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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Business Foundations Personal Renaissance Essay

The Foundations of Business course was a broad study of what business is at its core and how it has developed and evolved over the cycles of human civilization. I began this course with a vague view of what business is in our modern society. My general view was that capitalism is the best proven way to organize an economy and that although it has its negatives, they are mainly brought about by government meddling and large organizations using the government as a tool.

During the length of this course, several ideas have made an impression on me. Today we take it for granted that the purpose of a business is to make a profit for its owners. I never would have imagined that the idea of profit would have been considered immoral, as it was for much of history. Most religions condemned the practice of conducting business for the sole purpose of making a profit and speak of material wealth in life as having negative consequences in the afterlife, as we read in the Myth of Er. Also, the early philosophers regarded profit-seeking for its own sake as outside of the purpose of business. Thomas Aquinas brings religious views and the philosophical views of Aristotle together when he speaks of the purpose of “buying and selling” in his writing Summa Theologica, Of Cheating. He states that the purpose of business transactions is to benefit each party equally by offering a means of exchanging one thing for another of equal value and that it is immoral to charge more for an item than it is worth, or was originally paid for it. Basically, business is trade and it is to be used as a tool to fairly acquire ones needs and wants that one cannot produce himself.

In The Worldly Philosophers, R.L. Heilbroner explains the difficulties of the evolution from the traditional economic system, in which trades are passed from generation to generation without competition among tradesman, to a market system that is reliant on every man doing what is in his own best interest. He details how the profit motive is a new condition of modern man by giving several examples of punishments given throughout the middle ages for profit-taking or even innovation that gave competitive advantage. This was a bit of a revelation to me and seemed ridiculous until I realized that the reason for it was to maintain the community’s economic stability. The market system was a completely foreign concept at that time.

Another concept that struck me during this course is the fact that businesses were not traditionally self-centered entities. They held large roles within their communities and held a certain responsibility to their community. A large part of the purpose of a business is to provide employment to members of the community and in this way provide economic stability to the community. It seems that this concept has been lost to a large extent in our modern society. Businesses today are mainly focused on how to make that bottom line as large as possible and do not seem to consider other relevant factors that also impact the well-being of the company, such as the well-being of the community in which it is located.

Automation has been adopted in place of human labor by many companies as one way of increasing efficiency and profits. In the video Humans Need Not Apply, C.G.P. Gray does a good job of detailing how essentially every sector of industry can eventually replace human labor with automation. He also makes the point that humans will not be able to stay relevant with an increase in new technology jobs, as is often argued.

This replacement of jobs for machines is a good example of how companies have lost sight of their role in the community. This practice is not beneficial in the long run to the businesses who take this route. In order to sell all of the product that the new automated processes make possible with the increased efficiency, there has to be a large amount of consumers with a good amount of spending power.

As we saw in the Opportunities Unlimited video, the middle class have been the primary consumers of goods and services. If the middle class are reduced by the filtering of more profit to the owners of businesses through lower labor costs, then those people that were consumers will no longer be able to consume at the same level and the demand in the general economy will shrink.

In my opinion, the loss of local business has had a major role in this short-sighted, profit-driven business ideology. The major businesses today are large corporate giants that are not centered in any one community. They are not specialized and they focus on the national or world market as a whole, rather than smaller communities. This means that they do not concern themselves with contributing to communities since they consider themselves ‘apart from’ or separate from them. Consumers also play a large role in loss of local business as they choose to buy cheaper goods rather than support their local businesses.

I believe this loss of connection to any community was a factor that led to the irresponsible environmental practices of many companies. The standards for environmentally responsible practices have risen and many businesses have implemented green initiatives, as outlined in The Greening of Corporate America, however, this is primarily done because it is financially beneficial to the company due to the cost saving benefits and consumer appeal, not generally because a company feels a responsibility to a community.

There is some dawning of realization of the unsustainability of this system. The ‘Buy Local’ movement is an example of a small step that some people are trying to make. The Transition Town movement is a movement that helps set up communities that are completely self-sustaining with local business and even locally printed currency. I wonder if it is too little too late. An individual would be hard pressed to buy everything they require from locally headquartered stores and it is next to impossible to buy only things that were produced locally. Most of the local stores, such as the local hardware stores, have closed as the big box stores moved in. Still, realizing that there is a problem is usually the first step.

My personal renaissance during this course has been to discover that I agree that the sole purpose of a business is not the self-centered seeking of profit. I am still a capitalist and whole heartedly support free will, but I think that our society has lost something very valuable when companies separated themselves from us and became consumed with the need to be as profitable as possible, no matter the consequences to the community. I agree that businesses do have a responsibility to the communities in which they conduct business and that they have lost sight of this responsibility, in large part. I do not pretend to have answers to this situation, but realization is a powerful first step.

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