Friends in Business
"Good evening, endangered species," I began my talk at the October dinner of Philadelphia Friends in Business. I had been invited by Thom Jeavons, General Secretary of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, who explained: "This group been gathering for several years for fellowship, and to explore common interests. It does not seek to stand apart from other Friends, but enjoys these opportunities to reflect on the intersections between their faith and their professional lives."
How did other Friends feel about them? I was thinking of Mark Cary's analysis of Quaker attitudes toward business, which you will find as TQE #40. In his research, Mark had found that unprogrammed Friends have negative attitudes toward business and capitalism. So, how does it feel to be a Quaker businessperson, I asked my audience?
Here they were, they said, the class that produces the goods and services that we all need and enjoy, yet our class is disparaged. Many economists and businesspeople have left their Meetings (I know several) because they did not feel at home with the political attitudes of fellow worshipers. How many more have failed to join for that same reason we can only imagine.
Unprogrammed Friends are turning themselves into political caucuses for the Democrat and Green parties, and politics now supersedes religion. At one point I asked my own Meeting (Boulder, Colorado) how many in an audience of about fifty were Republicans. Not a hand went up. (Among the Philadelphia businesspeople I was talking to, several were Republicans, several Democrats, and only one "tended" toward the Greens.)
Cannot persons of any political persuasion have that of God within them? May they not worship in a silent Meeting and believe in business decisions by the Sense of the Meeting? Many persons of integrity do not hold the political positions of unprogrammed Friends today. But I believe our emphasis on Democrat ("liberal") or Green sentiments causes businesspeople and economists not to feel at home with us.
One business Friend asked how my economic beliefs differ from those of unprogrammed Friends. Here are several ways. I believe:
Is that enough? There are more.
In graduate school over fifty years ago, a friend and I debated a world of do-ers versus one of teachers. "If I can teach two students to do what I would do if I were a do-er," I said, "then the world is twice as well off because I am a teacher." "Yes, she replied, but if we were all teachers, there would be no do-ers." We laughed as we agreed that the world needs both do-ers and teachers. Yet unprogrammed Friends these days look down on the do-ers of business as we become more heavily teachers and professionals whose spiritual values, we arrogantly think, are superior to those of profit-seeking business people.
The Friends in business discussed putting their Quaker values into practice in business. They agreed that integrity is a virtue no matter what we do. Produce quality goods and services, pay going wages, and treat workers, customers, and suppliers as we would family. Seventeenth-century Friends did just that. But in those days, businesspeople as a class were not stereotyped negatively as they are today.
The business Friends wanted to know how unprogrammed Friends had evolved into a political group that made their fellow businesspeople and classical economists unwelcome among us. I suggested it was largely the Vietnam War, in which social rebels were attracted toward Quakers because we were pacifist. Most of us are pacifist, but tying pacifism to certain political beliefs damages our credibility and our religion. These newcomers took over our Society and now represent the dominant thought.
The Quaker businesspeople agreed, but they also thought a new generation is coming forth, one that understands how the business world functions, and feels more at home in it. Our younger people recognize socialism, not for its platitudes, but as a tyrannical society controlled by murderous elites.
Sincerely your friend,
Stephen Williams, Bethesda (MD) Friends Meeting.
Thank you for once again cutting through some of the naïve fog that surrounds the thought process of many Quakers on important issues of the day. Many Quakers, I'm sad to say, believe wholeheartedly in diversity except when it comes to ideas.
Michael Schefer, Philadelphia PA, children in Germantown Friends School
Once again you have spoke my mind. As a Friend who at 63 is starting a new business, I find myself more and more uncomfortable around unprogrammed Friends. They simply hate capitalism and profits, largely because they misunderstand both. I hear it often in their pronouncements. And they adore central planning which has offered little but failure since the French Revolution. Along with hating capitalism, unprogrammed Friends also hate America, except, of course, the little latte enclaves (see Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks). What I find most distressing is that most unprogrammed Friends have some link to a university or college, but fail to acknowledge that their very jobs depend on the continued success of capitalism. Without a successful stock market, endowments would shrink and without donors, taxpayers and parents all universities and colleges would eventually go out of business.
Chuck Rostkowski, Salt Lake (UT) Meeting.
What else do we know about the change of mood and attitude toward business that the Quaker businesspeople believe is occurring among young Quakers? What are the characteristics of these young people? What Meetings do they attend? Who are their First Day School teachers and what curriculum is used? Is this a recognizable movement within Quaker schools and colleges? If so, who is providing the leadership?
J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston (VA).
I think that you have struck a chord, that you are "speaking truth" about an important shift in The Religious Society of Friends. Sometimes I "work it backwards" and ask myself the question, would there be a Religious Society of Friends today, would there be Haverford College, Swarthmore, etc. if the early years of Friends had been dominated by individuals who had such a negative view of free enterprise?
John Spears, Princeton (NJ) Friends Meeting.
