Frank J. Hanna III has become one of the leading Catholic philanthropists in the nation. His Solidarity Foundation recently obtained the oldest extant copy of portions of the Gospels of Luke and John and presented them to Pope Benedict XVI for the Vatican Library. A merchant banker in Atlanta, Hanna is the CEO of HBR Capital, Ltd., an administrative services firm, and CEO of Hanna Capital, LLC, an investment firm. Hanna has promoted educational liberty for over two decades, helped to start three new Catholic schools in Atlanta, led various efforts for school reform, and chaired the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.
Recently, Deal Hudson sat down with Hanna to discuss his latest book, What Your Money Means: And How to Use it Well (Crossroad Publishing, 2008).
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Deal W. Hudson: With the current financial crisis, do you think more people are asking themselves what their money means?
Frank J. Hanna III: Absolutely. There was some concern about the timing of this book, given the election year, but the current financial crisis has made people more interested in reflecting on how they have used their money. I’m seeing an anxiety today that wasn’t being experienced a month ago or six months ago. People are wondering if they are too attached to their money and other material goods. They’re asking, “Is the way I am spending money helping me to be a better person?”
Hudson: You talk about the earth being a “pure” gift from God, along with other goods He has bestowed upon us. But you add that what we’ve been given is not a “free lunch.” What do you mean by this?
Hanna: Just because we have the freedom to engage in imprudent financial endeavors doesn’t mean we have license to do so.
The extension of credit is a wonderful thing. It can start a business or provide for a child’s college education. When we condemn debt, we forget it is the other side of credit. The word “credit” comes from “credo” or “to believe,” and like all good things it can be abused through imprudence or greed.
Hudson: You say we have the responsibility of learning to manage our money well. Are you seeing a breakdown in management in our financial institutions?
Hanna: Sometimes, but I reject the notion that greed was the cause of our current money crisis. It’s not intentional malfeasance but an emphasis on materialism combined with a benign neglect of how to manage our money.
John D. Rockefeller said, “It is harder to give money away than to make it.” I don’t agree with him, but I do think we should be deliberate in how we use our money.
Hudson: I don’t think I learned growing up how to use money as a tool. I wasn’t taught this except by looking around and seeing how others did it. How did you learn this?
Hanna: I’m not an author; I’m a businessman and investor. I try to be deliberate and thoughtful on how to use my money well. In seeking guidance on how to do this, I found snippets of information. This subject of how to use our material resources isn’t taught today.
Of course, there is much ancient and medieval wisdom on this very subject, but there is no systematic philosophy being used today to teach people how to use their resources wisely.
Hudson: Books about money and how to spend it are normally relegated to the business section pages of the newspapers, news magazines, and cable news shows. You’ve treated the subject in the context of the general morality and the virtues humans should practice in using their material resources.
Hanna: We divide too much of our lives into sections, like a newspaper. But when we do this, we have too much segmentation. When as human beings we eat together, converse, spend our money, play sports, engage in commerce, and we segregate these activities, we lose some of the integrated whole. We tend to act with one type of morality or spirituality with each segment and, I think, we do damage to our souls.
We should not be afraid to talk about and discuss money. Our children should be taught how to think about using money instead of letting the popular culture do this.
Hudson: My parents were a product of the end of the depression and World War II, and so I was taught to save to the point that I was tired of hearing about it. I never learned about spending money but rather that I was supposed to save it.
Hanna: There is a perception that there is something “dirty” about having money. In fact, money is one of God’s gifts that allows us to have transactions, relationships, and build prosperity.
However, it is such a powerful instrument that it’s subject to abuse if we become too attached to it — and if we do, something sordid does occur. We’ve all seen this in our own hearts, and so we start to associate that sordidness with the money itself, and we back off from it, and won’t talk about it.
Hudson: Most of the high-profile discussions of money fall on one of two sides: capitalism and the defense of private property versus communism or socialism. The wealthy are perceived as being tainted by their wealth, and that wealth really should be redistributed. Your book appeals to both sides of that debate.
Hanna: I tried to take what is good from each side. The freedom within a market economy encourages prosperity. The Left says this system doesn’t care for those less able to help themselves.
