I have recently been trying to express how our lawmakers and, especially, we, as citizens, must view the interaction between the government and business enterprises, especially the role of the government in regulating the economy. Bob Goudzwaard nails it:
In classical antiquity two distinct words were used to describe human economic activity: oikonomia and chrematistike. Oikonomia (the origin of our word economics) designated the behavior of the steward whose task it was to manage the estate entrusted to him in such a way that it would continue to bear fruit and thus provide a living for everyone who lived and worked on it. Central to this concept, therefore, was the maintenance of productive possessions on behalf of everyone involved. Chrematistike, however, meant something quite different. The word expressed the pursuit of self-enrichment, for ever greater monetary possessions, if need be at the expense of others. It is remarkable to observe that in western civilization the meaning of the word economics has increasingly become synonimous with chrematistike, while progressively it lost the meaning of oikonomia, the careful maintenance as steward on behalf of others of all that is entrusted to man.
A business is not run economically if it is efficient merely in a monetary sense. It is economically responsible only if it possesses the ability to render a net economic fruit.In terms of a normative-economic-cost-benefit analysis, many financially viable businesses may be called economic fiascos, whereas the opposite might be true of a number of businesses which are losing money. As an example of the first we might cite producers of goods which can actually be only marketed by means of intensive advertising campaigns, but which pollute the environment (either during production or consumption), are energy intensive, and use up the world’s supply of non-renewable resources. Another example would be would those firms which damage the health of their laborers during the process of production (health, too, is an economic good!), fail to use their workers’ mental capacities, or even brutalize them by over-doses of mechanization and deadening drudgery. Corporations can also fail economically — despite great apparent success from a financial point of view — in their operations in developing countries. . .
Business enterprises, in other words, should be genuinely economic organizations, that is, institutions of stewardship. That is the key norm by which they should be judged, without neglect of market forces . . .
In listening to each GOP presidential debate so far, I have been increasingly disappointed to hear all of the candidates, many of whom I believe to be Christians, fail to advocate a vision anywhere near what is stated above. I do not think I have heard the words justice, morality, fairness, or common good mentioned at all, much less in relation to the economy or any business practices. All too often, these candidates have adopted and baptized a partisan view of political economy, a mongrel offspring of libertarianism and corporatism. There is certainly a misconception today that the goal of good politics should be to try to get away with as little as possible on the wrongful belief that the best government is the least government. We must recover the full-orbed view of government that it has the important duty to be the champion of public justice and equity.