Posts tagged with: business ethics

In a May 28, Huffington Post article, Rev. Seamus P. Finn, OMI, exhibits a woeful lack of economic knowledge. In most cases members of the clergy can be forgiven somewhat for getting it so utterly and completely wrong. After all, few people go into the ministry because they’re fascinated with things like lean manufacturing techniques or monetary policy. But in this instance Finn must be taken to the proverbial woodshed for a lesson in what truly benefits the world’s poor.

Why Finn and why now, you ask? Most important, because he represents the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and represents the Oblates as a board member at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. He also serves on the executive committee of the International Interfaith Investment Group (IIIG). From this resume, one might gather that he is influential with the faithful on financial and business matters.

PowerBlog readers who have been following my series of posts on religious-based shareholder activism these past few months may recall my coverage of several ICCR proxy resolutions submitted to a host of companies this spring. I called attention to these resolutions because they draw more from leftist ideology than they do from centuries of deeper Christian thinking on social problems.

Now comes Finn with a HuffPo piece linking ICCR and IIIG initiatives with recent statements made by Pope Francis. While the current pope is no fan of capitalism – read about his views of the market economy here and here on the PowerBlog – Finn apparently despises it outright. (more…)

catholic-university-bschoolEarlier 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?
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Solidarity designed by Thibault Geoffroy, from The Noun Project

Solidarity designed by Thibault Geoffroy, from The Noun Project

When I moved to west Michigan, one of the things that struck me the most were distinct cultural differences between the different sides of the state. While I was pursuing a master’s degree at Calvin Theological Seminary, I worked for a while in the receiving department at Bissell, Inc. I remember being surprised, nay, shocked, that a manufacturer like Bissell was not a union shop. (All those jobs are somewhere else now, in any case.)

Before attending Michigan State as an undergrad, I had lived in Detroit, and although I never had a union job myself, the cultural expectations of organized labor were (and still are) deeply ingrained on the east side of the state. My dad is a longtime editor at a suburban newspaper, and one of the reasons he still has a job amid the economic downturn and the upheavals facing that industry is his membership in the guild.

But things really are different on this side of the state. That’s one reason why the protests taking place today in Lansing, the centrally-located state capital, are symbolic of two sides of the state, in many ways divided by culture, economy, and politics. As to the latter, consider some statewide candidates for public office in recent memory that haven’t done so well when trying to move beyond west Michigan, including Pete Hoekstra, Dick DeVos, Dick Posthumus. The fight over Right to Work legislation in Michigan is, in this way, a tale of two Michigans.

It is also a tale about two paths forward for Michigan, though. On the one side is the state’s historic identification with Big Labor and the Big Three. On the other side is a Michigan that embraces enterprising innovation and entrepreneurial competition.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized yesterday on this topic (HT: Ross Emmett), and captures the essence of the choice facing Michigan: “Unions loathe right to work because they know that many workers would rather not join a union.”

I think that the right to organize and therefore unions are fundamental to flourishing societies. But what concerns me is that the argument against Right to Work is not about this fundamental right to organize, but rather about protecting the entrenched and embedded political interests of a particular kind of union.

There is a world of difference between voluntary union membership and mandatory, government-enforced, union membership. If the former is akin to something like the freedom of religion, then the latter is more like the government establishment of a particular religion or church. What we need is the separation of Union and State in the way that we have historically had free churches. We need to disestablish labor in the same way that we have disestablished religion in America, while simultaneously protecting the right to organize and join a union as well as the right to worship and express our religious convictions.
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Jonah Lehrer’s recent firing from the New Yorker prompted The Wrap’s Sharon Waxman to author a wrongheaded apologia for the disgraced scribe. Waxman notes that, ultimately, Lehrer engaged in unethical conduct, but places the onus of his misdeeds on those who purchased his shoddy work.

Jonah Lehrer

The 31-year-old Lehrer, you see, manufactured quotes from whole cloth, freely lifted whole paragraphs from previous self-authored pieces and lied about both when confronted by reporters. Lehrer was fired and his promising career in journalism, for the time being at least, lies in shambles. (All three of his bestselling books are now under review by publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.)

By any standard, Lehrer’s actions must be deemed unethical, and should serve as a lesson for those who would attempt to circumvent acceptable business practices in all areas, particularly in journalism, which makes specific claims for conveying objective truths. Failure to adhere to these basic standards is a moral shortcoming, deserving of dismissal.

Waxman, however, writes that Lehrer’s ethical lapses should apply equally to greedy publishers who apply too much pressure on unseasoned writers. She acknowledges Lehrer’s credentials – Rhodes Scholar, neuroscientist, bestselling author of Imagine: How Creativity Works – and determines he “was doing too much, too fast, at too high an RPM.”

The poor, dear child, in Waxman’s universe, is a Dickensian tragedy, forced to pick his own literary pockets in order to survive in an unforgiving adult world: “He found himself lifting from one column to fill another. He cut and pasted passages from his book to pad his New Yorker work.” She asserts: “There is precious little protection out there for young writers in the atomized digital age,” bemoans Waxman. “Few places to learn the basic craft of fact-based reporting, checking sources, double-checking footnotes.” Oh, the iniquity! (more…)

On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reviews a new document from the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace titled, “The Vocation of the Christian Business Leader.” This follows the PCJP’s controversial “note” on the global financial system issued in October. Gregg says the “Business Leader” document:

Though it doesn’t shy away from making pointed criticisms of much contemporary business activity — and there is much to criticize — the Note articulates, perhaps for the first time in the Catholic Church’s history, a lengthy and thoroughly positive reflection from a body of the Roman Curia about the nature and ends of business.

