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Nobel-Prize Winning Professor Tells Business Graduates to Do Well, Do Good

May 22, 2015 By Claire Hall

The business world can sometimes seem like a vicious place, but as UConn School of Business graduates begin their professional careers, they should stay faithful to their moral compass and never lose sight of the well-being of the communities they serve.

That was the advice offered by graduation speaker Robert J. Shiller, the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. He is also the Sterling Professor of Economics and a professor and fellow in finance at Yale University.

Shiller spoke Sunday May 10 to an enthusiastic crowd of undergraduates, parents and friends under the dome of Gampel Pavilion. UConn President Susan Herbst and members of the Board of Trustees were also present. This year nearly 700 undergraduates received their bachelors’ degrees in business.

“The title of my talk is ‘Business and the Good Society,'” Shiller told the crowd. “I chose this title, aware that it may seem an oxymoron to some, to emphasize that business ought to be, and is indeed, part of the ‘good society.’ But business has always attracted some scorn, for the very fact of its devotion to profits is seen as evidence of lack of concern for people.”

After the financial crisis and government bailouts of financial institutions in 2008, Americans expressed more skepticism of business than had existed since the Great Depression, he said. The Occupy Wall Street movement, in 2011, was one indicator of a resurgence in public feeling of distance between business and ‘the good society,’ he said.

The term ‘a good society’ was coined in the 19th century and referred to kind people who cared about others, maintained their property, raised their children well and were loyal citizens, explained Shiller, who also writes the “Economic View” column for the New York Times.

“Walter Lippman, a great public intellectual of his day and free-market advocate, wrote a book in 1936 titled, “The Good Society,” Shiller noted. “He said that the defining characteristic of the good society is that people adhere to the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”

That fundamental belief exists in most recognized religions, and generates the feelings of cooperation and friendship upon which successful societies are built, he noted. “Lippman thought that a successful life in business did not have to violate the Golden Rule,” Shiller said.

In her 2010 book, “The Economics of Integrity,” Anna Bernasek documented how people who work in the dairy business—anywhere along the supply chain—conduct their tasks with a great deal of personal and professional integrity, not out of concern for profit but out of respect for those who will be consuming the milk.

The UConn School of Business is associated with many ‘good society’ activities, from hosting the Connecticut Small Business Development Center within its building, to presenting programs on human rights, corporate social responsibility and the environment, Shiller continued. He praised the relatively new UConn chapter of Net Impact, whose mission is to create positive social and environmental change in the workplace and beyond.

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