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Brook Mackey Soho Forum

Debate: Is Business for Profit or a ‘Higher Purpose’?

Must businesses seek a “higher purpose” than profit to be considered moral? John Mackey and Yaron Brook debate.

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“What is a business created to do, as compared to any other institution that human beings have constructed?” Yaron Brook asked his audience at a recent debate. “There are lots of ways to create value, and many of those don’t result in profit, financial profit. . . . A business is where we measure the quantity of value created with money . . . .”

Brook, who is host of The Yaron Brook Show and ARI’s chairman of the board, was squaring off against John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market and coauthor of Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. The occasion was a debate hosted by the Soho Forum on February 18, 2021, before an audience of two hundred at the Brownwood Hotel and Spa in The Villages, Florida.

The debaters clashed over the essence of business enterprise. Mackey argued the affirmative case, that every company’s leadership should pursue a “higher purpose” than profit, “while also enhancing shareholder value.” In opposition, Brook argued that the essential purpose of a business is to maximize profit by creating value in the marketplace.

In this lively discussion, supplemented by questions from the audience, Mackey and Brook addressed such questions as:

  • How has capitalism benefited society in recent centuries?
  • What causes most people to distrust and dislike business and capitalism?
  • Can “stakeholder value” provide a practical standard for business decision-making?
  • How can a business measure success if not by profit levels?
  • What’s the relationship between an individual’s personal purpose in working for a business and the purpose of business as such?
  • What does it mean to maximize long-term shareholder wealth?
  • Can capitalism be defended on the basis of altruistic benefit to society?
  • What’s the relationship between caring about others and caring about oneself?
  • What does Ayn Rand’s morality of rational self-interest have to say in defense of business?
  • Is unethical behavior profitable?

Listen to the podcast episode here.

Tom Bowden

Tom Bowden, J.D. and former civil litigator, is a research fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute and web editor of New Ideal.

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