Business defines itself increasingly as the pursuit of money, but this move into the “iron cage” signals a process of abstraction away from goods internal to business. Scott Waalkes argues that virtues implicit in the Incarnation counter problems in this move by encouraging virtuous Christian business people to work toward the Kingdom of God through attention to embodied work in faith, to just relationships in love, and to humility in hope. A case study of Max DePree, retired CEO of Herman Miller, Inc., fleshes out these claims and the implications of a Christian virtue ethic for business ethics. Mr. Waalkes is Professor of International Politics at Malone College in Canton, OH.
What used to be called the Business section in my local paper and in USA Today is now called the Money section, and I suspect that these changes in nomenclature are not accidental but signal important shifts in postmodern business worth exploring. The turn from business to money signals a process of abstraction away from the details of business operations toward the pursuit of financial goals as ends-in-themselves. Countering this trend, three virtues embedded in the Incarnation can encourage Christian business people to work toward the Kingdom of God through attention to faithful, embodied work, to loving relationships, and to a hopeful humility.
The rest of this paper fleshes out the statements just made in two major sections. In the first section of the paper, I describe three problems: 1) The shift from business to money reflects the rise of monetary and financial measures over other aspects of business, which in turn reflects the ways in which “cash values” have become the measure of worth in affluent societies.1 Although this problem has become increasingly apparent of late, Aristotle understood how the rise of money could lead to this outcome; thus, I will summarize his analysis briefly. 2) This shift intensifies the process of rationalization identified by Max Weber as a descent into the “iron cage” that reduces meaning and purpose in modern life to rational, instrumental means, to the exclusion of purposive ends.2 3) The shift from business to money suggests also that business managers might be learning to pursue goods external to the practice of business. As a result of the rise of monetary values and the growing emphasis on profitability, mangers are more likely to be distracted from the goods intrinsic to the success of their work. When tempted to pursue financial gain, business leaders will also be tempted to neglect the good of the business and of the larger community in which the business functions. They will attend less to their actual work than to the external goals of profits and shareholder values, whereas virtuous business requires attention to goods internal to the practice of good work—goods whose character it is to benefit all concerned.
In the second section of the paper, I argue that the virtues implicit in the Incarnation can offer potential remedies to each of our three problems, and I describe these remedies through a case study of the writings of Max DePree, the former CEO of Herman Miller, Inc. As Philippians 2 describes the Incarnation, Christ Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… [and] humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8). Imitating the humility of Christ, servant leaders can champion an embodied, relational and sacrificial model of business. A recognition of embodiment—a sense of “touch”—can help us focus on human persons and the building of long-term communities of work, in contrast to the short-term approach of valuing relationships in cash terms. The Incarnation reminds us to love people and attend to relationships as a central part of faithful discipleship. A sacrificial model of servant-leadership instills a sense of humility that runs counter to the pursuit of monetary gain. Instead of embodying an exclusive concern for the bottom line, Christian businesses can practice a humility that recognizes limits. I conclude that if business leaders, like all of us, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” in daily work life, then material sufficiency should be added as well (Matt 6:33). Although this vision of a Kingdom virtue ethic might sound utopian, ultimately it depends upon the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, divinely infused, in moral agents who promote more virtuous economic structures. The story of Max DePree suggests that it is possibleto begin practicing Kingdom virtues with the infusion of divine grace even today.3
While this paper starts with deep and serious problems that caused the triumph of business over money, it ends with hope. By highlighting how Christian virtues can respond to these problems and how these virtues have been embodied in a real business by real people, we move from problems to constructive responses. In this spirit, the final section of the paper discusses conclusions and implications of this analysis for contemporary business practitioners. See Table 1 for a summary of the main argument.
Three Problems in Postmodern Business
Whether looking at the Enron scandal, the subprime mortgage mess or high gasoline prices, it is clear that we face a crisis of confidence in the financial systems driving so much of business in this postmodern age. Corporations fold and stock prices collapse; banks teeter on the brink of solvency; petroleum futures markets drive up the cost of driving and oil companies garner record profits, but ordinary people worry about the effects of corporations on their lives. Many have suggested corporate governance reforms or government programs to respond to the unease provoked by these crises. Yet the problems of business go deeper, into the role of money in our society, and possible solutions go deeper, into the role of virtuous persons who might resist the temptations of money. We will start by looking at three deep-rooted problems with the rise of money that Max Weber helps us to investigate.
Problem #1: The Rise of “Cash Values” in a Commercial Society
Thinking about the bottom line has become a societal preoccupation in modern, affluent societies, but this comes as no surprise to many observers. Just over a hundred years ago, Max Weber identified the spirit of capitalism as “the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life. . . .”4 “Man is dominated by the making of money,” writes Weber, “by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs.”5 This triumph of money played no small part in Weber’s worry that society was entering an iron cage. Weber noted that “in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport.”6 Weber saw this pursuit as the logical outcome of a society that had secularized the Puritans’ notion of an ascetic calling and lost any religious reasons for renunciation and hard work. While glorifying everyday pursuits, modern society had lost the teleological connection between work, self-denial and God.7 Into the vacuum of meaning came the pursuit of the almighty dollar.
As Craig Gay illustrates clearly, other modern thinkers have worried about the ways in which “cash values” have intruded upon modern social life to the point that the “money metric” becomes the measure of all worth, filling the vacuum of meaning in secularized societies.8 Similarly, Father John Kavanaugh worries that affluent societies have even begun to treat persons as commodities whose worth is dictated by their financial value, and Pope John Paul II increasingly stressed late in his life that a society in which “having” took precedence over “being” was devaluing human persons.9 In such a society, it should come as no surprise that the poor and weak (whether unborn children, the handicapped, the unemployed or the aged) are in danger of being marginalized, since they contribute few tangible benefits to the monetary bottom line. By “cash value” standards, their worth is in question. Business executives, many of whom incidentally seek to employ the unemployed, handicapped or aged, are hardly unique in the habit of assessing their world around them in terms of monetary value, and they may resist this trend in order to support the idea of helping the weakest. But it is the growth of this habit of thinking—using money as the measure of worth, even of human persons—that concerns us, since it inculcates over time a dangerous temptation to measure worth (especially human worth) in monetary terms.10
A brief discussion of the philosopher Aristotle illustrates how the extensive use of money in a commercial society risks habituating its members into a process of abstraction away from the purpose of economic life and into the pursuit of money. In his Politics, Aristotle’s ideal is that households or political communities should farm the land, fish the seas and cultivate the animals that nature provides, exchanging goods only when necessary to supplement what is lacking. Thus he makes a sharp distinction in his Politics between the legitimate acquisition of goods for household use (oikonomia) and the illegitimate pursuit of gain through exchange (chremastistike).11 Aristotle contends that there is nothing wrong with barter exchanges and with households (or city-states) obtaining one type of useful goods by trading their own goods; for example, state A exchanging wheat for state B’s corn. Such commerce seeks only “to re-establish nature’s own equilibrium of self-sufficiency” and therefore fits the original goal and purpose (telos) of household management (economics).12
Unfortunately, in Aristotle’s view, this rudimentary exchange brought about the need for currency, which quickly led to trade, in which people sought simply to gain wealth measured as coins. Such pursuit of monetary gain is contrary to nature, says Aristotle, because it seeks goals external to the production of goods for the welfare of the household or state and violates the purpose of money, which is to facilitate exchange. In his teleological account, one must always be attentive to the purposeful ends being pursued within the process of work itself, toward which the work is aiming. As Paul Wadell puts it, “the telos is not so much something toward which we move, but something in which we participate.” He continues, “true, the telos represents the goal, the fulsome meaning of life. While it can be said that we advance toward that end through the virtues, the movement implied is nota change of place but a change of person. To Aristotle, a person moves toward the telos by being changed according to it.”13 All of the process in achieving the end is part of the end, and the dispositions of character (virtues or vices) formed along the way participate in achieving it.
