What are the social responsibilities of business? They are not that different from the commercial responsibilities of individuals. We are all called to deal fairly, to uphold high ethical standards, to be productive, to be attentive to the good of all, and to remember that the ends never justify the means.
Is this necessarily incompatible with making a profit? Many religious leaders seem to think so. Financial success and social concern are routinely viewed as having differing ends. The classic liberal tradition, however, has shown that within the market economy, individual and social benefit can be harmonized for the good of all.
The existence of profit itself implies nothing about the moral effects of products or services; it implies only that resources were used efficiently (not wastefully) in their production. But it is often assumed that profiting is an act of greed.
But we must ask: If profits are so bad, does this mean that losses are better? Surely not. If there is a case to be made for or against particular forms of production, there is no case to be made for losses to predominate over profits. Losses imply human suffering and waste of resources. The market is the best mechanism we know of to ensure that economically wise choices displace unwise ones.
Profits are not all that matter, but let us not diminish the social contribution of successful companies to the economic order. There is no reason to drive a wedge between profit and social service. Whether the goal is to sell products or contribute to the common good, the extent to which the company is successful is reflected, in large part, in its accounting.
Today, investors and consumers are not just searching for good products and services at good prices. A market for explicitly chosen, socially responsible investing has developed.
By supporting the work of the Acton Institute, you can be assured that your charitable giving is being invested in a socially responsible way. By helping to back good ideas, you are also promoting the common good. We are grateful.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico
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