In my new position at Warner Pacific College I have been thinking quite a bit about business, programs, and assessment. What are the nuts and bolts of a good business program? How do we properly assess whether the students are learning something? Is our program effective? Making a difference? Meeting its mission? These are all valid and relevant things to ponder.
This morning though I woke up thinking about the power of business. If, as the UN has announced, extreme poverty has been cut in half around the world, and economic action in China and India was the casual events for this reduction, then it seems to me that business has a great power for good. However, business has the ability to do great evil too.
At one point in time in the world’s history slavery was a universally accepted business practice. It was an important economic force within numerous societies throughout history. Egyptians and Greeks both sanctioned slavery, while “The Islamic slave trade had thrived since the eighth century and. . .millions of Africans had been captured for sale to Egypt, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and the Ottoman Empire.” Many of these slaves ended up in America.
Today slavery is not accepted as a valid business practice. First, because of moral reasons, “slavery is dehumanizing and fails to recognize the full dignity of every human being as someone created in the image of God.” Second, “slavery was profitable up to a certain point for a slave owner, but the benefits did not accrue to the whole population, especially not to the slaves.”
Karl Marx recognized the propensity of Capitalism to exploit workers for the benefit of the few. Therefore, business can be a power for evil because human kind has a propensity to evil. Therefore, there needs to be a mitigating force, one more spiritual. As a Christian I see my relationship with God as the force that will help turn my ideas of business from exploiting people and the environment to doing good.
Asmus and Grudem, in their book “The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution,” ask the question “If a country decides to move from poverty to ever-increasing prosperity, what kind of economic system best brings about regular increases in gross domestic product?” Excellent question, one that will help us see how business can be a power for good.
Asmus and Gruden surprisingly state, “Monocausal explanations will not work. This means that the solution to poverty can never be merely a free market, private property ownership, the rule of law, government accountability, the absence of bribery and corruption, a good work ethic, or superior education.” This is a strong comment, however, the authors drop the ball by pointing to the next three chapters of their book instead of forcefully telling us what is needed at the point of making the forceful statement. I guess they wanted to make sure I was going to read the next three chapters. However, in my opinion there needs to be a strong why behind the elements listed in this paragraph.
What this means is a why that is greater than profit. Don’t get me wrong profit is important and allows people to climb out of poverty situations. Profit allows companies to continue investing in growth mechanisms, which allow them to hire more people. So profit is good. However, if profit for the sake of profit is all you are in business for it will lead you to exploitation of the various systems associated with your business. However, if you are in business to create value for your stakeholders, then there is a cause greater than yourself, greater than just money.
What does this mean to the business program at Warner Pacific College? Warner is rooted in the traditions of John Wesley. Wesley believed in divine justice and subsequently social justice. Wesley felt that feeding the poor, visiting the sick, etc. was a critical ministry of the church, and he called these works of mercy. But, the reason for doing this involved God’s justice and mercy.
We are a fallen race and as such we need God’s grace to not receive what we deserve, judgment. Therefore, as a Christian, one who has received God’s mercy, I am to express mercy to those I come in contact with. This is the purpose behind our action in this world.
Business can be a power for good, and those companies that have learned that creating value is more than just creating profit may have learned the lessons that Wesley preached. The why behind what we do is important. So I go back to my statement, what does this mean for the business program at WPC?
First, it does not mean that we change the critical elements required to be taught within any reputable business program. These are management/leadership; Accounting/Finance; Entrepreneurship; Marketing; Ethics; and Economics. But it does mean we make sure we are telling our students the why behind business. It is not just about making a profit, it is about serving God in the area that God has called us to, the area of business.
And that is my thought for the day!