Professor Jim Otteson on the role of business in society.

6.15.2016 Article, BB&T Center, Capitalism, Careers, Faculty News, General

As part of a Business Insider series, “Price of Profits,” Jim Otteson, executive director of the BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism, shares an essay on honorable business. In it, he talks about our “Why Business?” course that will be a gateway course for all undergraduate business majors beginning this fall. He writes:

“When I tell people I teach business ethics, I often get asked, “Isn’t ‘business ethics’ an oxymoron?” Students, in particular, including those studying business, are defensive and uncertain. One student told me that she tells people she’s studying “human resources,” since she’s too embarrassed to tell people she’s actually studying finance. People “unfriend” her if she says she’s studying finance, she said.

Many students see business as at best a necessary evil, or at worst an active agent in the corruption of decent society. When asked why they’re studying business, usually the only two possible answers are to get a job or to make money. Of course, business students (like all other students) no doubt do want a job and to make money, but is there no other reason one might study business? No higher purpose it might serve?

Many blame capitalism, business, or finance for the 2008–’09 economic downturn, and many have charged business schools with teaching things the wrong way or the wrong things altogether. In response, many business schools decided to reevaluate what they were doing. But their self-examination led to little substantive change: most have kept doing what they had been doing, perhaps hoping that they could simply ride out the storm of criticism.

At Wake Forest University, where I teach, we decided to take a different tack. We wanted to address the criticisms squarely, and give students a real opportunity to think about big questions that need to be asked: Should we have a market economy? What are the responsibilities of a firm in a market economy? What are the objections raised to business, and what are the responses?”

Read the full story in Business Insider.