A “stakeholder society” in which business decisions are made in consideration of the good of the whole, not just owners – wishful thinking? That’s the question America magazine asks in its editorial this week, drawing, of course, from Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate.
“Business management,” the pope had written, “cannot concern itself only with the interest of proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers … the community of reference.”
In Rome yesterday, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone criticized the “greed is good” mentality that he said had come to define Wall Street leading up to the current crisis.
Catholic News Service quotes the cardinal as saying that the sole goal of maximizing profit “has resulted in giving legitimacy to greed … as a sort of civic virtue: the greed market instead of the free market.”
It’s easy enough to recognize the first society, thanks to the images of greed, fraud and hubris, from the Lehman Brothers to Bernard Madoff, that have been burned into Americans’ minds over the past year. Clearly, the “civic virtue” of greed was easily personified last fall.
But while certainly criticizing mentalities that make profit the exclusive goal, Caritas in Veritate was about something else: stressing that true development takes into account the entire human person – spiritually, economically, physically. And a good portion of that comes from practicing what one might call greed’s opposite, and which Pope Benedict says we must learn to rediscover: gratuity.
Simply put, it’s a type of generosity that finds its source in the ultimate gratuitous gift – God’s love – and spurs us to freely and readily give of ourselves to others.
From America: “This generosity has a public dimension; it is by no means a private virtue. Rather, it is akin to what the ancients called magnanimity, a greatness of soul that acts in the understanding that one’s deeds – in this case one’s business transactions – affect the whole of society.”
Caritas in Veritate stressed that “economic, social and political development, if it is to be authentically human, needs to make room for the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity.”
It’s the opposite not only of greed, but of individualism, consumerism and utilitarianism. It builds community, and reaches out to impoverished countries – not in a condescending, funneling-aid-across-the-ocean sense, but out of a conviction of true solidarity with all members of our human family. It places people, not profits, first, creating, as America pointed out, that “stakeholder society” where business decisions aren’t separated from the impact they will have on human beings.
We well remember what greed looks like – let’s not lose sight of its opposite.
-- Elizabeth Hansen, Headline Bistro editor