What Is a Business?
A business is a commercial enterprise involved in the production of goods or services. It can also be a not-for-profit organization fulfilling a social mission or a government agency engaged in research or development. Businesses range in size from sole proprietorships to multinational corporations. They may be organized as corporations, partnerships, or other legal forms. A key feature of any business is the pursuit of profit, but this is not a strict requirement. A business can be profitable without ever turning a profit, as long as it seeks to gain value from its activities. The term business encompasses a wide variety of activities, from manufacturing to retailing, and even personal services such as hairdressing or cleaning.
Two things need to happen to cure capitalism’s disease, and there are signs that they are already under way. One is that the people running corporations need to change their culture. The cult of selfishness that enraptured America for a generation has become endemic, and it is corrosive. Its most damaging aspect is that it treats employees as costs to be minimized, rather than as assets to be cherished and nurtured.
The other is that the law and the accounting need to change, so that companies are treated more like communities than as pieces of property. This is more urgent than the question of whether the directors and shareholders are able to trust their companies to run them for the benefit of their workers, customers, suppliers, and shareholders. It is the only way to restore the public’s trust in business.
In addition to changing the culture, it is important for people in business to take a more active role in politics. They need to understand that their success depends on the well-being of the society in which they operate. They need to be willing to speak out against economic policies that harm the interests of citizens, and they need to work with other groups in the community to build a stronger economy. The public needs to know that they can trust the leaders of business, and it is no longer good enough to simply accuse them of greed or wickedness. The trust in business, like the trust in china, is fragile and must be handled carefully. But it is cracking, and there are many reasons why. Most of all, people have lost faith in the idea that the people running companies are there to serve them. They are, instead, seen as self-serving opportunists who manipulate the system to their advantage. This is not true of everyone, but it is the prevalent perception. It is the reason that so many feel they can’t trust the people who run companies, and that their trust in business is eroding fast. This is a serious problem, and it will require a major effort to repair. But the damage can be reversed, and a new culture of integrity is beginning to take hold in some places.