On Oct. 23 and 24, TFAS Senior Scholar Dr. James Otteson joined TFAS alumni, supporters and friends for back-to-back lectures in Milwaukee and Chicago. His talk, entitled “Why Business? Can Business Have a Moral Purpose?” explored the underlying nature of business and how it contributes to a humane and just society. The guests enjoyed stimulating discussion with Dr. Otteson over dinner at the Wisconsin Club in Milwaukee on Oct. 23 and over lunch at the University Club of Chicago on Oct. 24. Otteson set out to answer a provocative central question in his lecture: Can business be a force for morality in society?
The TFAS vision is a world where our leaders understand their proper role is protecting our God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
– Roger Ream, TFAS President
“We want a humane and just society,” Otteson said in his presentation. “That depends on a variety of institutions – included among those institutions is a properly functioning market economy, which requires honorable business.”
Otteson defined honorable business as the sum total of industries, firms and people who create valuable goods and services. These businesses make others’ lives better through providing goods and services people cannot create themselves, but can make them happier. Honorable business flourishes in a cooperative environment, Otteson noted, when people are able to own private property, have some guarantee of protection for their property and can use and trade it freely.
Using examples from all over the globe and 12,000 years of history, Otteson demonstrated how the freer an economy is, the higher the income and standard of living of its participants. He summed up his argument by saying that honorable business within market institutions, which are not extractive or based on a crony system, generates increasing wealth and – contrary to much of popular belief – also exemplifies proper moral relations among people. In an honorable business environment, he said, there is mutual respect and an option to opt out of transactions.
Otteson ended by asking, “Can honorable business then be a moral calling?” His answer was a resounding yes. “And that is ‘why business!’” he finished.
The luncheon and dinner opened with remarks from TFAS President Roger Ream (ICPES 76), setting the stage for Dr. Otteson’s talk and outlining the philosophy behind the work of TFAS.
“Free people have created the greatest, most prosperous country in human history,” Ream said. “We have led the world in most fields of economic endeavor, including agriculture, manufacturing, technology, sports and entertainment, medicine and others. Yet freedom is threatened today. We have a cultural divide that threatens our American experiment in liberty. It is up to each of us to do what we can to prepare the next generation for leadership. That is what we do at TFAS and we hope you will support our work.”
Ream went on to recount the events of the Sept. 28 TFAS 50th Anniversary celebrations in Washington, D.C. He highlighted the momentum that the celebrations created, including the announcement of new initiatives to propel TFAS forward in its goals – the TFAS Honors Scholarship Program to make scholarships more available to high-achieving students, the Economic Education Initiative to significantly increase the number of high school and college students and high school teachers TFAS reaches and the TFAS Leadership Engagement Program to help TFAS graduates accelerate and make an even greater impact in their careers.
Local TFAS alumni Andrew McDonough (ICPES 11) in Milwaukee and Alex Panosian (AIPE 09) in Chicago gave testimonials of the impact their TFAS education has had on their careers and lives.
Dr. Otteson is the executive director of the BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism, the Thomas W. Smith Presidential Chair in Business Ethics and professor of economics at Wake Forest University. He is also a senior scholar at TFAS, a research professor in the Freedom Center and Department of Philosophy at the University of Arizona and a research fellow at the Independent Institute in California.
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