The Profit Obsession – Part 6
Posted by Andreas on Mar 31, 2011 at 12:34 am
Today is the sixth 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.
The other key question left open in the parable is “what is the difference between the three investors?” Why did they behave so differently? Were they motivated purely by profit? I don’t think so. I have talked to a myriad of investors, business leaders, and entrepreneurs, and very few of them are in the business for only financial profit. What many successful business leaders are after is the same as any of us: meaning and fulfillment.
This is achieved through, consciously or unconsciously, making a gift of “self.” To somehow do something that’s greater than oneself. It is a desire deeply imprinted on the human soul: giving makes us happy, and ideally, we want to come into partnership, into communion through our gift giving.
It is an effect of our being made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16) Christ redeems us not based on our merit, but as a gift (2 Tim. 1:9). It is also a free offer and invitation. It creates an opportunity, a possibility where there was none before: allowing us the possibility to be redeemed if we want to, if we engage, participate in, and accept salvation.
This unwarranted gift is the key motivator for Christians to in turn give gifts: we give because we have received (1 Jn 4:19), in an analogy to the free gift of salvation. (The world gives to receive, we give because we have received…. I’m not brother’s keeper, I’m my brother’s brother)
There is however a major difference in this analogy. We give as brothers, not as redeemers (Lk 16:28). We enable others to live up to their potential, which they have to do on their own. Doing it for them violates their freedom and thus their dignity. We give in love for the other, not for ourselves: giving in love means giving to affirm dignity, not destroy it. Giving an opportunity is giving a gift. Thus making an investment into a company to expand their business, train their workforce, and create better or more products is a gift. If it is accepted as an opportunity and is well executed, everyone involved excels. All COW-F stakeholders in the firm, the customers, owners, workers and future generations profit from the transaction.
Thus even, or rather especially in poor neighborhoods or emerging economies, a wise investment (financial or otherwise) is a form of gift for economic development: it gives the opportunity to excel. It is a redemption that leads from idleness to work (Proverbs 28:19), from living on handouts to making a salary, and ultimately the gift of moving out of poverty into prosperity. This is the true power of economic development, and I do not have to be an expert of any particular place and do not have to be qualified to guide them. What I need is the desire and ability to invest as an equal in an opportunity I perceive as a good deal. Instead of giving gifts that lead to dependency and idleness, I give gifts of opportunity and self-determination, and that gift is a great affirmation of the “why” of the economy. It is investment, not aid that is the most effective economic development tool.