Is it worthwhile for the Business Roundtable to push business in this direction? The answer is likely yes, even with the confusion and pushback. Here’s why: 60% of investment firm leaders expect to increase training and development in new areas. So why shouldn’t they develop ESG, or at least come up with a more comprehensive understanding of corporate social responsibility?

The raft of assets pouring into ESG investments—$10 trillion a year globally since 2016—should be reason enough to figure out a new paradigm for investors that explains why it’s important to “do good” in portfolios and even single holdings.

What’s clear is that the private sector is embracing things historically thought to be the government’s duty: building social equity. This concept harks all the way back to the early 1970s, when Milton Friedman promoted the libertarian view of urging government to skedaddle—and get out of the way of the free market system. But that trend has been concurrent with a rise in inequality—monetarily, the wealth divide is at its largest margin, and socially, life expectancy has risen for the wealthiest 20% of Americans, whereas it has dropped for the poorest 20%.

Serving profit alone doesn’t appear, then, to strengthen society. Rather, it is an undoing of a lot of the good the Great Society and the New Deal programs produced for generations of Americans.

The Business Roundtable is broaching a new way of serving both the rich and the poor—as it says, “all Americans.” Ceres, the much-admired Boston-based nonprofit organization that works with some of the world’s most influential investors and companies to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy, is cautiously optimistic about the Business Roundtable’s approach to corporate repurposing.

“On its face, the statement gives me hope,” says Mindy Lubber, Ceres’s chief executive. “It is both timely and prescient, and should be applauded. With it, the largest companies in the U.S. have affirmed that fair dealings with customers, employees, suppliers and communities are core to a company’s purpose and to its overall role in the American economy and society. I could not agree more.

“But the statement is only a small step in the marathon of challenges before us,” she says. “We require bold, immediate action from these powerful corporate leaders—whose products underpin every aspect of our daily lives and whose influential voices can move policy proposals that impact our economy and the world around us.”

It seems there is no such thing as a bottom line anymore. A question—“How do you measure success?”—is taking its place.

To that end, finance and investing may be becoming more like art—bad, good, better, best, and all in the eyes of the beholder.         

Thomas Kostigen is a New York Times best-selling author and regular contributor to Financial Advisor magazine.

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