Principles of Economic Life That Elevate Human Beings

The other day I read a fabulous article in a prestigious journal on economics as it pertains to the dignity of the human person…

One article stood out as particularly relevant and powerful. I have always been a strong believer in the merits of a free market economy, and still hold to that (without the profit motive almost no creativity to solve human problems gets unleashed!)

I remembered reading an article in Life Magazine at the age of 14 about a penniless German man who became a multi-billionaire. He was a bit of a recluse and was still managing his global empire at age 84. I cut out the article and tacked it to my closet wall!

Another major influence was Ayn Rand’s novels (Atlas Shrugged/Fountainhead). By age 18 I read pretty much every word she had ever written, including her published journals.

With maturity and, hopefully, a bit of wisdom, I now believe in a more nuanced, balanced approach.

I believe in the free market, however, there are a few core things best left to the government

Voluntary organizations also offer a tremendous, unrecorded impact on society. Consider just one – the massive impact of volunteers in the hospice, health-care arena. Pull that out, and pay for that labour, and boom prices would skyrocket even more!

So, here are the 10 Core Principles I offer up to you for your consideration in creating, managing and growing a business that would be truly built to last. (**NOTE** these principles are formulated from a Catholic viewpoint, so kindly read them and think how they could apply to your business regardless of your faith, or no particular faith. Do they make sense to you? How would they change how you do things? What do you see in these? Do you agree? Disagree?)

Principle Number 1

The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.

Oh my, oh my, how many large public companies get this one completely backwards!

How would this principle change how you see your business? What is the purpose of your business as it relates to you, your family, the families of your Team members, your suppliers?

Principle Number 2

All economic life should be shaped by moral principles. Economic choices and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family, and serve the common good.

An example here would be to ensure that if your business has a factory in a developing nation that you ensure working conditions, hours of work, the pay you give are in alignment with the dignity of the person and their ability to support their family in that economy.

I do not believe it is wrong to pay people much less than they would receive in Canada/USA. After all, no one wants to pay $750 for a pair of Nikes or $9,000 for an iPhone. However, the wages and conditions can be above average for that particular region!

Even in Canada, doctors in rural areas, where the cost of living is much lower than the cities, earn much less than a surgeon in a big city hospital. This is fair, and no one would argue that the rural doctors are being exploited!

Principle Number 3

A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.

What if our economy was measured by how well the most vulnerable are doing, not the stock price index or how many millionaires were created last year. Do the homeless have shelters? Are single mothers protected?

Principle Number 4

All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security).

I know of two businessmen in Victoria who applied their success in real estate and property management and created a charity. The charity’s administrative costs are covered 100% by the net rental income from one of their buildings. The building itself is a homeless shelter for men.

The charity is doing dozens of amazing global (and local) projects to benefit families, children, the poor.

These men retired with comfort, yet still are making a massive contribution!

Principle Number 5

All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions, as well as to organize and join unions and other associations.

Trade unions are sometimes necessary; they become unnecessary when enlightened, fair, generous business owners and stockholders truly take care of their employees.

Principle Number 6

All people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility to provide for the needs of their families, and an obligation to contribute to the broader society.

The part I underlined above is often missed these days in our self-absorbed, consumerist society we live in now in the West.

Principle Number 7

In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government has essential responsibilities and limitations; voluntary groups have irreplaceable roles but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market and the just policies of the state.

One group of people comes to mind here – mothers who do not work outside the home! There is no measurement of the impact their incredible work has on the current economy and the future of the world by raising giving, responsible children into adulthood. The government could provide many more tax incentives for working families!

Principle Number 8

Society has a moral obligation, including government action where necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life.

All the current opportunities we have in this life, right now, do not primarily come solely from our own efforts. We are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, and pioneers who fought for our freedoms and created the environment and laws that allow us to even function within a free (or semi-free!) society.

In fact, everything can be seen as a gift from a generous and loving God. None of it belongs to us, and we cannot take even a penny with us when we die.

Principle Number 9

Workers, owners, managers, stockholders and consumers are moral agents in economic life. By our choices, initiative, creativity, and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life, and social justice.

The economy, is it not, simply the sum total of each individual choice made by each person living in it?

Principle Number 10

The global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid, and development should protect human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need wherever they light live on this globe.

The underlined part is critically important. Many people have no idea (or care?) that the components used in all cell phones and laptops are mined primarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

To control the mines, militias are used, women are raped and tortured to intimidate villages around the mines and terrify the locals. It’s an atrocity beyond words.

And, yet here we are with our precious Teslas, smart phones and laptops. We have an impact.

What can we do? We can start by understanding where our products come from, in what conditions they are produced, and make demands of these multinational companies to do something.

In Summary

What are your thoughts? Do you like the above principles? Can you see how they could help – positively – impact your thinking, your actions and the results you create for yourself, your family, and every family you touch? I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading…