Panel: Relationship between common good and business is critical

| Susan Klemond | June 28, 2018 | 0 Comments

Father Martin Schlag, director of the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought at the University of St. Thomas’ Center for Catholic Studies, speaks during the conference “Building Institutions for the Common Good: The Purpose and Practice of Business in an Inclusive Economy,” held June 21-23 at St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus. Mark Brown/Courtesy UST

In light of increasing globalization and changes in the corporate landscape, the inclusion of logic around the concept of the “common good” in the development of business ethics would help companies better contribute to humanity, society and the environment, said Stefano Zamagni.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that the single-minded goal of profit maximization at any cost is fracturing society and destroying the environment,” said Zamagni, a retired economics professor at the University of Bologna, Italy, and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who teaches in areas of international trade theory, macroeconomics, microeconomics and public-sector economies.

He presented his perspective at the conference “Building Institutions for the Common Good: The Purpose and Practice of Business in an Inclusive Economy,” held June 21-23 at the University of St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus.

“Essentially, business has been threatening the very elements that underpin its own existence,” he said, speaking on a panel during the conference’s opening session June 21. “Today, the umbrella of corporate sustainability — both social and environmental — covers a much broader range of issues than before. There is still a very long way to go before sustainability is fully embedded into the DNA of businesses globally.”

The event was the 10th International Conference on Catholic Social Thought and Business Education and the sixth Colloquium on Christian Humanism in Business and Society organized by the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought at St. Thomas’ Center for Catholic Studies.

The event brought together 161 academics, business practitioners, administrators, and clergy and professed religious. Representing 39 academic disciplines and 30 countries, attendees explored solutions for business and business education in light of Catholic teachings.

The common good is one of the four founding principles of the Church’s social doctrine, along with human dignity, subsidiarity and solidarity. The conference/colloquium opening panel sought to clarify the meaning of the concept of common good in business and its implications in different aspects of practical business life.

The relationship between business and the common good is critical, said Julie Sullivan, president of the University of St. Thomas, which adopted the motto “All for the Common Good” in 2016. “It’s very important that we understand how this force of business in society is going to help us live in communion with one another on our planet, ensuring we are achieving the common good.”

The common good is more than a principle, it’s a form of life and a way of perceiving reality, said Clemens Sedmak, a professor of social ethics and advisor in Catholic social tradition at the University of Notre Dame, who was also part of the opening panel.

The common good also sheds light on the relationship between economics and the study of belief and opinion, he said, which is evident in the way new products stretch people’s imaginations, accumulate value, and make truth claims and promises.

Father Martin Schlag, Ryan Institute director and conference organizer, said that the common good is more than a “sum” of individual goods — it includes a “life in common.”

“Business serves the common good when it creates wealth, opportunity, hope and development for all who wish to make an effort and participate, not only for a few who exclude others,” he said.

The first Conference on Catholic Social Thought and Business Education was organized in 1997 by Michael Naughton now the Center for Catholic Studies director, and the Ryan Institute, which examines the relationship between Catholic social tradition and business theory and practice through research, faculty and curriculum development, seminars, conferences and publications.

In 2010, Father Schlag co-organized the first Colloquium on Christian Humanism in Business and Society in Rome. When became the Ryan Institute’s director last August, he concluded that the two events complemented each other and could be merged. The next joint conference/colloquium will take place in Portugal in 2020.

Before taking his role at the University of St. Thomas, Father Schlag taught social-moral theology at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce in Rome, where he co-founded and directed its Markets, Culture and Ethics Research Centre. He also served as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was a fellow at Oxford University in England and taught in Barcelona, Spain.

With both its theological and practical aspects, the conference/colloquium aimed to clarify the common good as a concept, reflect on ways to interject Catholic social teaching in business education, develop a network among professionals interested in the topic, and involve business educators in developing economies, Father Schlag said.

Different definitions of the common good — including as an instrument to each person’s flourishing and participation in the common life of society — need to align with an understanding of the human person, said Robert Kennedy, a Catholic Studies professor who formerly held a joint appointment as professor in the management department in St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business, and who also sat on the opening panel.

Speaking to his audience of mostly educators and business practitioners, Kennedy said, “If we can be persuaded that our perception of the human person is defective and incomplete and needs to be corrected, say by a richer understanding of integral human development and common goods, then we may expect our approach to business to change.”

What is the ‘common good’?

The common good, stemming from the dignity, unity and equality of all people, is in a primary sense, “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily,” according to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church published in 2004.

But rather than a simple sum of particular goods of each person in society, the common good is indivisible and belongs to everyone and each person, who only together can attain, increase and safeguard it, the Compendium states. All expressions of social life from family to economic enterprises, cities, countries, and communities of peoples and nations have their own common good, which is part of, and the authentic reason for, their existence, according to the Compendium.

The common good advances human fulfillment which, according to Blessed Pope Paul VI and St. Thomas Aquinas, requires not only in the satisfaction of material needs but also participation in a community, and possession of truth and love most fully in the beatific vision in heaven, Kennedy said. This threefold order, Kennedy said, points to not one but three common goods:

  • Instrumental, being the means, not end, to the flourishing of each member.
  • Civic friendship, or participation in common life where all live together in justice, peace and friendship.
  • Our supernatural destiny intended by God and an end in itself for which the first two common goods prepare us.

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