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Economics

The $15 minimum wage - good intentions are not enough

In the US, the latest COVID-19 relief package has re-awoken the debate on minimum wage increases, and that policy conversation is spilling over into Canada, Australia, and much of the Western world too. Often policy proposals put Christians in difficult territory. The Bible was not written during a time where every person would be personally accountable for participating in the governing of a nation. There’s very little in the way of advice to voters on specific policies. However, this doesn’t mean Christians can’t form educated opinions about policies like the minimum wage. To do so, believers can evaluate the fruits of the policy.  Good intentions One way to evaluate whether the minimum wage increase would be a good thing is to see if the intended fruits of the policy are good and analyze whether the actual fruits will match the good intentions. Supporters of the minimum wage increase are ostensibly trying to help lower the level of poverty. Higher wages for the lowest wage workers could give them a chance at a better life. This intended fruit appears to be good. Lowering poverty seems to be unambiguously good. And a reasonable interpretation of Matthew 22:20-22 could claim it’s within the state’s right to take money from business profits and give it to workers. Combining this logic with verses like Psalm 41:1 could make a powerful case for this proposal. A Christian might be tempted to stop thinking here. Perhaps the increased cost to businesses is worth the poverty alleviation. However, even if someone does accept this trade-off, the biggest problem with increasing the minimum wage lies more in the results than intentions.  Bad results Good intentions are not enough to eliminate poverty, as evidenced by the American “war on poverty,” now entering its 58th year. The minimum wage law does not guarantee every person a job at $15/hour. In actuality, what the minimum wage law does is make it illegal to gainfully employ any worker whose skills don’t bring in $15 of hourly revenue. Economists refer to the revenue an additional worker brings in as “marginal revenue product.” For any worker with a marginal revenue product less than the minimum wage, employing them would either mean making a net loss on the hire or breaking the minimum wage law. Businesses must make a profit. If a business fails to do so, it will eventually have no option other than shutting its doors. If businesses fall behind competitors in making a profit, they also run the risk of being driven out of business. As such, hiring decisions in business are based on whether they generate profit. If a salesman, for example, sells $8 worth of products an hour, and he gets an offer for a wage of $7.50, the company finds hiring him to be worthwhile. However, a company that pays a salesman who sells $8 worth of products per hour a wage of $15 is losing $7/hour. Companies that hire this way will be outcompeted by those who don’t. So, what is the result of a minimum wage? Workers who don’t make their companies enough to warrant getting paid the minimum wage are fired. Economic theory suggests this, and a recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research surveys studies on the topic and shows the research overwhelmingly finds that unemployment results from the minimum wage. Not only do some workers not have their poverty alleviated, but the workers with the least opportunity are more impoverished. In fact, evidence suggests this unemployment is imposed on minority groups and women disproportionately. The problems don’t stop there. Unemployment increases, but some workers who previously made a minimum wage will keep their jobs. Aren’t these workers made better off? Not necessarily. If a worker was previously willing to work a job for $8 (as evidenced by the fact that they accepted the job), but now the same worker is being paid $15, this doesn’t mean they are $7 better off. Why? Well, since the employer is mandated to pay a higher wage, they are going to try to get the most work out of the worker possible. Workers might find that these new expectations and pressures make the job less enjoyable than if they were paid an $8 wage. Also, if you’re getting paid more than you would have needed to accept a job, and there are a lot of unemployed replacements waiting, you’re going to be willing to accept a less pleasant job to keep that high-paying job. A higher minimum wage gives workers less bargaining power and, as such, will lead to workers taking on jobs with bosses who don’t need to offer them as much dignity. This is not to say all bosses will take advantage of this position, but it seems unrealistic to assume none will. In sum, if we judge a policy by its fruits, a $15 minimum wage will increase the poverty of those with the lowest opportunity, and it carries the possibility of work becoming less dignified for those lucky enough to keep their jobs. Despite potentially good intentions, the results speak for themselves. Instead of giving more dignity to work and lifting people out of poverty, the minimum wage exacerbates both problems.  Bootleggers, Baptists, and bad intentions For argument’s sake, I’ve assumed good intentions on the part of minimum wage policy advocates to this point. However, it’s important to point out that the minimum wage is utilized as a tactic by racists and labor unions to cut out the competition. Stanford economist Thomas Sowell has chronicled how a Canadian minimum wage has racist roots. Sowell argues:

“In 1925, a minimum-wage law was passed in the Canadian province of British Columbia, with the intent and effect of pricing Japanese immigrants out of jobs in the lumbering industry.”

