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Joseph Cioni, Sarah Cabral

Free Markets, Faith, and the Common Good

In this paper, we will address how the concepts of human dignity and the common good are being taught alongside a study of free market capitalism in the form of a senior elective at a prominent Jesuit business school. This paper will highlight the inspiration behind the creation of the course, present the questions, primary texts, and assignments of course, and, finally, explain the significance of such a course to the overarching goal of graduating men and women for others. As Edward DeBerri and James Hug once noted, Catholic Social Teaching (CST) has frequently been described as the Catholic Church’s “best kept secret.” The authors lament, “That the Church has a developed body of teaching on social, economic, political, and cultural matters and what that body says seem to have been forgotten - or have never been known - by a majority of the Roman Catholic community in the United States.” With a logic and unity of its own, not reducible to liberal or conservative principles, engaging with CST offers students principles for reflection, criteria for judgment, and guidelines for action that they can carry with them into their post-graduation lives. Students taking the course must address the tensions that characterize free market capitalism. They are asked to consider: Is it not the case that a commitment to free markets – emphasizing the protection of individual liberties, choices, and the right to self-determination – signifies a deep respect for human dignity? Or, is it the case that free market capitalism fails to adequately respect human dignity because it overemphasizes the importance of individual rights to the detriment of the community and the most vulnerable? Don’t free markets encourage us to be moral by creating incentives to be trustworthy, honest, frugal, industrious, and responsible? Or, rather, do they encourage us to consume too much, to be envious of others, and to be greedy? Throughout the course, the foundations and consequences of free markets are examined through the lens of CST. What is human dignity and its basis, according to CST? What does it mean to promote the common good? What does the preferential option for the poor require of us? What is solidarity and participation, and does inequality undermine them? The significance of this kind of elective allows senior business school students to revisit themes that they are introduced to in a required first-year ethics course at our institution. Without such an elective, students could be at risk of delegating ethics conversations to a class they took three years ago, when they had learned little about business. Providing senior elective courses centered on ethics means that students can think critically about business ethics both before and after having taken all or most of their required business school courses. This course can then serve as a capstone of their Jesuit business school education.