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Professor George E Garvey Addresses Conference on the Role of Solidarity in Business

 

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Can solidarity—love of others—coexist with the ideals of business in the marketplace? The idea lay at the heart of a two day conference on the campus of The Catholic University of America that drew together leading scholars and writers to examine an age-old question.
 
The conference, “Liberty and Solidarity: Living the Vocation to Business” was sponsored by the CUA School of Business and the Napa Institute. Its introductory statement framed the debate:  
 
“There appears to be a decline in confidence in the market economy as the engine of prosperity for all. A renewed focus on solidarity—love of others—in the marketplace could draw more people into the ‘circle of exchange,’ strengthen confidence in the market economy and drive greater liberty and prosperity.
But do the concepts of liberty and solidarity really belong together in commercial activity? What can we do to foster both liberty and solidarity in the contemporary economy? What ideas should be proposed and what practical steps can be taken? How should one live the vocation to business?”
 
Addressing the theme, Catholic University law school Professor George E. Garvey presented a paper on Sept. 25, titled “In what ways does the legal environment facilitate or hinder solidarity and subsidiarity in business?”
 
Garvey concluded that the concept of the “legal environment” is too broad to be addressed in a comprehensive way. Instead, he touched briefly on the profit-maximizing norm of corporate law and the mitigating effects of “stakeholder” laws. The law, Garvey concluded, cannot provide a substitute for the moral standards of owners and managers of business.  

The second example provided by Garvey addressed the evolution of labor laws, and of the related status of unions. For reasons that do not seem to be well understood, union membership and influence has decreased dramatically. One result has been the shift of legal focus from “labor law,” which is largely union focused, to “employment law.” This seems to leave a void in the institutional interaction between employers and employees. Only time and experience will tell if and how the mediating, subsidiary role of unions will be restored. 
 
Garvey finally spoke of what he identified as the American economic ethos, i.e. something more significant than an analysis of individual laws. In sum, the U.S. has always been committed to the freedom of men and women to determine their own economic destinies, and collectively that of the national economy, interacting through market transactions. This emphasis on free markets has been limited but also reinforced by two strains of legal developments over the past century or so: Antitrust laws in sectors of the economy where markets can work if monopolization is prevented; and more direct forms of economic regulations when markets fail or are imperfect. 

In contrast to most other developed nations, the U.S. relies primarily on free markets and free-market transactions to determine how the entire economic sector, and those operating within it, will meet the goals of solidarity and subsidiarity. Given our national economic ethos, business women and men who are ethical and well-grounded morally will determine how well the nation satisfies solidarity and subsidiarity in the American economic sector.