Knowing what to avoid...

About the Duty of Entrepreneurs (to rise to the increasing challenges of religiously-informed and scientifically-substantiated social demand)

In recent decades the Teaching of the Catholic Church has been collected from all over the world, academically interrogated, subjected to public consultation, cross-referenced, and published in indexed formats for mainly Ecclesiastical use. There are an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world (a very diversified group) to whom these publications are of direct interest, but a broader and larger population of religious people of other denominations and faith groups find them of interest too. In fact, those who have humanitarian values with no specified or confident religious belief of any kind may also find them of some help in questioning, broadening and so strengthening their goodwill. So they serve to help and influence a lot of people all over the world. These teachings have a timeless quality and are the type that refer back over very long periods of time. The many values that have been collected and written down in these new books are of relevance to entrepreneurs and business people but, it must be borne in mind that these documents are provided more for the purposes of helping priests to offer forgiveness to those who realize that they have done something regrettable, than as a source of help in advance for those setting out on a necessary commercial enterprise. They are teachings that arise as principles of faith, which are consistent with the recorded teachings of Jesus Christ and the Hebrew scriptures. As yet, the moral authority of the Church does not extend to offering blueprints that provide a sure pathway to excellence for those managers and entrepreneurs who don’t wish to ever put a foot wrong. Although, they do provide one example of a very good product which is appropriate for a Church leader to provide.

A relevant excerpt says:

“Those responsible for business enterprises are responsible to society for the economic and ecological effects of their operations. They have an obligation to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits. Profits are necessary, however. They make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and they guarantee employment.” Catechism of the Catholic Church Part 3 (Life in Christ), paragraph 2432

So it is clear here that an offender seeking forgiveness was right to seek profits, but may have gone about fulfilling this duty in any number of differently unacceptable ways. People, the economy, and our ecosystems are all too frequent victims of bad business practices. A right way to make money that would not require forgiveness is not spelled out. The nitty-gritty details are delegated to the individual at the local level, regardless of the level of need an individual has for moral leadership. However, it is a good warning to someone setting out on any new venture that there are responsibilities, purposes that are greater than oneself alone, that must be met. In fact, these requirements are good motivations for setting up a new business in the first place.

The Catholic Church's YOUCAT Foundation publications are slightly different in that they are composed to provide a framework of moral guidance for young people who are embarking on adult life and new professional ventures as ambassadors of Christ and his Church. They have not yet had the opportunity to make regrettable mistakes. It is anticipated that, whatever heroic ingenuity they deploy in morally achieving their goals (or whatever good practices they inherit from their heroic families), their successes ought to subsequently appear to be quite ordinary and expected behaviour.

“Entrepreneurs and managers are concerned about the commercial success of their company. Besides their legitimate interests (including the profit motive), they also have a social responsibility to take into account the just concerns of their employees, suppliers, and customers, as well as of society as a whole, and also to be considerate of the environment.” YOUCAT question 443

So, whilst a tried and proven schedule of works with specific methodologies are still not provided for inexperienced young men and women would-be entrepreneurs who are looking ahead towards a life of work that will provide a comfortable income to enable them to realize their aspirations, some additional purposes of work are listed as essential elements of their job. So, at the very least, their consciences are primed to know when, at some future time, they have gone very wrong. Or better, they are able to undertake some research and make sensible choices at the outset.

The “Ten Commandments”, divinely given to Moses in Old Testament times, is a standard set of basic rules that, it is widely believed, all humans need to observe in common. Even though they are extremely old, we may still make use of these today to measure our consciences, and also use them to help us envisage a good society with a happy future where everyone behaves as they are commanded to do; they are shared, anticipated norms, that seek to avoid unacceptable behaviours. They are also negative, failing to provide examples of good behaviours, but they bestow freedom upon individuals to find their own acceptable ways of behaving instead. They are like branches growing from the tree in the centre of the Garden of Eden, from which fruit may not be taken. This tree must be avoided, but every other tree (that may be safely cultivated, consumed, and propagated) is good to eat from.

The above, highlighted, quotations are both drawn out from the Seventh Commandment. The Seventh Commandment is a simple demand that we ‘shall not steal’. Shoplifters, pick-pockets, salespeople short-changing and defrauding customers, racketeers of all kinds, cat-burglars, over-zealous tax office staff clawing back money that isn’t really owed to them as well as those avoiding payment of just and proportionate taxes that they can afford, indeed anyone metaphorically catching goods falling off the back of a lorry, is clearly acting very wrongly where this Law is concerned. On a deeper level though, this commandment is a call to respect the integrity of one another and all creation, calling us all to reverently appreciate the God-given values and purposes of all the things entrusted to human care. This is still a hard thing for many to comprehend, given traditions and cultures that operate erroneously, but the situation is made much more clear in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbour, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.” Catechism of the Catholic Church Part 3 (Life in Christ), paragraph 2415

Amazing strides are being made in the right direction by many individuals and groups to make the world economy more just and sustainably productive, but the above paragraph 2415 indicates that there are still bigger and even more grievous injuries to add to our perceived burdens of sin. The good news that these new books comprehensively give us, in an orderly fashion, is that we can be forgiven. Entrepreneurs may also know through these forgiving directives that the bar is being raised from the point of view of current practice. It is as though the tree in the centre of the Garden of Eden has dropped its apples and grown an orchard of many trees-to-be-avoided, making the task of identifying acceptable trees a bit more complicated. We must check what the fruits are like, not just to avoid one central location. More preparation, intelligence, and skill are required, and obtaining the necessary preparation, intelligence and skill can be as difficult as obtaining the land, assets-required-by-industry, and labour to build a new enterprise. In addition to expertly avoiding what is prohibited, entrepreneurs need somehow to be able to achieve far greater profitability than ever before in order to provide safe work and workplaces and to pay a fair share of the world's resources (exceeding contemporary measurements of poverty in real terms) for all their employees and their employees' dependents. Where economies have grown out of control and need some severe pruning back, it can be discovered that there are too few livelihoods available for the number of people requiring them. Entrepreneurs are in short supply, but so are product ideas and resources that are, or could be, ecologically safe and sustainable. There is so much that needs to be studied and fully understood before any degree of certainty can be concluded that the venture can meet its objectives.

It can take a very long time to build the types and quantities of businesses that society needs. Trades and workplaces that have existed for millennia need to adapt to raised standards and new values. New businesses ought to respect and serve what is enduring and good about individuals, society, historical cultures, and values, facilitating advances and improvements where possible (but not forcing their staff, clientele, and the planet to reshape themselves for the business's convenience). It can seem that far fewer known methods of making money are now acceptable, especially when the means to turn good ideas into realities are unavailable. Every entrepreneur and manager, who turns to these ecclesiastical books for inspiration and guidance on how to approach and meet the challenges of work, can be assured that there is a will to forgive where failures occur. However, the consequences of failing to avoid what is definitely not permissible are very serious. They may not be part of any continuing plan nor any new plan. There are penance and reparation required to heal what has been harmed and to console the victims.

Examples of really good businesses that are doing well, and blueprints for good enterprises, are hinted at in Scripture and the Church's teachings, but they have not yet been fully teased out of the text, or distilled through the experiences of generations of loving and law-abiding people, to provide what so many people are looking for today; positive models for economic, entrepreneurial and business success. I remain uncertain whether this economic challenge is the ultimate purpose of human life on earth and the struggle that every individual in each generation must face, or whether there is likely to be another well researched and religiously compiled tome in the bookshops someday at the request of the world's leading publishers. Either way, it remains an increasing challenge and a subject of interest to a great many.

Felicity Newman, 10 January 2021