Dr. Starling Hunter has posted a recent email exchange with an MBA student. Dr. Hunter comments:
We agree on the basic phenomenon- the developed countries have hundreds of cereals and the poorest barely have the basic necessities of life. Where we differ is on the cause of that problem. As I see it, the problem with poor countries is that they dont have enough people with the "misplaced emphasis on profits" as you put it. This is not just my opinion, there is substantial empirical evidence to support that conclusion.
Go read the whole thing. I hope the discussion continues, as the role of profit in business is one of my favorite topics.
Much of the confusion in this area comes from the inherent ambiguity of language. Some people would say "maximizing profits" is what gets you Enron, but I would say that "maximizing profits" doesn't include illegal actions, accounting manipulations, or anything else like that. I prefer to ask a question like "how does a business maximize it's value proposition to the customer in a way that unlocks the maximum percentage of that transfer for the business?" This is a debate I keep meaning to return to, but for now I'll follow Dr. Hunter's conversation.