A largely automated company would love to increase the labor costs for its competitors. The results of the Australian minimum wage were similar. Sowell points out:

“A Harvard professor of that era referred approvingly to Australia’s minimum wage law as a means to ‘protect the white Australian’s standard of living from the invidious competition of the colored races, particularly of the Chinese’ who were willing to work for less.”

Whenever Christians support policy, they should take care to avoid contributing to the “Bootleggers and Baptists” phenomena. This phrase describes how, when the US passed alcohol prohibition, the two major groups who supported it were Baptists who opposed alcohol and illegal alcohol bootleggers who stood to profit if legal alcohol distributors were closed. In supporting prohibition, Baptists supported the profits of bootleggers with bad intentions. In the cases Sowell cited, the “bootleggers” were racist who wanted to eliminate minority labor competition. Today, bootleggers can come in the form of a business like Amazon, which, as a largely online company, doesn’t rely on laborers who make less than $15 per hour. Since Amazon already pays its warehouse workers $15/hour, an increase in the minimum wage would do little to impact their costs, but it would raise the costs to one of Amazon's biggest competitors – Walmart. Bootleggers could also be skilled labor unions that lobby for the minimum wage to limit the competition from unskilled, but lower cost, labor. In these cases, the special interest groups intend the policy to prevent less fortunate low-skill laborers from having jobs. To make a positive difference in the world, Christians must consider more than their intentions behind policies. Instead, it is part of our responsibility, given the form of government God has allowed us to participate in, to be educated about the results of policy. In the case of raising the minimum wage, the results are in. Christians need to do better if we want to help the suffering of “the least of these.”

Peter Jacobsen is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Ottawa University and the Gwartney Professor of Economic Education and Research at the Gwartney Institute. He has previously written for both the Foundation for Economic Education and the Institute for Faith, Works, and Economics.

Economics

5 things Christians should know about income inequality

Income inequality is still at the forefront of conversation for many people. Thankfully, there are biblical principles that help Christians understand whether income inequality is a problem, and if so, how we are to respond. At the Christian research organization I work for – the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics – we talk a lot about various aspects of income inequality and how to think about it. Today, I’d like to summarize this tough topic through these five points dealing with the best approach to bringing about flourishing, especially for the poor. 1. HOW INCOME INEQUALITY IS MEASURED Income inequality measures income differences across groups of people using a statistical tool called the Gini coefficient. It ranges between zero and one. A score of one indicates perfect inequality: one person makes all the income and everyone else makes zero. A score of zero indicates perfect equality: everyone earns exactly the same amount. The U.S. Gini coefficient is 0.45 according to the CIA World Fact Book. For the sake of context, the impoverished country of Bangladesh has less income inequality than the U.S. (Gini of 0.32). Meanwhile Hong Kong has slightly more income inequality than the U.S. (Gini of 0.54).  Alone, income inequality data doesn’t tell us that much about whether one country is “better” than another. 2. CRONYISM MAKES INCOME INEQUALITY WORSE, AND IT'S UNFAIR Cronyism occurs when corporations pursue the government for benefits, protections, or subsidies benefiting their business at the expense of competing firms and consumers. It is a growing trend evidenced by the hundreds of lobbying firms popping up on K Street. Politicians have responded quite favorably to these lobbying efforts and have created a culture in which the most well-connected win. This is inherently unfair. An unjust system is prevailing where ordinary businesses and entrepreneurs are failing because they lack the resources to buy off politicians. The unfortunate result is that they can’t succeed, and the well-connected rich get richer and stifle more opportunities for the poor. 3. DIVERSITY IS A BIBLICAL PREMISE OF CREATION. WE ARE BORN WITH DIFFERENT GIFTS, RESULTING IN DIFFERENT INCOMES. We are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and, while we bear many physical similarities, we are all distinct. That means that, by definition, we are unequal. God knew that our uniqueness makes our work and talents inherently dignifying and brings us into community with one another. Our interdependence makes us able to achieve things we never could on our own. We use our gifts and skills to provide goods and services that others need. We then trade for goods and services that we need but aren’t able to provide ourselves. The market return for our services is our income, and that income is based on the market supply of what we provide and the value people place on it. This means that our incomes will be different. However, because we do not operate in a vacuum, those who do earn high incomes tend to create lots of value for everyone, including lots of job opportunities. High incomes are not a sign that the rich have stolen from the poor. Quite the contrary, wealthy individuals have often innovated products and services that make us all richer and ease our way of life. 4. INCOME MOBILITY IS A BETTER MEASURE OF PROSPERITY Income mobility is quite different from income inequality. Income mobility tracks the lifetime income of a person. It’s a way of understanding if people are able to earn more income over their lives as a result of increases in their education, skills, and productivity. The trouble with the data on income inequality is that it doesn’t track individuals over time. If we look at the poorest income bracket in 1990 and again in 2014, we have no idea if the people who were poor in 1990 are still poor today simply by looking at the data. In fact, mobility data suggests that almost sixty percent of individuals who were in the lower income brackets moved into higher brackets in under a decade. 5. WE SHOULD FOCUS ON WHAT GOD HAS CALLED US TO DO, NOT ON WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING In a flourishing society, there are going to be lots of people who make high levels of income. Think how different the Congo or Vietnam would look if local entrepreneurs had the opportunity to create and innovate. The world would have a lot more people like Bill Gates and a lot more wealth and opportunity for all – not just the rich. It’s easy to want for ourselves what others have, but we can’t all be Bill Gates. God has gifted each of us to do something specific and special. We need to focus on our unique callings and do them with excellence rather than focusing on what others have. Unfortunately, some of the talk around income inequality is about coveting what others have rather than wanting more for the poor. I can tell you from living in a county with the highest per-capita income in the country that it is easy to want what others have: the newest car, the bigger house, the better wardrobe. It is a deceptive trap to believe that if we have these things, we will feel better or live better. WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT INCOME INEQUALITY? Be aware of the cronyism all around us that often shows up in seemingly benign programs like laws mandating certain light bulbs, sugar subsidies, and occupational licensing. Government is increasingly giving in to the entitlement culture of lobbying. We need businesses to stop asking for favors and political leaders who will stop the handouts. Furthermore, prayerfully discern the path to which God calls you and pursue it with integrity, hard work, and faith. No matter what income it brings, it gives you a chance to serve others in the here and now and achieve everlasting significance for God’s kingdom. This article is reprinted, with minor edits, with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). The original article appears here. IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Go here to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog. Dr. Anne Bradley "is the Vice President of Economic Initiatives at the Institute, where she develops and commissions research toward a systematic biblical theology of economic freedom." RedPanel.com comic used with permission....

