The Economics of Higher Purpose
50 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2013 Last revised: 5 Dec 2013
Date Written: December 2, 2013
We develop a theory of how the intersection of business goals and the pursuit of "higher purpose" — something that produces a non-pecuniary social benefit valued by the principal and the agent — affects economic outcomes. Two types of principals — those pursuing only wealth maximization and those pursuing both wealth and a higher purpose — are considered. These are typically viewed as competing approaches to running organizations. However, the theory we develop, which shows that the pursuit of higher-purpose projects reduces labor costs and increases capital investments, highlights a potential complementarity between the principals pursuing a higher purpose and those exclusively pursuing wealth. The complementarity arises because the pursuit of higher-purpose projects by others can relax budget constraints for wealth-maximizing principals, and the presence of purely-wealth-maximizing principals may be essential for the higher-purpose-pursuing principals to obtain external financing. The absence of either type of principal may lead to a market breakdown involving no projects being undertaken.
Keywords: Higher purpose, budget constraints, wealth maximization
JEL Classification: Q01, Q32, Z1
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation