Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Human Person in Business (Part 1)

          It is important for businessmen and top executives to always remind themselves that every business is a community of persons who get together to promote the good of one another as they produce or market goods or services for the public.  By putting the human person at the center of every business, the worst abuses of rugged capitalism can be avoided.  The stakeholders of every business, i.e. the consumers, the rank-and-file employees, the managers, the funds providers, the suppliers, the immediate community in which the business operates and the public at large are not just factors of production or economic resources.  They are first and foremost persons who want to attain their fullest development as human beings.  No business enterprise can treat human beings as mere factors of production, impersonal buyers of goods or services, mechanical suppliers of funds or raw materials, etc.  Those who manage business must always treat the various stakeholders as persons who have legitimate emotional and spiritual needs in addition to the economic ones.  The Social Doctrine of the Church, a very important source of guidelines for ethical behavior for Christian business people, is replete with statements to this effect.  For example, the very first social encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII that was published in 1891 clearly stated that man must never be treated as an instrument but rather as an end in himself.  To treat other human beings “as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers—that is truly shameful and inhuman.”

         St. John XIII (who was Pope during 1958 to 1963) emphasized in his encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963) that human rights are a natural consequence of human dignity.  In his encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963), he made it clear that “any well-regulated and productive association of men in society demands the acceptance of one fundamental principle:  that each individual man is truly a person.  His is a nature, that is, endowed with intelligence and free will.  As such he has rights and duties, which together flow as a direct consequence from his nature.  These rights and duties are universal and inviolable, and therefore altogether inalienable.”  From the fundamental truths of the dignity of each human being and the consequent human rights he has, we can draw the concept of integral human development.  As expressed by Pope Paul VI in Populorum Progressio (1967), development cannot be solely economic but must instead be oriented towards the full development of each individual as a whole—physically, morally, as well as economically.  This is related to the concept of the common good enshrined in the Philippine Constitution of 1987.  In the deliberations of the Philippine Commission that drafted the Constitution in 1986, it was made very clear that the common good is not the greatest good for the greatest number (which smacks of utilitarianism) but is a social or juridical order which enables every single member of society to attain his or her  fullest development economically, politically, socially, culturally, morally and spiritually or in short, his or her integral human development.

         This Christian concept that man is made unto the image of God applies equally to the person of the business executive.  To that extent that he is a human being, a person, he is made to the image of God and, therefore, can act out of love for others.  It was, therefore, the height of oversimplification and exaggerated assumption when free enterprise economists attributed to the business man the exclusive concern with profit maximization in their theoretical models trying to explain the workings of the law of supply and demand in a free market economy.  The business man can also be motivated by altruism in running his business even assuming that one of his objectives is to make a profit in order to guarantee the sustainability of his operations.  Not all the economic theorizing by liberal economists about profit maximization as the only or principal motive of a businessman can erase the fact that business people can also be conscious of their moral obligation to contribute to the common good.  This can be demonstrated by the widespread practice of impact investing and especially among the younger entrepreneurs the increasing number of social enterprises, for-profit businesses that are put up primarily to meet a need of society such as poverty eradication, the cleaning  up of the environment, the improvement of the quality of education at all levels,  or the fostering of desirable values among  especially the youth. Even those enterprises that are put up mainly for profit have a variety of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs that address some needs of society.  The profit maximizing creature that was described in many textbooks on microeconomics in the last century is dead or never really existed.

         I am not denying that there could still be “Gordon Gekkos” in today’s business environment, those business people who live according to the creed “Greed is good.”  From personal experience dealing with thousands of business people over the last fifty years, both here and abroad, I must affirm though that the vast majority of business people, precisely because they don’t stop being human beings or persons, have a more complex set of motivations when they put up a business.  I agree with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who wrote in his encyclical Veritas in Caritate (Truth in Charity) that no matter how sinful or evil has been the behavior of a human person in the past, he will never lose his capacity to act with an unselfish love, to seek the good of others without expecting anything in return. That is why among the last words of the God Man Jesus Christ before he expired on the cross were “Father, forgive them for they know what they are doing.” The image of God always remains in every human being and therefore conversion from evil ways of a human being is always possible until death.  And for those of us who have the Christian faith, every human being is also precious in the eyes of God because His only Son shed His blood for each one of us without any exception.   This should be food for thought for those who find extrajudicial killings of drug pushers or the death penalty for hardened criminals the only effective means of eradicating crimes. (To be continued).