Aristotle argues that the pursuit of monetary gain for its own sake as a telos can lead to some disturbing results: “And it will often happen that a man with wealth in the form of coined money will not have enough to eat; and what a ridiculous kind of wealth is that which even in abundance will not save you from dying with hunger!”14 Holders of large amounts of Weimar German marks, Thai bahts, Indonesian rupiahs, Bolivian bolivianos or Argentine pesos—or any other currency that has suffered rapid devaluation or hyperinflation—can relate to the problem of money becoming meaningless paper. For that matter, holders of large amounts of Enron stocks or mortgage-backed bonds might relate also. Acquisition of credits or monetary gains can be wiped out easily by changes in the financial system that have little or nothing to do with tangible factors. Interestingly, many economists in the classical liberal tradition still distinguish between the purely financial and the “real” economy; Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations constantly presses the distinction between illusory financial wealth and real productive wealth. Similarly, the Consumer Price Index attempts to gauge the value of money relative to a basket of goods and services and The Economist magazine ties exchange rates to the Big Macas a tangible base, thereby distinguishing between currency fluctuations and real value.15 On this question of real value versus currency value, modern economists follow Aristotle, at least rhetorically, although in practice the pursuit of capital or money seems to be the point of capitalism.16
Although Adam Smith celebrated the benefits of trade and exchange based on money, Aristotle disdains such pursuits as harmful to virtue. He argues that trading that seeks monetary gain ends up encouraging people to seek wealth for the sake of wealth. Because there is no limit to the acquisitive impulse, the end is “sheer increase” rather than material provision for the community.17 Of course, Smith argued that a person’s pursuit of material gain will lead as if guided by an “invisible hand that was no part of his intention” to better material provision for the community.18 But this increase is a by product and not a goal of private wealth-seeking. By contrast, Aristotle’s teleological approach is concerned with seeking the right goals (basic material needs) for the right reasons (for household or public provision) given a person’s social role (as head of a household or a city) and with the right virtue (generosity) being embodied. Thus, he is concerned about the corrosive impact of greed on a community that allows extensive trade through currency usage, because money can allow one to seek an improper end (money for its own sake) rather than the proper ends of provision. Aristotle’s comments echo contemporary concerns about modern business strikingly and therefore deserve more extensive quotation:
For where enjoyment consists in excess, men look for that which produces the excess that is enjoyed. And if they cannot procure it through money-making, they try to get it by some other means, using all their faculties for this purpose, which is contrary to nature: courage, for example, is to produce confidence, not goods; nor yet is it the job of military leadership and medicine to produce goods, but victory and health. But these people turn all skills into skills of acquiring goods, as though that were the end and everything had to serve that end.19
In an apt phrase, monetized societies run the risk of making “everything for sale,” where the worth of health care, education or human personhood is measured in money terms.20 When more and more skills are rewarded according to how well they help one obtain goods or acquire wealth (measured in currency), it ought not be surprising when students routinely ask in Christian college classrooms, “How will this help me get a job?” rather than “How is this part of my calling?” In a commercialized society, many such students will value education as a means to develop skills in order to acquire money, which is extrinsic to the practices of education, rather than entering with a willingness to develop virtuous habits intrinsic to the practices of education.21 Similarly, Aristotle worries that a commercial society will be concerned with gaining material wealth for its own sake, without attention to goods internal to practices such as medicine. Such a society will reward the pursuit of extrinsic rather than intrinsic rewards, and money will be the measure of extrinsic reward. Doctors then become significant more because of their high salaries than because of their craft of healing. By seeking monetary gain as a major corporate goal, businesses have merely joined the dominant trend in a highly commercialized society (a trend anticipated by Aristotle). Their habits are our habits. We are all tempted to think about the bottom line and thus abstract ourselves away from the concrete contexts and purposes of shared activities such as education, health care or manufacturing. We are all tempted to assess worth in terms of monetary value.
Problem #2: Rationalization: Quantification and Profit as the Measure of Worth
A second harmful habit of modern business also relates to Max Weber’s description of the iron cage of rationality: the triumph of a trend of rationalization. At the same time Weber was writing, Thorstein Veblen began to worry about the impact of capitalist industrialization upon society.22 Already then, Veblen detected a trend toward the use of abstract and impersonal measures in management, criticizing the trend among large corporations to pursue financial gain rather than productive benefit for society; clearly, the drift from business to money started quite some time ago.23 The same era saw the birth of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management, which marked a crucial early use of quantitative measures to pursue rationalization and efficiency in business.24 Cut off from concrete work oriented toward divine purposes, such quantitative measures became the standards of value for business and even society at large. Robert McNamara’s mid-century story may well mark the apex of this trend. McNamara—a corporate star at Ford Motor Company, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy administration and then president of the World Bank—got his start teaching at the Harvard Business School before he later applied quantitative techniques to studies of strategic bombing during World War II and to “body counts” during the Vietnam War. However, it was at the Ford Motor Company that McNamara made his major contribution to American business through the use of powerful quantitative tools.
McNamara’s use of quantification to measure market share is illustrated vividly in his description of the adoption of the Ford Falcon in Errol Morris’ documentary film, The Fog of War:
They didn’t have a market research organization [at Ford]. I set one up. The manager said to me, “What do you want me to study?” I said, “Find out who in the hell’s buying the Volkswagens. Everybody says it’s a no good car. It was only selling about twenty thousand a year, but I want to know what’s going to happen. Is it going to stay the same, or go down, or go up? Find out who buys it.”
He came back six months later, he said, “Well, they’re professors, and they’re doctors and they’re lawyers, and they’re obviously people who can afford more.
”Well, that set me to thinking about what we in the industry should do. Was there a market we were missing? At this time nobody believed that Americans wanted cheaper cars. They wanted conspicuous consumption. Cadillac, with these huge ostentatious fins, set the style for the industry for ten or fifteen years. And that’s what we were up against.
We introduced the Falcon as a more economical car, and it was a huge success profit-wise. We accomplished a lot.25
This story appears under the heading of Lesson Number 6 from McNamara in the film, significantly entitled “Get the Data.” Quantitative measures are extremely important to him, and he draws readily on numbers here, as he does throughout the interviews in the film. Today the kind of market research that went into the Ford Falcon is so common that it is unremarkable, suggesting that we have become accustomed to quantitative, market-driven estimates of demand. But there may be a danger in seeking habitually to cater to demand outside the corporation without attending to internal habits of doing excellent work that meets societal needs naturally. When Ford’s new Edsel model sold poorly, the response was to commission a buyers’ survey to recruit customer loyalty to the brand, when the car itself might have been the problem.26
It is significant also that in telling his story, McNamara defines success “profit-wise” rather than in terms of the teamwork that produced the car, the quality of the car itself, or the ecological benefits of smaller cars. Profit focuses on results but not the work going into the results. On this note, the journalist David Halberstam contrasts McNamara’s (and the Ford Motor Company’s) emphasis with Japanese business practices in his book The Reckoning. In Halberstam’s account, McNamara is blamed for an obsessive focus on production numbers and quantitative measures of efficiency—to the detriment of the physical craft of making cars: “Numbers were not just a belief but more like a theology to him. Cars themselves were almost secondary.”27 Instead of factory men running the company, according to Halberstam, the financial “whiz kids” gained the power to run the organization under McNamara’s influence. “The realities of manufacturing meant less and less; what those realities should be, according to Detroit’s numbers, meant more and more.”28 By contrast, the Nissan company, according to one former Ford executive who was hired by Nissan to run its first Tennessee plant, “had learned long ago that manufacturing was basic to quality.”29 Instead of allowing short-term financial considerations to dictate the building of a manufacturing plant, Nissan was willing to take five years before the plant turned a profit. Surely stock market analysts would put more pressure for short-term profits on a publicly traded American corporation. But the point here is about the culture of leadership that Robert McNamara helped to instill at Ford Motor Company—the culture that focused on meeting quantitative targets for production, market share and profit, the culture that promoted short-term efficiency goals to minimize waste and maximize earnings—all types of rationalization in Weberian terms. Weber worried that it could be said of people in his age that they were “specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart.”30 Unfortunately, as we will see, former business executive Max DePree likely would concur that such a description applies to many executives today.
