In Dr. Barnes’ book, Redeeming Capitalism (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2018, pages 11-20), he writes about theologian Thomas Aquinas’ cardinal virtues: “prudence, justice, courage (or fortitude), and temperance (that is, moderation).” Any action or policy that is inconsistent with these virtues is a moral failure. Let’s explore each virtue in more detail:
St. Augustin’s defined “prudence as ‘the knowledge of what to seek and what to avoid,’ or more simply put, ‘what to want and what not to want.’ … The only ‘reasonable’ behavior is that which ‘prudently’ considers the impact of one’s conduct on all of society.” My company instituted strict compliance guidelines on trading limits for every trading employee. These limits were checked daily by non-trading employees (Finance and Compliance) and strictly enforced. Violations were documented with consequences, including dismissal. Why? Because trades that exceed authorized limits may financially harm the corporation and the wider community. Our business actions must not only be centered around our self-interests but expanded to uplift our community. Christians are taught to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:19) Christ’s teachings must be incorporated into capitalism.
“Aquinas defines justice as ‘a stable and lasting willingness to do the just thing for everyone’ and injustice as ‘unfair discrimination.’” My department managed the company’s long-term European gas contracts. During the post-2008 recession, all of these contracts went through multiple price reviews with billions of dollars at risk. During these stressful negotiations, I witnessed a few of our contractual counterparties going to arbitration hearings with unrealistic expectations. Millions of dollars in legal fees were spent unnecessarily. Why? Because they hoped to find an arbitrator who would give them more than they were entitled. Justice to them was defined as unfair gain. The result: our counterparties received far less than they requested. Both time and financial resources were needlessly wasted.
In my book, Trading With God, I wrote about courage in Step 4: Exhibit Christlike Character. (pages 153-155) This is a fundamental virtue within the demanding business world. Dr Barnes writes: “It is about resisting and even opposing those things are at enmity with virtue itself. … requires great fortitude in the face of adversity and, above all, moral courage in the face of temptation.” Governments and corporations have instituted whistleblower protection regulations that make it easier for courageous individuals to come forward and expose possible wrongdoings. Christian history is replete with courageous acts that began with the courageous life and death of Jesus Christ.
The fourth cardinal virtue is temperance (moderation). “Aquinas also understood that while desire for pleasure was both natural and useful, if left unchecked it had the potential to wreak havoc physically and spiritually. … Humility is chief among the subordinate virtues because it keeps our pride in check.”
Trading does not breed humility and gives egotism a large growth platform. First thing every morning, I received my department’s daily profit and loss report. If my department made money, I was left alone for the day as long as I could confirm that the gains were correct. If my team lost money and the loss was more than $5 million, my boss was sure to be in my office asking me what I was going to do to reverse the loss. Even under this grinding daily business pressure, I decided that my value as a person came from God and not my boss, business title, or corporation. I learned that I could be a competent businessman and a humble Christian.
“Ethical businesses require ethical business cultures, not just ethical executives.” Dr. Barnes makes a strong case that Christian virtues are needed to redeem capitalism. It starts with each of us taking a step towards the new creation.