(A Peek at Some Possibilities)
Is capitalism consistent with Unitarian Universalism’s SEVEN PRINCIPLES? Does it produce social justice and spiritual growth? Does it have the potential to do so?
Answering that question for the entire capitalist system seems to be the implication of the sermon title and the reading by Charles Handy ( The Hungry Spirit, 1998). Handy actually does that in his book. A framework for doing that might be a comparison of American individualistic capitalism with the social welfare forms of capitalism found in many of the other industrialized nations. Another approach would be to compare America’s broadly defined New Deal era ( 1930s–1970s) with the subsequent Bad Deal era of the 1980s to date. Robert Kuttner does a good job of that in his two books EVERYTHING FOR SALE (1997) and (The Squandering of America ( 2007).
I could have tried to do that. I could have discussed both parts of the Handy quotation, both the virtues and the vices. But that is far too complex a subject for a Sunday sermon. Instead, I want to focus on one-half of the Handy quotation, the virtues part. I plan to further narrow the focus by addressing Handy’s claim that capitalism has the virtue of promoting morality and community. And I plan to further narrow the focus by discussing the spiritual potential of one capitalist institution ……. Business.
THE ACADEMIC BACKGROUND
The background for this sermon and a reference to which you can go afterword is the American National Business Hall of Fame. I became involved with that organization at the time of its founding in 1972. The founders were a group of business school faculty who were concerned about the need for our students to be exposed to good business leader role models. So we launched a research program to identify examples, write their business success stories and find ways to get those stories into classrooms. One of the classroom presentation projects was a 50-minute slide illustrated lecture on business ethics. You can still view a version of that on YouTube ( search for the American National Business Hall of Fame videos) or on the hall of fame web site. That topic, business ethics, is what I plan to call your attention to today. But I’m redefining the topic as one aspect of spiritual capitalism. And I will argue that the capitalist business firm can be a vehicle for social justice and spiritual growth.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN THE REST OF THE SERMON
1. Definitions - I begin by defining spirituality and social justice
2. Business Ethics – I continue by using business hall of fame studies to shed light on the ethical potential of capitalist businesses.
3. Business Spirituality ( the highest level of ethics) and the vocational service ideal – I then introduce a case study of business spirituality and give the concept a new name, VOCATIONAL SERVICE.
4. I next offer some thoughts about the vocational service ideal becoming the basis of a spiritual capitalist system.
5. Those thoughts raise the issue of codes of ethics so I offer a couple of code suggestions
6. I end with a couple of ideas for bumper stickers.
Let’s begin by defining the concept of spirituality which I will be using. If we were involved in a multi-week Teaching Thursday program I would use Ken Wilber’s book INTEGRAL SPIRITUALITY for my definition. And I would use one of the Thursday sessions to explore his definition. But today I only have a few minutes to define the concept. So I will use humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs concept.
Maslow, you may recall, argued that humans have a limited number of basic needs which are arranged in a hierarchy. At the lowest level are survival and safety needs, in the middle are a collection of needs for community such as belonging, being appreciated and being respected. At the upper level are the needs for self-actualization and self-transcendence. I define spirituality in terms of those top two needs. Spiritual growth is the process of working toward meeting those needs.
I can also use Maslow’s hierarchy to define social justice. Social justice, I suggest, is a situation where all persons are able to satisfy their lower and middle level needs adequately enough to focus on meeting their self-actualization and self-transcendence needs. We’re talking about entitlements – basic income, health care, retirement income, safety net, education, housing, and so on, Entitlements should not be a word of opprobrium. It should be a word to describe spirituality in economic policy. If you have a neighbor who rails against entitlements in principle you need to encourage him to work on his spirituality and economic literacy.
BUSINESS ETHICS AND SPIRITUAL CAPITALISM
Let’s turn now to the issue of spiritualism at the level of the business firm. Again, I’m talking about potentials rather than probabilities. I will use the American National Business Hall of Fame program on business ethics as the framework for analysis.
If you viewed the business ethics program, here is what you would hear and see:
1. The opening question – Can a person behave ethically and still succeed in business?
2. The three possible ethical codes – exploitation ethic, ethic of justice, ethic of altruism
3. The distribution of laureates among the three possibilities - None at the lowest level. The rest at one or the other of the remaining two with the majority at the ethic of justice level.
4. The laureate’s adoption of the stakeholder view of ethical responsibility - A business has a responsibility to serve all stakeholders fairly – customers, employees, investors, suppliers, local community, and environment. Profit is a long run goal which depends on how well the other stakeholders are served.