McNamara’s Weberian practices—notably the quantification of profits as a “rational” indicator of corporate health and maximum efficiency—have only increased since the 1970s, when financial investors began to take back influence from the managerial class that was largely in control of American corporations until that time.31 Whereas McNamara was concerned with financial controls over business operations,it is clear that the contemporary era has made financial goals its central concern.32 As just one example of such a contemporary emphasis, Jim Collins’ study Good to Great used stock values and profits as measures of business improvement.33 Lawrence Mitchell cites “a recent survey of more than four hundred chief financial officers of major corporations [that] revealed that almost 80 percent of them would have at least moderately mutilated their businesses in order to meet analysts’ quarterly profit estimates.”34 Not only does the common use of profit benchmarks reflect the triumph of rationalized finance over other aspects of business management, but it also reflects convenience. Such measures are attractive, in part, because they are understood easily and are easy to communicate, whereas qualitative descriptions of physical work are more cumbersome to understand and communicate. Yet when financial goals become ends in themselves, there is the danger that leaders are not only diverted to pursue goods outside the daily operation of the business, but are also diverted from attending to critical factors within daily operations. They may even “mutilate” those daily operations, losing sight of their main purposes. It is no accident that by the 1980s Ford ran a national advertising campaign claiming that at Ford, “Quality is Job One.” Many in Detroit believed that the triumph of “bean counters” over the “car guys” had led to the erosion of quality in the cars themselves due to a focus on profits and increasing value for share-holders.35
At the same time, however, the practices of finance can (although not necessarily will) accomplish moral aims in business through stewardship of resources. Maximizing efficiency, calculating profits, discovering hidden markets and increasing value for owners all might be desirable goods in assisting the primary process of crafting one’s products or services and serving needs. No one is recommending that financial stewardship be ignored. But the practical and moral effect of pursuing financial goods habitually over time should worry Christian ethicists, especially if such goods become the most important goals and detach themselves from the practices of the work itself. When the goal of profit becomes detached from the pursuit of proper goals, businesses may turn away from serving customers well and stop providing excellent goods and services that benefit society. They will then contribute to a “speculation economy,” where “business management focused on production is replaced with business management focused on stock price.”36 When executives at Enron and MCI/WorldCom detached financial considerations from underlying fundamentals, for instance, they were falling prey to such speculative thinking with disastrous results. Although more effective corporate governance structures and better audits would help to prevent such disasters, these measures fail to address the underlying trend toward the pursuit of monetary gain—a trend that schools executives in non-virtuous habits. Consider stock options, whose value varies depending on the date on which they are exercised. Executives can arrange to have those options back-dated so that they are cashed in at the time when the stock value is highest. Equities, then, no longer become ways of owningpart of an enterprise; they become ways of maximizing wealth.
Some of these techniques might be defended as mechanisms of healthy rationalization. Creative executive compensation plans or the quantification of stock prices might be ways of bringing rational discipline to an organization. While some discipline is desirable, however, there is a danger that the bottom line can become the major purposive aim driving the work instead of the aim of providing excellent goods or services that benefit neighbors. Rationalization can backfire if it is not kept in check by a commitment to the larger societal good and divine teleology.
Problem #3: Seeking Goods External to Practice vs. Virtuous Work
Today, then, we worry that profit, increased stock values and (closely related) executive compensation win out all too often over good work and attention to the work itself. So I want to focus here on what I consider the root problem for postmodern business: the lack of attention to the more tangible goods internal to the practice of business, the loss of purposive attention to actual work. What alternatives can a Christian virtue ethic offer?
If we consider the Sermon on the Mount, Christian business people ought to believe in faith that if they seek the Kingdom within their day-to-day activities, business success will be added. If they seek to improve the bottom line too much, they contravene the advice of Jesus not to worry (Mt. 6:25-34), and out of fear they may well lose their focus on the actual work of their business. Certainly those corporations that attend more to financial increase than to the warp and woof of daily operations risk losing attentiveness to their main purposes for existing as a business. They are pursuing goods external to the practice of their work and are neglecting goods internal to its practice, and that may well have something to do with losing sight of the role of business in the larger world. For those committed to biblical faith in God the Creator, after all, business is embedded within that larger reality of God’s economy of the Kingdom. Wendell Berry evokes this embeddedness beautifully in his essay “Two Economies,” where he writes:
Work that is authentically placed and understood within the Great Economy moves virtue toward virtuosity: skill and technical competence. . . .When they are rightly practiced within the Great Economy, we do not call the virtues virtues; we call them good farming, good forestry, good carpentry, good husbandry, good weaving and sewing, good housewifery, good parenthood, good neighborhood, and so on. The general principles are submerged inthe particularities of their engagement with the world. . . .The work of the small economy, when it is understandingly placed within the Great Economy, minutely particularizes the virtues, carries principle into practice, and to the extent that it does so it escapes specialization.37
Berry suggests that specialization—say, the separation of business activity into the functions of marketing, public relations, accounting finance, management and soon—is linked closely with the loss of seeing the Great Economy (or household) of God’s Kingdom. It is also linked with the loss of attentiveness to the mission of abusiness. When functions are compartmentalized, it is easy for workers within different departments to lose sight of their larger organizational mission in the Great Economy of God. Indeed, it is possible that different departments will be evaluated and compensated by quantitative standards that conflict with each other.38 In a vacuum of purpose or a clash of purposes, it is then easy for one part of the business to hijack the mission. If we accept David Halberstam’s diagnosis of the Ford Motor Company’s problems, the finance division hijacked Ford’s mission by the early 1960s. Certainly this story has been replicated frequently within our own day.
The problem is that monetary goals are goods external to the practice of work, and this harms the “work of the small economy” itself. Alasdair MacIntyre notes that a key characteristic of external goods is that “they are always some individual’s property and possession . . . [and] therefore characteristically objects of competition in which there must be losers as well as winners.”39 By pursuing increased stock value over other goods, executives with stock options profit personally, often to the detriment of workers who are paid a tiny fraction of executive compensation. Clearly this is pursuit of an external good by MacIntyre’s definition. By contrast, he argues, goods internal to practices “are indeed the outcome of competition to excel, but it is characteristic of them that their achievement is a good for the whole community who participate in the practice.”40 Good farming, good carpentry or good weaving, to evoke Wendell Berry again, benefits the farmers, the carpenters, the weavers and the whole community. Yet if “good business” is defined solely in terms of profits, then that harms the larger community by taking resources that may or may not be employed for the productive gain of the community. Here again Aristotle would be concerned about the possibility of vice, returning to the distinction between legitimate household provision and illegitimate monetary gain.
