This I Believe

Entered on November 19, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: humanism

This I Believe:

The Business Model is an Inadequate Guide for Social Planning

The business model as our best paradigm for social structure and for overall human success has been touted as a panacea for decades now in the US. The truth is that a corporation is a genuinely legal person in our land, as anyone will soon find out who enters into a struggle with a powerful utilities company over late payments, for example. But the corporation, that perfect paper representation of the business model, is not a person that is bound by our common human moral constraints as is a flesh and blood person, such as you and I, walking down the street and endowed by our parents with a certain individual moral and social disposition.

A newly elected senator answers this question–Should we have a light rail downtown in our traffic-burdened city in order to reduce congestion? Well, let’s not take action based on right and wrong and the urban infrastructure we are passing on to our children, nor on the model of decision making we are setting in our society for youngsters who must follow us! Heavens no! Let the market decide! If the market says it is fine to be traffic burdened to the point of stasis as long as everyone can scrape together enough borrowed money to buy yet another car, then the business model prevails. But is the business model moral, and should the city fathers (and mothers!) abide by the dictatorial power of such a paradigm for social action?

As a nation of decision makers, we have found that we are deeply divided, surprisingly and profoundly fissured as a society, as our electoral process discloses to us whenever we go to the polls. But surely this does not call us to embrace one monolithic standard as the solution of all such differences—the ethically null standard of the market!

Has there ever been a time when the family, the church, the government, or civic institutions were wholly identical with that market philosophy that has come to be linked with them? Only stop and think–if the business model was proved to be all-encompassing in the golden years of the business barons like Andrew Carnegie, why was the profit motive abandoned by the founder of those numerous Carnegie Libraries that bear his name and from which our country has benefited so much? If Bill Gates, on the other hand, a modern Carnegie, values only the values of the market, why on earth does this business guru turn to philanthropy, to giving away money and resources to people who have not vied for nor competed for nor paid for these resources through the holy grail of the processes of “the market,” pray tell? The answer is that there exists a larger and more human paradigm of society than merely business as usual.