While the market economy does enhance prosperity, it is not there for unselfish pursuits. There should be a combination of the market economy and the common good. You hear more about the common good from the Left, but all should uphold this; we are our brother’s keeper. We do have responsibility to other human beings. If we don’t have the “leavening” in the market system, it can leave out those less capable.
Hudson: Something I found in your book that would not make some happy is that, in serving the common good, you encourage the private ownership of wealth, and the private management and growth of that money. This ensures there will be more to invest in business, more employment, and more to give away philanthropically.
Hanna: We see in St. Thomas Aquinas that private ownership serves the common good more effectively than common ownership by the state. An ancient Jewish philosopher said that the greatest form of charity is to help people help themselves. In this country that’s what’s known as a job; this preserves the dignity of the human being.
We need to be careful about extending financial charity; our good intentions alone are not sufficient. When the state is asked to administer charity it is at best a clumsy instrument for helping preserve human dignity.
Hudson: You have a rather startling line in your book that says, “Money is love in action.”
Hanna: When you buy clothes for your children, this is an act of love. You must ask yourself if you are growing in virtue, care, and concern for others when you make expenditures. This is a very high standard, and one that I certainly don’t always meet, but a standard we should apply especially to our larger expenditures.
Hudson: Should the standard you’re talking about be applied to our government? Should we be asking our government to use our money as acts of love as well?
Hanna: This is the theoretical premise behind the Constitution. A relationship exists between the giver and the receiver, but the larger the government gets the less authentic the relationship becomes.
I believe that subsidiarity, social action within a community, should begin at the lowest level — the family, neighborhood, and community. We should not rely on the federal bureaucracy to administer to the common good.
Hudson: I’m struck by the thought that you cannot look at your wealth as independent of your community or even your world. You don’t look at your wealth as something that protects you alone — that ensures that you and yours are taken care of. You seem to work under a larger rubric.
Hanna: Well, I hope I do. I’m aspiring to do this, but it’s hard to escape personal selfishness. I have found that when we hoard things for ourselves, and focus inwardly on “what’s in it for me,” we reap only anxiety and misery. Through trial and error, I have found that selfishness doesn’t lead to happiness; generosity is a better guide.
Hudson: Do you think that the attitude toward wealth is changing because of the financial turmoil?
Hanna: This is a crisis, but embedded within any crisis is opportunity. There is an opportunity for people to reorient themselves, realizing that we are all more connected than we imagined. From a theological standpoint this is what we believe: The material world is tied together, interconnected.
Hudson: Isn’t there a temptation in this current crisis to make people look more selfishly at their money — even hoard it?
Hanna: People will reorient one way or another. They will reassess and become either more detached or more attached to their money. Candidly, I’m seeing both reactions. I’ve spoken to some families who say they are looking at how they spend their money.
The flip side is that some will be more mindful of how much they have, double their efforts to hoard, and cut back or withhold giving to charities.
Hudson: What has been the reaction to your book from fellow philanthropists?
Hanna: The reaction from businesspeople has been very encouraging. They tell me that they’ve often wondered about these questions and are grateful for my explanations and a summary of these issues.
Hudson: You have a “how to” dimension to your book, as well. You offer concrete advice on how much to give away, how to judge whom to give it to, and how to gauge the results of your giving — a very practical side. Was this harder to write than the theoretical side?
Hanna: No, I think it was actually a little easier. I’ve been immersed in the practical side for years. The practical approach is critical. You have to ask yourself, “How much is enough? How much should I give away?”
These are practical suggestions; there are no hard and fast rules, but I think we need to be more rigorous and practical about our giving.
Hudson: Some people will say it’s fine for you to give with your wealth, but what about those just scraping by month to month?
Hanna: The word philanthropy combines one of the Greek words for love, philo, with the word for man, anthropos. It is possible to give from whatever resources one may have; giving is not beyond the reach of anyone. There is always something — such as time, attention, money, or prayers — given in love to someone else.
Our most tangible resources are money and material goods, but we need a broader understanding of all our God-given gifts.