“The parent who prevents a baby from swallowing a safety pin, keeps him from high places, warns a child daily about crossing the street, and inspects the evacuation functions of a child during the first years of its life does more protecting of a family member than the whole police force of the United States does altogether for the child in its entire pre-adult life. The great fire hazards for a child are scalding water, matches, electrical circuits, stoves (wood, gas, and electric), and fireplaces. The family members and only the family members are the ones who take care of these dangers – not the fire departments. The religious and moral attitudes and behavior of the parents, still have ten times more influence upon the value behavior of the young than all the other ‘moral’ agencies put together.” (Carle C. Zimmerman, Family and Civilization, ISI Books, Wilmington, Del., 2008, p 196.)
Organic society is a social order oriented toward the common good that naturally and spontaneously develops, allowing man to pursue the perfection of his essentially social nature. In this society, the family attains the plenitude of its action and influence as the social cell or fundamental unit of society. Professional, social, and other intermediary groups between the individual and the State freely exercise their activities according to their own forms and rights.
The State respects the autonomy of regions and intermediary groups, giving each the right to organize according to its social and economic structure, character, and traditions. The State, acting within its own supreme orbit, exercises its sovereign power with honor, vigor, and efficiency. The Church exercises a hallowing influence upon society, by guiding, teaching, and sanctifying.
(This excerpt is taken from Return to Order:…)
It was not by chance that the Middle Ages was the first civilization in history to abolish slavery. Nor was it by chance that the Church ennobled and facilitated manual labor to the point that the Benedictine Order claimed prayer and work were complementary. There was a reason why this happened.
As Lynn White explains: “The labor-saving power machines of the later Middle Ages were harmonious with the religious assumption of the infinite worth of even the most seemingly degraded human personality, and with an instinctive repugnance toward subjecting any man to a monotonous drudgery which seems less than human in that it requires the exercise neither of intelligence nor of choice” (White, Machina Ex Deo, 73).
We might contrast this consideration for human nature with the quote attributed to industrialist Henry Ford: “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?” (Matthew Stewart, The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting it Wrong [New York: W.W. Norton, 2009], 57).
(Taken from Return to Order:…)
On the one side, there is the rule of money with a set of secular values, which include quantity, function, efficiency, and utility. This rule tends to reduce everything to terms of self-interest, matter, and production.
On the other side is another rule with its own set of values that opposes that of money. We experience some difficulty in naming this opposing rule. Many authors have written about it using words like “moral,” “status,” or “humane” to describe it. They list virtue, tradition, or prestige as its attributes. However, the overwhelming tide of change wrought by our industrial society has so undermined the meaning of these terms as to render difficult the task of finding a word that characterizes this rule entirely.
We think honor best describes this rule since the word survives less sullied from modernity’s brutal egalitarianism. Honor conveys the definition of an authentic esteem given to all that is excellent in a social atmosphere of respect, affection, and courtesy. It towers above that which is strictly material, functional, and practical.
By using the word honor instead of prestige, for example, we avoid the misunderstanding of those who would confuse our order with vainglory, vanity, or pride. Rather, honor conveys the idea of values that cannot be bought and sold. It spreads the atmosphere of tranquility and temperance that we desire.
It has a long history. Buying on credit started at the turn of the twentieth century. Buying dreams on credit was an American invention that served to create the consumerism of modern times. The installment plan soon became the way to buy automobiles, furniture, pianos and high-ticket items. By 1924, for example, nearly 75 percent of all cars were bought on credit and 80 percent of all appliances.
The promotion of personal debt turned credit into an engine of economic growth…and bankruptcy. Mass consumption led to the roaring twenties when consumer spending burst all limits and prepared the way for the bust of the Depression.
Installment buying later prepared the way for the credit cards, long-term mortgages and other instruments of credit. The credit wave turned what was once considered a privilege to deserving individuals into an entitlement to be enjoyed by all Americans. It also prepared the tragic consequence of such uncontained spending – the mountain of personal debt that now threatens the nation.
A review of Nothing is Free: The Price Only Business Leaders Can Pay to Protect Free Markets by Dave Geenens (Atchison, Kans.: Inhance Press, 2013).
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Modern economics tends to reduce what happens in business to numbers and formulas. The human element is taken out, and all is left dry and lifeless. It is not without reason that economics is often called the “dismal science.”
That is why it is refreshing to read an economic book that injects the human side of things into business. Dr. Dave Geenens has done this masterfully with his book, Nothing is Free: The Price Only Business Leaders Can Pay to Protect Free Markets.
