‘A moral adventure’

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By Harold Morgan

Enraged, many times, has been the reaction on the part of former Sen. Pete Domenici to hearing priests from his Catholic Church talk about business and entrepreneurship. Domenici shared this bit of his history as a way of saying how pleased he was to have found a priest — Rev. Robert Sirico — to talk to Catholic New Mexico about entrepreneurship via his Domenici Public Policy Conference.
The presentation from Sirico was part of moving the Pete V. Domenici Institute for Public Policy at New Mexico State University in the direction of helping New Mexicans understand free enterprise and entrepreneurship. The rationale for moving toward entrepreneurship is simple, Domenici said. It is the dearth of entrepreneurship on the part of New Mexicans.
The conference was Sept. 19 and 20 in Las Cruces. Sirico was the only male on the Sept. 19 program. Sirico heads the Acton Institute of Grand Rapids, Mich. The Institute’s mission, its newsletter says, “is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.”
Domenici charged Sirico with teaching Catholic priests the capitalist system.
The talk was about, as Sirico put it, “an important moral adventure we happen to call business.” But unlike so many chambers of commerce—the Association of Commerce and Industry comes to mind—he came down from this abstract level of “business.”
Business pronouncements from religious leaders “are kind of dour,” Sirico said.
One reason for the bad reputation of business comes from the relationship of clergy to money. For clergy, the money relationship is collecting it, redistributing it, and, though Sirico didn’t mention this part, taking a modest cut off the top.
Sometimes people in business do bad things. Clergy, too. The headlines—think Doug Vaughn and his Ponzi scheme—tarnish everyone else. Sirco’s answer was a rhetorical question, “It is only government regulators who are immaculately conceived?”
While listening to Sirico, the notion filters in that business is inherently a moral proposition, however imperfect. He talked of “the moral core of entrepreneurship.”
“There is something about entrepreneurship that has to be other regarding,” Sirico said. To this columnist, that seems a fancy way of stating the obvious—that people in business make products for other people, not for themselves.
The moral premise of business seems to be the other guy. An entrepreneur surveys the landscape and sees uses for things and ideas that people have missed. The entrepreneur finds ways to get these things and ideas to people who respond to the value in the product.
 The value comes from people—call them customers—seeing in the product or service the solution to a problem, meeting a need or even just a way to feel good.
People respond to the value by offering other things of value in exchange, money usually, because it simplifies the exchange. If enough people respond to make the business successful, wealth is created. If not, failure is one of the options in a free society.
Value is an idea, a perception. The value is for the good, nearly all the time. The reality of human imperfection means that sometimes the value goes the other way.
Creating wealth requires application of human intelligence to nature, Sirico said. To do that one must be free.
Wealth, then, is the result of a service we give to society.
Sirico didn’t mention President Obama. He didn’t have to. Far be it for me to be so shy.
This moral framework for our economic world, is far, far from the President’s “you didn’t build that” nonsense. The economic world of value, ideas, creation, and exchange is miles from the legalistic world of eliminating all risk and government eating the society.
Harold Morgan
New Mexico News Service