Hedge Fund Manager Sean Fieler and expert economist Dr. Andrew Abela give US voice at Vatican conference.
Applying Catholic social principles as a way towards world economic improvement and Obamacare as a direct violation of these principles: this was the US voice coming out of the recent Vatican conference on “The good society and the future of jobs: Can solidarity and fraternity be part of business decisions?”
The world is in financial crisis; nothing new there. It’s safe to say that grand idealisms (or illusions) towards globalization haven’t solved the world’s social and economic problems. But is there a realistic answer in terms of applying Catholic social principles? Can there really be a way towards reconstruction? And how does this translate concretely at the level of the individual entrepreneur and in the wider US socio-political context?
At the conference prof. Alberto Quadrio Curzio and prof. Giovanni Marseguerra from the Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice foundation put forward three foundational principles rooted in Catholic Social Doctrine for cultivating a mind-set geared towards reconstruction:
1. Subsidiarity: basically boils down to this: ‘don’t do for others what others can do for themselves.’ It is an organizing principle that contrasts with a centralized view of state (a view often identified with staunch advocates of the Welfare State), entailing that the larger and more complex organizations shouldn’t be doing what smaller and simpler ones can do. Thus vertically speaking, subsidiarity “distributes institutional power between the different levels of Governments” and horizontally speaking, “distributes the function in the ‘production of goods’ between Institutions, Society and Economy.”
In a call for subsidiarity we therefore see a call – to some extent – for government decentralization, that is, a limited government, allowing for an increase in personal freedom and responsibility, which prof. Curzio and Marseguirra claim puts the “creativity of the person” into action, “stimulating the participation of social intermediary bodies, including communities, in the production of goods and services and constructing and aggregating in solidarity.”
2. Solidarity: One of the moderators at the conference, Dr. Andrew Abela, Dean of the School of Business & Economics and Associate Professor of Marketing at the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, speaking to Aleteia, described the notion of solidarity as “the idea of Christian love; loving others as you love yourself, and serving the common good.”
This means that “my motivation in work is not maximizing my own wealth or my own satisfaction, it’s serving others. And this is not some kind of pious ideal; as Christians we believe that this is how we find our happiness, both in this world and the next, so it is completely rational to live that way.”
3. Development: combines both subsidiarity and solidarity, in which we see a “promotion of people and communities and an advancement to a true civilization,” says Curzio, which guarantees a “balanced and sustainable growth.”
According to Curzio and Marseguerra, the world’s current crisis requires us to rethink our approach towards international relations and rediscover a “dynamic solidarity” expressed in three components of development: economic development, “promoted by institutions, society, business”; intergenerational development, which is based on “sustainable social security systems that leads to the valorization of the family”; social development, which “promotes the cohesion of society.”
Sean Fieler, Hedge Fund manager and President of Equinox Partners, tells Aleteia that one of the fundamental practical requirements for achieving these three principles is recognizing that the domain of commerce has a moral dimension.
“We’ve made an enormous mistake in America in particular, thinking of corporations or companies as being solely oriented towards profitability,” he states. “And the reality of any company is that is simply not the case, to the extent that you reduce down your goals solely to profitability, you have a company that won’t stand the test of time.”
He therefore expressed the importance of providing a place for solidarity in the workplace, that is, “for those human interactions that extend beyond the marketplace within the workforce,” and then, he explains, this solidarity is “complimentary with subsidiarity, since you are empowering people, respecting their ability in the workplace, and treating them as people with their full dignity.”
Translating this concretely at the individual level, Albera tells Aleteia that fundamentally it means “you are living for others; you are seeking to do good for others through the world of business.”
This entails creating enterprises, whose goals are to “create good quality products, give services, and provide employment.” This doesn’t mean not being profitable: “If you aren’t profitable then you are just another charity that people have to fund” Albera says, “but profit is not the ultimate goal. The goal is some kind of service in what you produce and what you create.”
How does this play out at the US socio-political level? Are there examples of an obvious lack of subsidiarity and solidarity at play?
Obamacare seems to be the prime example of the government’s direct violation of the principle of subsidiarity, as a hyper-centralized bureaucratic structure, it could reasonably be argued that it deprives society of the necessary personal freedom and responsibility which subsidiarity itself calls for, (not to mention the fact that – as we have seen with countries like France and the UK – is a drain on the economy).
Albera told Aleteia that “trying to set standards of health and healthcare at a national level is a clumsy approach. Millions of people have lost their health-care because they had what they thought were perfectly good health-plans, but this new law says are not acceptable.”
He stated that in many cases they are not admissible “because they don’t include things that we find morally unacceptable, so we have the whole Hobby Lobby case at the Supreme Court now, which is a sign of a gross overreach of government power.”
He continued: “To say that I must spend my money to fund things that I find to be gravely immoral, for no purpose whatsoever, other than a sort of political statement, is really vile.”
Another important issue within the US social context is that of minimum wage. Under the pretense of enforcing solidarity, economists are divided as to whether or not it actually achieves the said effect. There is a good case for branding minimum wage as another example of over-centralization on the part of the government, which, in actually increasing unemployment levels is not achieving the solidarity with the lower classes that it appears at face value to do.
“You have a middle and lower class in America that is struggling and falling further behind,” Fieler tells Aleteia, “and the program to date has been more or less that the democrats have offered the struggling significant population of Americans more – that is, more services, higher wages through minimum wage – while the republicans to date have been trying to explain to the struggling population that they’re not really struggling, which is a losing message since the data are becoming more and more clear that in fact we do have a significant population of Americans that are falling behind, with declining living standards.
“I don’t think minimum wage is the best way to address that,” asserts Fieler. “If you look at the monetary policy in particular, it has been geared to centralize wealth, to financing and expanding government, and has gradually eroded the purchasing power of the lower and middle class. And so that’s where I think the largest policy error has been made.”
He concludes by stating that the best message to make to the lower and middles classes in the US, is to “provide them with money that is stable, which over time will preserve their purchasing power, so that they are not constantly falling behind, instead of putting yourself in a position where you are regularly raising minimum wage to catch up with inflation.”
Photo by © Stefan Powell