John Wesley preached a sermon on the dangers of riches. I am reading several of his sermons dealing with wealth over the summer. It is part of my desire to create a philosophical foundation for business as mission. In his sermon on the Danger of Riches John Wesley stated, “O ye Methodists, hear the word of the Lord! I have a message from God to all men; but to you above all. For above forty years I have been a servant to you and to your fathers. And I have not been as a reed shaken with the wind: I have not varied in my testimony. I have testified to you the very same thing from the first day even until now. But “who hath believed our report” I fear, not many rich: I fear there is need to apply to some of you those terrible words of the Apostle: “Go to now, ye rich men! weep and howl for the miseries which shall come upon you. Your gold and silver is cankered, and the rust of them shall witness against you and shall eat your flesh, as it were fire.” Certainly it will, unless ye both save all you can and give all you can. But who of you hath considered this since you first heard the will of the Lord concerning it Who is now determined to consider and practise it By the grace of God begin today!” The leader of the Methodist movement correctly encourages his listeners to save and give, in other words keep wealth in its place.
My opinion on the subject of wealth is this. It is not that free enterprise is evil in and of itself, it is our motivation as people that make the system evil. I think that is what Wesley’s point is, and if we don’t keep our evil desires in check we will become what scripture warns us against.
When one thinks about evil bourgeois action one’s thoughts usually end up on the corporation. But what is a Corporation? Jack and Suzy Welch made some interesting comments today in the WSJ about this topic. While stating that it is true, “Corporations are People,” the Welches make an argument that is different than what we usually think when we hear the comment that a corporation is a person.
In the mid 1800’s the Supreme Court ruled on the personhood of corporations. Under the law a corporation is considered a person that has rights, responsibilities, and liabilities. But this personhood is limited. It cannot run for political office, only a real person can do that. When the Welches discuss the personhood of corporations they are not referring to the legal definition, they are referring to the people within the corporation. “Of course corporations are people. What else would they be? Buildings don’t hire people. Buildings don’t design cars that run on electricity or discover DNA-based drug therapies that target cancer cells in ways our parents would never have imagined.” If we define corporate personhood as entailing the people that work there, then I think we can all agree that corporations are people.
Why does a corporation pollute? Or why does a JP Morgan ignore its risk rules and loose $6 billion? Is it because of the legal entity, or is it the people within the organization? Mistakes are made by people, not by buildings or machinery. Thus Democratic Capitalism is the economic system to best deal with the human failure associated with corporate greed.
In the book Why Capitalism, Meltzer states, “Democratic capitalism has three unequaled strengths. It is the only system that achieves both economic growth and individual freedom, and it adapts to the many diverse cultures in the world. Adapting to cultures means that it works well with people as they are, not as someone would like to make them. Democracy works to remove the most common criticism of capitalism – that it generates inequality in income distribution. Voters choose the tax rates and income redistribution that satisfies the majority of voters, never all of them.”
I think Meltzer has a point. The fact is I am a human being. I have to work to make money to put food on the table. I also want to have a comfortable retirement, if I ever stop working. To do that I have to save. I also know that I need to give to help others that are not as fortunate as I. I for one am glad I live and work within a Democratic Capitalist system. I have the freedom to be as economically energized as I want. I also believe that as a business person my motives must involve goodness. I cannot allow the government to take away my freedoms in this endeavor. History tells us, “no economic system focused on property confiscation and redistribution has ever sustained both growth and personal freedom.”
As Kant tells us, “out of timber so crooked as that from what man is made, nothing entirely straight can be carved.” We all have our issues, but as Samuel Becket tells us, “Try again. Fail Again. Fail Better.” The system is not perfect, but if we pay attention we can fail better. It is the people that make the system what it is, not the ism.
And that is my thought for the day!