Without business, our society would look very different. Businesses provide a steady supply of food at grocery stores, build infrastructure, innovate and distribute new technologies, print the books we read and fund life-enhancing research and development.
Far from incompatible with aspirations of contributing to the common good, business rightly understood, which we call “honorable business,” creates real value and greatly improves the human condition for everyone. Honorable business recognizes the inherent good of mutually voluntary and mutually beneficial exchanges, which create a positive value for all parties to a transaction. Consider a simple example:
When you pay a retailer $50 for a new pair of shoes, both parties benefit because voluntarily consenting to the exchange means that you value the shoes more than $50 and the retailer values your $50 more than the shoes. Thus, both parties receive mutual benefit and positive value through the exchange.
Skeptics of honorable business often portray profit-making as a greedy, immoral enterprise, but pursuing profit that is necessary for running a stable and sustainable business, as enables a business to continue providing its products or services to society. Pope John Paul II acknowledged in “Centesimus Annus” that the pursuit of profit, a “regulator of the life of a business,” is legitimate as long as it is not a business’s only pursuit.
Admittedly, business does not always live up to its promises of value creation and morality. There are corporations concerned with profit, individuals who prioritize money-making over morality, and professionals who behave unethically. Nonetheless, this is not a reflection of all business professionals or students, nor of the Mendoza College of Business itself.
Contrary to what the recent column published in The Observer “Against Mendoza: A Nietzschean Critique” suggests, Mendoza does not use the notion of honorable business as mere “window dressing.” The author argues that “hardly any students actually buy [the mission of Mendoza].” On the contrary, we believe in and are dedicated to the mission that Mendoza sets out to accomplish. And we are no “outliers.” Mendoza students routinely and actively engage in discerning how our shared vision of honorable business ought to inform our careers.
Through the Business Honors Program and Deloitte Scholars Colloquium, for example, students come together in lectures and seminars to discuss and debate how business can positively contribute to the world. The dean of Mendoza himself, Professor Martijn Cremers, teaches a class called “Corporate Governance and Catholic Social Teaching” in which finance majors critically evaluate their responsibilities as future corporate decision-makers.
Additionally, courses such as “Social Entrepreneurship” and “Why Business?” instill the importance of using business skills to tackle complex global problems and considering how business activity impacts stakeholders. For Mendoza students, business ethics does not just encompass corporate compliance or professional responsibility, but rather involves grappling with deeper moral and philosophical questions of human dignity, the destination of goods and the proper telos of business.
Of course, not all students take advantage of these programs. Some students may very well enjoy their four years in Mendoza without engaging these deeper questions beyond course requirements. But stereotyping all or even most Mendoza students this way is quite inaccurate.
The author argues that “most careers in business are socially irresponsible” because he believes the products and services that many businesses provide are difficult to “trace…to social good.” In fact, the majority of corporations exist to further some social good, whether that involves producing useful products or providing valuable services and these organizations could not operate without business people to fund and strategically direct them.
Furthermore, the author’s portrayal of “crunching numbers at corporate Walmart” may not seem world-changing at face value, but simultaneously contributing to an organization’s mission while pursuing other goods with one’s time, talent and treasure–such as providing for one’s family, volunteering , and partaking in civic organizations–certainly gives rise to massive social good as well.
Throughout their four years at Notre Dame, students are asked to consider how they will make the world a better place. Studying business is an excellent way to start. We affirm that:
- Honorable business is a force for good in the world and a laudable vocation consistent with Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
- Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business offers a breadth of programs and resources that students use to deeply consider the role of business in a just society.
- We are proud of the work that Mendoza faculty and students are doing to produce ethically-minded graduates whose pursuit of honorable business makes the world a better place for all.
The views expressed in this letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.