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Work priorities to include dignity and future, as discussed at the meeting between the Pope and entrepreneurs

“We were born and raised amongst labourers, machinery and corporate developments and we soon learned to love work, workers and our Company, which embodied the best parts of our life.” Words that Alberto Pirelli wrote in April 1946, just as Italy, soon after the havoc wreaked by the war and the fascist dictatorship, was tentatively drafting its Constitution and, through it, new democratic and civic tenets, as well as building new and stronger foundations for economic and social development. Those were painful, difficult times, yet, even so, full of hope and faith in a better future. Angelo Costa, the president of territorial entrepreneurial institution Confindustria and Giuseppe di Vittorio, general secretary of the Italian national trade union CGIL – two men whose political positioning, cultural roots and social plans differed considerably – reached a pact concerning the reconstruction, which prioritised work: “first the factories then the houses”, and, in fact, “work” laid at the heart of the Constitution and of the new Italy.

Work, then, and the enterprises that generate it. The dignity that people find in work, as well as the development it entails. A social pact for growth. Words whose underlying meaning echoes that expressed by Alberto Pirelli, and that also resonated through the speeches that rationalised the paths undertaken by Enrico Mattei, founder of Italian energy company Eni, Oscar Sinigaglia, head of IRI (Institute for Industrial Reconstruction), Adriano Olivetti (whose family business soon became an exemplary model of positive relationship between industry and community), as well as a long series of other entrepreneurs who, in the big industrial cities and within industrious manufacturing regions, paved the way for the Italian economic boom. This underlying attitude, both ancient and modern, is best encapsulated by the words of the great historian Carlo Maria Cipolla: “Since the Middle Ages, Italians have been accustomed to producing beautiful things that the world likes in the shadow of bell towers.” Work, creativity, beauty (i.e. design, Italy’s pre-eminent cultural trait), quality manufacturing, the past and future of productive areas. Productivity and social inclusion in factories where rights and duties intersected, and people learned how to become citizens, too.

The long cultural, social and – why not? – ethical thread (“the morals of the lathe”, or, true industrial integrity) running through the history of work connects it to the history of Italian enterprise and to the choice made by Confindustria to hold its Assembly, last Monday, at the Sala Nervi at the Vatican. An event that included a meeting with Pope Francis and an audience of 5,000 people (entrepreneurs, members of Confindustria and their families). The president of Confindustria Carlo Bonomi emphasised the notions of work, dignity and future, while Pope Francis, also on the topic of work, focused on the needs of women and young people, further addressing, with some sternness, some of the issues tied to corporate responsibilities: the sharing of wealth through the “generation of work”, the safeguarding of rights concerning working mothers, the avoidance of excessive pay gaps. Indeed, Pope Francis was very clear on the latter, stating, “Despite the existence of different ranks and functions, wages cannot diverge too much. If the gap between highest and lowest salaries widens inordinately, the corporate community will sicken and, soon, the same will be with society.” And, more in general, he added, “Nowadays, the value attributed to work is not high enough,” especially when compared “to the value attributed to profits and top managers’ income.”

Thus, we should go back to core corporate values and, to this effect, Pope Francis provided an effective metaphor: “In the Church, we are all shepherds. If we no longer smell like sheep, we are no longer shepherds. The same is true for entrepreneurs, if they no longer smell like work…” – that is, the smell of industry, manufacturing, the factory, shared commitment, struggles, faith, hope.

Yet another matter addressed by Pope Francis was that of taxation – he urged companies not to shirk their duties, as taxes are a necessary obligation on the path of sharing: “The fiscal pact lies at the heart of the social pact”, he stated. As such, paying taxes, “which should be ‘fair’ and ‘equitable’” as the Constitution dictates, should not be perceived as “robbery” but as “a different form of wealth-sharing.”

Here, Pope Francis’s observation touches on an issue that the economic community has been debating for a long time: the damages caused by the greed of financial speculation, which, by exacerbating inequalities, harmed the production economy and disrupted the social balance. Economic players are increasingly aware of the need to prioritise an economy built on stakeholder values (concerning the community, employers, consumers, suppliers) rather than one ruled by shareholder values (pertaining stock profits and prices) and, therefore, the need to build economic models and mechanisms focused on environmental and social sustainability. Pope Francis’s rebuke could accelerate and consolidate such research and intervention activities.

These are the synergies that make the power of dialogue apparent and that highlight the similarities between different worlds such as Church and industry. The Holy Scriptures – as Pope Francis reminded entrepreneurs – talk of Judas’s 30 pieces of silver, but also of the Good Samaritan’s two silver coins, as well as of talents put to good use, vines grown with wisdom and knowledge, the merchants chased by Jesus out of the temple, and the benevolence of the wealthy. It’s a matter of choosing to do, do well and do good (an attitude that, incidentally, is rather widespread in Italian companies) and of conceiving companies not merely as entities confined by entrepreneurs’ actions and interests, but rather as “communities” of people collaborating for “the common good”.