I have re-read your letter #57 excellent as usual. I would like to hear your comments on the Hertzberg article in the 4 November New Yorker. He makes the point that Bush is our president although he got less than half of the vote and was in the end elected by the conservative member of the supreme court, voting against their previously expressed view of our constitution. As Bush went along with every measure to enrich the wealthy the tax cut, more corporate welfare etc, Gore remained silent. Nor did any Democratic voice come out and speak for the ideas and preferences of a clear majority if you include Nader so all we heard was the relatively uneducated Yalie mouthing whatever he had come to believe on subjects of which he was singularly uninformed. Read the article and let me know what you think. Good Luck.
Dick Wolf, Coral Gables (FL).
Note: Dick was in my class at Harvard. Jack
Thank you for joining us at dinner [for Philadelphia Quakers in business]. I enjoyed your insights, and appreciate the way in which you apply 'that of god in every person' to economics. Minimum wage legislation prevents some 'willing workers' from finding jobs; folks in third world 'sweat shops' likely appreciate finding work at above average wages (at least above what they could get locally.) Many of these arguments for 'protecting workers' protect some workers at the cost of others. While the intent of raising living standards is a good one, you bring light to other aspects of these policies and illustrate how difficult these issues really are.
Eric Malm, Haverford (PA) Friends Meeting.
I had the luck to get a copy of TQE #58. As a Quaker lawyer (and ABD for a PhD in economics) I strongly concur. Keep up the good work, and let us know how we can help.
C. Baird Brown, Philadelphia (PA).
Friends in Business is a topic dear to my heart. I agree with most of your statements and have seen a reticence on the part of Friends in business to "come out".
As an owner and worker in a business that sells and implements accounting and business software, I have to warn about "profit" being the be and end all as a way for a society to allocate resources. Since business profit does not subtract for using "free" resources like air and water and workers' health, we can have a business which makes a profit for its stockholders, actually be in the "red" when the costs of polluting the air, water and workers' bodies (health) are factored in. Doesn't this mean that using profit as published in financial statements often points investors to invest in companies that actually are not good for their communities?
Free Polazzo, Anneewaukee Creek Friends Worship Group, Douglasville (GA).
I think the market mechanism for privatizing water or operating sweatshops has gotten a very bad rap from companies who took money from communities and ran instead of providing good municipal services, or who worked people 14 hours a day 7 days a week on Saipan making clothes.
Either business has to give up its allegiance to Milton Friedman's dictum that businesses are not social service agencies, they only exist to make a profit, and police themselves or (bad, inefficient) government has to step in.
Trudy Reagan, Palo Alto (CA) Friends Meeting
I would suggest that my Quaker Meeting is filled with people that are highly empathetic. They instinctively respond to persons at a disadvantage so the persons in poor debtor nations, working in societies with harsh working conditions, low wageworkers generally, etc. instinctively receive their support. They are quite aware of activist efforts of government to respond and supportive of these programs, generally opposed by the Republicans.
More sophisticated analyses suggest that corporations may alleviate poverty, trade may assists poor countries, profits can lead to needed investment, etc., but the instinctive empathetic reaction dominates.
There are empathetic Republicans, but the Republican Party serves first the business community, then the wealthy, and generally those that view themselves as at some advantage. It is very difficult for someone that cares about those with fewer advantages from the community, and has any sophistication about government actions, to identify with the Republicans. Note for example that the working press (not the wealthy owners) have consistently been Democratic supporters where identified.
Jim Booth, Red Cedar Meeting, Lansing (MI).
Replies to Mr. Booth follow:
Note: Normally I will not publish longer letters from readers, only excerpts. However, the following letter by Chuck Fager is of sufficient importance to publish it entirely. Chuck takes issue with my supposition that it was the Vietnam War that turned Quakers in the direction of anti-business politicization. He has done more reading than I have on this subject, so I bow to his more thorough analysis. Jack
This is a plausible hypothesis, but I don't think it is historically correct. I've been reading records of the history of 20th Century liberal Quakerism, and I think the change you describe began much earlier, and was well underway by the time your generation emerged from college and CPS into academia and the professions. ("Go to Harvard and turn left," that's a contemporary quote from The Quaker Economist himself.) Here are three pieces of evidence; not definitive, but not just speculative either:
First, I found records of much debate at the FGC conferences of the post-1929 years over socialism (and even, though rarely, communism) as the way to solve economic problems, though these "neo-lefties" faced vigorous capitalist opponents then from within the older ranks. (Perhaps, one hopes, thee was too busy calling square dances and pursuing Robin to notice these?) And Jesse Holmes had been preaching much of this pretty much continuously since just after 1900.
Secondly, it seems evident that the Depression also had the parallel effect of reducing many enterprises and fortunes among established Quaker families (as elsewhere), and this moved many a young Friend of those years to seek the comparative job safety of the professions, academia and civil service. This seems a sound defensive strategy to me; but once there, they had kids who were like themselves, and took on the attitudes of this subculture. The university meeting ethos fit this cultural niche very well too.
