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Without Sacrificing the Production of Economic Value

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Aug 06, 2009

In section 37 of Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict asserts: “Space also needs to be created within the market for economic activity carried out by subjects who freely choose to act according to principles other than those of pure profit, without sacrificing the production of economic value in the process.” One wonders immediately how this can be done.

The answer comes through human ingenuity. For example, if an employer imbued with what Benedict calls the spirit of “gratuitousness” wishes to pay his employees a better wage, it is not particularly ingenious to do so by raising the prices of the goods his company produces until his company is squeezed out by the competition. But with a little ingenuity, one can find all kinds of ways to take the needs of employees, customers, and the larger society into account “without sacrificing the production of economic value.”

At Trinity Consulting (my for-profit company, which has done so much in the past to make our Catholic work possible), we place a very high priority on: (1) Working with clients in morally-acceptable lines of work; (2) Taking care of our employees through excellent pay, benefits and vacation time; and (3) Using company profits to support the Catholic apostolate. Our management of these priorities has been made possible by two main factors.

First, we deliberately build trust. We hire for character first, intelligence second, and experience third. Every employee we hire shares the values of the company. We’re selective about who we work for and what projects we take on. Then, through our very special staff, we make a serious corporate commitment to our clients, in effect taking better care of their concerns than they do themselves. As Benedict has also pointed out in Caritas in Veritate, trust is worth a great deal in business. Both individual consumers and companies are willing to provide business opportunities for those they trust.

Second, we have been blessed. Things haven’t always been easy, but God has blessed us with several great clients who share our interest in the Catholic Faith, and who have given us more work than they otherwise would have because they know how we use our profits. This particular pattern won’t repeat itself in all circumstances or for every company, but it remains essential to pray about one’s business, attempt to discern God’s will in it, and expect that God will create opportunities we would miss on our own.

Some caveats: First, this doesn’t mean we’ll always succeed materially in our undertakings, but we ought to take as a given the maxim that “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps 127:1). Second, it is something of a stretch to describe trust-building as “ingenious”, but for a consulting firm made up of committed Catholics in these economic times, we should at least be “smart” enough to play to what ought to be one of our greatest strengths in dealing with others. Business ingenuity always consists in how a company matches its strengths to its opportunities “without sacrificing the production of economic value.”

For a different sort of example, which I came upon by accident and just in time, the last Costco Connection magazine highlighted one of its suppliers, a family apple farm in Washington. The owners found themselves relying increasingly on seasonal Mexican laborers who were poor and largely disenfranchised. Being committed Christians, the owners gradually went through a series of steps to meet their goal of supporting what Pope Benedict would call the “integral human development” of these workers and their families. This process began with the simple (and, yes, ingenious) expedient of diversifying the kinds of apple trees they planted so that they could provide year-round work.

The entire story is fascinating, but the point is that through a combination of ingenuity and blessings, this farm now supports 1,000 permanent employees and still manages to give a great deal of its produce to the poor around the world. And where one business has succeeded, others can follow, each in its own ingenious and blessed way. As the Pope says, we need more “economic activity carried out by subjects who freely choose to act according to principles other than those of pure profit, without sacrificing the production of economic value in the process.”

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