5. For each stakeholder hall of fame laureates held specific goals. ----Typical laureate views regarding ethical responsibilities with regard to the first two stakeholder groups were as follows For customers the basic goals are fair price, fair quality, honesty in communications and refusal to deal with potential customers if a low level of ethics would be required. For workers, including management, the goals were good pay and increasing pay made possible by increased productivity, job security with long run continuing employment, providing an atmosphere conducive to daily happiness at work, and providing personal growth and a sense of meaning through work.
6. Identification of an ethical code to use to figure out what the typical laureate’s view would be with respect to other stakeholders --- suppliers, local community, investors, environment ----THE FOUR-WAY TEST.
THE VOCATIONAL SERVICE IDEAL - A CASE STUDY
In my opinion both the ethic of justice and the ethic of altruism represent spirituality at work in the business organization. They both reflect what is sometimes referred to in the business literature as the vocational service ideal. I like that term and for the rest of the sermon I will use it synonymously with the concept of spiritual capitalism when we’re talking about the business firm. Let’s now take a closer look at the vocational service ideal as it appeared and flourished at ServiceMaster, a company founded and led by three of our hall of fame laureates.
The story begins with the firm’s founder, Marion Wade. Born in 1989 Wade finished high school in 1912. For the next two and one half decades he made a living as a salesman. He sold insurance; he sold pots and pans; and he sold home moth-proofing services. He was good at selling. But he was also unethical. As he put it:
“Customer-stealing, commission-cutting, minimizing the importance of the fine print –all these were tricks of the trade I learned after becoming victim of them several times … It was a cutthroat racket … (It made me fast on my feet and enjoying the competition more than I despised the double-dealing.”
In 1930 Wade was selling home moth-proofing services when the company he worked for went broke. Teaming up with another man he started his own moth-proofing business. It was successful but remained small. It was also in 1930 that Wade became a deeply committed Christian and began daily reading of the Bible. For the next fourteen years he lived a double spiritual life … shady ethics at work and Christian ethics at home. As he put it:
“ I was trying to personally honor God, but I never tried this with my company because I had been trained in the school of competition which attests that religion and business don’t mix.”
Then, in 1944, there was an epiphany. A chemical explosion occurred while Wade was moth-proofing a closet. He lost his sight. For months he was confined to a hospital bed in darkness with nothing to do but think about his past and future lives. He prayed. He asked for forgiveness for his past behavior at work and promised to work as a Christian in the future if his sight returned. He vowed to transform his business into one where, in his words, “ Every employee, from top to bottom did his job for the Glory of God.” Wade’s sight returned; he went back to work and kept his promise or covenant. kept his promise. The results were gratifying. As he explains:
“ We began each day with a prayer and an acknowledgement of our commitment… We all felt the influence. We found ourselves undergoing changes in our attitudes toward each other as well as toward the job. We all got along better: there was more willingness to go the extra mile, to work the extra hour; and when disagreement arose, as it inevitably does, we were able to resolve it by a prompt discussion rather than carry grudges and lose tempers … The dedication brought new vitality into the group. We developed a new pride in doing a good job.”
What we see here is Wade’s attempt to create a spiritual company culture. Again in his words:
“When you work for the Lord you find yourself raising the level of your efforts. Your job becomes more than a job. It becomes a calling. It is now the ministry by which you glorify God. You work harder and you do a better job so that your efforts will please God who is now your silent partner.”
Over the next decade the firm experienced excellent growth. Three key partners were added, two of whom, Ken Hansen and Ken Wessner worked closely with Wade and succeeded Wade as company president. New lines of business were added. The ServiceMaster name was adopted (It meant “service to the master”. Policies were developed for the purpose of keeping the new spiritual culture strong. Four of those policies are worth mentioning because of their implications regarding what a spiritual capitalist company might look like. Those four are:
1. Don’t engage in competitive pay for employee performance. “ An employee is hired at a specific salary to do a specific job, and as the company prospers, so does he. But if he is willing to work a little harder only when he is baited by bonuses he really isn’t doing his job in the first place.”
2. Hire only people of high moral character. “ It is my duty to learn as much as I can about a man before I send him out to represent a company that is dedicated to the Lord.”
3. Delegate responsibility. “ We set policy at staff conferences, then each man goes back to his office to do his job, using his own brains and his own skills to make decisions.”
4. Dignify every job in the company. “ A job has only as much dignity as the man gives it, and the best way to dignify a job is to dedicate your efforts to the Glory of God.”
