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Pope Francis criticizes spreadsheet capitalism, calls for focus on people ahead of profits

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 23rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In western capitalism, the fiduciary responsibility of a corporate director is to maximize shareholder value. Generally, this means the maximization of profits with the aim of increasing share price and paying dividends. Often left out of this formula is the primacy of the human person over capital. Pope Francis tackled this during his Mass on the island of Sardinia on Sunday.

CAGLIARI, SARDINIA (Catholic Online) - Speaking before two crowds, one a smaller group of 20,000 and later celebrating Mass for 300,000, Pope Francis decried the evils of capitalism run amok as chronically unemployed workers complained that they could not get work or that the work they had was dangerous and paid poorly.

One unemployed man told Pope Francis with a quiver in his voice that unemployment "oppresses you and wears you out to the depths of your soul."

Unemployment, low pay, and a lack of opportunity are common in the western world now as capitalist systems recover from the Great Recession. Although the Great Recession has ended for Wall Street with the return of record profits, Main Street continues to struggle. Various reports in the U.S. suggest middle class incomes are improving slightly, other data suggests they are flat.

The poor are facing the greatest challenge as large employers shelter before Obamacare cutting hours and laying off workers. Calls to increase the minimum wage in various states are gaining volume. California will already raise its wages in 2014.

The problem has two roots. The first is the insatiable focus on profits over people. The second is the use of government to punish businesses and redistribute wealth. Both solutions create an adversarial situation where the two sides, owners and workers, will be in constant conflict.

The solution presented by the Holy Father is to make the person the center of responsibility. Imagine if boards of directors focused on their employees rather than profit margins.

Before we decry disaster and complain about the inevitable loss of investment capital that would occur if fiduciary focus were to change, we should add the caveat that profits are not evil, nor should they be obliterated by policy or taxes. Profits are essential and are the right of the business that earns them.

Yet, there is such a thing as enough.

Obamacare is providing a dramatic example in the U.S. Although Obamacare threatens disaster for small and medium-sized businesses that operate with low margins, some large corporations are plotting to throw their employees to the market. Already, hundreds of thousands of retirees (see IBM) and thousands of other workers are being told that their companies would rather pay the annual penalty than provide health insurance for their workers.

Meanwhile, they continue to generate profits and pay bonuses.

The problem is that people are being viewed as a resource to be used -a number on a spreadsheet, instead of being valued as human persons.

Pope Francis said at Mass, "We don't want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm. Men and women have to be at the center as God wants, not money. The world has become an idolator of this god called money."

As Christians, we are permitted to take the profits we need and deserve, but we should not violate our conscience by reducing our employees to virtual serfdom by means of low wages, unpaid benefits, and inhuman toil. Workers too have the right to the fruits of their labor.

It is time for the market economy to embrace the message of the dignity of every human person offered by Christianity and to espouse Christian ethics in business. The idolatry of the spreadsheet over the worker is the camel which cannot pass through the eye of the needle.

Likewise, communism and socialism, with their virtual atheism and worship of the state and use of the worker as a means, are rocky grounds along the path to the Gate.

Rather, a different path exists. We truly do live in a world of blessing and plenty. Treasures that are shared are doubled by sharing, just as money circulating through an economy stimulates it. Let us learn to think of our workers first and take profits yes, but not at the expense of humanity.

We must find this better way together, or we will all be doomed.

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