A third trend is well documented in the new book "British Quakerism: 1860-1920" by Thomas Kennedy (thee really must read it!) for that side of the pond. It is that British Quaker culture by about 1900 (which was still the model for east coast American Friends) was dominated by industrial families of wealth (Cadburys, Rowntrees, et al), and these produced a second or third generation of scions who opted for the genteel professions (and with them the equally genteel Fabian socialism) in a manner well-documented by sociologists as typical of such families of many denominational backgrounds. These Friends of means set an example that rising types like Rufus Jones were more than happy to emulate.
The Vietnam war reinforced all these trends, surely; but it did not create them, and indeed my reading indicates that by the time that war, and the riffraff it attracted (including the likes of me), came along, anti-capitalist views were already well in the ascendancy among unprogrammed Friends.
Chuck Fager, Director, Friends House, Fayetteville (NC).
The Mennonites seem to have a more balanced attitude toward the world of business than some Quaker groups. Being here in Kansas, we have more contact with Mennonites than Quakers. One of their primary objectives of their MEDA (economic development organization) is to help people get small businesses established. Sarona, their Global Investment Fund, attracts funds to support such activities particularly in Latin America. One can invest in Sarona, receive a low interest and and return the interest assist in their work. Try it. I have. See www.saronafund.com. I also would point out that we could do the people in the developing nations a lot of good by reducing tariffs and subsidies as is pointed out by Nobel winner Oscar Arias.
Howard Baumgartel, Oread Friends Meeting, Lawrence (KS).
We've done other research in Philaldelphia Yearly Meeting which we presented at the 2002 Annual Sessions, the presentation available on-line at:
My view of the data is that these liberal Friends are held together mostly by a few common threads including the open form of Worship, the Peace testimony, liberal or radical politics, and a lifestyle that glorifies higher education. We are a very non-diverse and narrow section of society. Note in the data that only about 40% believe in a traditional God using the standard questions. Our levels of prayer are very low compared to the US population. It's a very weak form of religion using traditional criteria.
I believe we basically have a religion with a "niche" appeal on the boundary between religion and philosophy. Our form of Quakerism has very limited appeal outside of the liberal intellectual elites. Over time, it has attracted those sorts of people and probably becomes even less diverse in both politics and socio-economic status.
Mark Cary, Middletown Meeting, Lima (PA)
I really agree on this subject. Two points I would have added are:
What the world needs today is the Quaker Entrepreneurial Capitalist, and lots of them!
Kruskal Hewitt Media (PA) Meeting, Sojourning Tokyo MM
This old business executive lives too far from these gatherings of Friends in Business. Our Meeting has several business executives. Most are now in small businesses. Three of us were at Vermont American, a large business. We got hurt by a hostile takeover. I would guess that most will be voting Democratic today [Tuesday, November 5.]. The overriding issue is the desire to see opposition to Bush on Iraq.
Lee B. Thomas, Jr., Friends Meeting of Louisville (KY).
There should be a better distribution of liberals and conservatives in Quakerism, but I don't know how you'd do it. Good capitalism, such as investing in Pax World Fund needs to be encouraged. I am considering establishing a charitable, educational fund to place my estate in. Let's search for creative solutions.
Maurice Boyd, Friends Meeting of Washington (DC).
I enjoy reading your newsletter and like your ideas, though some don't seem to mesh. I think it odd that TQE #2 and #6 seem to be treated in such different ways. If debts should be repaid why shouldn't those who offend the environment pay for their offenses. I agree that incentives should be offered, but if a company fails to comply with environmental regulations they should pay the consequences.
Elaine Emmi, Salt Lake (UT) Meeting.
Reply: Surely we should all pay for the consequences of our actions upon the environment. I apologize for not being clear on that. I consider that voluntary trade (paying for bananas in the grocery store) is incentive, not punishment. We don't steal bananas and go to jail for it. Neither should we be allowed to steal the environment. Jack
RSVP: Write to "tqe-comment," followed by "@quaker.org" to comment on this or any future Letter. (I say "followed by" to interrupt the address, so it will not be picked up by spam senders.) Use as Subject the number of the Letter to which you refer. Permission to publish your comment is presumed unless you say otherwise. Please keep it short. Letters will be edited for spelling, grammar, clarity, and brevity. Any letter over approximately 100 words may be returned without being read. Please mention your home meeting, church, or synagogue, if any (this is not required), and your location.
To subscribe or unsubscribe at no cost, please visit our Home Page.
Each letter of The Quaker Economist is copyright by its author. However, you have permission to forward it to your friends (Quaker or no) as you wish and invite them to subscribe at no cost. Please mention The Quaker Economist as you do so, and tell your recipient how to find it.
The Quaker Economist is not designed to persuade anyone of anything, although viewpoints are expressed. Its purpose is to stimulate discussions, both electronically and within Meetings.
Publisher and Editorial Board
Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting
Members of the Editorial Board receive Letters several days in advance for their criticisms, but they do not necessarily endorse the contents of any of them.
Copyright © 2002 by John P. Powelson. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for non-commercial reproduction.