In the field of business, economic systems are characterized as either capitalist or socialist; they appear mutually exclusive, either supporting the freedom of the individual or the needs of society. Since the eighteenth century, capitalism and socialism have remained fiercely polarized, each side shrilly attacking the shortcomings and failures of the other. On the one hand, we have selfishness and exploitation, unfettered consumerism and isolationism; on the other, unrest and revolution, the overthrow of power, and violence as a justifiable means to an end.
Eventually, it becomes an entrenched narrative that sets the individual against society, the wealthy against the poor, personal aspirations over one’s obligations towards others. And, as so often the case, it becomes the narrative of me against you. This brings us to the need for the forthcoming Conference on Human Ecology, presented by the Catholic University of America’s School of Business and Economics, and the Napa Institute. This symposium of academics, policymakers, ethicists, theologians and business leaders will be debating the balance between the dignity and value of individual labor and the collective duty towards the common good.
Through the teachings of the Church, it will consider what is required for the personal vocation and fulfillment of Catholic business leaders, alongside the establishment of truly sustainable, widespread and inclusive prosperity. In effect, it will reflect on ways of synthesizing two seemingly conflicting values, of harmonizing capitalism and socialism.
Is it possible, such a synthesis of contradictions? Well, if any organization has experience in juggling inconsistencies it’s the Catholic Church. Her teachings are less about ‘either/or’, more about ‘both/and’. She teaches that Jesus is both human and divine; that the Eucharist is both the Word made flesh and the work of human hands; that her people are called to a life of both obedience and freedom, to love both neighbor and enemy.
Our narrative as Catholics has always been one that carries the tension of opposites, one that absorbs the things that separate and polarize. We have the capacity to surrender the world’s labels, to change the narrative of discord and, as Catholics in the field of business, to hold in balance both the notions of private enterprise and the fair distribution of wealth throughout society.
Furthermore, we should be able to live out these ideals as examples to others. In this respect, and as a flavor of the counsel we can expect at the conference, it is worth reading the concise handbook: The Vocation of the Business Leader (the introduction to this book is written by Cardinal Turkson who is one of the Human Ecology conference speakers). This reflection, based on the Church’s social teaching, offers business leaders, members of their institutions and various stakeholders a set of practical principles that can guide them in their service of the common good, summarized here:
SIX PRACTICAL PRINCIPLES FOR BUSINESS
Meeting the Needs of the World through the Creation and Development of Goods and Services
1. Businesses that produce goods that are truly good and services that truly serve contribute to the common good.
2. Businesses maintain solidarity with the poor by being alert for opportunities to serve otherwise deprived and underserved populations and people in need.
Organizing Good and Productive Work
3. Businesses make a contribution to the community by fostering the special dignity of human work.
4. Businesses provide, through subsidiarity, opportunities for employees to exercise appropriate authority as they contribute to the mission of the organization.
Creating Sustainable Wealth and Distributing It Justly
5. Businesses model stewardship of the resources, whether capital, human or environmental, that they have received.
6. Businesses are just in the allocation of resources to all stakeholders: employees, customers, investors, suppliers, and the community.
We encourage you to recognize both the responsibility and privilege it is to have the power to impact our world for God’s glory through your vocation. Think of the impact that truly Catholic men and women could have in the business world if they took the time to understand and embrace the teachings of our Church. You can be the person that makes a difference in the secular world of consumerism.