A few weeks ago, I attended quite a unique talk at Anderson called, "East Meets West: What is Moral Capitalism?" It was by Dr. Hiroshi Tasaka, a distinguished business philosopher, prolific author, and founder of SophiaBank, a think tank that supports social entrepreneurs in Japan. He had flown in from Japan and spoke to a room of about 20 students over sushi (I didn't try the sushi though).
I just found online that he gave a similar talk at TEDxTokyo, which is the video embedded above.
The subject of the talk was the invisible or moral values that are absent in a capitalistic culture that only focuses on economic or monetary values. These moral values are things like caring for each other, peace in the community, trust, and happiness of workers. He explained how the verb "to work" in Japanese means "to help my neighbor" (I'll see if that's true next quarter when I hopefully take a Japanese class).
He taught these lessons through a philosophic fable he wrote which poked fun at how modern governments are trying to solve the current financial crises. His thesis was that by refocusing society and capitalism on a notion of invisible values, like culture, peace, and happiness, necessarily without quantifying them, we could achieve more stable and positive long-term results.
The way he spoke about the moral values appealed to me and is a reason for my recent growing interest in social entrepreneurship. It was also neat to hear Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, talk to us the next day about culture at Zappos and how their core values are many of the invisible values Dr. Tasaka was preaching. I'll blog more about Tony's talk soon (which was riveting), and it was a nice coincidence to hear several speakers give their unique perspectives on a common topic.
An economics professor in the audience of Dr. Tasaka's talk mentioned that there are several research studies in progress aiming to come up with a modified sense of GDP that takes into account society's contentment, peace, etc. Dr. Tasaka thought these efforts were well-intentioned but cautioned that the invisible values by definition cannot be measured or quantified. It sounded like something where you knew it when you saw it.
I had also recently come across a proposal to build a social stock exchange where Social Benefit Enterprises (SBEs), or companies that are for-profit but create social good along the way, could trade and be combined into a diversified portfolio by investors who wanted to support their operations.
I think all of these speakers and recent research show a growing trend towards socially responsible business, where the social good is not just a side effect but a major driver of value. It will be interesting to see how this develops in the coming years and to hopefully contribute to it as well.
11/18/2010 07:59:18 am
One thing I've held for a long time is that a lot of economic optimization doesn't recognize or factor in externalities correctly--some of the most important factors in a decision are inherently hard to quantify, and decision makers need to consciously protect them from falling off the radar.
11/18/2010 12:49:31 pm
True. I also think that a lot of decisions are made irrationally and just based on our instinct, and then numbers or discount factors are chosen to "rationalize" the decisions after the fact. As long as people don't forget the externalities/invisible values, we should be ok.
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