The True Calling of Capitalism

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Earlier this month, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation sponsored a seminar debating the role of faith in today’s global marketplace. Wait--What? Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has started a Faith Foundation? I had no idea, but apparently that’s what’s been going down across the pond these days with the tidy Mr. Blair, ever since his retirement from Prime Ministry of the United Kingdom. The Foundation’s mission is to “promote respect and understanding about the world's major religions and show how faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world.” Brilliant, Tony! Spot on! (Note my convincing British accent here.) The particular seminar that I am referring to was aptly entitled, “Faith in the Workplace?” Yes, the squeaky little question mark is there on purpose. Like I said, it was a debate. One of the Keynote speakers was former investment-banker-turned global Work and Faith guru, Ken Costa, who is the author of the book God at Work. Although I am sure Ken Kosta was a fine choice for this seminar, I was ever-so-slightly offended that Tony didn’t think of inviting me to speak at this event, since I had done such a smashing job at Princeton Seminary’s prestigious Leadership & Spirituality seminar last week, where I presented my “Five Rules of Spiritual Engagement at Work” to a capacity crowd (it was a very small room). But I suppose Ken Costa has a leg up on me because, well, first of all he is also a Londoner, like Tony, which must count for about 90% of the selection criteria. Plus he has that clever book title going for him, God at Work. All I have is a lousy Blog with a camel in it. And, so, yeah, okay, Mr. Kosta also has a vast amount of global business and financial experience compared to me, so I guess he was a pretty good speaker choice after all. Anyway, Ken’s message was one of tapping into the faith of workers to rebuild trust in the workings of the economy, especially as we sit on the haunches of recovery from an unprecedented global financial meltdown caused by, what else, but excessive greed trumping the better part of reason. He suggested that if our corporate cultures had allowed more expression of faith in the workplace to begin with, then perhaps those financial shenanigans would have been called out a lot sooner, or maybe never would have happened at all. Ken Kosta puts a lot of faith in faith in the workplace. “The reality,” he says, “is that religious believers possess tremendous resources to promote exactly the sort of values that are required to build solid foundations for the global economy.” Good point. You can read the entire transcript here, but there was one particular quote from Mr. Kosta that really stood out to me, that captured the essence of the ideal co-mingling of faith and capitalism. I thought it was equally clever as it was true: “Religious believers are well placed to building up a market place concerned not only with producing goods and services but to producing those things that really are good and of service.” This caught my attention, because it sounded more like something that would come out of the mouth of someone like Bono or Marcus Goodyear. In fact, last week, Marcus Goodyear, Senior Editor here at The High Calling, had run a post highlighting an article from Fast Company magazine that more or less spoke to this same idea-–namely that of companies doing good rather than producing goods. After several comments were bantered back and forth defending our own companies’ commitments to “doing good,” Marcus finally asked the provocative question, “Does Capitalism need to be re-branded?” Well, I think, yes. Probably more like an extreme makeover. Because, as Mr. Kosta says, capitalism has a true calling: it is to create real goodness and to provide true service, for the benefit of everyone, rather than merely producing goods and services that benefit only the shareholders. We need to be reminded of that and to participate actively in it. Our work then transcends from a bland obsession with tangible outputs, to a meaningful contribution of fundamental goodness to the world. I think that is how God designed it to be. It’s how He designed us to be. Try to remember that today as you go about your business. Maybe Mr. Kosta read that very same post before he gave his speech, and saw Marcus’s comment. Brush up on your British culture, Marcus, because you’ll probably be the one to get the call from Tony Blair next year.