Among other business ethicists, Dennis McCann and Robert Solomon have advanced helpful versions of Aristotle’s business ethics to describe the possibility of both corporate vice and corporate virtue.41 While the idea of corporate vice is familiar in light of the Microsoft antitrust case, the Enron scandal or the WorldCom collapse, the idea of corporate virtue might sound unusual. Yet it is essential to assessing any positive mission for business in a postmodern world. D. Stephen Long suggests that “we would expect a good and faithful corporation to contribute directly or indirectly to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. . . .”42 If we can imagine such an operation, how would we assess it? Later we will add a theological element, but first, because all moral action for Aristotle is teleological, we can only assess whether actions are virtuous in relation to their immediate and ultimate ends within a context.43 MacIntyre characterizes these immediate ends as goods internal to practices, defining virtue as “an acquired human quality the possession and exercise of which tends to enable us to achieve those goods . . . and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any such goods.”44 In Aristotle’s view, one must find the mean in any pursuing the good within any given activity, avoiding the extremes that are either deficiencies or excesses of character and that deter one from achieving the good.45
What might virtuous business look like? MacIntyre uses the hypothetical example of someone founding “a school, a hospital, or an art gallery,” to illustrate.46 We can take this example to refer to the founders of any other kind of business. The founders or their successors, he writes, “would need to value—to praise as excellences—those qualities of mind and character which would contribute to the realization of their common good or goods.”47 These would be the virtues inherent in the pursuit of the good. In addition, the founders would need “to identify certain types of action as the doing or the production of harm of such an order that they destroy the bonds of community in such a way as to render the doing or achieving of good impossible in some respect at least for some time.”48 These would be defined as vices. MacIntyre points out that harmful vices could be either deficiencies (sins of omission or falling short) or offenses (sins of commission). Both types of offenses, he writes, “injure the community to some degree and make its shared project likely to be less successful.”49 Conversely, virtues are those actions that build the community and allow its shared project to be more successful (in the long run) by contributing to the larger social good. The nascent school, hospital or art gallery community would compile descriptions of both categories to teach its members the positive goods to seek and what to avoid. Although these descriptions sound much like corporate mission statements and codes of conduct, without a real commitment to shared mission, such documents will not have life within an organization. The organization must be a true community. With this strong understanding of communal mission, it might be hard to imagine rugged American individualists or business students talking in such terms.50 Yet, as we will see, the writings of Max DePree illustrate a business leader thinking in ways consonant with MacIntyre’s description.
The implications of virtue ethics for business managers are obvious. If leaders are to be ethical, they must cultivate their own virtuous character, seek the goods intrinsic to the unique practice of their business, promote the habits that foster the success of their communities and find the proper balance of considerations in their actions along the way. But what would all this really mean for them? Solomon argues that business ethics is a matter of individual character and social responsibility, of the well-being of the person and the well-being of the corporation-as-community, writing that an Aristotelian “approach to business ethics is, perhaps, just another way of saying that people come before profits.”51
But Solomon’s approach falls short in two ways. First, it falls short of a true virtue ethic. The “people” to whom Solomon refers appear to be those within the corporation, but a virtue ethic must include the community as a whole.52 After all, Aristotle defines the political community as an extension of the friendships that he thinks are essential for the virtues to flourish. In other words, the city-state—the locus of virtue for Aristotle—ideally should “be a community of friends, the locus of civic friendship.”53 If leaders and followers in business are to work virtuously, in Aristotle’s view, they must foster such friendship. But do they view their work as fostering friendships among their co-workers? A focus on profits alone fails to wrestle with this question. Does the business foster friendship with communities outside it? Aristotle says at the very beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics that ethical inquiry is a kind of political science because politics deals with the highest question: What is good for the people and the city? Are corporations good for the wider community?
Second, what about the Kingdom? A Christian virtue ethic must bring us closer to the Great Economy of the Kingdom, but Solomon’s account ignores the wider theological community within which the corporation is embedded. A Christian virtue ethicist must not neglect the ultimate ends toward which our actions are aiming or the contexts in which they are embedded. We can only understand our immediate ends as they are embodied in larger social, political, ethical and theological contexts. For Aristotle, the city-state was the highest form of community that gave shape to ethics, but for Christians the Kingdom of God (or communion with God) is the highest form of community and any business that fails to operate without attention to that community will fall short of the mark.54 Can we imagine corporations as communities that foster friendship with God? Without this locus of virtue, it seems, corporations cannot participate fully in the Great Economy of the Kingdom.
But even if they participate partially in that economy, can we imagine how that would look? To quote Wendell Berry again, if the work of the business could be “understandingly placed within the Great Economy,” which is the Kingdom of God, it might be possible for “the general principles [of virtue to be] submerged in the particularities of their engagement with the world.”55 It might then be possible to imagine a situation where successful businesses were ethical businesses, where excellent business practice might also flourish financially, where those who “race to the bottom” globally with environmentally harmful or harsh labor practices might no longer be rewarded with rising profit rates. Would greater concern for the tangible practices of producing goods or services within a business help business people work virtuously within their crafts? The next section will describe how three virtues closer to the Kingdom might be realized in business—business understood as attentive work rather than the pursuit of money.
In Response: Three Virtues Rooted in the Incarnation and Completed in God
But business ethicists will protest: we do not need to imagine a situation in which ethical businesses attentive to their tangible work succeed; such businesses exist already and they do succeed (sometimes).56 It is indeed possible to find examples of some business practices that represent God’s holiness, justice and lovemore faithfully than others.57 So far, the argument has depended on Aristotle’s ethics, but at this point I turn to the story of the Incarnation to ground theologically an alternative ethic to the pursuit of money. I want to describe virtuous business practices based upon the more distinctly Christological truth of the Incarnation—a supreme expression of the economy of God’s Kingdom—thereby showing how an Aristotelian virtue approach is completed in a Christian theology that takes business closer to true faith, hope and love.58 Acting on this faith, hope and love, aChristian executive should come closer to the self-emptying, servant leadership of Christ in Philippians 2 than to the spirit of the aggressive, self-confident, highly compensated CEO of popular culture.59
This may sound like a high ideal or an unrealistic vision. But the writings of Max DePree suggest that it is possible to embody parts of this vision, just as it is possible for many Christians to be relatively faithful disciples in a number of callings in a wide variety of settings (even though their walk as disciples also might call them into conflict with those settings). DePree makes his Christian faith no secret,and it is evident that this faith informed his approach to business life, offering a compelling challenge to the dominance of financial goals over business and a call to return to something closer to the vision of the Great Economy. In this section, I will highlight three aspects of the Incarnation that DePree models, demonstrating how they respond to the three problems identified earlier.
When the church celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas, it is reenacting a deep truth that goes to heart of the faith—the truth that the Word of God became flesh in the womb of a Virgin, only to suffer and die an unjust death, before being raised to new life and ascending to heaven, from where he reigns ove ra Kingdom that already exists on earth but is not yet fully come. Without reducing the meaning of Christ’s Incarnation to any one theme, this story schools us in at least three virtues that challenge the ascendance of money in business practice and promote hopeful alternatives. Each of these can be illustrated in DePree’s writings.
Practicing the Virtue of Embodiment: Temperance Completed in Faith
First, God creates humans in his image out of dust (Gen 1:26-27; Gen 2:7, Gen3:19), an earthiness that Jesus’ birth affirms and echoes. This earthiness suggests that God valued the dust of humanity enough to enter Mary’s womb, and likewise he values us enough to send his Holy Spirit to blow into our frail frames of dust; God is attentive to human embodiment. Therefore, business practices that pursue “cash values” to the neglect of the physical details of the actual provision of goods or services, disdain our earthiness. They are abstracted, averting attention from daily work. Crafting widgets with a team of fellow workers and spending time with clients, after all, appear much less glamorous than divvying up profits. But which is closer to the core functions of a business? And which is more in tune with the work of the Spirit in blowing within our dusty frames?
