Several years ago, before completing a bachelor’s degree in International Management and thereby entering the ‘Business World’, I was a high school graduate, philosophy student, and anti-capitalist. I wrote my high school thesis on an alternative economic system to capitalism: the moral society (call it naive or ahead of it’s time – whatever you want).
I was lucky enough to grow up in a great school district and receive an outstanding education. During my ripe teenage years, my mind was blown open by classes like World Literature, Philosophy and Media studies. I learned about the suffering of the rest of the world; had great thinkers challenge my beliefs; learned of the economic and political systems that existed outside of capitalism and democracy; and discovered that Americans were, despite all our hard work, mostly unhappy at the end of the day. In all of this, there was one easy culprit to blame: business.
I took out my teenage angst on capitalism and business in the same way Occupy Wall Street protestors took out their frustration on Wall Street bankers. I fought the system through “Buy Nothing Day”, a day of nonshopping promoted by the anti-capitalist organization Adbusters. Culture Jam shed light on a society around me that I just couldn’t accept, and I began to equate business with evil itself.
Maybe you can relate. Big businesses are doing things every day to undermine the world upon which we depend for our survival and the quality of life we seek to maintain. From pipelines to fracking to factory farms, there are plenty of reasons to be angry at big business.
As a 19-year-old coming to terms with the world in which I was living, rejecting business made sense to me. I bought all my clothes at thrift stores, drove a used car and silently judged the soulless creatures at my university who had chosen to major in business (cringe).
But after a few years of (nobly) studying philosophy, protesting Wall Street while simultaneously working for an American corporation (ironically), something changed. I was given the opportunity to move abroad – to study business.
I decided to study International Management in Germany because it would give me a chance to gain international experience and a new perspective. It would bring me closer to my sister, teach me practical skills, and help me to better understand that which I so stubbornly criticized.
At one point in my study program, during a Principles of Management class, it occurred to me; business itself is not evil. It is a social tool, as old as civilization itself, a system used no doubt even by animals; a method of trading to produce a mutual benefit. What could be more good, in and of itself? You give me something I need, in exchange for something you need. Business my friends – is not the problem.
So what is? Through my years of study and contemplation, I’ve come up with several possibilities. Could it be the legal structure, including personhood of a corporation, that has caused all the problems? Could it be simply the flawed nature of man? Or a widespread, fear-based mentality that is plaguing our families and institutions?
Whatever it may be, let’s remember: business is simply a tool. It can and WILL BE WHATEVER WE CHOOSE TO MAKE IT. We are all responsible for the outcomes and effects of business. And today it’s never been easier to have an impact. You could start a social business, remake your current business to be more eco-friendly, or simply use your buying power as a consumer to support socially and ecologically sustainable products and companies. If you are outraged at the destruction of the Indonesian rainforest for example, are you still buying products with palm oil?
What do you think – is business itself evil?
If not, what forces are to blame and ultimately, what is our responsibility in all this?
Comment your ideas below and share your thoughts & experiences!