Spiritual Capital in Business

Jonathan B. Wight

The John Templeton Foundation has funded a number of conferences around the world to explore the issue of spiritual capital in a business setting. To set the stage:

 “Spiritual capital is the fund of beliefs, examples, and commitments that are transmitted from generation to generation through a religious, moral or spiritual tradition, and which attach people to the transcendental source of human happiness.”  (Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, Yale conference on Practical Wisdom in Management, July 2013.)

 The final conference was held at Yale University’s School of Divinity last week.  It was a wonderful experience to be a part of this endeavor to: 1) explain how successful businesses can operate on the basis of principles that are supported by spiritual traditions; and 2) to popularize the view that markets can do far more than provide profits to shareholders.

 There were many CEOs at this conference (click on the link above to see a list) and virtually all of them were able to say from personal experience that the relentless pursuit of maximizing profits did not lead to human resource or environmental sustainability, and hence did not ultimately maximize shareholder wealth. A different approach is needed that focuses on virtues and commitments to transforming ideals.

 Profit are of course needed, just as humans need air to breathe. But the purpose of life is not to breathe air! It should be obvious that many business leaders make a lot of money by not following spiritual principles, and that some business leaders that follow spiritual principles go bankrupt. The key point is that people prefer to work for business leaders who genuinely pursue transformational goals in an ethical manner.

 Ted Malloch, who helped organize the conference along with Gilbert Lenssen, President of The Academy of Business in Society (ABIS), made an interesting comment:

"There are moral preconditions in a market economy: the sentiments of sympathy, benevolence and compassion, of approval; disapproval and indignation, which underpinned the social order and make it possible to engage in business in the first place. Human beings and the corporations they originate are not just profit-maximizers. They have moral scruples, personal commitments and the desire for happiness. These set limits to their plans for personal profit, and also stimulate them to pursue profit in ways that honor their higher values and generosity. Many companies, large and small, public and private, around the world and from each tradition exhibit fees, live and conduct business by these values thereby exhibiting their spiritual capital.

Ted has written a slew of books on this subject with co-authors:

 The End of Ethics and A Way Back: How To Fix A Fundamentally Broken Global Financial System (2013)

 America's Spiritual Capital (2012)

 Spiritual Enterprise: Doing Virtuous Business (2008)

Proponents of the spiritual capital view are now stepping up to the debate not with platitudes about CSR, but with data and many studies. This includes many studies in experimental economics.  This is an exciting time to be teaching ethics and doing business.  Business can be a calling, with meaning and purpose.

Prawfsblawg's Dan Markel on law blogging (or blawging, if you will)

Mark D. White

There seems to be a bit of discussion in the air about acacdemic blogging lately (and not just at the wonderful dinner I shared with Jonathan Wight last night at the ASSA conference!). In addition to the pieces I highlighted several days ago, I just found this post by my friend Dan Markel over at the always-interesting Prawfsblawg, titled "Why I Blog (as a Law Professor)." As Andrea Doucet did, Dan mentions the appeal and challenges of blogging vis-à-vis academic writing, and as is his wont, he casts blogging in the frame of civic responsibility:

Time, imprecision, and frustration are sometimes the costs of trying to make a piece of scholarship accessible to non-specialists. Still, that effort is often worth it, especially at Prawfs, where we have made efforts to ensure a relatively congenial community of commenters. After all, one of the best things about blogging as a medium is that it enables you to find new readers and interlocutors for your work and ideas. And as writers, you win your readers one by one by one. This point about community building seems especially salient in light of the fact that law professors live a largely monastic existence in their offices. Blogging helps as an antidote to that vocational loneliness. Finally, I think we are obligated to make some efforts to get our ideas out there. As scholars, we spend years trying to generate intellectual capital. We are paid to do so by virtue of the generosity of public legislatures and private tuition and donations. Accordingly, I think we owe our benefactors our efforts to disseminate our hard work beyond the typical and sometimes closed channels of distribution that we often rely upon.

Hypocrisy and the Debt Ceiling

Jonathan B. Wight

Suppose Harry and Susan debate whether to add a sun porch onto their home.

"Can we afford it?" Harry asks.

"Yes," Susan responds, "if we draw on the equity line at the bank that we set up last year."

"But still," Harry counters, "we will have to pay that back someday."

"Sure we will, but we'll both have better jobs in the future, and paying it back will be easier then."

Conversation concluded, the couple hires a contractor and the sun porch addition is carried out. At the end of the month the bill comes due. Harry reaches into his bankbook for the equity line checks.

"What are you doing?" Susan exclaims. "You don't expect us to actually pay for that!"

This is the sad state of American politics: Congress creates the budget by setting the spending and revenue constraints. Now that the bill is due, many Congresspeople are unilaterally refusing to honor the debts they piled up. The fallout from this fiasco extends beyond federal borrowing to individual states like Virginia.

This is shameful, dishonest, and hypocritical. May there be no mercy at the next polls.

The Perjury Epidemic and American Justice

Jonathan B. Wight

Via David Warsh comes a link to a book by former Wall Street Journal editor, James B. Stewart, Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff (2011).

Stewart argues that a surge in high profile lying is reflective of an “epidemic” of perjury that perils our justice system.  The promotional material notes that:

The perjury outbreak is symptomatic of a broader breakdown of ethics in American life. It isn't just the judicial system that relies on an honor code: Academia, business, medicine, and government all depend on it. Tangled Webs explores the age-old tensions between greed and justice, self-interest and public interest, loyalty and duty. At a time when Americans seem hungry for moral leadership and clarity, Tangled Webs reaffirms the importance of truth.

This is the conundrum for economists and others who promote a consequentialist ethic of costs and benefits:  why should anyone ever promote an act unless it is personally beneficial?   Enlightened self interest is a wonderful thing, but it cannot be the only thing that cements society.  Without the strong framework of moral duty or moral virtue, could society hold together?

Call for papers: Citizenship, Social and Economics Education

Mark D. White

The following call for papers may be of interest:

International Association for Citizenship, Social and Economics Education

Bath Spa University, Bath, United Kingdom

Tuesday 28th - Thursday 30th June 2011
(Friday 1st July research/committee meeting day)

Theme: Values and Purposes in Citizenship, Social and Economics Education

Professor Stephen Ball Mannheim Professor of Sociology of Education, Institute of Education, London (enterprise and the school curriculum)
Professor Peter Davies University of Birmingham (Editor International Review of Economics Education)
Professor Penny Enslin University of Glasgow (values, citizenship and democracy education)
Professor David Coulby Bath Spa University (international education and curriculum theory)

You are invited to present a research paper, explain curriculum development work or share innovative classroom practice. Research papers may be submitted to the Association's refereed international journal Citizenship, Social and Economics Education ( that will devote a special edition to the conference theme.

The conference will allow opportunities for delegates to:
- find inspiration from colleagues working in related fields and share reflections upon areas such as citizenship education, developmental education, economic education, enterprise education, community education, environmental education, and related fields;
- talk about the problem of knowledge in these areas of the curriculum, and of the theory and practice of enabling all ages of students to become competent and confident at communicating in a context of moral and political pluralism; and
- present and publish work in a supportive and respected international forum.

Abstract submissions should be 200-300 words, linked with the conference theme, however widely interpreted, and be sent by email attachment, in Rich Text Format or Microsoft Word, to the Conference Secretary at [email protected]. All submissions should include brief biographical and affiliation details.

Closing date for submissions: END OF JANUARY 2011

Further Conference and Association information is available at

PO Box 204, Didcot, Oxford OX11 9ZQ, United Kingdom
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