The principles he espouses are not just presented in textbook fashion. Rather, they are interwoven into a fictional story of an entrepreneur that finds herself in a dilemma over whether to put profits over principle, earnings over workers. Set in the small college town of Atchison, Kansas, where Dr. Geenens actually lives and teaches, the other protagonist in the story is a Benedictine monk from the nearby abbey. The narrative of this “free market fable” centers on the dialogue between the two main characters about work ethics and the unlikely topic of the role of God in business.
While the characters and plot of this short work are captivating, the ideas presented are much more important. Dr. Geenens makes the right connections and inserts Church teaching into the marketplace.
Thus, he concludes that money is not the bottom line in real business, but rather the human relationships that make business possible. Wealth generation is important but it only comes from proper values creation. Business may resent government intervention, but such intrusions can only be avoided by the practice of the cardinal virtues. Real business leaders are not those who increase earnings by any means, but rather those that build talent and encourage cooperation inside the enterprise.
The lessons in his narrative highlight the wrong course found in so many modern economic models. In their zeal for maximum efficiency and production, many businessmen have cut themselves off from the natural restraining influence of human institutions, especially those of morals, family, community or religion. They have severed their link with Christian tradition, and have lost the anchors of the cardinal virtues that should be the foundation for any true economy.
The result is a society where money rules. People attach undue importance to quantity over quality, utility over beauty, and matter over spirit. Free of traditional restraints, those under this rule favor the frenetic intemperance of frantic dealings, speculation, and exaggerated risks which have sent the nation’s economy into crisis and ruin.
Something needs to be done to introduce attractive new models that run contrary to many of the business practices that now prevail. The terms of the debate need to be changed. Indeed, ever since economic thought broke free from its original moorings in moral philosophy and ethics, there have been those who have sought to keep considerations like those of Prof. Geenens out of this debate. The time has come for such reflections to return. Nothing is Free is a good start.
To buy the book, click here.
At a recent seminar at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., Prof. Andrew Abela made an astonishing statement about the family and business. Held on September 24-26, the event raised many questions not only about the role but also the vocation of today’s businessman. Co-sponsored by Catholic University of America and the Napa Institute, the conference had as its theme, “Liberty and Solidarity: Living the Vocation to Business.”
Dr. Abela, dean of the newly-founded school of business and economics, affirmed that the role of the family is so important to the proper functioning of business that he has made it a requirement that those at the business school take a course on the theology of marriage. He claims there is a definite connection between marriage and good business. One of the conference participants, himself a businessman, responded to the statement by saying that he does not do business with clients going through a divorce. The traumatic experience is enough to cause such clients to lose focus and make bad judgments.
The best way to assure good business practice is by a vibrant family life. It is fitting to recall that the family is not just a social unit; it is also an economic unit that contributes greatly to the economy. In addition to the family, Dr. Abela mentioned the importance of grace and prayer to business. Such themes are not often found in modern business schools but perhaps they should start being addressed.
The conference was honored with the presence of Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in the Vatican.
While email can connect individuals with speed and facility, that is not the only reason why it is so popular. All of the billions and billions of emails that circulate around the globe are not important contracts or negotiations. More often than not, they involve insignificant affairs that we treat with importance and anticipation. People constantly check their emails because of the rush it provides.
Douglas Rushkoff explains the difficulty of not checking emails:
“Why is this so hard for so many of us? It’s not because we need the email for our productivity, but because we are addicted to the possibility that there’s a great tidbit in there somewhere. Like compulsive gamblers at a slot machine rewarded with a few quarters every dozen tries, we are trained to keep opening emails in the hope of a little shot of serotonin—a pleasant ping from the world of chronos” (Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, Penguin Group, New York, 2013, p. 117).
Historically, gold was in very short supply in Europe and was hardly the basis for money. Thus, the role of precious metals in money was very limited as can be seen by the affirmation of David Hackett Fischer:
“The supply of these precious metals was relatively small in the medieval West. Scholars have estimated that as late as the year 1500, all the gold in Europe would have fit within a two-meter cube (that is eight cubic meters in all). The supply of silver was much larger, but still very small by modern standards. As late as 1200, England’s silver stock totaled only 300 tons, and would have fit into a fourteen meter cube. Altogether, it amounted to only a few ounces of sterling for every man, woman and child in the realm” (David Hackett Fischer, The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996, p. 24).