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Sunday, August 31, 2003

A Theology of Economics-Part 3-Aliens in the Marketplace-Josh Claybourn linked to an interesting piece I think I've seen before from Robert Nozick-Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism? Nozick's basic premise is that the academic elite is used to being the best and the brightest, getting the best grades and all the kudos at school, yet get outearned by lower-performing students. Seeing that unfairness, they start to blame the market for it. The marketplace doesn't prize knowledge for knowledge sake, it only prizes knowledge if it can be applied to a saleable product or service. Thus, my brother-in-law Matt, with just a bachelors in electrical engineering (yeah, just, that's tougher than an MBA and arguable a Ph.D. in Business), earns twice as much as I do as a college professor with a Ph.D. True, I could get a pay upgrade if I went to a bigger state school to teach, but I'd still be seriously underearning Matt. However, he's making equipment that people are eager to buy to make their production facilities more productive, and has to deal with more stress than I have to deal with as a college professor. Could the same think apply to faithful Christians? The market doesn't price the fruit of the Spirit unless it can be applied to the marketplace. Let's take a look at Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Some of these are good character traits in a worker. A joyful and peaceful and patient worker will be less trouble to deal with, and a faithful and good worker will put in their best efforts. However, there are some areas where love, kindness and gentleness aren't prized. In areas that are more competitive and cut-throat, many bosses would rather have someone who is ruthless and not loving and gentle. Thus, being a Christian only aids a believer's earning power if they are assets to a job. In many jobs, the character traits that flow from the spirit will aid in one's career, while in others, our honesty and love for our fellow man can get in the way of maximizing sales or minimizing costs. Christians can be competitive; a large number of born-again athletes put the lie to the idea of a wimpy believer. However, the communal nature of the Gospel as well as an emphasis on morality makes it hard to do the half-truths and spin that some positions call for will lead many believers away from sales or marketing. In situations where things are a zero-sum game, believers will be less interesting in screwing the other guy in order to get more market share. This will lead a lot of devout Christians into "caring professions" where love, kindness and gentleness are assets. For instance, one of my Personal Finance students is finishing up a ESE (today's term for Special Ed) degree; her prayer-warrior nature is an asset there. Caring for mentally handicapped kids requires a special calling and a love for people regardless of how gifted they are; Christians will have an edge in that area, and other areas where compassion is an asset, like medicine, nursing and psychology. However, this doesn't mean that Christians can't be good businessmen. The mantra we were taught in introductory Marketing was "Serve the customer and make a profit." If you don't do both, you won't stay in business for long. Believers will excel in the first area, as they will strive to give the customer a good product at a fair price. They might not be as ruthless about cutting costs or maximizing market share as their unchurched colleagues, but they may well make that up by being able to charge a higher price for their superior services. If one dwells upon how cut-throat the market can be, Christians can be just as disenchanted with the marketplace as the intellectuals in the Nozick piece. The world doesn't value the fruits of the Spirit for themselves. We are not at home in the marketplace; it is not out home. However, it is where we have to live while we're here. In a fallen world, a free-market system brings more goods and more well-being to the public than a government-run system. A secular government generally respects the Christian even less than the marketplace does. How do we function in this marketplace? Be well-trained. Work hard. Deliver a good product or service at a fair price. Be good workers wherever we work. Care for the people we work for and the people who use our goods and services we make. If we do that, we will both glorify God and earn our keep. The marketplace isn't our home; the Church is communal, but a fallen world doesn't function well on a communal basis. The worldly are overpaid, but we will get our reward later. Often, we will even get material rewards for a job well done, but the true rewards will lie in Heaven.

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