Max DePree strongly advocates a philosophy of “touch” that responds to such questions. This attention to touch aligns with DePree’s close attention to the daily work environment, which surely stems from the nature of Herman’s Miller’s business of designing and building office furniture systems. “At the core of becoming a leader,” says DePree, “is the need always to connect one’s voice and one’s touch.”60 In Leadership is an Art, DePree writes, “In a difficult and fractured and complex world, in problems of failure and success, but especially in the joys and tragedies of our personal lives, we touch each other. This ‘touching’ is at the heart of who we are.”61 And this sense of touch is part of a holistic and integrative understanding of work: “We need to understand and be ‘at home’ in our working environment—both the human environment and the physical environment. There needs to be a visible order and a ‘sense of place’ so that we may know who we are and where we fit.”62 DePree returns to the link between touch and the social purpose of work when discussing buildings: “A facility should be a place of realized potential. It should be a ‘high touch’ place.”63 With attention to social purpose and context, he writes, “It is important that everyone understand the context in which our facilities function and the context and value they create for us.”64 Here we see attentiveness to human embodiment, rather than the abstraction advocated by leaders like Robert McNamara. Attention to the larger social and physical context means that DePree regularly criticizes a narrow focus on financial measures only:
We don’t have to connect every decision about our environment or product design or trees or signage solely to first costs or return on assets or the eternal shortage of parking. Achieving a prescribed return on assets is not part of the law of the Medes and Persians, you know. It’s only one of a long list of items for which we are accountable. Decisions on the beauty and harmony of an environment are not the province of the financial department or the developer or even the person who owns the land. These decisions are the proper concern of an enormous public, since no one can walk through the results of such decisions without encountering the consequences. Once a building is up or a tree is grown, it belongs to all of us.65
Closer to Wendell Berry than to McNamara, DePree attends here to the “high-touch” context in which his business operated. Attending to “touch,” we might say, is a way of resisting the abstract pursuit of money and having faith in the goodness of the material creation. For Aquinas, sensory touch is the basis of our embodied senses and part of the virtue of temperance.66 We must trust our embodiedness, since surely God did. In response, we handle our embodied selves with care and “creational joy” through the gift of faith.68 And yet by detaching money from relational contexts, we are putting our money to work for us—without bothering to figure out who our money is affecting or how it is affecting them, without attending to the internal goods and ultimate purposes toward which money is being put. Thus, writes Long,
We lose the ability to describe how our lives are embedded in the narratives of others. The food that we eat, the clothes we wear, the transportation available to us, clean restrooms, floors, etc.—all these things are provided for us without any awareness on our part of the practices that make such external goods possible. We cannot name our debts; thus we cannot pray well.69
Both churches and businesses ought to be places where we embed money within relationships to real people rooted in time and place who bring us the food, the clothes, the transportation, the clean restrooms and all the rest. A church that rehearses the story of Christmas rightly will form people who care about what money does for or to others. They ought to be attentive to the relationships that their money and business activity support or fail to support.
DePree contends in his writings that humans are created for relationship and function better when relationships take precedence over profit. He makes a sharp distinction between short-term, contractual and long-term, covenantal relationships, strongly advocating the latter.70 Hence, he writes, “I am convinced that the best management process for today’s environment is participative management based on covenantal relationships. Look for the ‘good goods’ of quality relationships that prevail in a corporation as you seek to serve.”71 One might expect a biblical emphasis on covenantal relationships to be exclusive, sectarian or divisive, but DePree echoes regularly the Apostle Paul’s elegant metaphors about the diversity of gifts in the body (Rom 12:3-10; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4:11-16). DePree treasures the diversity of gifts that people can bring to work. “We are God’s mix,” he writes. We are made in His image.”72 A leader is one who “cherishes heterogeneity and diversity.”73 Bringing harmony out of this diversity, like leading a jazz band, requires work. But the results can be exciting: “When we think about the people with whom we work, people on whom we depend, we can see that without each individual we are not going to get very far as a group. By ourselves we suffer serious limitations. Together we can be something wonderful.”74 Unlike many executives, DePree contends that “relationships count more than structure.”75 Friendships and “intimacy”between employees were something he sought to encourage in practice at Herman Miller.76 Yet achieving intimacy is difficult: “In our group activities, intimacy is betrayed by such things as politics, short-term measurements, arrogance, superficiality, and an orientation toward self rather than toward the good of the group.”77 Hence, “Leadership is more tribal than scientific, more a weaving of relationships than an amassing of information.”78 Viewing a business as a set of friendships and relationships oriented toward shared goods sounds more like a Christian version of Aristotle than arrogant “top-down” leadership. Such a view recognizes the Incarnational reality of our relationships to God and to each other.
This attention to relationships was put into practice under DePree’s leadership. One of the most striking manifestations of Herman Miller’s commitment to building relationships came in its employee stock ownership plans and profit sharing plans. In discussing these plans DePree says, “There is a certain morality inconnecting shared accountability as employees with shared ownership. This lends a rightness and a permanence to the relationship of each of us to our work and to each other.”79 Such plans create a situation where “Ownership demands a commitment to be as informed about the whole as one can be.”80 Is it possible for businesses to structure pay plans that weave relationships together around the common purpose of the organization? Aristotle would call this good politics, in the sense of governing the whole community in ways that contribute to the flourishing of all in relation to the larger good for all—quite a contrast from the common story of heavily compensated CEOs who care little for how that looks to ordinary workers and how that undermines the common mission of the organization. It is no accident that DePree advocated Herman Miller’s policy of limiting the CEO’s annual cash compensation to no more than twenty times the average pay of a factory worker.81 The starting point, in DePree’s view, is to view people as persons and not as quantities to be manipulated for the bottom line.82 “Likewise,” writes DePree, “a short-term look at the financial status of a corporation or a dependence on immediate financial results will lead to a partial and perhaps twisted view of the whole picture.”83 Here we have a clear picture of the importance of attending to long-term relationships with whole persons taking precedence over profits.
And these relationships are not limited to those within the corporation. They extend to the larger society. “It seems to me,” writes DePree, “that our value system and world view should be as closely integrated into our work lives as they are integrated into our lives with our families, our churches, and our other activities and groups”84 To conserve those values, DePree argues that every group needs a “tribal storyteller” and that, “The penalty for failing to listen [to tribal storytellers] is to lose one’s history, one’s historical context, one’s binding values.”85 Not only must a business be a storied people, in DePree’s view, but it must practice the virtue of justice.86 Two expressions of justice outside of Herman Miller that DePreecites are its commitment to environmental stewardship and to voluntary work for agencies “whose purpose is the common good. We cannot live our lives isolated from the needs of society.”87 Living in just relationships that extend to the larger society helps us to re-embed business practices within a larger context of the common good, thereby helping us escape the iron cage of blind pursuit of money. Instead of loving money, a Christian business person loves her neighbors and the Creator God who initiates and sustains that love.88
Practicing the Virtue of Humility: Temperance Completed in Hope
A third virtue implicit in the Incarnation is the virtue of humility, the exercise of which helps one to attend to the goods internal to the practice of business rather than seek financial gain arrogantly for its own sake. Humility can be defined as having a realistic appraisal of oneself in relation to God, the world and others.89 And certainly such humility should extend to one’s appraisal of financial goals relative to other goals in a corporation’s mission—and relative to society and God. Certainly the humility embodied between the members of the Body of Christ can inform how those members work so that their work should look more like virtuous work that contributes to the Kingdom. We have a model for these practices, the ultimate mystery of self-imposed limitation: The Creator of the universe is willing to enter Mary’s womb and be born as a human child, to grow as a child and to die as a young adult. We are reminded here that we are called to humility and self-emptying. To evoke Philippians 2 again, profits and advantage are not “something to be grasped,” but only something that flows from self-sacrificing service. Aristotle worried that a commercial society that used money would free itself from the limited purposes of business (material provision) and would pursue monetary gain arrogantly for its own sake, but the church in its Christmas pageants, sermons and hymns rehearses Christ’s story of emptying himself and embracing limits. Thomas Merton writes, “If we accept this Infant as our God, then we accept our own obligation to grow with Him in a world of arrogant power and travel with Him as He ascends to Jerusalem and to the Cross, which is the denial of power.”90 Paul invokes God’s self-emptying embrace of limitations specifically in order to illustrate an attitude of humility (Phil. 2:1-4). A church that lives out of the Incarnation should inculcate self-sacrificial humility in its members, including those members that enter the business world.
