What is the end – the goal – of business anyway? Is it to merely maximize a profit or to do good, or some balance between the two? And what exactly does it mean for a business to “do good”? And if I happen to be a person of deep religious faith, do I have to check my faith at the boardroom door? What influence should my faith have on the exchanges I engage in day to day, and what are the practical implications of ethics on how I conduct myself in business relationships? Andrew Abela is the 2009 recipient of Acton’s Novak Award. He has just co-authored a very important book on the subject of the intersection of ethics and morality with business: A Catechism for Business: Tough Ethical Questions & Insights From Catholic Teaching (The Catholic University of America Press). He speaks with Acton’s Paul Edwards on this edition of Radio Free Acton.
Pope Francis needs distributism, argues Arthur W. Hunt III in the latest issue of The American Conservative. Hunt says that Americans and popes alike can embrace a humane alternative to modern capitalism:
In the midst of their scramble to claim the new Pope, many on the left missed what the Pontiff said was a nonsolution. The problems of the poor, he said, could not be solved by a “simple welfare mentality.” Well, by what then? The document is clear: “a better distribution of income.” And how might this be achieved? Through the “right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good,” to exercise some control against an “absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”
The Pope called for a kinder and gentler capitalism. Admittedly, he did not provide many policy details other than, “We can no longer trust the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market … it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income.” It is that phrase, “distribution of income,” that struck fear into Palin and Limbaugh, and perhaps even Reno. It smacks of socialism—what Reno called the only and obvious alternative to capitalism. Reno briskly passed over any notion of a third solution, one many sons and daughters of Rome have rallied to for over a century.
The word distributism does not appear in the treatise, and nowhere does Francis fall back on his predecessors or Catholic intellectuals who have supported a third way of economic ordering. Nevertheless, policies that allow for the flourishing of smaller economic units while at the same time valuing work and broader property ownership are consistent with Catholic social teaching.
Despite not being Catholic myself, I found almost nothing in Hunt’s article all that objectionable. The only point of true disagreement is the claim that distributism is an alternative to either capitalism or socialism. Distributism is not an alternative at all, for distributism doesn’t actually exist.
Over the past hundred years there have been numerous explanations for why distributism is unrealistic and unworkable as a “third-way” alternative. Here are four that should suffice to point out why no one — whether a pope or plumber — needs distributism:
There is a lot of talk about “closing the gap” and overcoming “income inequality.” Some of it is pure socialism: Redistribute! Redistribute! Others look for ways to create jobs and help people create new financial opportunities for themselves.
But what about the simple gift of friendship?
At The American Conservative, Gracy Olmstead suggests that friendship can bridge income gaps, and creates safety nets for people in ways government and even private agencies cannot. We all have close friends and family we know we can count on, but Olmstead (quoting Richard Beck) says “weak ties” must not be overlooked. “Weak ties” would be that sorority sister you actually haven’t laid eyes on in 12 years, but talk to daily on Facebook, or that second cousin you only see at family weddings and funerals.
Weak ties—distant relatives, acquaintances from our neighborhood or past—are usually more diverse in their background, tastes, and employment. This wider “social web” gives us philanthropic ammunition: when you see someone in need, you don’t just bring your own talents and gifts to the table. You bring everyone you’ve ever met—”Bluntly, you might not be able to help this person in a particular situation but you might know someone else who can. In sacramental friendships you are bringing the gift of your weak ties.”
During the 20th century, the option for the poor or the preferential option for the poor was articulated as one of the basic principles of Catholic social teaching. For example, in Octogesima Adveniens (1971), Pope Paul VI writes:
In teaching us charity, the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the most fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods generously at the service of others.
Yet while all Christians — not just Catholics — should express a kinship for the less fortunate, Nathan Duffy reminds us that Jesus also expressed a “special, unique concern for wealthy tax collectors.”
In this short talk, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, co-founder and president of the Acton Institute, offers some general observations about this week’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis at the Vatican, and reflects on the differences in philosophy that make a Presidential/Papal alliance such as what occurred during the time of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II unlikely.
At Patheos, Joel J. Miller discusses how God uses work to fashion our souls:
Not long ago I looked at an icon of Archbishop Luke of Simferopol and Crimea, a recent Orthodox saint who lived from 1877 to 1961. Following the fashion, the image was timeless. It could have been painted a thousand years ago. But there in the icon — to my surprise — were surgical implements!
The archbishop worked as a surgeon and scientist. He was well known for his prowess with a scalpel and the quality of his research work, captured in his many articles and papers.
“I help people as a physician,” he once said, “and I help them as a servant of the Church. . . .”
It’s common in icons to see holy objects: scrolls, books, crosses, prayer ropes. But here were tools of a trade. Of course, in the rights hands, for the right service, those tools are seen by the church as holy objects too.
In USA Today comes this story from the Associated Press:
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday permanently removed a German bishop from his Limburg diocese after his 31 million-euro ($43-million) new residence complex caused an uproar among the faithful.
Francis had temporarily expelled Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from Limburg in October pending a church inquiry.
At the center of the controversy was the price tag for the construction of a new bishop’s residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst defended the expenditures, saying the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because the buildings were under historical protection.
But in a country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church, the outcry was enormous. The perceived lack of financial transparency also struck a chord since a church tax in Germany brings in billions a year to the German church.
The Vatican said Wednesday that the inquiry into the renovation found that Tebartz-van Elst could no longer exercise his ministry in Limburg and that Francis had accepted his resignation, which was originally offered Oct. 20.
Back in October, I was part of a panel of guests on the BBC program World Have Your Say, discussing the question, “Should Religious Leaders Live a Modest Life?” The springboard for the conversation was the scandal surrounding Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.