Bonomi, by appealing to the best corporate culture that’s prevalent in the manufacturing world, mentioned “industrial humanism” and sustainability issues. And, indeed, the “Manifesto of Assisi” – presented in January 2020, promoted by the Symbola Foundation, the Franciscans of the Basilica of Assisi and signed by a number of prominent figures in society, culture and economy (including Confindustria and territorial entrepreneurial institution Assolombarda) – mostly reflects a philosophy that sees the Catholic and the entrepreneurial worlds interlinked within a deep and beneficial dialectic relationship. In fact, “the fair economy” is a common goal, urged by both the Pope’s encyclicals and by theories of economics that reread and reinterpret the teachings of John Maynard Keynes to relaunch a form of responsible liberalism with pronounced social leanings. The quality of sustainable development is another shared aim, particularly with the next generation in mind – something that, as current political strategies show, is a priority for Europe, too.

Yet another step forward could be taken if we examined more in depth the common roots shared by religious thought and financial activities. A topic that, in fact, is being tackled by some recently published good books, such as Tra cielo e terra. Economia e finanza nella Bibbia (Between heaven and earth. Economy and finance in the Bible) by Carlo Bellavite Pellegrini, published by Egea. And, above all, Capitalismo meridiano. Alle radici dello spirito mercantile tra religione e profitto (Meridian capitalism. Getting to the roots of the trading spirit amidst religion and profit) by Luigino Bruni, published by Il Mulino: after the Middle Ages, an era marked by the “great rules of market economy”, the path split into two. On one side, the Protestant Reformation and the teachings of Luther and Calvin (the same Protestant ethics at the core of Max Weber’s capitalism) led to a “Nordic model of capitalism”. On the other, the culture of Tuscan mercatores (private merchants) and Franciscans moulded what became, indeed, a new “meridian capitalism”. A wealth of ideas and practices, all still particularly useful today, as we reappraise the roles and future of entrepreneurship in terms of values, wealth and well-being, social inclusion – all attained through work, in point of fact. With a warning, however, as reiterated by Bruni: “The European economy was conceived by a spirit larger than the trading spirit. And if it were to lose this larger spirit, it’d be in serious danger of extinguishing itself.”

“We were born and raised amongst labourers, machinery and corporate developments and we soon learned to love work, workers and our Company, which embodied the best parts of our life.” Words that Alberto Pirelli wrote in April 1946, just as Italy, soon after the havoc wreaked by the war and the fascist dictatorship, was tentatively drafting its Constitution and, through it, new democratic and civic tenets, as well as building new and stronger foundations for economic and social development. Those were painful, difficult times, yet, even so, full of hope and faith in a better future. Angelo Costa, the president of territorial entrepreneurial institution Confindustria and Giuseppe di Vittorio, general secretary of the Italian national trade union CGIL – two men whose political positioning, cultural roots and social plans differed considerably – reached a pact concerning the reconstruction, which prioritised work: “first the factories then the houses”, and, in fact, “work” laid at the heart of the Constitution and of the new Italy.

Work, then, and the enterprises that generate it. The dignity that people find in work, as well as the development it entails. A social pact for growth. Words whose underlying meaning echoes that expressed by Alberto Pirelli, and that also resonated through the speeches that rationalised the paths undertaken by Enrico Mattei, founder of Italian energy company Eni, Oscar Sinigaglia, head of IRI (Institute for Industrial Reconstruction), Adriano Olivetti (whose family business soon became an exemplary model of positive relationship between industry and community), as well as a long series of other entrepreneurs who, in the big industrial cities and within industrious manufacturing regions, paved the way for the Italian economic boom. This underlying attitude, both ancient and modern, is best encapsulated by the words of the great historian Carlo Maria Cipolla: “Since the Middle Ages, Italians have been accustomed to producing beautiful things that the world likes in the shadow of bell towers.” Work, creativity, beauty (i.e. design, Italy’s pre-eminent cultural trait), quality manufacturing, the past and future of productive areas. Productivity and social inclusion in factories where rights and duties intersected, and people learned how to become citizens, too.

