Rethinking Business Ethics in an Age of Crisis
Edited by Knut J. Ims and Lars J.T. Pedersen
Chapter 4: Business and the greater good as a combination of private and public wealth
Although the literature on “business and society” is vast, it tends to ignore the fact that the economic system mediates between business and society. All too often the analysis jumps from “business” directly to “society” at large as if business organizations weren’t embedded and shaped by the economic system as part of the overall system of society. This neglect of the economic system has far-reaching consequences. The purpose of the company, commonly taken for granted, is not articulated and aligned with the purpose of the economy. Since business operates in and focuses on the marketplace, the market is often mistaken for the entire economy. The company’s relations to its various stakeholders do not account for systemic issues of the economy. And when corporate relations to “society” are investigated, the targets are simply “people,” “citizenship,” or the “environment” detached from any economic content. Therefore, in addressing the question of “business and the greater good,” proper attention should be paid to the economic system as mediating between business and society. Consequently, in this chapter, we may focus on the “greater good” that is more than business but less than society. First, business (understood as business organizations) has to be placed in the economic system and conceived as one part but not as the whole of it. Second, it is proposed to define the purpose of the economy – and hence of business – as the creation of wealth in a comprehensive sense, understood as “the greater good.
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