The Common Good: Google’s gift and the pope’s teaching

Author: Charles K. Wilber

Charles K Wilber

Google made headlines recently when it announced a new perk for its employees. Workers for the Internet company can now have personal odd jobs done at company expense. Google will pick up the tab to have someone pick up an employee’s dry cleaning, walk her dog and a host of other personal errands. If Pope Benedict XVI knows about the perk, doubtless he would give his blessing.

It may come as a surprise, but the new benefit, the latest in a long list of Google employee extras, including free lunch, dinner and snacks, subsidized massages, on-site doctors, free laundry, free gym and more, is actually in line with the latest papal encyclical.

Not that the pope is arguing for any particular benefit or benefits in particular, but in Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI makes the case that economic relations can and should be guided by a philosophy of gift. He says:

“… in commercial relationships the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity. This is a human demand at the present time, but it is also demanded by economic logic. It is a demand both of charity and of truth.”

It follows, then, that the relationship between employee and employer can be seen as a gift exchange. Also, it is one that makes spiritual sense as well as economic sense in the real world of worker-employee relations.

The employee gifts the company with his labor while the company gifts the employee with wages and benefits. If employees believe that they are being treated well treated and paid well, they will, in return, be loyal to the employer and buy into the employer’s goals.

On the other hand, if workers believe they are unfairly treated, they will not be loyal and they will feel little sense of duty to get the job done. They may shirk and work the least amount that they can get away with and may even sabotage the production process.

If, however, employees feel that they are treated more than fairly, they will feel satisfied with their job and proud of working for the employer, and therefore put in a great deal of effort.
Employers, such as Google, clearly believe that this is the way their employees will respond, and so they pay a fair wage and try to provide a superior working environment. They understand that productivity will be higher than if they did not pay a fair wage and provide for good working conditions. Moreover, they understand there are likely to be fewer labor–firm disputes and less need for supervisory personnel, which has a positive effect on efficiency.

Other firms might learn something from Google’s example . . . and the pope’s teaching.

Charles K. Wilber is a Notre Dame professor emeritus of economics and fellow of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies who has written widely on Catholic social thought and economic theory. His most recent books are Economics and Ethics: An Introduction (Palgrave Press, 2010) with Amitava Dutt and Catholics Spending and Acting Justly (Ave Maria Press, May 2011). Email him at