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The importance of well-being

by Charles Koch, chairman & CEO, Koch Industries, Inc. 1/31/2014

Martin Luther KingThe overriding focus of our corporate Vision is to “further benefit society by...helping people improve their lives.”

Agreeing on the best way of achieving human well-being is a challenge that has been debated for centuries.

Aristotle believed our general well-being was made possible by virtuous living, a point of view essentially shared by most of history’s philosophers, theologians, scholars and even poets.

But a much different idea (see page 10) took hold at about the time of the French Revolution.

This new idea held that it was possible to create heaven on earth, and that government intervention and control were the best ways to make this happen.

For the next 200 years, those unfortunates who lived under collectivist control paid the price for this flawed vision. Their governments may have promised heaven, but they delivered hell.

Revolutionary France and the former Soviet Union have something very much in common with today’s hypersocialist Venezuela and communist North Korea: they make it impossible for the great majority of people to achieve what they say is necessary for them to be happy and satisfied with life.

These components, or dimensions, include freedom, community and relationships, health and environment, living standards, opportunity, and peace and security.

A better way

In many ways, our Vision for Koch Industries reflects the genius of America’s founders, who took a very different course from what was normal in Western Europe 240 years ago.

As they saw it, the job of government was not to protect people from themselves or control their lives. It was to establish freedom so people could live their lives as they thought best, reaping the rewardsor suffering the negative consequences of theirown actions.

As Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights that we already have, not something a government can presume to give us.

Thus, the founders did not propose a government to deliver or guarantee happiness (a hopeless cause, however well-intended), but one that would be limited enough to allow people to pursue happiness for themselves.

Measuring well-being

The Charles Koch Institute recently established a Well-Being Initiative to foster more conversation about the true nature of well-being.

Through sound research, broad education and robust discussion, the Initiative aims to advance understanding of what it means to flourish, how to understand and measure the various aspects of well-being, and how to empower individuals to live better lives.

It is my hope that these robust measures will not only prompt conversation, but open new doors for research and form the core of the initiative’s efforts to improve the quality of life for all.

Leading by example

Our approach to promoting well-being has been to run our company in a proven, principled way that leads to true value creation.

This approach benefits not only our customers, society and the company, but creates the potential for genuine fulfillment among employees.

Our ultimate goal is to promote not only prosperity, but opportunity, self-help, self-worth and mutual support.

This kind of principled approach has been shown to dramatically improve lives — especially for those who are disadvantaged.

When Alexis de Tocqueville studied America in 1831, he found a “great goodwill” among its citizens, marked by a willingness to help each other.

Back in Europe, this sort of mutual aid was rare. Instead, people tended to turn to the government for help rather than relying on themselves and each other.

Tocqueville saw this as a much less effective way of helping those in need and enhancing well-being.

That is why, in our personal lives, we should treat each other with dignity and respect.

In business, we should provide products and services that make people’s lives better (rather than pursuing cronyism, which does the opposite).

Our charitable work should help people help themselves (as well as aiding those who cannot). Our educational institutions should support a marketplace of ideas, not indoctrination.

And in our political activities, we should support policies that enable people to improve their own lives. This kind of “great goodwill” is one I would think we can all support.

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