How to Change Capitalism’s Declining Reputation: Whole Foods Market, Inc. (WFM)

So business has a bad reputation. It’s seen as selfish and greedy. Economic regulations are going up. We have a high-tax society now. People don’t trust business — I don’t know how many people saw the documentary called The Corporation that came out a few years ago. That basically portrayed business and corporations as a bunch of sociopaths out there, ready to rape and pillage and exploit people at every opportunity they get, dump their waste products in rivers, and basically, [operate as] really bad actors.

So you talk about the Friedman doctrine, well, that’s what everybody’s come to believe — the purpose of business is to maximize profits and shareholder value — and we’re losing economic freedom, we’re seeing our economic prosperity start to decline. And it’s because that’s very bad marketing. Basically, trying to justify yourself strictly on the amount of money you produce is a very bad idea. I mean, consider the fact that doctors are very well compensated in our society, right? Is the purpose of doctors to make money? Is that why they exist? Why do they exist? To heal people.

Teachers educate. Architects design buildings. Engineers construct things. Journalists, theoretically — I like to tease a journalist about this — should be to uncover the truth and not spin things, not sensationalize things. But every other one of our professions adheres to some type of purpose that goes beyond just maximizing their own gain.

Now, business is the greatest value-creator not just for a few people, but it creates value for everyone that exchanges with it; everybody trades voluntarily, so it creates value for its customers, it creates value for employees, it creates value for suppliers, it creates value for investors, and it creates value for these communities that we’re part of. So business is fundamentally good.

It can be better — we’ve written a book to talk about how business can be more conscious and, in a sense, go from good to great. But I disagree with Mr. Friedman on this particular issue because I think he’s wrong, A, and B, as a result of everybody thinking about business this way, we’re seeing business’s reputation decline, so I think it’s bad branding.

Also, I just don’t think it’s true. I’ve known hundreds of entrepreneurs who have created businesses, including your two founders of this organization, and, with very few exceptions, none started their businesses primarily to just make as much money as possible. It’s not that they don’t want to make money; it’s just that most entrepreneurs are on fire. They want to do something in the world, they want to change things, they want to have a dream realized, and so they have a higher purpose beyond just making money. It’s only the critics and a few economists that want to reduce business back to strictly being just about money.

The article How to Change Capitalism’s Declining Reputation originally appeared on managing editor Brian Richards owns shares of Whole Foods Market, as does The Motley Fool. The Fool also recommends Whole Foods Market.

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