I recently discussed Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. with Dan Hesse, the former chief executive of Sprint. Dan is a well-known Catholic business leader. In 2014 Glassdoor named him one of America’s best CEOs, according to employees, (and he was the only telecom, cable or wireless carrier CEO on the list). He received Corporate Responsibility magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, yet Sprint’s total shareholder return during Dan’s last two full calendar years as CEO (assuming dividends are reinvested) ranked No. 1 among all S&P 500 companies.
Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Robert Reiss: Pope Francis has denounced capitalism as a new “tyranny.” Do you agree with him?
Dan Hesse: I understand why the pope holds this view, but no. As a practicing Roman Catholic, I’ve never supported a pope more enthusiastically than this one. I carry a Pope Francis medal in my wallet. He’s addressing many of the right issues during his papacy and making the Church more inclusive. As you point out, in his papal exhortation almost two years ago, Pope Francis used very strong language. He discussed how exclusion and inequality in today’s capitalist system are dehumanizing, and that our culture of prosperity makes many indifferent to the plight of the poor.
Pope Francis is troubled by the widening gap between rich and poor. He goes so far as to say our love of money is a rejection of ethics. He also criticizes capitalism for the deteriorating state of our planet, stating that the environment is defenseless against man’s search for power and possessions. On the one hand, I’m glad he has the courage to speak his mind clearly, and not mince words, because his strong rhetoric is helping to bring attention to important issues. On the other hand, history has demonstrated that capitalism is by far the best economic system among the alternatives. Witness the growth in the economy and the hundreds of millions pulled out of poverty in China as they moved away from communism and toward capitalism. Yes, the gap widens between the haves and the have nots, but overall, the majority of people are much better off.
Capitalism, at its core, is financial freedom, the free movement of capital and the power of individuals, not government, to determine how money and resources will be spent. Capitalism also goes hand-in-hand with freedom of information. Capitalism and free markets cannot work properly without it. Capitalism also goes hand-in-hand with political freedom and democracy. Completing this virtuous cycle is religious freedom, which the pope certainly supports. So, capitalism, or financial freedom, completes the virtuous cycle of political freedom, religious freedom, and freedom of information, and in my view, a capitalist world is a better place than it would be under any other system.