The long cultural, social and – why not? – ethical thread (“the morals of the lathe”, or, true industrial integrity) running through the history of work connects it to the history of Italian enterprise and to the choice made by Confindustria to hold its Assembly, last Monday, at the Sala Nervi at the Vatican. An event that included a meeting with Pope Francis and an audience of 5,000 people (entrepreneurs, members of Confindustria and their families). The president of Confindustria Carlo Bonomi emphasised the notions of work, dignity and future, while Pope Francis, also on the topic of work, focused on the needs of women and young people, further addressing, with some sternness, some of the issues tied to corporate responsibilities: the sharing of wealth through the “generation of work”, the safeguarding of rights concerning working mothers, the avoidance of excessive pay gaps. Indeed, Pope Francis was very clear on the latter, stating, “Despite the existence of different ranks and functions, wages cannot diverge too much. If the gap between highest and lowest salaries widens inordinately, the corporate community will sicken and, soon, the same will be with society.” And, more in general, he added, “Nowadays, the value attributed to work is not high enough,” especially when compared “to the value attributed to profits and top managers’ income.”

Thus, we should go back to core corporate values and, to this effect, Pope Francis provided an effective metaphor: “In the Church, we are all shepherds. If we no longer smell like sheep, we are no longer shepherds. The same is true for entrepreneurs, if they no longer smell like work…” – that is, the smell of industry, manufacturing, the factory, shared commitment, struggles, faith, hope.

Yet another matter addressed by Pope Francis was that of taxation – he urged companies not to shirk their duties, as taxes are a necessary obligation on the path of sharing: “The fiscal pact lies at the heart of the social pact”, he stated. As such, paying taxes, “which should be ‘fair’ and ‘equitable’” as the Constitution dictates, should not be perceived as “robbery” but as “a different form of wealth-sharing.”

Here, Pope Francis’s observation touches on an issue that the economic community has been debating for a long time: the damages caused by the greed of financial speculation, which, by exacerbating inequalities, harmed the production economy and disrupted the social balance. Economic players are increasingly aware of the need to prioritise an economy built on stakeholder values (concerning the community, employers, consumers, suppliers) rather than one ruled by shareholder values (pertaining stock profits and prices) and, therefore, the need to build economic models and mechanisms focused on environmental and social sustainability. Pope Francis’s rebuke could accelerate and consolidate such research and intervention activities.

These are the synergies that make the power of dialogue apparent and that highlight the similarities between different worlds such as Church and industry. The Holy Scriptures – as Pope Francis reminded entrepreneurs – talk of Judas’s 30 pieces of silver, but also of the Good Samaritan’s two silver coins, as well as of talents put to good use, vines grown with wisdom and knowledge, the merchants chased by Jesus out of the temple, and the benevolence of the wealthy. It’s a matter of choosing to do, do well and do good (an attitude that, incidentally, is rather widespread in Italian companies) and of conceiving companies not merely as entities confined by entrepreneurs’ actions and interests, but rather as “communities” of people collaborating for “the common good”.

Bonomi, by appealing to the best corporate culture that’s prevalent in the manufacturing world, mentioned “industrial humanism” and sustainability issues. And, indeed, the “Manifesto of Assisi” – presented in January 2020, promoted by the Symbola Foundation, the Franciscans of the Basilica of Assisi and signed by a number of prominent figures in society, culture and economy (including Confindustria and territorial entrepreneurial institution Assolombarda) – mostly reflects a philosophy that sees the Catholic and the entrepreneurial worlds interlinked within a deep and beneficial dialectic relationship. In fact, “the fair economy” is a common goal, urged by both the Pope’s encyclicals and by theories of economics that reread and reinterpret the teachings of John Maynard Keynes to relaunch a form of responsible liberalism with pronounced social leanings. The quality of sustainable development is another shared aim, particularly with the next generation in mind – something that, as current political strategies show, is a priority for Europe, too.

Yet another step forward could be taken if we examined more in depth the common roots shared by religious thought and financial activities. A topic that, in fact, is being tackled by some recently published good books, such as Tra cielo e terra. Economia e finanza nella Bibbia (Between heaven and earth. Economy and finance in the Bible) by Carlo Bellavite Pellegrini, published by Egea. And, above all, Capitalismo meridiano. Alle radici dello spirito mercantile tra religione e profitto (Meridian capitalism. Getting to the roots of the trading spirit amidst religion and profit) by Luigino Bruni, published by Il Mulino: after the Middle Ages, an era marked by the “great rules of market economy”, the path split into two. On one side, the Protestant Reformation and the teachings of Luther and Calvin (the same Protestant ethics at the core of Max Weber’s capitalism) led to a “Nordic model of capitalism”. On the other, the culture of Tuscan mercatores (private merchants) and Franciscans moulded what became, indeed, a new “meridian capitalism”. A wealth of ideas and practices, all still particularly useful today, as we reappraise the roles and future of entrepreneurship in terms of values, wealth and well-being, social inclusion – all attained through work, in point of fact. With a warning, however, as reiterated by Bruni: “The European economy was conceived by a spirit larger than the trading spirit. And if it were to lose this larger spirit, it’d be in serious danger of extinguishing itself.”