Many successful people of today are absolutely convinced that the "virtuousness" of successful entrepreneurs and business people doing what they do creates opportunities for the benefit of all in our society. I truly don't doubt that. That is exactly how Rockefeller and Roosevelt and Kennedy and Buffett and on and on felt. These people were as capitalistic as they come. What those people had and what is missing from many today who champion this "virtuousness" is two other principles.
One principle, in old fashioned language, is the principle of Noblesse Oblige. With their vast fortunes, the business leaders of the past set up foundations in an attempt to ensure more opportunities for more people. They recognized that the vagaries of the free market system, while the best system yet devised, does place obstacles in the way of far too many. They also recognized that despite their own vast wealth, it was not nearly enough to address the enormity of these obstacles. They recognized that the government was a vehicle needed to address the scale of the situation. Their conviction to that principle is what led those people to not only use their money to help, but lead in support of antislavery, child labor laws, voting rights for women, Social Security, mine safety laws, civil rights laws, and equal rights for women. Those people recognized that everyone may not be a hero who can rise above their circumstances. Those leaders in industry recognized their obligation to take the lead in advocating for a government that reaches back and offers a hand to others. Too many business leaders today believe they made it entirely on their own. Others who aren't able to achieve the same success are on their own.
The second principle the business icons understood was to never allow religious stances interfere with that virtuousness principle. The leaders of the past, for example, stood up to the outrageous activity of Father Charles Coughlin on the radio back in the 1930s, even though he was anti-communist. He was akin to what is going on today on much of cable TV "news." Those leaders of industry then virtually embarrassed him off the air. Those entrepreneurial leaders of the past would never have allowed the religious fervor that has, for example, resulted in legislative proposals that would make a criminal of any woman who is raped, gets pregnant and chooses to end that pregnancy.
While it may be true that the majority of our wealthy business people may do what they do to a certain degree out of virtuousness to benefit all, that is not enough. They must also reach to a higher calling as their predecessors did for over 100 years.
Mel MintzCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun