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Benefit corporations are a recent attempt to change the perception of what for-profit businesses can be for society. These companies aim to serve their customer and the public good without sacrificing profit. These companies are facing a widespread and deeply held assumption that a company should only be focused on making a profit. This was not always the case. As the Atlantic explored in a recent interview, societies have long expected their entrepreneurs to work towards the public good. In England, this view has been found to exist even in medieval times.
According to a paper written by Catherine Casson, Mark Casson, John Lee, Katie Phillips, medieval merchants had strong ties to family and community.
They decided that some of their wealth should go towards philanthropic projects in their communities, “that their pursuit of profit should promote the common good of the communities where they lived and worked.”
Catherine Casson, speaking to the Atlantic said, “Medieval property speculators saw their business activities and their philanthropic activities as intermeshed.” They would donate 51% of income to churches, local hospitals and religious houses. Others would build infrastructure, like roads and bridges. Sometimes, rather than give individually, people would get together and build larger projects to benefit the community. The idea was that a wealthy merchant or landowner had “made it,” and saw that it was their duty to help others in their community succeed as well.