From The Order of Her Noodly Appendage
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Whither Capitalism[edit]

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? ... For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain." Is it for oxen that God is concerned? -- I Corinthians, 9:7-9

In our effort to understand the capitalist system and its future, what should we keep in mind? We should begin with a concept of persons.

First, as a Christian I believe each person is made in the image of God. For those of us who have received the gift of leadership from the people we lead, this belief has enormous implications.

Second, God has given people a great diversity of gifts. Understanding the diversity of our gifts enables us to begin taking the crucial step of trusting each other. The simple act of recognizing diversity in the corporate life helps us to appreciate and connect the great variety of gifts that people bring to the corporation.

Third, I believe that God, for reasons that we may not always understand, has provided us a population mix—a population mix for which leaders are held accountable.

This concept of persons within the capitalist system holds important implications for everybody—Christian or not. These implications lie primarily in the quality of our relationships. Relationships are at the heart and center of the capitalist system, both contractual relationships and deeper, more enabling covenantal relationships—two kinds of relationships discussed in the previous essay.

One of the great problems of the capitalist system during its first couple of hundred years is that it has been primarily an exclusive system. It has been built primarily around contractual relationships, and it has excluded too many people from both its process and a generally equitable distribution of results. The issue here is much more than financial reward: Most people never get opportunity to be meaningfully involved in the working of the system.

I do not know of a better system, but the capitalist system can be improved, both in practice and in theory, with the influence of an inclusive perspective. The aim is not primarily to improve the results, although that is a significant possibility. The aim is to embody the concept of persons, for a substantial concept of persons must underlie an inclusive system. A belief that every person brings an offering to a group requires us to include as many people as possible. Including people, if we believe in the intrinsic value of their diversity, will be the only path open to us.

It may be that the capitalist system cannot survive as an exclusive arrangement. In our social structures today we're under tremendous pressure, particularly from advertisers, to believe that we have an endless appetite for anything as long as it breathes an air of exclusiveness. Behind all of this lurks the idea of getting it for yourself! Take care of yourself! When one sits back quietly and thinks about it, these attitudes are, in fact, simply the implementation of selfishness. Exclusiveness breeds selfishness.

When God said we are made in his image, he placed no other qualification on that concept. So we are driven to see both the appropriateness of our diversity and the beauty and two-way nature of our interdependence. Therefore we reject exclusivity. We covet inclusiveness.

How can we begin to make capitalism an inclusive process? Well, there are a number of ways. First of all, by acknowledging both a Christian and a humanistic concept of people. Each of us is needed. Each of us has a gift to bring. Each of us is a social being and our institutions are social units. Each of us has a deep-seated desire to contribute.

An inclusive system requires us to be insiders. We are interdependent, really unable to be productive by ourselves. Interdependency requires lavish communications. Lavish communications and an exclusive process are contradictory.

One can define this inclusive approach in three ways. First, there are always certain marks of being included:

  • being needed
  • being involved
  • being cared about as an individual
  • fair wages and benefits
  • having the opportunity to do one's best (Only leaders willing to take risks can give this opportunity.)
  • having the opportunity to understand
  • having a piece of the action--productivity gains, profit sharing, ownership appreciation, seniority bonus

Second, the inclusive approach makes me think of a cooperation or business or institution as a place of fulfilled potential. For me it helps to think about the concept of a place of fulfilled potential by thinking about some gifts that leaders owe. Leadership is a condition of indebtedness. Leaders who have an inclusive attitude think of themselves as owing, at the very least, the following:

  • space: a gift to be what I can be
  • the opportunity to serve
  • the gift of challenge: we don't grow unless we're tested (constraints, like facts, are enabling friends)
  • the gift of meaning: not superfluous, but worthy; not superficial, but integral; not disposable, but permanent

Here are a couple of views about leadership and inclusiveness. I think it's fairly obvious which one I endorse.

At an American Management Association conference for presidents, an invited speaker in all seriousness said, “I want men that are vicious, grasping, and lusting for power.” He also gave us his version of the Golden Rule— “He who has the gold makes the rules.”

On the other hand, some time ago at a board of directors meeting I attended, Bill Stumpf, an industrial designer, then teaching at the University of Wisconsin, posed the following questions:

  • Should a cooperation challenge life?
  • Does the artist have a role in the cooperation?
  • What is the relationship of expectation to performance?
  • What warrants corporate existence?

Finally, here is a third way to understand and define an inclusive approach. Inclusive capitalism requires something from everyone. People must respond actively to inclusiveness. Naturally, there is a cost to belonging.

  • 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 in our efforts at insidership.
  • Cooperations can and should have a redemptive purpose. We need to weigh the pragmatic in the clarifying light of the moral. We must understand that reaching our potential is more important than reaching our goals.
  • We need to become vulnerable to each other. We owe each other the chance to reach our potential.
  • Belonging requires us to be willing and ready to risk. Risk is like change; it's not a choice.
  • Belonging requires intimacy. Being an insider is not a spectator sport. It means adding value. It means being fully and personally accountable. It means forgoing superficiality.
  • Last, we need to be learners together. The steady process of becoming goes on in most of us throughout our lifetime. We need to be searching for maturity, openness, and sensitivity.

When people fulfill these requirements, bear the cost, then the opportunities to be needed, to be involved, and to participate become rights.

The only way to keep these rights is to exercise them constructively, intelligently, cooperatively, and productively. Really including other people means helping them understand. It means giving others the chance to do their best. Being included, according to the diversity of our gifts, is fundamental to the equity that justice requires and inspires.

If one accepts the premises concerning the concept of persons, if one accepts the idea of covenantal relationships, if one seeks to practice the inclusive approach in the capitalist system, will it work? In the capitalist system there are standards of performance to be met, ratios to be maintained, service to be given, profits to be made, the future to be assured, jobs to be secured.

Can this approach work? I do not know for sure, but there are many encouraging signals and perhaps preliminary results. There are also real difficulties. This approach to management is not easy. It is very demanding and it can at times be discouraging because, after all, we are all human. Inclusiveness means including normal human problems in the system.

I am certainly aware of the growing sophistication of trained managers these days. They are a large part of the capitalist system. Their skills at quantification are admirable. But I sometimes wonder how often they focus on the spirit? Do they examine what will be important tomorrow and not just the operational matters of today?

Though necessary and desirable, it is easy to include people procedurally in committees, lunches, or even in profits, just as it is easy to write contracts.

It is more difficult, but far more important, to be committed to a cooperative concepts of persons, the diversity of human gifts, covenantal relationships, lavish communications, including everyone, and believing that leadership is a condition of indebtedness.

Even with this commitment, we should hope that our efforts at opening doors into the capitalistic system are never described in the words of an older Israeli who was quoted in National Geographic. She said, speaking of the younger Zionists: "They opened up the doors of the world, but they closed up the heavens forever." (National Geographic, 168, no. 1(July 1985): pp.4-5.)