DePree advocates an other-centered style of leadership, epitomized by his metaphor of a jazz band: “The leader of a jazz band has the beautiful opportunity to draw the best out of the other musicians. . . . [T]he leader must become a servantand a debtor.”91 After returning to the Christ-like virtues of service to others, he writes, “The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head, but the tone of the body. The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers.”92 Hence, his advice: “Try to think about a leader, in the words of the gospel writer Luke, as ‘one who serves.’”93 Using Christian language, DePree says that leaders must practice “reconciliation,” and that such a process cannot be hierarchical.94 He seemed to practice what he preached. Throughout his books, he describe sordinary Herman Miller employees whose work he admired or who came to him with problems. He made it a practice to meet once a month with twelve to fifteen employees with no agenda other than to listen.95 Humility emerges in some of the questions that leaders should ask themselves (according to DePree): “How long ago was it that I actually saw the products my business sells being made?” And, “How often do I say ‘I don’t know’?”96 He links humility to attentiveness to the actual process of making goods or providing services, closer to the “good carpentry” that Berry advocates. Instead of pursuing goods external to practice such as profits, humble service to the mission of an organization at least imitates Christ-like service to the Kingdom. While profits are “normal and essential . . . Why we get those results is more important.”97 Vince Lombardi said once that winning wasn’t everything; it was the only thing. But DePree worries about business mangers who think that profit is the only thing: “Profit gives us the chance to make a difference in the world, but profit is never more than a by-product.”98 The humble pursuit of servant leadership comes first and then results should be added to us.99Such humility is a kind of high-minded temperance that recognizes that one is not God, relying on “an unshakable firmness of hope . . . and the perfect peace of a fearless heart.”100 Knowing that we are not God liberates us. But to sustain humility we must receive the infused virtue of hope, trusting that the humble self-sacrifice of the Cross does in fact redeem the world through divine love and that our own sacrifices are not in vain. The question is whether our business practices are hopeful enough participate in and emulate divine love. One hopes they could be.
Conclusions and Implications
In contrast to proud managers who would emulate the likes of Robert McNamara, DePree argues that humble leaders should realize that financial success is only a byproduct of success in work, not a central concern. Perhaps for this reason, he states: “Being faithful is more important than being successful. If we are successful in the world’s eyes but unfaithful in terms of what we believe, then we fail.”101 As he puts it in Leadership Jazz, “Good work is the goal; recognition is a consequence.”102 It is hard to imagine a clearer defense of the idea that one should seek goods internal to practices for the right reasons. Thus, DePree’s work and writings form a contrast to those business leaders who have become enamored with monetary gain as a good external to the daily practices of good work. Instead, he argues for attention to one’s work that will find one’s character developed along the way. First, he champions an Incarnational approach to “touch” that attends to the physical work environment and the embodied human persons in a business. Second, he supports an Incarnational imperative to orchestrate harmony out of long-term relationships within the corporation, within the larger society and within Creation, in relation to shared purposes. And third, he promotes an Incarnational form of servant leadership with humility. In short, his attention to the development of the virtues within business itself, rather than to the pursuit of money, suggests that the pursuit of Kingdom virtues is partially realizable even in American business today.
Through the DePree case study, I sought to demonstrate that a “good and faithful corporation” (to quote Long again) can contribute to virtue and thereby bring business practice closer to the Great Economy of the Kingdom. In contrast to the pursuit of monetary values, a Kingdom business approach practices the Incarnational virtue of embodiment and attentiveness to physical realities—a virtue completed in faith in the goodness of Creation. In contrast to rationalization trends that focus on profits, a Kingdom business approach practices the Incarnational virtue of engaging in covenantal relationships that include wider communities—a virtue completed in receiving and sharing the gift of love of God and our neighbors. In contrast to the pursuit of financial goods external to the practice of sound work, a Kingdom business approach practices the Incarnational virtue of humility and servant leadership—a virtue completed in the Christian hope that the greatest sacrifice of self-emptying ends in exaltation.
If the story of the Kingdom has any meaning, we can hope that Christian business leaders would embody the virtues of the Incarnation chapter of that story, thereby challenging the “cash values” of profit-driven workplaces that neglect the mundane matters of work in favor of external goods that harm communities and Creation. Instead of thinking about business as making money, we might once again think of it as doing good work that participates in divine work.
If Christian business leaders began to operate with such a model of good and virtuous Kingdom work, what might that look like? In the so-called human resources area, it would start with friendships oriented toward common virtuous purposes within companies. Fostering friendship recognizes both our embodiment and our need for life in just and loving communities. I believe we know these when we see these and when we do not see these in the organizations within which we work. Dennis Bakke quotes an Oxford professor who says,
There’s a real difference between saying to your workers, “We care about your welfare because we do,” and saying, “We care about your welfare because that will make you work harder for us.” Employees can tell when values are genuine and when they’re adopted for ulterior purposes.103
Promoting genuine friendships around shared moral purposes will bypass such hypocrisy altogether. Organizations driven by a strong mission that is devoted to justice and the good of others can bond groups of friends together in pursuing the mission. The proper analogy here, of course, is the church at its best. Corporations must never replace the work of the church, but surely they can learn from it by analogy and participate in the Kingdom.
Practicing Christian virtue in business would also require taking risks rooted in the faith and hope that the Kingdom will triumph. It would entail making decisions primarily on the grounds of whether they promote virtue rather than on short-term or even long-term financial grounds. The real test here is whether businesspeople have the faith to make virtuous decisions even when such decisions are financially risky or guaranteed to cut into profits: Is it worth doing the right thing even when it causes you to lose money (at least in the short-term)? We must admit that sometimes moral excellence may get in the way of business effectiveness.104 If you are competing against Machiavelli, who has no scruples, you may lose out. While there are often situations where companies can “do well (financially) by doing good,” the tricky cases are those where doing the right thing will cause a loss of profits or risk the closure of a business. Fully aware that sometimes “nice guys do finish last” and fully aware of what happened to Jesus for his steadfast attention to the end of his work—death on a cross—I would not want to claim that all ethical businesses succeed.
But here is where faith and hope—trust in the economy of God’s Kingdom—enter the discussion and challenge the fear that rules business life all too often. The great fear in all market systems is that cheating and ethical shortcuts will win out, a fear modeled in the “defectors” in the game theory matrix of the Prisoners’ Dilemma. To use the language of game theory, if two competing companies, one Christian and one non-Christian, act for short-run material gain, the strategy of defecting (forsaking virtue) will be the dominant one in this scenario (cell 4 in Table 2).
To explicate the logic behind this last statement—and the logic of this table—let us say that our Christian Company practices virtue in the hope that it and the Machiavelli Company both end up in cell 1; this is the best of all possible worlds, with both companies practicing virtue. But the Christian Company knows that the Machiavelli Company likely will put aside moral scruples to benefit the bottom line; after all, the name alone should be a cue! Likely this will put the Christian Company at a competitive disadvantage relative to the Machiavelli Company, locking up Christian Company in cell 2, the worst possible situation, since it hamstrings the company against competition. In fact, it might put the Christian Company out of business while the Machiavelli Company rakes in record profits. So,for the sake of effectiveness, for the sake of keeping the business alive, for the sake of being relevant to the system by staying in it, what is to prevent the Christian Company from sacrificing ethical practices for the sake of financial gains? Indeed, the temptation is great, because the worst that could happen for Christian Company would be that both companies go straight for profit and compete on an equal basis (cell 4)—even though this is the worst outcome from the standpoint of virtue. And if the Machiavelli Company suddenly has an epiphany and starts implementing socially and environmentally responsible practices that cut into profits, Christian Company might be able to seize a competitive advantage (putting it in cell 3). Virtue may not be its own reward, and virtue might lead to failure. Therefore, it is safer to let profits trump it.
Of course, this highly simplified, purely hypothetical scenario assumes that Christian Company and Machiavelli Company have a choice, which means that they are privately held companies. But the problem is that both actors are constituted within a competitive system called the market that encourages vice over virtue in prioritizing profits as a measure of success and survival.105 And any publicly traded corporations in the United States must seek profits as part of their charters with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In fact, Christian businessman Dennis Bakke reports that his AES energy company conflicted with the SEC precisely because it sought other goals besides profit.106 Seeking first the Kingdom does not always breed success; sometimes it breeds conflict with other kingdoms.
