Víctor Manuel Fernández, the Archbishop of La Plata in Argentina and one of the closest advisors of Jorge Mario Bergoglio since at least the late 1990s, has explained what the Pope really thinks about free enterprise in an insightful piece of analysis.
“The business person according to Francis”
(Source: Víctor Manuel Fernández, La Nación: translation: Novena)
Pope Francis’ statements on the limits of the neoliberal economy are well known. Does this imply discouraging production, despising the effort for economic development, demonising the desire for improvement? Obviously not, although some would like to attribute this nonsense to him. But it is worth asking whether for him business activity is an inevitable evil or if he attributes some positive meaning to it. It is better not to imagine an answer and go straight to his own words. The verbatim quotes may surprise us.
In Evangelii gaudium, he is very explicit in stating that the business person’s “is a noble task” which consists in “striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all”.
It is clear. But this presupposes that at the same time that those engaged in business “see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good”.
It is not good business for society when companies “attempt… to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby add… to the ranks of the excluded”.
Francis is so insistent on the need for business to create jobs that it is crude to read him saying that idleness should be encouraged. He himself says: “I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism”.
In Laudato si’ he goes even further. He uses striking language when he says that “business is a noble vocation”. This is not a faint praise, when we remember that “vocation” in Christian language is a call from God to develop and make fruitful the divine gifts.
What purpose does this noble vocation fulfil for Francis? In his view, it is “directed to producing wealth and improving our world”. But this means “promot[ing] an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity”, and he is committed to “the real economy which makes diversification and improvement in production possible, helps companies to function well, and enables small and medium businesses to develop and create employment”. Employment again.
In the recent encyclical Fratelli tutti he tries to encourage business people even more by telling them that “God encourages us to develop the talents he gave us” in progress, in “multiplying goods and increasing wealth”. Francis repeats that “business abilities… are a gift from God”.
This is saying a lot. He only wonders about the what for, and holds that the talent of the business person “should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities”.
Why does he insist so much on the role of the business person in creating jobs? Because he considers that “the biggest issue is employment”, where each one offers “our talents, our initiative and our innate resources”.
Work, he points out, “is the finest help we can give to the poor” and that “helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution”.
He has a very eloquent phrase: “there is no poverty worse than that which takes away work and the dignity of work”, because work is not only a means to earn money, but “a means… also of personal growth”.
It is clear, then, that a business person who uses their creativity for production, innovation and development, with an eye to the common good and the promotion of others through work, is a true blessing for society.
Just in case, a few days ago Francis added that his proposal in no way denies the right to a legitimate profit, it only “opposes profit at any cost”.
But not everyone agrees with him about the motives of the business person. Lester Thurow, a fervent capitalist, presents another standard for successful business activity. He says that “capitalism is efficient precisely because it harnesses the competitive and ruthless impulses of greed, and the desire to get rich pushes to maximise profits”.
A business person can let themselves be spurred by the motives that Francis proposes, or they can choose those of Thurow. It will not be the same for society.