Rooted in Catholic social thought, this is an insightful and much-needed volume. Unlike the “radical orthodoxy” movement, it takes seriously the contribution of markets and profit-making firms. Unlike neo-conservative thought, it extends the demands of faith beyond personal commitment to the structures of firms and markets.
Daniel Finn, Clemens Professor of Economics and Professor of Theology, St. John's University, MN, USA
It is good, for innovative theoretical thinking, to go back to experience and ask the sort of simple, basic questions everyone faces: “what do I work for?” “What is the purpose of this business of mine?” Am I doing any good?” We either disregard these questions, and get satisfied with constrained thinking, conventional behaviour, “pre-cooked” solutions. This choice leads to personal alienation; and it is obviously the end of any possibility of innovative thinking. Or we take these questions seriously - and we end up straight into ultimate questions. And we need realistic answers to ultimate questions in order to act and flourish as human beings. Your book is an example of the second choice: a serious investigation into the purpose of business, engaging an intense and intriguing dialogue between the Christian message about the ultimate questions and practical rationality. The reader is invited to keep this dialogue going, within a strong and realistic vision of the person and of the community. The book humbly concludes that the ground is open for elaborating a successful alternative to shareholders and stakeholders theories of business management, within the Catholic Social Tradition. True, but I would also underline the many suggestive insights the book offers: a neat understanding of what purpose and means are, in firms and businesses, but also in personal economic decisions and in the organization of society at large; an invitation to creatively use the techniques of managerial disciplines - also techniques can flourish, when they have a purpose. In a time of global change, understanding what moves change and how change can be for the good is all to urgent. Reading the book, I felt encouraged in deepening my understanding of human economic decisions as free, purposeful actions and interactions that largely exceed what the supposed “iron laws” describe and prescribe.
Simona Beretta, Full Professor of International Economic Policies and Institutions, Political Science Faculty, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy
Could it be that the purpose of business, upon proper thought is realistically in harmony with the Christian enterprise? Could it be that Christianity is well served by putting aside its outright suspicion of business? Yes, say the 17 contributors to Rethinking the Purpose of Business: Interdisciplinary Essays from the Catholic Social Tradition edited by S.A Cortright and Micheal Naughton (University of Notre Dame Press , 310 Flanner Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556; $35). In fact, this book implies, a consensus is building that modern business must be conducted with a conscience-not necessarily an explicit Christian conscience, but with values that resemble Christian values and, more specifically, conducted according to principles that parallel Catholic social thought. The fallout from Enron and Arthur Andersen admittedly adds to cynicism in the culture. But at the same time those scandals and others (including the current scandal in the US Catholic Church) can also renew the purpose of business.
A shift from short-term profits for shareholders to longer-term consideration of stakeholders is a key to what the book calls a new paradigm of business. (The new paradigm phrase has been around so long that INITATIVES confines it to the dustbin of clichés.)
This book is by a product of a 1998 seminar at the John A Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought (2115 Summit Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105; www.stthomas.edu/cathstudies/cst), which Naughton directs. Like the Institute, the book is particularly meant to challenge Catholic colleges to contribute even more toward business with a conscience. The Institute with its growing network of teachers and business people is not proposing more courses in business ethics, important as those may be. Rather, its agenda has to do with displacing careerism in favor of business as a vocation.
Catholic Social Thought is not utilitarian. It does not argue that the culture of business should widen its circles of responsibility because, in the long run that’s good for the bottom line. On the other hand, there’s mounting evidence that the classical liberal or free market economic theory doesn’t really pay off and that an alternative theory that asserts something prior to raw efficiency and equity actually brings home the dough.
The contributors to Rethinking the Purpose of Business believe that the potential for maximum efficiency and reward is built into institutions and enterprises by their ultimate president, CEO, chief engineer or designer: by God. To the degree a business or a market can get back in touch with its eternal design, it will produce the most happiness. The contributors further believe that Catholic social principles (subsidiarity, the common good, solidarity and more) are one information channel into God’s strategic plan.
From Initiatives, December, 2002