In 1957 Wade gave a talk about his company’s spiritual approach to business and how it energized the employees. The administrator of a nearby Catholic hospital was in the audience. Afterwards she contacted Wade, told him about the hospital’s problem with housekeeping. Employees performing that function exhibited poor attitudes toward their work and it showed in poor performance. There was high turnover. Could ServiceMaster take over the cleaning function at the hospital and work some of ServiceMaster’s magic there? Wade, Hansen and Wessner investigated the possibility and then decide to give it a try. It worked! The hospital cleaning crew became energized. That became the basis of ServiceMaster’s subsequent growth. By the late 1970s hospital service represented 95% of the company’s business. For ten years starting in 1978 ServiceMaster was the most profitable company on the Fortune 500 list of American service companies.
By then the academic community had discovered ServiceMaster. The Harvard Business School conducted two studies of the company. The studies verified the company’s claim that its policies energized the workers to feel proud of their work and to find meaning in it. Harvard found a number of other secrets to the company’s success including training procedures and ongoing research to develop new products which would increase employee productivity thus allowing the company to raise employee pay. Among the training approaches were in-hospital workshops which ServiceMaster workers attended jointly with the hospital’s doctors, nurses and administrators. The objective was to help all attendees see how vital the cleaning function was to patient recovery.
While Harvard was busy finding out what made ServiceMaster tick, the firm’s three top leaders were busy looking for a new mission statement. The initial reason for doing that was that managers were discovering much untapped talent among the entry level employees. A yearning to help those people develop their latent capabilities emerged. So added to the one mission statement, To Honor God in All We Do, was added a second statement, To Help People Develop.
I have been referring to the mindset of Marion Wade, Ken Hansen and Ken Wessner as spiritual ethics. It is the ingredient which defines spiritual capitalism at its best. Another name for the phenomenon is vocational service. Let me finish this sermon by using the term vocational service and speculating about the possibilities of it becoming widespread in capitalist economics.
FROM THE VOCATIONAL SERVICE IDEAL TO THE SPIRITUAL CAPITALISM IDEAL
A world of businesses imbued with the vocational service ideal would take us a long way toward the ideal of spiritual capitalism. One world-wide private sector community service organization actually promotes that vision. Rotary’s mission statement reads, “ The Object of Rotary is to encourage the ideal of service as the basis of worthy enterprise AND in particular foster acquaintance as an opportunity for service, high ethical standards in business and professions and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity for service.”
The mission statement goes on to suggest that the service ideal should apply to the other aspects of a Rotarian’s life AND presents this vision for world peace, “ Advancement of international understanding, good will and peace through a fellowship of business and professional persons united int the ideal of service.”
That is an inspiring ideal but by itself it requires that a large majority of the population voluntarily practice vocational service --- in business, in government, and elsewhere. But that alone is a bit utopian. Encouraging the spread of the vocational service ideal needs to be coupled with a comprehensive set of government rules for market behavior and government policies to do those things which markets cannot do or do adequately. As noted at the beginning of the literature on government economic policy is relatively advanced in this area. We know what can be done. But it won’t be adequately done until those in government adopt and are able to practices the vocational service mentality. Perhaps requiring fiduciary responsibility for elected officials would be a move in that direction. Imagine a cabinet secretary, a congressperson or a president being removed from office for failure to comply with the job’s mandatory fiduciary responsibility.
CODES OF ETHICS
Even a vocational service mentality backed by a comprehensive fiduciary laws won’t lead to perfection. But the shortfall can be reduced by practical codes of ethics. Rotary has an application here also. It is called THE FOUR WAY TEST of the things we think, say and do- Is it the Truth? Is it Fair to All Concerned? Will it build Good Will and Better Friendships? Will it be BENEFICIAL TO ALL CONCERNED?
Unitarian Universalism also has what could be called a code of ethics, our SEVEN PRINCIPLES. It’s a bit too long and somewhat indirect for daily use multiple times. But it is great for quiet review at the end of the day.
Let me conclude with a few suggestions for bumper stickers to promote the concept of vocational service and spiritual capitalism.
For the individual I suggest ----- Service Above Self ! One profits most who serves best.
For the entire capitalist system which includes the economy, the polity and the culture I suggest ----Vocational Service and Mandated Fiduciary Responsibility.
"Spiritual Capitalism" -- a sermon by Dr. Richard Hattwick on Oct 1, 2017 at 1stUUPB.