Which brings us to the most radical thought of all, but one that is at the center of the Kingdom: it may be that some Christian business people will be called to be exemplary martyrs whose virtuous efforts fail in such a way that they point the world to Christ. To return briefly to our scenario, it may take Christian Company being spectacularly crushed by Machiavelli Company to help show others the economy of the Kingdom. Failure is a tall order to request of business people, but it would reflect the faith and trust in God’s provision that is essential to living out the Kingdom ethics of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and on the cross. After all, what looked like a failure on Good Friday turned out to be part of God’s economy. Without such radical steps of obedience, we may remain in the Iron Cage of the market’s Prisoners’ Dilemma for some time to come. With such courageous moves of obedience, it might be possible to live for the Kingdom within the business world of today.107
- Craig M. Gay, Cash Values: Money and the Erosion of Meaning in Today’s Society (Grand Rap-ids: Eerdmans, 2003).
- Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York:Charles Scribner ’s Sons, 1958), 181–83. On Weber, also see Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: AStudy in Moral Theory, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 26–30,74–75, 86, 109, 114–15.
- On the infusion of divine grace, see Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching: Intro-ducing the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), 122–29.
- Weber, The Protest Ethic, 53.
- Ibid., 182. On Weber, also see Bruno Dyck and David Schroeder, “Management, Theologyand Moral Points of View: Towards an Alternative to the Conventional Materialist-Individu-alist Ideal-Type of Management,” Journal of Management Studies 42 (June 2005): 705–35.
- Also see Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1958), 27–69; and Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 1989), 3–24, 211-33.
- Gay, 21–72. On the eclipse of sacred meaning, see Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge,MA.: Belknap Press, 2007).
John F. Kavanaugh, Following Christ in a Consumer Society: The Spirituality of Cultural Resis-tance, revised edition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 34–35; Angelo Matera, “The Popeand St. Joseph on Wall Street,” National Catholic Register (May 11-19, 2003), http://www.ncregister.com (accessed May 19, 2003); George Weigel, Witness to Hope: The Biographyof John Paul II (New York: Cliff Street/HarperCollins, 1999), 420–21; John Paul II, EncyclicalLetter Veritatis Splendor (August 6, 1993), sections 98–100, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor_en.html (accessed June 16, 2008); John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus(May 1, 1991), section 39, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_01051991_centesimus-annus_en.html (accessed June 16, 2008).
- Philip Goodchild, Theology of Money (London: SCM Press, 2007), 5, writes that money hasbecome the “value of values” or the measurement of worth.
- Aristotle, The Politics, trans. T. A. Sinclair (New York: Penguin, 1981), I.9–10, pp. 81–85.
- Ibid., 81.
- Paul J. Wadell, Friendship and the Moral Life (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press,1989), 42–43.
- Aristotle, Politics I.9, p. 83.
- The latter index is based on the theory of purchasing power parity, which starts from theassumption that the price of a Big Mac should be roughly the same when we control forexchange rates, thereby distinguishing mere fluctuations in currency value from other fac-tors that affect pricing.
See Frances Hutchinson, Mary Mellor and Wendy Olsen, The Politics of Money: TowardsSustainability and Economic Democracy (London: Pluto Press, 2002), 82–90. They argue thatKarl Marx’s interpretation in Capital is that distinctions between money and “real goods” area smokescreen. However, the point here is about the rhetorical application of economics. Forexample, the concept of opportunity costs suggests rhetorically that the real cost of some-thing is what you forego to get it in terms of the time-value of other opportunities (not thenominal dollar costs). But the reality is that the time is usually valued in terms of money.
- Aristotle, Politics, I.9, p. 84.
- Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 5th ed., ed.Edwin Canaan (London: Methuen, 1904), Book IV, chapter 2 http://www.econlib.org/LI-BRARY/Smith/smWN.html (accessed June 16, 2008).
- Aristotle, Politics, I.9, p. 85.
- Robert Kuttner, Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets (New York: Alfred A.Knopf, 1997), 39–67; also see Goodchild, 64, on how the pursuit of money overpowers “allexisting values.”
- Shawn Floyd reflects on this problem in “Morally Serious Pedagogy,” Christian Scholar’sReview 36 (Spring 2007): 245–61, at 255–56.
- For a description of a generation of management theorists who responded to this problem,see Eugene McCarraher, “Me, Myself, and Inc.: ‘Social Selfhood,’ Corporate Humanism, andReligious Longing in Management Theory, 1908-1956,” in Figures in the Carpet: Finding theHuman Person in the American Past, ed. Wilfred E. McClay (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).
- Christopher Shannon, Conspicuous Criticism: Tradition, the Individual, and Culture in ModernAmerican Social Thought, rev. ed. (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 2006), 14–15;Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers, 6th ed. (New York: Touchstone, 1986), 234–40.
- Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business(Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1977), 274–82; Lee Hardy, The Fabric of This World: Inquiriesinto Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990),128–40; and Robert Kanigel, The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma ofEfficiency (New York: Penguin, 1997).
- Errol Morris, “The Fog of War: Transcript,” Errol Morris Website, http://www.errolmorris.com/film/fow_transcript.html (accessed June 14, 2007). This account ismostly corroborated in Deborah Shapley, Promise and Power: The Life and Times of RobertMcNamara (Boston: Little, Brown, 1993), 60–62. David Halberstam, The Reckoning (New York:Avon Books, 1987), 206-07, 365–66, 373, offers a critical account based on Lee Iacocca’s “carguy” perspective.
- Shapley, 55.
- Halberstam, The Reckoning, 206. Also see Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (New York:Fawcett Crest, 1972), 263–95. In fairness, one must note that Halberstam held a grudgeMcNamara for playing a large role in the Vietnam War and blamed his focus on body counts.Shapley’s biography and Morris’s film, however, corroborate the thesis that McNamara em-phasized quantitative data.
- Halberstam, The Reckoning, 240, 371.
- Ibid., 635.
- Weber, 182. Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for pointing to this passage.
- Chandler, 476–83; Lawrence E. Mitchell, The Speculation Economy: How Finance TriumphedOver Industry (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2007), 271–79.
- Shapley, 21, 24.
- Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t (New York:Collins, 2001).
- Mitchell, 1.
- I am indebted to Fred Thomas for this point. The debate over the role of “car guys” in theautomotive business continued with the move of Robert Nardelli, former CEO of HomeDepot, to head Chrysler. Micheline Maynard, “Importing Chiefs, Detroit Reflects on Its ‘CarGuys’,” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/13/business/13auto.html (ac-cessed August 13, 2007).
- Mitchell, x.
- Wendell Berry, “Two Economies,” in On Moral Business: Classical and Contemporary Resourcesfor Ethics, eds. Max L. Stackhouse, Dennis P. McCann, Shirley Roels and Preston Williams(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 836.
- Thanks to Fred Thomas for this point.
- MacIntyre, 190.
- 0Ibid., 190–91.
- Robert C. Solomon, “Virtues and the Virtuous Manager: An Aristotelean [sic] Approach toBusiness Ethics,” in Thomas Donaldson and Patricia H. Werhane, eds., Ethical Issues in Busi-ness: A Philosophical Approach, 5th edition, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1996), 45–59; Dennis P. McCann and M. L. Brownsberger, “Management as a Social Practice: Rethink-ing Business Ethics after MacIntyre,” in Max L. Stackhouse et al., eds., On Moral Business(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 508–13.
- D. Stephen Long, Nancy Ruth Fox and Tripp York, Calculated Futures: Theology, Ethics, andEconomics (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007), 113.
- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Roger Crisp (New York: Cambridge University Press,2000).
- 4MacIntyre, 191.
- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, II.7, p. 32.
- MacIntyre, 151.
- Ibid., 151.
- Ibid., 152.
