We’ve all heard it a thousand times: business is all about money and greed. Just think of any business person you see in the movies. They’re almost always greedy. There’s Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. There’s the money-grubbing Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. There’s even that iconic tuxedo clad banker from the game of Monopoly. His name, by the way, is Uncle Pennybags.
As Christians, we know that greed is not good. On the contrary, it’s one of the seven deadly sins. Why is it deadly? It’s deadly because it leads, in the end, to idolatry. When we’re greedy, our possessions, our material wealth, take the place of God. But there’s only one true God.
That’s why Jesus told his disciples that “no one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
If business really were all about miserliness and serving money, that would be a big problem. It would mean faithful Catholics could only enter business by endangering their souls.
But is it true? The question isn’t whether there are greedy people in business. Of course there are. You can find greedy people in every profession: greedy doctors, greedy professors, maybe even a few greedy priests. It’s easy to think of some selfish business person or company that bills retired widows out of their life’s savings. But we often hear about them when they’re going bankrupt, or being charged with a crime. That doesn’t sound like a great business plan.
Here’s a better question: Is greed good for business? That is, do you need to be selfish to succeed in business?
The answer is an obvious “no.” Think about the real businesses you encounter every day, rather than the Hollywood stereotype: your grocery store, your barber, your dentist, your favorite restaurant or clothing store. You have a choice where you buy your meat, your vegetables, your socks and your t-shirts.
So why do you do business with them? It’s because they offer you something you need, at a price you’re willing to pay. Your local grocer can’t make you buy his bananas. He must not only find out what you want, but find a way to provide it, and do a better job at it than his competitors.
The late management guru Peter Drucker said that “the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” In a market economy, you can’t succeed in business, long term, without customers. It’s hard to get and keep customers if they think you’re selfish and trying to rip them off.
In other words, the best way to succeed in business isn’t to fall prey to greed. It’s not exploit your neighbors but to serve them. That sounds a lot like the second greatest commandment—to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
That’s not just good for the soul. It’s good for business.
The above are excerpts from the second episode of the TV Show A Force for Good hosted by Jay Richards and broadcasted on EWTN in May of 2017.
Jay Richards is an assistant research professor in the Busch School of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America.