Liberty and solidarity
DR. ANDREW ABELA writes that poverty can only be conquered through businesses leaders working to provide opportunities for the impoverished. Not only is this a Catholic position, but it’s the only way that will work. We are called to practice solidarity — the love of others — in everything we do, and particularly in running our companies . . .
The market economy is falling out of favor. Politicians who favor statist solutions to all social problems appear to be only too happy to seize upon the dissatisfaction of the poor and the middle class and promote class conflict.
We can make theoretical arguments about how the market economy lifts societies out of poverty, and we can cite the ample historical evidence that this has happened time and again, but if large numbers of citizens hold the perception that here and now their incomes continue to stagnate while owners prosper, then the market economy is truly in jeopardy.
The Church’s social teaching holds the solution. We are called to practice solidarity — the love of others — in everything we do, and particularly in running our companies. Solidarity is “first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State” (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 38). This is something we must do ourselves.
Benedict warned that “when both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence…” (Caritas in Veritate, 39).
Benedict is denouncing the conventional view that it’s the job of business to make money and the job of government to tax that money and redistribute it. He says this view weakens solidarity, responsibility and charity. What he’s saying, in effect, is that we should not rely on the government to solve the problem of poverty. If government is perceived to be the solution to poverty, the poor are going to want more government! Instead, we as business leaders should be leading the charge to solve the problem of poverty — and we should do this by drawing more people into the “circle of exchange” (Centesimus Annus, 34), the market economy.
Free markets and Christian love — liberty and solidarity — can and should work together within commercial activity. An individualistic perspective denies this. It sees them as opposing one another. Solidarity, to the extent that it obliges me to “lose myself” in the service of others, seems to put a limit on my economic freedom. By contrast, the Church teaches that the more we serve others, the more free we become.
Pope Benedict affirmed this: “Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function. The principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity” (Caritas in Veritate, 35-36). We need solidarity for the market to work well.
Look, we already know this. We know that when business runs well, it runs on trust — even on generosity. Whenever we give a break to an unproven new hire, whenever we extend extra credit to a struggling customer because we believe they will make it, we are practicing solidarity. Don’t believe those who argue that what we’re doing is just “enlightened self-interest.” Yes, doing the right thing will most often lead to good results for the firm, but that’s not only why we do it. We do it because that’s how we love God and our neighbor in our daily work.
This is the only way forward. Pope Francis, in his first encyclical, wrote: “Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood” (Lumen Fidei, 54). Pope Francis affirms it: Christian brotherhood can only succeed under the Father — not under Big Brother.
This will only work if we’re determined to fight poverty through our businesses. How do we do this? Could we find ways to employ people who are considered unemployable? For example, could our employees, on a volunteer basis, run seminars on how to interview for a job? Could we come up with creative ways to serve customers in underserved areas? Could we extend opportunities to employees, customers, and community members to invest in our businesses, so that they can experience for themselves the rewards of being “capitalists”? The more we do this, the less demand there will be for government aid to poverty. And less demand for government, period.
Interested in hearing more? Attend the conference on Liberty and Solidarity at the Catholic University of America, Sept. 24-26, 2014.
ANDREW V. ABELA, PH.D. is the dean of the newly created School of Business & Economics at The Catholic University of America, and a charter member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter.