Over the years I have been deeply involved in fundraising, community development and what I call compassionate capitalism. I never saw capitalism any other way. Perhaps that is because my introduction to Christianity and business were both at the same time. I always saw business as a service first and a profit second. Ironically, most of the time I have experienced that the better the service the more profit there was.
I have always loved the concept of rewarding those that work hard to make a company succeed. I believe in giving incentive pay or better yet, employees some ownership. If incentive pay or ownership was not possible, at the very least good pay and benefits for those who make it all work. This is the part of capitalism that I love. But over the years I have witnessed a darker side of capitalism. A side that runs counter to the love, kindness, and generosity that we are taught in the scriptures. It is the capitalism that makes a profit at all costs. It is indifferent to the below poverty wages that 30% of American employees make or that between the 1970’s and into the new century, income declined for three out of five Americans. Rather it revels in the disproportionate income for those in the top management and stockholders, compared to the employees that work in the factories to generate the income. It’s not concerned about whole industries leaving tens of thousands unemployed because it can make it cheaper with a child workforce in a foreign land. It is oblivious to those that have labored for thirty years only to be let go in their fifties never to have the same earning potential again. It can have a factory, office, and warehouses not too far from the worst of neighborhoods and never do anything to lift the community out of poverty and crime. As long as it doesn’t affect the bottom line it is blind to the environmental or community consequences due to their business. Its leaders can live like Solomon all the while falsifying accounting eventually bankrupting the company leaving thousands without their pension or promised equity. It is this lust for greed and power that we as Christians must stand against. The time has come to call for action, to call for “compassionate capitalism.”
Some would say, “What does love or compassion have to do with it?”. They would insist that compassionate capitalism is an oxymoron, that capitalism is built on survival of the fittest and that there is no room for compassion. Yes, and once upon a time there were noblemen and the rest were serfs. Like that system was destroyed by the rank and file, if capitalism doesn’t start to care, it too will be overthrown. Already on the horizon are groundbreaking books like, The Divine Right of Capital that promotes the dethroning of corporate aristocracy for what Marjorie Kelly calls Economic Democracy; or Bill Jensen’s book, Work 2.0, which calls for new labor contracts and the realignment of corporate assets.
The truth is capitalism isn’t compassionate. People are. Perhaps we are better off calling for “compassionate capitalists.”. Patricia Panchak, Editor–n–Chief, of Industry Week pointed out in her March 2002 editorial, Capitalism At A Crossroad?, that according to a 2000 Business Week/Harris poll, when people were give a choice between the two phrases that they supported more strongly: “Corporations should have only one purpose – to make the most profit for their shareholders – and pursuit of that goal will be best for America in the long run.” –or– “Corporations should have more than one purpose. They also owe something to their workers and the communities in which they operate, and they should sometimes sacrifice some profit for the sake of making things better for their workers and communities.” – 95% percent of those surveyed choose the latter statement. They wanted a more caring corporation. Compassion is ultimately in the hands of those who profit from the system, not the system itself. As long as current financial statements dictate, there will be no change. People must rewrite the rules. Compassion is taking the high road, recognizing that it is God who has blessed us and choosing to give back in ways that honor Him.
Today there are great disparities among communities. Thirty minutes, perhaps an hour away from most of our homes, there is a different world. Not the people. They are so much like you and me. But the communities are broken down; they are without hope and have great need. In the Old Testament when Jerusalem was in ruins, Nehemiah heard the call of God to do something about it. In the same way, God calls to us today. He is calling for the collaboration of compassionate capitalists to rebuild our torn down communities. What will be our response?