The Profit Obsession – Part 3
Posted by Andreas on Mar 21, 2011 at 12:38 am
Today is the third installment in a series of posts that comprise a speech given by Andreas Widmer at the Logic of the Gift Symposium, held by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome on February 24-26, 2011. The symposium brought together academics and business leaders to discuss the principle of gratuitousness in Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate.
How can the average Catholic integrate the Church’s teaching into business life? Where do we start in proposing a solid moral framework for use in business? What should the Christian response be to the fight against poverty and therefore the pursuit of wealth creation?
On the level of teaching social doctrine, we too often and quite understandably use abstract ideas and arguments. In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict encourages the laity to employ innovative ways of thinking to explore and define the meaning of the economy and business to inspire a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise. He asks us to develop a profound and far-sighted revision of the current model of economic development.
In reading his encyclical, I find that the pope defines a vast spectrum to explore these questions. As a matter of fact, he comments that what the Christian faith supplies is the “why” of the economy. The “how” is wide open for exploration and various approaches. A summary of his points are as follows. Pope Benedict states that the “why” of the economy is the human person. The individual human person was created in the image of God and thus possesses inalienable dignity. Humans are not “tools” of the economy, but vice versa. The human person holds a special place in the world and is exalted through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What the pope does not define is the “how” of the economy: he does not give specific systemic advice. He does not suggest practical solutions of how the economic system should address the fact that the human person is at the center of its activity. The objective of this paper is to explore that question: how do we best put the person into the center of the economy? What does a Catholic approach to business look like? How do we get from where we are to a more human-centered economic system?
Any solutions to the issues and challenges in the marketplace have to start with the current situation and system. We need steps in the right direction, an evolution toward prosperity. This begins with considering and building on what is good about the key structures of today’s market (even if some of them have become distorted or suppressed). Free competition allows us to excel in our work. Free markets allow us to create global networks of productivity and exchange. Representative government and a democratic system of government balance the powers. Financial profits allow us to evaluate if resources are allocated effectively and efficiently. And a public moral culture reduces business transaction cots and increases the common good. In short: the societal and business model that was built on Judeo-Christian values is a good one, but it needs virtuous and committed practitioners.
 Caritas in Veritate 70
 I use the term “prosperity” to describe what Pope Benedict calls “building a good society and for true integral human development” (Caritas in Veritate 4) since a person who is enabled to develop in body, mind and soul is a truly prosperous person.
 Centesimus Annus 46
 Centesimus Annus 25