- However, for positive appraisals of MacIntyre in business ethics, see Charles M. Horvath,“Excellence v. Effectiveness: MacIntyre’s Critique of Business,” Business Ethics Quarterly 5:3(July 1995): 499–532; and Daryl Koehn, “A Role for Virtue Ethics in the Analysis of BusinessPractice,” Business Ethics Quarterly 5:3 (July 1995): 533–39. For a more skeptical account ofthe possibility of virtue in management theory, see McCarraher.
- Solomon, “Virtues and the Virtuous Manager,” 59. Aristotle, Politics, I.13, p. 94: “It is clearthen that in household-management [economics] the people are of greater importance thanthe inanimate property, and their virtue is of more account than that of the property whichwe call their wealth….”
- Robert Solomon, A Better Way to Think about Business (New York: Oxford University Press,1999), xxii, 46–48. Although Solomon mentions Aristotle’s focus on social and political con-text, he discusses this only in terms of relationships within the firm—not outside it. Also seeSolomon, Ethics and Excellence: Cooperation and Integrity in Business (New York: Oxford Uni-versity Press, 1993), 97–190. Koehn, 537–38, commends MacIntyre’s work for its attention tosocial context.
- Wadell, 47.
- St. Augustine, Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans, trans. John O’Meara (NewYork: Penguin Books, 1984), XIV.17, pp. 877–79.
- Berry, 836.
- However, see Horvath, 524, on the tension between excellence and effectiveness.
- Alexander Hill, Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace (Downers Grove, IL:InterVarsity Press, 1997), ch. 1–4. For another case study of Christian business that chal-lenged a profit-driven approach, see Dennis Bakke, Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach toFun on the Job (Seattle: PVG, 2005).
- Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, question 62, on the “theological virtues,” in TheSumma Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, 2nd ed., trans. Fathers of the English DominicanProvince, (1920), online edition: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2062.htm.
- See the critique of “Jesus CEO” in Michael Budde, “God is Not a Capitalist,” in God is Not:Religious, Nice, “One of Us,” an American, a Capitalist, ed. D. Brent Laytham (Grand Rapids:Brazos Press, 2004).
- Max DePree, Leadership Jazz (New York: Dell, 1992), 3.
- Max DePree, Leadership is an Art (New York: Dell, 1987), 76.
- Ibid., 34.
- 3Ibid., 113.
- 3Ibid., 114.
- DePree, Leadership Jazz, 89.
- Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966),186–88.
Practicing the Virtue of Covenantal Relationships: Justice Completed in Love
Second, the Incarnation shows how God values an embodiment that requires community and harmonious relationships, challenging the pursuit of abstract notions such as profits. Being created in the image of the Trinitarian God implies that we are created for relationships, just as the Godhead—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is a relational community of persons. Furthermore, since Jesus was born of a woman, born into a family, born into a village and born into friendships, the Incarnation affirmed social life. Therefore, Christian financial practices should reflect the operation of God’s relational economy, an operation summed up by D. Stephen Long this way: “The principle is quite simple: money does no work; people do. So when we assume our money to be working for us to make more money, we have not accurately described God’s economy.”67Long, Divine Economy, 239.
- DePree, Leadership is an Art, 25, 32–33, 50–53.
- Ibid., 52.
- Max DePree, “Reflections on Some Preserving Principles of Capitalism in a Democracy,” inThe Heart of a Business Ethic, ed. Donald D. Holt (Lanham, MD: University Press of America,2005), 81. See also DePree, Leadership is an Art, 23 and Leadership Jazz, 90–92.
- DePree, Leadership is an Art, 119.
- Ibid., 43.
- James O’Toole, “Foreword: History, Leadership, and a Vision for Corporate Life,” in Lead-ership is an Art, xx-xxi, says that when he visited a Herman Miller factory he could not tellmanagers from workers. On “intimacy,” see DePree, Leadership is an Art, 45–53.
- DePree, Leadership is an Art, 47–48.
- 8Ibid, 3.
- Ibid., 85.
- DePree, Leadership Jazz, 131. Cynics attentive to current practice will wonder about stockoptions beyond cash compensation. But this underscores the importance of leading withvirtue rather than following rules (and finding loopholes to benefit oneself while maintain-ing good public relations). A discussion of “virtuous business” within the communities ofthe corporation and society at large would require a detailed discussion of stock options inexecutive compensation to discern whether the Good or good public relations is the goal. Adiscussion of the details at Herman Miller in this light is a relevant but large task that isoutside the scope of this paper.
- DePree, Leadership is an Art, 7, 130–31.
- 3Ibid., 131.
- 84Ibid., 24.
- 84Ibid., 72.
- Ibid., 62, 130–34; also see DePree, Leadership Jazz, 11, 27–28; and Pieper, 43–113.
- For an attempt to ground humility theologically, see Stephen K. Moroney, Matthew P. Phelpsand Scott Waalkes, “Cultivating Humility in Students: Teaching Practices Rooted in Chris-tian Anthropology,” in The Schooled Heart: Moral Formation in American Higher Education, eds.Michael Beaty and Douglas V. Henry (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007).
- Piper, 112–13, cites Aquinas saying that justice without charity or love is not enough.
For an attempt to ground humility theologically, see Stephen K. Moroney, Matthew P. Phelpsand Scott Waalkes, “Cultivating Humility in Students: Teaching Practices Rooted in Chris-tian Anthropology,” in The Schooled Heart: Moral Formation in American Higher Education, eds.Michael Beaty and Douglas V. Henry (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007).
- Thomas Merton, Love and Living (New York: Harvest, 1979), 231.
- DePree, Leadership Jazz, 9; Leadership is an Art, 9.
- DePree, Leadership is an Art, 10.
- Ibid.; also see DePree, Leadership Jazz, 10–11.
- DePree, “Reflections,” 87.
- DePree, Leadership Jazz, 132–33. A discussion of whether Herman Miller continues DePree’svision is outside the scope of this paper. My sense is that the market has driven this publiclytraded company to become more like others since DePree’s retirement, but that only under-scores the importance of virtuous leadership that tacks against the market and that mighteven advocate changes in corporate governance to tamp down the profit motive. Mitchell,Speculation Economy, and Bakke, Joy at Work, 38–40, highlight the near-impossibility of pub-licly traded corporations pursuing anything but profit under current American law and Se-curities and Exchange Commission regulations.
- DePree, Leadership Jazz, 119.
- DePree, Leadership is an Art, 2.
DePree, Leadership Jazz, 191. Strikingly, DePree’s only major negative comments in his booksend up excoriating managers who are obsessed with quantification and financial yardsticksand who lose sight of the larger purpose and meaning of business. See DePree, LeadershipJazz, 137; and Leadership is an Art, 47, 63, 99–100, 137.
- DePree, Leadership is an Art, 83.
- Pieper, 190
- DePree, Leadership is an Art, 61, 129–32; also see DePree, Leadership Jazz, 137–39.
- DePree, Leadership Jazz, 107.
- Bakke, 27; the name of the professor is John Kay.
- Horvath, 524.
On “anarchic” systems as structures, see Kenneth Waltz, The Theory of International Politics(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), 79–128.
- Bakke, 38–40.
- Some portions of this paper were presented at the International Studies Association An-nual Meeting in New Orleans in March 2002. I am indebted to specific comments from ananonymous reviewer, from Fred Thomas and from Maria Lam that greatly improved thefinal draft. Thanks also to Becky Albertson and Jay Case for reading and responding to ear-lier versions. Jack Harris, Mike Ophardt, Ken Stoltzfus and Kenman Wong also offered help-ful comments in response to the thesis of the paper. Steve Long and Mike Budde providedinspiration and helpful reading suggestions at the Calvin College Seminar in Christian Schol-arship on Liturgical Identities in the summer of 2007. My thanks go out to Joel Carpenter,Marilyn Rottman and the staff at the Calvin Seminars office for providing the space to com-plete the research in business ethics.