This recent article about business from America Magazine is an excellent reminder of the important and beneficial role that business plays in the progress of our modern world.
Many American Catholics are deeply concerned about business, and especially about large corporations. Readers of America have posted comments online: “Today’s businesses, especially large corporate businesses, focus on one thing, and one thing only…the Profit motive,” and “The maw of [corporations’] covetousness knows no end,” and “Capitalism, as it is practiced in the USA, is condemned by Scripture, papal encyclicals, episcopal letters, etc.” These sentiments are not limited to spontaneous comments in some late-night debate. Theologians and chaplains raise similar criticisms in the media and on campus. Social justice conferences often focus on the ways in which businesses, or capitalism in general, must be reformed if we are to raise the living standard of the poor or promote the common good.
Catholic universities find themselves at the center of the controversy. Fifty academics from across the country recently wrote to John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, urging him to be wary of a commitment of $1 million by the Charles Koch Foundation to the university’s new School of Business and Economics for research into the role that “principled entrepreneurship can and should play in improving society’s well-being.” The organization Faithful America launched an online petition urging Catholic University to “put academic integrity and social justice ahead of the Koch brothers’ interests.” The petition has almost 33,000 signatures.
The academics and other petitioners seem to discount the depth and diversity of experience and the eminent stature of Catholic University’s executives and trustees, who are responsible for the governance of the university, and the commitment of the university’s existing academic leadership to the church’s teaching on social justice. The concern about undue influence from this particular connection to business may be overblown, but the concern is real and reflects a deep discomfort with business among many university professors….
Career paths in business are as unpredictable as the wanderings of Odysseus. The foreign language major becomes an insurance company executive; the special education major becomes a financial advisor; the hospitality management graduate goes on to become a mid-level marketing manager. In 20 or 30 years, a few from the class of 2014 may be chief executive officers of large corporations or leaders of major divisions. One or two of them may start a Fortune 500 company that does not exist today, thereby increasing and making accessible the goods of this world and creating new sources of employment for many thousands of people. Even in those lofty promontories, they will confront dilemmas that Cardinal John Henry Newman recognized as “simple of solution in the abstract…at different times differently decided,” in which he observed, “It is no principle of sensible men, of whatever cast of opinion, to do always what is abstractly best. Where no direct duty forbids, we may be obligated to do, as being best under circumstances, what we murmur and rise against, while we do it.”
In social justice work, right moves bring improvements that advance the common good and serve the poor. Wrong moves waste resources and sometimes cause real misery. Catholic universities are uniquely positioned to provide a new generation of graduates, one million of them in the next 10 years, equipped with the authentic teaching of the encyclicals and episcopal letters, a spirit of solidarity and with an understanding of business and its role in society. Reaching out to all, including today’s and tomorrow’s business leaders, in a spirit of creative concern and effective cooperation would be the best protection a university can adopt to avoid, as Pope Francis put it, “drift[ing] into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk” (No. 207). That would be a powerful rejection of the undue influences that threaten the essential mission of our universities, that of educating men and women who are with and for others. That would be the most effective way to enlist the services of one more noble vocation into building the world that Francis wants.
Retrieved March 26, 2014 from http://americamagazine.org/issue/noble-vocations