Page last updated at 10:14 UTC, Thursday, 02 May 2013 PH
As Lord John Maynard Keynes said, theories are never harmless, no matter how abstract they may sound. This is especially true about theories concerning the nature of man. The present crisis being faced by western capitalism can be in great part attributed to popular theories about what is the nature of business and of the business man. For most of the last fifty years, economists and management experts have assumed that the business man is pure and simple a profit-maximizing animal. His desire to maximize his revenues by selling the right product or service at the right price to consumers and of minimizing the costs of his using the so-called factors of production (including labor), according to most theories of the firm and the market, will guarantee the attainment of a progressive economy.
The problem with this assumption is that it completely ignores the fact that a business man is a human being who is subject to certain moral obligations to contribute to the common good as every other human being. This duty to contribute to the common good has to be built into every action that he performs as a business man, whether it is marketing, production, finance, people management or top management. It cannot be relegated to "extra-curricular" activities that comprise most of what is known as Corporate Social Responsibility or even in what is now a new form of business, i.e. social entrepreneurship. In his every action as a business man, he must transcend an individualistic morality, to use the words of a document of the Second Vatican Council entitled The Church in the Modern World. Let this document during this Year of Faith speak to every business man reading this column.
"The pace of change is so far-reaching and rapid nowadays that no one can allow himself to close his eyes to the course of events or indifferently ignore them and wallow in the luxury of a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one's obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one's means and the needs of others, even to the point of fostering and helping public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life. There is a kind of person who boasts of grand and noble sentiments and lives in practice as if he could not care less about the needs of society. There are many in various countries who make light of social laws and directives and are not ashamed to resort to fraud and cheating to avoid paying just taxes and fulfilling other social obligations. There are others who neglect the norms of social conduct, such as those regulating public hygiene and speed limits, forgetting that they are endangering their own lives and the lives of others by their carelessness.
"Let everyone consider it his sacred duty to count social obligations among man's chief duties today and observe them as such. For the more closely the world comes together, the more widely do men's obligations transcend particular groups and gradually extend to the whole world. This will be realized only if individuals and groups practice moral and social virtues and foster them in social living. Then, under the necessary help of divine grace, there will arise a generation of new men, the molders of a new humanity."
These words taken from a most important document of the Second Vatican Council should remind every person engaged in business that he is first and foremost a human being with a strict obligation to contribute to the common good. Even before he thinks of contributing his resources and efforts to such laudable initiatives as the Red Cross, Gawad Kalinga, the charities of the Sisters of Mother Teresa, etc. his first moral obligation is make sure that he does not harm his consumers with his product or service; that he treats his rank-and-file workers and their respective families with dignity by providing them with just family wages and humane working conditions; that he does not abuse his suppliers by postponing unjustly the payments due them; that he does not pollute the environment in which he operates; that he pays due taxes to the Government and obeys all legitimate laws of the State. All of these ways of contributing to the common good should be prior to those programs that he fosters under the name of Corporate Social Responsibility or any social enterprise that he initiates. Contributing to the common good is a responsibility of every human being. No businessman should ever forget that he is indeed a human being, no matter what economists and management theorists may say otherwise. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.