In a commencement address last weekend, Michelle Obama spouted the sort of pablum you'd expect a social democrat to espouse on such occasions:
“Success isn’t about how your life looks to others, it’s about how it feels to you,” Obama said Sunday, retelling how she and her brother, Oregon men’s basketball coach Craig Robinson, grew up in a small Chicago home pushed by parents who said “be true to ourselves.”
For both, she said, that meant throwing away their corporate suits and trying something different after realizing what they thought was the American dream.
“After graduating from college, we did everything we thought we should do to be successful -- Craig went to business school, I went to law school, we got prestigious jobs at an investment bank and me at a law firm. We soon had all the traditional markers of success: the fat paycheck, the fancy office, the impressive lines on our resumés. But the truth is, neither of us was all that fulfilled,” said Obama. “I was living the dream, but it wasn’t my dream. And Craig felt the same way, unbeknownst to me.”
What annoys me about this sort of thing is the implication that those who choose business as a calling are somehow make a less authentic and fulfilling choice than those who decide to go into politics so they can impose their world vision on the rest of us via statist paternalism.
Novak argues in the Aristotelian tradition that each person is involved in a life-task of human flourishing – to realize in community with others, the potential that is his by reason of his own humanity. He explains that character development is a critical ingredient for human flourishing and that business in a free economy not only requires, but also rewards, virtuous behavior by the participants. The free market rewards honest, trustworthy, fair-dealing, creative, discerning, tolerant business persons. ...
Novak goes on to suggest that business as a mediating institution has seven internal responsibilities that arise from the nature of the corporation itself and an additional seven responsibilities that are derived from Judeo-Christian religious teachings.
Included among the seven internal responsibilities that a business must fulfill in order to succeed are: to satisfy customers with goods and services of real value; to make a reasonable return on the resources entrusted to it by investors; to create new wealth and new jobs; to defeat envy by generating upward mobility and by demonstrating that talent and hard work will be rewarded; to promote inventiveness and ingenuity; and to diversify the interests of the republic thus guarding against majoritarian tyranny.
The following additional external responsibilities are not found in business qua business but in the convictions of its practitioners who bring their faith to the business world: to shape a corporate culture that fosters the three cardinal business virtues as well as other virtues; to protect the political soil of liberty; to exemplify respect for the rule of law; to reflect and act in practical effective ways, individually and with others, to improve aspects of society; to communicate often and fully with investors, pensioners, customers, and employers; to voluntarily contribute toward the improvement of civil society; and to protect the moral ecology of freedom.
Novak documents the various ways in which corporations benefit their local communities and the wider world simply by fulfilling these responsibilities.
So compare Obama's speech to Novak's insights:
- “Part of the business vocation, then, is getting together and forming a task-orientated community – a community, in other words, not to satisfy all needs but to get a few specific things done – done for the public, ‘to make a contribution to society’ that no one person could make alone but must be made by many together.” (25)
- “Business is, bar none, the best real hope of the poor. And that is one of the noblest callings inherent in business activities: to raise up the poor.” (37)
- “To most creators, the money itself is boring. If you don’t believe me, watch them. They prefer new risks and challenges. When these wither, they wither.” (84)