Our free market economy is driven by men and women who have an idea, a product, a service, a vision. Something that might be incredibly essential or unbelievably frivolous, but something that they feel compelled to create and offer for sale to the public.
We buy it, or we don’t buy it. We trade our hard-earned money for the product, service, or experience and these visionary men and women make money. Sometimes a lot of money. That profit informs the “bottom line” and determines whether or not a business endeavor was successful.
It still does, but today that’s only half the bottom line. The other half is this: what is the social impact–negative or positive–of this commercial endeavor? Sure, new businesses create jobs, increase tax revenues, and make millionaires. But what is the social impact of the business? Do we need another brand of cigarettes that contribute to illness? Do we need another strip club that brings out less-than-attractive attributes of men at the expense of women? Do we need another biological or nuclear weapon?
The double bottom line for business owners today is this: can I make a profit…and contribute in a constructive way to society?
As individuals, we find jobs more scarce and less secure, the pressure to perform greater, and the temptation to cut corners more attractive. Our bottom line–bringing home money to pay the bills and build security for the future–must confront these realities with courage.
We probably work harder for what may be less pay, but, even so, we must strive to raise our ethical standards beyond what they were five years ago, ten years ago. We have to be a man–or woman–of our word. We must carve out a reputation for integrity that will, in a very short time, precede us in all our business dealings, even if it costs us profit and opportunity for advancement in the short term.
For reputation is an echo that rings often and fades slowly.
In tough economic times, we must make sure our companies measure up to the double bottom line. And we as individuals must measure up to it as well.
Old Money, New Money, or No Money, we must set an example. Because as the unemployed, the underemployed, and those unjustly trapped at the bottom of the economic ladder will take their behavioral clues from us.
In challenging times, we need to put our best selves forward.