Charles Koch has donated $10 million to the Busch Scool of Business and Economics at Catholic U. This will enable it to compete with top schools and be one of the few to educate the students with a Catholic mindset.
From the WSJ:
For those who regard capitalism and Christianity as mortal enemies, few villains loom as large as Charles Koch, whose name in some quarters has become a synonym for a system based on greed and exploitation. By his own admission, the libertarian-leaning billionaire is not religious. So why would such a man choose the Catholic University of America for a $10 million gift to help relaunch its business school?
The answer explodes many clichés, not only about Mr. Koch but about the morality he encourages with his philanthropy. Turns out the chairman and chief executive officer of Koch Industries finds two aspects of the Washington-based business school highly attractive: at the personal level, its emphasis on character and virtue; at the social level, its message that the right way to get ahead and contribute to your community is by creating wealth and opportunity for others.
It might come as a surprise that, at least for his own hires, Mr. Koch ranks virtue higher than talent. “We believe that talented people with bad values can do far more damage than virtuous people with lesser talents,” he says.
His gift to Catholic University came out of a business relationship with the man for whom the new business school is now named: Tim Busch. The two are partners in a golf course in California, and the more Mr. Busch heard Mr. Koch talk, the more Mr. Busch said he recognized a congruence between the principles of the Wichita-born industrialist and the university on whose board of trustees he served for 12 years.
“Tim always said, ‘You’re a Catholic but just don’t know it,’ ” says Mr. Koch. While he wouldn’t go that far, he will say he is attracted to Catholic University’s effort to put the human person at the heart of business life.
For many on the Catholic left, and increasingly on the Catholic right, the idea that free markets might advance Catholic social teaching is anathema. Indeed, when Mr. Koch’s foundation made its first million-dollar donation to Catholic University in 2013 (to promote research into “principled entrepreneurship”), the gift generated protest and outrage.
This columnist knows the program firsthand, having for years led classroom case studies about business ethics at what is now the Tim and Steph Busch School of Business and Economics. But this Thursday, Mr. Koch will himself appear at the university to participate in a conference whose title speaks to his own core message: “Good Profit: How Profitable Business Can Be a Force for Good.”
“One can be in business and pursue bad profit,” Mr. Koch explains. “That is, by practicing cronyism—rigging the system to undermine competition, innovation and opportunity, making others worse off. Good profit should lead you to improve your ability to help others improve their lives. But that’s not how many businesses act today.” For Mr. Koch, everything from protectionist restrictions on goods and services to subsidies for preferred industries to arbitrary licensing requirements promote bad profit by unfairly limiting competition.
This distinction between good and bad profit illuminates the fundamental difference between how Mr. Koch regards the market and how his critics do. In the view of the critics, free markets treat working men and women as commodities to be bought and sold, and only through strong government intervention can workers hope for a decent standard of living. In Mr. Koch’s view, the most important capital is human, and the truly free market is vital because it’s the only place where the little guy can use his or her own unique talents to offer better a product or service without being unfairly blocked from competing.
Ditto for workers, whose greatest protection is possible only in a dynamic, growing economy: The ability to tell the boss to “take this job and shove it”—secure in the knowledge that there is a good job available somewhere else.
This points to a key economic reality religious people tend to overlook: The opposite of market competition is not cooperation, as is often assumed. It’s collusion—and almost always the kind that benefits the haves over the have-nots. Which explains why the moral threat to capitalism these days comes not from socialism but from cronyism and corporate welfare.
Asked the biggest misimpression people have of him, Mr. Koch says it’s that he’s trying to “manipulate the system so that I can make more money.” At 81, he points out, he hardly needs more millions. What he wants to encourage, he says, is an economic system open enough so that ordinary people who work hard and have their own unique abilities can build lives of dignity and hope for their families.
Pope Francis has written that business can be a “noble vocation.” Mr. Koch is supporting the effort by Catholic University’s business school to produce more men and women who regard their careers this way. In this sense, could it be that Mr. Koch is doing the Lord’s work?