Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business in the Passion Economy


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Aug 06, 2023

3 min read


Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business in the Passion Economy


In the evolving landscape of business and work, the concept of social responsibility has taken on new dimensions. This article explores the perspectives of John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, and the ideas put forth in a piece by Andreessen Horowitz on the Passion Economy. By examining these viewpoints, we can gain insights into the changing nature of business and its role in society.

Reevaluating Friedman's View:

Milton Friedman argued in 1970 that the only social responsibility of business is to increase profits within the boundaries of fair competition. However, John Mackey challenges this perspective, stating that businesses have multiple stakeholders, including customers, employees, investors, vendors, communities, and the environment. He believes that prioritizing customer happiness leads to long-term success and value creation for all stakeholders.

The Purpose of Business:

Mackey emphasizes that the purpose of a business should not be solely profit maximization. Instead, he advocates for a customer-centered approach, where customer happiness is pursued as an end in itself. This approach goes beyond short-term profits and highlights the importance of empathy, passion, and creating value for all stakeholders.

Corporate Philanthropy and Investor Approval:

Corporate philanthropy is often seen as a means to generate goodwill and positive public perception. While some argue that it should be purely based on investor approval and profitability, Mackey highlights the importance of community involvement and responsibility. At Whole Foods, philanthropy was ingrained in the company's mission from its inception, and investor objections have been minimal.

The Role of Altruism and Human Nature:

Mackey draws from Adam Smith's "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" to argue that human nature encompasses more than just self-interest. Sympathy, empathy, friendship, love, and the desire for social approval are equally important motives for human behavior. These values can be integrated into business models to create a new form of capitalism that works for the common good.

The Passion Economy and Individuality:

The rise of the Passion Economy has given individuals the opportunity to monetize their unique skills and interests. This shift allows everyone, not just established businesses, to create and sell digital products and virtual services. Marketplaces and SaaS platforms have emerged to support creators in reaching customers and growing their businesses.

Finding the Balance:

While businesses have a responsibility to multiple stakeholders, it is crucial to strike a balance. Maximizing profits remains important, but it should not come at the expense of other stakeholders. Each business must find its own equilibrium between customers, employees, investors, suppliers, and communities.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Prioritize customer satisfaction: Putting the customer first can lead to long-term success and value creation for all stakeholders. Focus on delivering exceptional experiences and building strong relationships.
  • 2. Embrace the Passion Economy: Identify your unique skills, interests, and passions. Leverage digital platforms and tools to monetize your talents and create a business around them.
  • 3. Find a balance: Strive for profitability while considering the needs and expectations of all stakeholders. Prioritize empathy, social responsibility, and long-term value creation.


The evolving nature of business and work calls for a reevaluation of the social responsibility of businesses. John Mackey's perspective on customer-centeredness and stakeholder value creation challenges Milton Friedman's narrow focus on profit maximization. Additionally, the emergence of the Passion Economy provides individuals with opportunities to monetize their unique skills and interests. By finding a balance between profitability and social responsibility, businesses can contribute to the common good and thrive in the ever-changing marketplace.

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