Is it Possible to Work This Way?


Two Peasants Digging, 1889, by Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, Post-Impressionism, 1853-1890). The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands A presentation of a new approach to work, business, profit and competition, with Michael NAUGHTON, Director of the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought, University of Saint Thomas, and Bernhard SCHOLZ, President of Compagnia delle Opere, an international network of 35,000 profit and non-profit entities.

Is it possible for an entrepreneur to overcome profit maximization as the only criterion giving value to the business endeavor? If so, what is the value of doing business? What makes a job interesting beyond salary increase or career advancement?

There is a tendency in our culture to think of the economy and work as a fairly impersonal process that can be understood in "scientific" terms and on the basis of an abstract approach. This approach developed, for example, the theory that when acting in the economic sphere, the person is intrinsically egotistical, always behaves in a rational, and therefore, predictable way, and looks exclusively for profit maximization. In its turn, this theory led to some misconceptions (which we believe were at the root of the most recent crises): the conviction that the economy must be autonomous and shielded from “influences” of a moral character; the belief that the market, if left alone, creates a balanced system; the exaltation of short-term profit, as the main goal of a business; the promotion of an abstract, Darwinian, idea of competition and self-reliance; the trust that technology is self-sufficient and does not require a critical and cautious human eye; finally, the confidence that finance can create prosperity even without being related to any value and to real economy. Reality, however, has shown that this abstract approach, especially when human freedom is at play, as it is in economics, does not work and causes large-scale damage. Economic processes cannot be understood separated from the people who work and produce. Ultimately, all economic systems reflect the desires, talents and skills of the people who participate in them. Human beings are not ants, and economic construction is not a mechanical process, but a truly human event that involves reason and freedom at every step. Therefore, is it possible to have a concept of work and business that would mirror the nature of the person not as self-made and self-sufficient but as dependent and “in relationship-with”?