Unlike the October 2011 Note, this new document avoids grand theorizing about the nature of economic development throughout the 20th century. Nor does the Note lend itself to absurd claims that the Church is to “the left of Nancy Pelosi” on economic issues. Instead, this text’s analysis of life as a business leader is rooted in a sophisticated appreciation and application of the principles of Catholic moral and social teaching. It also reflects a background of solid natural law reasoning about what Benedict XVI has called “integral human development,” and recognizes the sheer diversity of forms assumed by business in the modern economy. To that extent, the Note reflects a very welcome (and much over-due) “bottom-up” rather than “top-down” method of analysis of life in business.

So what are some of the document’s key themes?

Read “In Praise of Business: A New ‘Note’ from Justice and Peace” by Samuel Gregg on National Review Online.

In the Grand Rapids Press, reporter Ann Byle interviews Acton’s Michael Miller about a live, national webcast on Sept. 24 of the Colson Center’s “Doing the Right Thing: An Exploration of Ethics.” Byle notes that the webcast “features a live panel discussion with [Chuck] Colson, experts Del Tackett, Robert George, John Stone-street and host Eric Metaxas. Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute’s Michael Miller also will participate as a panelist, thanks to his work as a research fellow and expert on the intersection of business and ethics.” Miller says:

‘Doing the Right Thing’ is building the case for thinking seriously about ethics and doing the right thing. I’ll specifically address how we think seriously about ethics in the business world and how we apply our moral sense in making business decisions.

Read more about it in “Grandville Baptist Church to host national webcast on ethics” in the Grand Rapids Press.

You can purchase the “Doing the Right Thing” curriculum from the Acton Bookshoppe here.

For those in the West Michigan area, some details on the church event:

Doing the Right Thing: An Exploration of Ethics

What: Live webcast shown at 300 locations around the country
When: 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 24
Where: Grandville Baptist Church, 4325 40th St. SW
Details: Local event is free, but registration is required at grandvillebaptist.org. Visit doingtherightthing.com for additional information.

The latest issue of the newly launched Journal of Religion and Business Ethics is now available (vol. 1, no. 2).

Check out the contents at their website.

From the journal’s about page: “The Journal of Religion and Business Ethics is a peer-reviewed journal that examines the ethical and religious issues that arise in the modern business setting. While much attention has been given to the philosophical treatment of business ethics, this is the first journal to address the more inclusive scope of religious ethics and their understanding of right and just economic relationships.”

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).

In a February 10 wire story by ANSA, it was reported that Benedict XVI has once again exhorted economists and leaders to place “people at the center of [their] economic decision-making” and reminded them that the “global financial crisis has impoverished no small number of people.”

For those who follow Benedict closely in Rome, one might wonder why the Holy Father’s words, delivered during his February 10 general audience, even made national headlines. To be sure, it is not the first time we hear the Holy Father expressing his views on the price the world is still paying for not placing the human person, along with and our God-given freedom, innovation and basic dignity, at the core of economic models and financial choices.

The pope is perhaps sounding like a broken record, criticizing and admonishing the “same-o, same-o” regarding the global financial crisis and the Church’s social teachings. Why so?

No doubt, a wave of recent woes in the European financial news have caused Benedict grave concern.

The robust euro currency has experienced a precipitous fall since January 1, and especially so since emergency meetings were held in Brussels last week to save Greece — one of Europe’s most corrupt nations and lowest-ranking economic performers — from Euro-zone fall out; while earlier this week, in an unprecedented move, Germany and France threw on their red capes to rescue the cradle of Western civilization from the brink of financial disaster. Then there were the corrupt public officials in Spain who finally received severe sentencing for illegally boosting a once-thriving Spanish housing market. And the local financial reports became even more bleak in Italy, when in late January two of the country’s “too-big-too-fail” production plants (at Fiat and Alcoa) announced imminent closure, and thousands of their incensed employees rallied in union-led strikes to save their jobs in early February.

It was these same very worried plant workers who appeared under Benedict’s apartment window during a January 31 Angelus and heard the pope’s anger: “The financial crisis is causing the loss of many jobs and this situation requires a great sense of responsibility on the part of all: entrepreneurs and government leaders [alike].”

hard-of-hearing1Hence the pope’s sermonizing against the continued causes and effects of the financial market’s moral failings certainly still do have concrete realities to draw upon. The aftermath of corporate and political leadership’s deafness to the Church’s basic social teachings seems endless and with no sign of turning around.

So we should rightly ask ourselves whether we have become a little too hard of hearing, rather than thinking the Holy Father is not saying anything new.

The Holy Father, a patient and loving university professor at heart, knows that he should not worry about the needle skipping on his turntable of teaching: After all, he knows all too well that repetition is the best form of learning.

Sooner or later, our human hearts are bound to embrace the repeated Truth that continues to call us home during this dark period. Its final acceptance and application will be our only way out.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, November 20, 2009
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A common criticism of Catholic social teaching from businesspeople is that it remains too vague or abstract to provide concrete guidance for daily practice. There’s a new blog at CatholicCulture.org, where Peter Mirus, as a businessman, reflects on the moral dimensions of various aspects of his work. Here, for example, is a thoughtful one on being truthful. “At my company,” he says,

some our greatest successes in consulting have come through telling a current or potential client the hard facts. That decision hasn’t always resulted in revenue, but it has always moved our company in the right direction.