for them to become entrepreneurs and investors. Whole societies have been made better off by economic growth produced by market economies. Businesses and successful business leaders and investors have helped to relieve poverty and have advanced many good causes through their charitable giving. Even when government rather than business supplies the money, it is business that is generating the wealth that government distributes. 

While some business firms, it is true, have been involved in corruption and have even stimulated it, it is also true that business has in many places been in the forefront of demanding reform of corrupt courts and governmental agencies. Business leaders have helped to shape laws and policies that will enable us to meet the challenges of the globalized economy. 

Notwithstanding the hostility to business in some sectors of academia and the elite intellectual culture, businesses and business leaders have been instrumental in supporting education at every level, especially higher education. This is particularly true in the United States, where the tradition of alumni giving is strong and where colleges and universities depend on it, but it is true in Europe and elsewhere, too. Even where the overwhelming bulk of financial support is provided by governments, it I once again important to remember that governments obtain most of the money they spend through taxation, and taxation at the levels necessary to support modern universities is possible only as a result of the successful efforts of businesses.

So business is a pillar of decent and dynamic societies, it can and must support the other pillars, and it depends on them for its own flourishing. 

Excerpt from the chapter “Business in a Decent and Dynamic Society,” By Robert P. George, printed in both Rethinking Business Management and Profit, Prudence and Virtue.