‘Business activity is essentially “a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world”. God encourages us to develop the talents he gave us, and he has made our universe one of immense potential. In God’s plan, each individual is called to promote his or her own development,and this includes finding the best economic and technological means of multiplying goods and increasing wealth. Business abilities, which are a gift from God, should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities. The right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use.’Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti n. 123
I don’t think anyone really told me, growing up, just how good work itself is. I thought that some work is good, like charity work or teaching, some is bad, like selling drugs or spreading lies, and the rest (and the large majority) is morally neutral, and basically selfish. It was mainly working itself that corrected me.
In work, we add something to the world. We take our capabilities and materials, and make the world a better place, for ourselves and for others. There is a very deep moral value in that.
The fact that private businesses organise work in exchange for payment in no way detracts from this. Working for money is just a way of cooperating with another for mutual benefit. It is even a moral good to cooperate in such a way.
But we do need to make sure business is done right. Businesses are too often exploitative, taking advantage of their customers, their employees, or both. As Pope Francis puts it, they ‘should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities.‘ Whenever we are working with someone else, as a customer or an employee, we should always be looking out for their good as well as our own. If we don’t, we are con artists and robbers, taking advantage of others in their need, and it will also sour what could have been a fruitful relationship.
‘The right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use.‘ This is a hard teaching. Property rights always imply property responsibilities. We can and should use our resources for our own good and others’, but must never use or withhold resources to the harm of others.
We tend to think of property rights as something absolute, but the truth is they are a human creation, created and governed by society for the good of society. To make them absolute and deny the universal destination of goods is, in the words of the Church Fathers, nothing less than theft. This means there is no right to monopolise resources, to deny others the necessities of life, or to damage the natural environment.
This takes virtue, to insist upon working with and never against others, and for the good of all, but it’s a virtue that will pay off hugely, increasing the happiness and prosperity of everyone involved (and helps us avoid going to hell too).