- The Value Orientations Of Buddhist and Christian Entrepreneurs: A Comparative Perspective On Spirituality and Business Ethics by Gábor Kovács
Decades ago J. K. Galbraith asserted that man's oldest exercise in moral philosophy is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. Milton Friedman's contribution to this effort was shareholder value theory. Sometimes called the Friedman doctrine, it asserts that a firm's only responsibility is to maximize profit for shareholders. The theory does not merely absolve business of any social, moral, or political responsibility. It holds that it is immoral or unjust for a business to have any goal other than profit maximization. There are valid moral reasons offered in support of shareholder value theory. However, in practice, it is unparalleled as a rationalization for greed, exploitation, and short-term profit taking. It is against this background that Gábor Kovács presents his discussion and comparison of the spiritual values of Buddhist and Christian entrepreneurs. Kovács offers an exhaustive summary of the literature on spirituality in business management and mission, as well as a survey of the values that Buddhist and Christian spiritual entrepreneurs attempt to manifest in running their businesses. The study's Buddhist and Christian entrepreneurs manifest different values in different ways, but they all struggle to create firms that embody spiritual values while remaining profitable.
Kovács' book is based on his study of twenty-two Hungarian entrepreneurs: eleven Buddhist and eleven Christian. Each entrepreneur reports on the way they attempt to incorporate their uniquely Buddhist or Christian values into the goals and operation of their business. In the first three chapters, he describes the twenty-two entrepreneurs, and offers a brief survey of the literature defining the concepts of value and spirituality. In chapters three and four, Kovács surveys the core values of Buddhism and Christianity as they relate to commercial and economic activity. Kovács outlines the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. For Christianity Kovács relies on papal encyclicals. This is an odd choice. Rerum Novarum (Leo XIII 1891) and [End Page 321] the four major subsequent encyclicals on social justice are foundational texts in Catholic social doctrine. Still, it is not clear that the Christians in the study would identify these Catholic encyclicals as formative of their values. The Buddhist entrepreneurs in the study cite the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Christians cite Jesus and a vague understanding of what is biblical as the source of their values. In chapter six, Kovács offers a taxonomy of Buddhist and Christian spiritual values. The values, unsurprisingly, are quite different. For the Buddhist, some of the key values are mindfulness, generosity, simplicity, nonviolence, and compassion. For the Christian: human dignity, freedom, responsibility, community, and justice. These values are not defined, as you might expect were this a philosophy book. Rather these are the names offered by the entrepreneurs for the values and virtues, they believe themselves to be implementing in their business practices. In the final two chapters, Kovács discusses the ways these entrepreneurs address the conflict between spiritual values and profit (chapter seven) and the particular spiritually inspired business practices implemented by Buddhists and Christians (chapter eight.)
Chapter seven is framed as a conflict between spiritual values and materialism. Here, Kovács falls too quickly into a simplistic moral framework in which (1) the pure focus on profit is unethical and (2) any ethical values that would displace profit must be spiritual. Nonetheless, advocates offer several genuine moral arguments and motivations for shareholder value theory. Any other values or goals may violate the property rights of shareholders. Any social activity by a firm can be seen as an exercise of quasi-governmental power by an unelected, and unaccountable, entrepreneur. Perhaps most significantly, Friedman argues that the pure focus on profit may best foster diversity. Profit may be the lowest common denominator, but it is a common denominator. Social, religious, and political values are too often exclusive...