How can we make goodness profitable?

1505042_10104496819180131_403384543_nWhen I wrote last week’s “Marx, Keynes, Friedman, Rand, and now Francis?” I hadn’t yet learned that Pope Francis had been named Time‘s Person of the Year. I had just seen this picture on Facebook with a quote from his first Evangelii Gaudium.

I thought, “What a concise and correct argument. This man has not only a true moral compass, but impeccable logic.” It’s one of the best critiques of supply-side theory I’ve read.

When Francis calls the trickle-down theory an “opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts,” he’s not relying on scripture or morals. He’s arguing facts. Nothing pope-y about it.

Specifically, he is saying that it is a proven fact that the pursuit of goodness, kindness, and happiness for the many is more profitable than the pursuit of mere money.

Is that true? Well, here’s one fact about money. When personal income is below about $60-70,000 US per year, people’s happiness goes down the less they make and goes up with increased income. But around $65K (depending on the study), the curve flattens and rises very little as you go into the millions.

Sure, going from 100K a year to 400K is a big change in material circumstances, but it brings headaches with it, too. And going from $5 million a year to $10 million a year doesn’t make you twice as happy. In fact, it doesn’t make you happier at all.

So if we accept it as fact that money, by itself, is no guarantee of happiness and that those who have a lot of it do not automatically become more generous or altruistic (another fact: the middle class gives a greater percentage of income to charity), then should we really base our whole economic system on that assumption?

Inalienable rights and wrongs

The writers of the Declaration of Independence changed the words “life, liberty, and property” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for a reason.

What if, instead of making money our main economic goal, in the hope that it will bring happiness, we just pursue happiness directly? Pursue happiness, and money will come as an inevitable side effect? Is that possible?

If that still seems impractical to you, consider that our moral values didn’t start out as a way to help us get into heaven or judge others or have philosophical debates. They were the rules for survival. They stood between us and death.

Don’t lie and people will trust you and protect you when you’re in danger.
Share what you have and next time you have nothing someone will share with you and in this way we can survive the hungry times.
Be kind and life is more worth living. You’ll need that will to live when things get hard.

We passed on such truths because we had seen others die from forgetting them.

At some point in our evolution, we had the luxury of straying from those rules of survival. We began to think that lying and cruelty were more profitable and a better investment, because sometimes they were.

Now, many people say sharing is socialism and kindness is weakness.

We still value these things, but we don’t automatically see them as profitable. Lay off workers or outsource operations and your stock will soar. Your only duty is to your shareholders.

Before we go off on the evils of capitalism or corporations, let’s remember that we are part of the problem, every one of us. No one has the right to blame or judge. Not when protesters buy their poster board at WalMart, drive gas-powered vehicles to the march, and wear T-shirts made in what some call sweatshops and workers call “better than my other option, slavery.” We’re all evil capitalists, like it or not. And thank God we are.

A while back I wrote about how the markets seemed divorced from reality. The steady stock market rally since March 2009 (despite Obama’s repeated attempts to destroy America) has not mirrored an equal increase in quality of life for the middle class and poor.

Stephen Colbert had a great insight into the disconnect. Bloomberg recently reported that companies rated the worst in customer service also had the biggest growth in their stock price.

There is a growing global movement of what some call New Capitalists. We believe that the world prospers when we count profits in terms of happiness, not only money, which has a mixed record as a source of happiness.

We believe the main function of an economy is to help people create opportunities to live dignified lives, doing meaningful work.

We also believe in real results. That’s why one of our self-evident truths is that morality is nice, but people generally do the right thing only when it seems less expensive than doing the dishonest, unkind thing.

If we are to believe that Pope Francis meant what he said, and did just throw down a great economic challenge to a billion Catholics and perhaps a few billion others, then those of us who agree with him must find a way to make markets better reflect reality.

That reality is that we prosper when we are kind, generous, honest, and living out of an abundance mentality. Not when we engage in cruelty (intentional or not), selfishness, and exploitation. When we fall into a scarcity mentality and play life as a zero-sum game.

In other words, when we are creative, rather than just competitive.

We must find a way to make goodness profitable. Like the moral truths of our ancestors, it is not just a nice idea, but a matter of survival.

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