March 1, 2010| 0

Book Review: Business for the Common Good


by Kenman L. Wong and Scott B. Rae (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011. 288 pp)

Kenman Wong, professor of business ethics at Seattle Pacific University, teaches courses in the fields of ethics and microfinance. A graduate of Biola University, the University of Washington, and the University of Southern California (where he received his doctorate in social ethics), Wong as also authored Medicine & the Marketplace, Beyond Integrity (also with Scott B. Rae), and many articles published in scholarly journals.

 

Scott B. Rae serves as professor of biblical studies-Christian ethics at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Dallas Theological Seminary, and the University of Southern California (where he received his doctorate in social ethics), Rae has published many books and scholarly articles in the field of ethics.

Reviewed by Donovan Richards

Another Way of Doing Business

The School of Business and Economics at Seattle Pacific University teaches that the purpose of business is to serve the common good.

This philosophy, titled "Another Way of Doing Business," has, in turn, inspired SBE scholars to research and explore supporting and complementary ideas. As such, Business for the Common Good is the perfect companion to SBE Dean Jeff Van Duzer’s Why Business Matters to God.

Where Van Duzer’s Why Business Matters to God focuses on the theoretical justification for the intrinsic value of business, Wong’s book shows practical examples of how leaders in the business world could implement Christian principles in the marketplace.

Increasing Profits, or Profitable Service?

Stated another way, Wong’s and Rae’s book furthers scholarship on the principle of approaching business from the position of service.

Typically, business is considered an enterprise whose sole purpose is increasing profits. When pursued from this limited perspective, business is capable of — maybe even conditioned to — harming stakeholders in an effort to appease shareholders. We see this play out in the business press in myriad ways:

  • The potential arises for customers to receive an inferior product as companies cut corners to save money.
  • Some employees suffer from unsustainably low wages, or poor and unsafe working conditions.
  • The environment serves as a dumpster for growing amounts of waste and pollution.

Transforming the Status Quo

Wong and Rae understand the necessity of net earnings. Yet they question the lofty pedestal on which most business people place profit.

In suggesting that business exists for a greater purpose, the authors argue that "work is transformational service to God in his new creation" (52). Instead of entering the marketplace in order to attain the necessary resources to live, Christians might operate in the marketplace to provide resources for others.

In other words, transformational service means that business exists both for the provision of resources for others and for the moral formation that service provides for the worker.

Through diverse topics, such as globalization, workplace ethics, management philosophy, marketing, and the environment, the authors tackle some of the difficulties inherent in transforming much of the status quo in modern-day business practice — without presenting a full-scale condemnation of contemporary business.

In fact, Wong and Rae assert themselves as pro-business. But they also suggest that the intrinsic value of business, which they defend so rigorously, can be diminished if the prevailing model of profit maximization is the "invisible hand" that guides all future action.

Creating Culture From the Top

If you run a small business, manage a group of employees, or carry executive status, Business for the Common Good offers valuable insights into the ways you can influence your company’s culture for the good of society.

For those who are in a more-limited role of organizational leadership, the lessons in this book may not be immediately applicable, but may serve as a guide for the types of companies for which you might want to work.

Regardless, Business for the Common Good supplies a valuable resource for readers interested in the intersection between faith and work, and specifically Christian theology and business, on a practical level.

Donovan Richards earned an M.A. in Business and Applied Theology from SPU and works as a consulting analyst for See Seven. You can read more reviews on Donovan's blog.

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