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.
Too many regulations, too much government intrusion: business leaders and entrepreneurs are “going John Galt”, according to Andrew Abela at Legatus magazine.
Fed up with the socialistic world he’s living in, Galt decides to leave and encourages numerous other entrepreneurs to follow him. As a result, the economy more or less grinds to a halt.
At Legatus chapter meetings across the country where I’ve been speaking — and with individual and groups of Catholic entrepreneurs and business leaders who visit us at the Catholic University of America — I’m meeting more and more people who are basically just walking away. Whether because they have had enough of fighting the EPA over every aspect of their business or they are concerned about going to jail because they didn’t comply with the umpteenth new regulation this week, they believe that the fun and sense of accomplishment in building a business is being sucked away by big government.
Earlier this year, the Catholic University of America announced the creation of a School of Business and Economics that will be “distinctively Catholic.” The new school offers a model based on Catholic social doctrine and the natural law that is unlike theories prevalent at most leading business schools. “Business schools focus on teaching commercial skills and rules of ethics, but they neglect the importance of character,” says Andrew Abela, the school’s dean and Acton’s 2009 Novak Award Recipient. “Our distinctive idea is to bring the rich resources of the Catholic intellectual tradition and the natural law to bear upon business and economics.
I recently spoke with Dr. Abela about the new program, what makes a Catholic approach different, and what it means for business and economics to be “people-centered”:
Why is it so rare for Catholic colleges and universities to take a “distinctively Catholic” approach on subjects like business and economics?
I think there are several possible reasons for this. First, the business and economics education at many Catholic universities tends to mirror that of non-religious universities in that it focuses on knowledge, not on will. But this is not enough. We have to cultivate our students in virtue, which needs the formation of both the intellect and the will. It’s not enough for students to know the good, they have to do the good, and even to love the good. Second, as you know much of higher education suffers from political correctness, and faculty are thus reluctant to commit to any one approach to ethics. Students end up being taught several (frequently conflicting) theories of ethics, with the result that they graduate as sophisticated relativists. Finally, faculty are committed to existing business and economics theories, and it is hard to reconcile these theories, which claim to be morally neutral, with the Catholic intellectual tradition, which holds that all human action has a moral dimension.
Why are you creating a new School of Business & Economics now – does the world really need another business school? And why a School of Business and Economics?
On Feb. 17, Rev. Robert Sirico was a guest on EWTN’s World Over program hosted by Raymond Arroyo. Rev. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, discussed the morality of federal budget making, social networking and the Catholic Church, and Live Acton vs. Planned Parenthood.
Rev. Sirico’s two segments begin at the 10:30 and 37:16 marks.
Arroyo is also joined by guests Rep. Chris Smith and Dr. Andrew Abela.
On the National Catholic Register, Andrew Abela confesses to a “nagging suspicion that teaching business ethics in a university is not delivering on what is expected of it.” The question is both concrete and academic: Abela is the chairman of the Department of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America and an associate professor of marketing. He was awarded the Acton Institute’s Novak Award in 2009. Here, he explains the problem with “amoral” business attitudes:
… we often face the problem that in our business ethics course, we teach students to respect human dignity, but then in marketing, they are taught to sell as much stuff as possible regardless of the good of the consumer; in finance, to maximize profits above all else; in economics, that human beings are nothing more than utility maximizers who find their happiness by consuming more and more stuff. Not explicitly, perhaps. But implicitly, that is the message they get from these courses.
If, after you graduate, real life presents any tension between the lessons you learned in your business ethics course and the lessons from your finance (or marketing or management) course, guess which is more likely to win? “I’ve got to do my job,” our graduates think, “and my job is finance”; therefore, I do what my finance class taught me.
The difficulty here is that when business runs this way, according to supposedly amoral theory, we invariably end up with the greed-induced global malaise we are facing now. Why? Because “amoral” business leads to immoral business: Without a strong notion of the good built into our concept of business, without a strong ethical foundation within the theory, business theory cannot provide sufficient protection from temptation. If businesses were run by machines, we might have such a thing as an ethically neutral business theory. But businesses are run by human beings who suffer from original sin and are therefore susceptible to temptation.
Read “Will Teaching Business Ethics Make Business More Ethical?” on the website of the National Catholic Register (reprinted from Legatus Magazine).
Andrew Abela, 2009 Novak Award recipient from the Acton Institute, offered a business perspective on Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, to the Catholic news service Zenit. In the interview, Abela talked about ways the encyclical could point the way out of the global financial crisis:
ZENIT: Does the Holy Father give any concrete means for digging ourselves out of the economic crisis?
Abela: Yes. It seems to me that the Holy Father is saying that trust is essential for our economy to work, and we have lost this trust because we have viewed the market as a place for narrow exchange only, where there is no need for generosity or fraternity, but only the adherence to contract.
Unfortunately, in many cases even that adherence to contract couldn’t be counted on, and therefore trust was lost.
In order to recover from the economic crisis, in addition to the proper role of government in orienting the market to the common good, the Pope is saying that it would help if we realized that generosity and fraternity are not foreign to market relationships, and in fact they are necessary to build the trust that the market requires if it is to operate well.
The Pope refers to the Economy of Communion project as an example of this happening. This project is a group of over 700 companies worldwide who are working within the marketplace for higher goals than solely profit. It sprung out of the Focolare movement as a direct response to the previous social encyclical, “Centesimus Annus.”
Abela also addresses a heated and what is becoming a much debated question on whether Pope Benedict the XVI condemns capitalism:
ZENIT: Has the Holy Father condemned capitalism?
Abela: No. In fact the word “capitalism” does not appear even once in the encyclical, probably because the word is subject to so many different interpretations.
Instead he speaks of the market economy, which is a more open term and avoids the ambiguity of differing opinions about what capitalism really is. A market economy is based on a free market and is not harmful in itself, but it can be made so as a result of ideology.
The Pope states that it “is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility” (No. 36).
The entire interview can be found on Zenit’s website.