- Hardcover: 246 pages
- Publisher: Free Press; Gift Inscription on Fep edition (June 11, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684827484
- ISBN-13: 978-0684827483
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 7.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #589,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life Gift Inscription on Fep Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
In straightforward language, Novak (Belief and Unbelief) sets out to refute the popular conception that business leaders are materialistic and rapacious, asserting that "business not only creates social connections, lifts its participants out of poverty, and builds the foundation of democracy, but also can and must be morally uplifting." His central conceit is that, like the work of priests and ministers, the labors of businessmen and -women are often animated by a sense of calling. Novak cites a 1990 poll that found that after military officers, "more people in business attended church every week than any other elite." While it remains to be proven that the morals espoused in church or temple can and do hold sway on the battlefields of market competition, Novak's meditations should cause those who believe "enlightened capitalism" to be an oxymoron to think twice. Author tour. (June) FYI: Novak won the 1994 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A spirited defense of commerce as a worthy career and of democratic capitalism as the best socioeconomic system among known alternatives. Like John M. Hood (The Heroic Enterprise, page 504), Novak (The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1992, etc.) finds much to admire. Indeed, he argues that business has a vested interest in goodness if only because it cannot advance in the absence of such cardinal virtues as cooperation, courage, honesty, industry, innovation, practicality, and realism. The author goes on to document the many ways in which for-profit concerns benefit host communities and the wider world simply by measuring up to their basic obligations--creating new jobs, earning appropriate returns on investments, producing wealth, promoting respect for the rule of law, satisfying customers, et al. He also notes ways in which trade unions might play more constructive roles in an era of corporate downsizing, e.g., by organizing labor collectives to offer pools of skilled contract workers to employers. Novak (a sometime seminarian who makes no secret of his Roman Catholic faith) is at pains to couch his message in ecumenical rather than ecclesiastic terms. To this end, he dwells on studies indicating that, among America's elites, businesspeople trail only the clergy and military officers in the degree of their religiosity. While the author cites the achievements of a wealth of entrepreneurs and executives, moreover, he singles out Andrew Carnegie for extended attention as a sort of secular saint. In particular, Novak is fascinated by the migr industrialist's resolve to give away all his riches before he died. The author devotes the best part of his concluding chapter to this largesse and what he believes are the lessons to be learned from it. Vocational counseling of an unusual order, as tough-minded as it is good-hearted. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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An example of the incompetent writing: "A fourth truth about callings is also apparent: They are not usually easy to discover" (p35) You are not supposed to contradict your own sentence. This is an example of confusing, bad writing.
In much of the book, the author just repeats self-serving corporate public relations boilerplate, up to the point of unwitting self-parody. On page 22 he praises another saint of capitalism: "Kenneth Lay, chairman of. . . Enron. "I grew up the son of a Baptist minister. From this background I was fully exposed to not only legal behavior but moral and ethical. . . the most satisfying thing in life is to create a highly moral and ethical environment. . . ."
The worst thing is that the book contains nothing new. There is not a single new idea proposed that I saw. Novak simply rehashes trite, clichéd material. At one embarrassing point, he compares modern American business CEO's to the Greek soldiers at Thermopylae, holding off the barbarian hordes. As if CEO's, with probably not a day of physical labor in their lives, trying to manipulate their stock price, were the equivalent of men fighting to the death to save their civilization. But at least we know that the author is 'well read' (as if Thermopylae weren't in every Western Civ course already)
The main argument consists of Novak putting the word "ethical" in the same sentence as "business", as if this somehow proved anything. He also wastes much space reciting the well-known example of Andrew Carnegie; as if anyone doesn't know it already. We get it--one wealthy person gave his money away (while the other 99% kept it in trust funds for their own future offspring).
Novak then attempts to drop every clichéd literary allusion possible. He quotes Ben Franklin; de Tocqueville; and the Bible--as if the Bible couldn't be used to justify ANY point on economics, capitalistic or communistic. He also is wrong, consistently. He states that capitalism is only 200 years old (pg 84); of course, it is far older than that--for example, the anciet Romans had corporations (collegia); double-entry bookeeping dates at least from the middle ages. Capitalism the *word* itself may date from about 200 years, but the idea behind it is far older. Novak confuses the beginning of a word's usage, and the concept behind it.
He claims only leaders in democracies are forced to take responsibility for their decisions (p89), saying unelected rulers like Pinochet ruined their economies. But in fact, Pinochet helped overthrow Chile's democratically elected president, Allende, an actual socialist-communist who would have violently opposed Novak's entire theory on capitalism & religion!
He gratuitously throws in an allusion to Robinson Crusoe, calling him 'mythical' (pg 65), and pointing out that nobody is self-sufficient. Of course, Robinson Crusoe was a fictional *character*, but was closely based on a real person, Alexander Selkirk, that did live self-sufficiently on a deserted Island for many years, creating his own miniature society. (Hey author, try reading 'The Solitude of Alexander Selkrik', you must have missed that one in English Lit 101.). In any case, 'myth' has a specific literary meaning and Novak misuses it to try and scope a cheap shot. A novel about solitude has nothing to do with being 'mythical'. Novak cannot write.
The only reason this book is bought so much is that colleges assign it to business students, and American Roman Catholics like Novak's rewriting of the Gospel. For a true defense of free-market economics, try Ayn Rand's work, Murray Rothbard, F. Von Hayek, or Ludwig von Mises.