Saturday, August 6, 2011

American capitalism and the common good

This is from the last few paragraphs of "The practice of management" (1958) by Peter Drucker.  He is writing from, and about the USA.

Two hundred and fifty years ago an English pamphleteer, de Mandeville, summed up the spirit of the new commercial age as "private vices become public benefits" - selfishness unwittingly and automatically turns unto the common good.   He may have been right; economists since Adam Smith have been arguing the point without reaching agreement. 
But whether he was right or wrong is irrelevant; no society can lastingly be built on such belief. [...] 
Fifty years ago de Mandeville's principle was as fully accepted here as it is in Europe.  But today it has become possible if not commonplace in this country to assert the opposite principle that the business enterprise must be so managed as to make the public good become the private good of the enterprise.  In this lies the real meaning of the "American Revolution" of the twentieth century.  That more and more of our management claim it to be their responsibility to realize this new principle in their daily actions is our best hope for the future of our country and society, and perhaps for the the future of Western society altogether.


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