Economics

I started my business for the wrong reasons

Why did you start your business? When people ask me that question, I often respond with, “So I could spend more time with my family while providing for them.” Or, “So I could work part-time while recovering for chemo.” Or, “So I can build up a bank account and get back to my plans for seminary.” They all sounds like noble answers, right? Well, this morning during my devotions, I read a verse that struck a chord. It was Ephesians 4:28: Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.   Ok, so what does that verse have to do with my running a business?  Well sure, I am not to steal, or be engaged in dishonest things in business, and yes, it says that we are to give to those in need. But what is the thing that struck a chord and made me realize that that “to provide for my family” is the wrong reason? I mean, the Bible does tell us that we are to provide. In 1 Timothy 5:8 we read: Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. Jesus has told us to provide for our families. So we must.  But that is not the ultimate reason we work.  As a Christian, saying, “I work to provide for my family” is incomplete and is an unscriptural view of work. We should work, whether it’s at my business, or at your job at the office, or at your job digging a ditch, because working is the Lord’s will concerning us. The thief is to perform honest work and share with those in need, not because he was a thief, not because it is some sort of punishment, but because it is the Lord’s will for all of us! Working is the Lord’s will concerning us. Boom. It’s that simple. As this revelation (one that I am sure I already knew) resounded in my head and my coffee got cold….I remembered 1 Corinthians 10:31: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. We are to live our entire lives to the glory of God. Work…to the glory of God. Rest… to the glory of God. Eat…to the glory of God. Ride that mountain bike…to the glory of God. Drink that beer…to the glory of God. Dig that ditch…to the glory of God! Post that selfie on Instagram…to the glory of…uh. Well, you get my point. Everything we do is to be done for God’s glory. What do most of us actually work for? When I worked at a regular job, most of my colleagues spoke about working towards retirement, saving for a trip, working for the weekend to go on that mountain biking trip, buying beer, working OT to get that renovation on the house, or buying the Big House to keep up with the Jonses. Unfortunately, many Christians view work in exactly the same way.  Many of us are in it for what we get out of it.  Unfortunately, I fell in the trap of viewing work as merely a means to an end. Sure, some of you may argue that we use our work to do things that glorify God. It is true that God may be honored in the results of our work, through tithing, helping the needy...saving so I can go to seminary and become a pastor… even as He may not be supreme in our view of work itself. Is He supreme in your view of work? If I am honest with myself, He has not been my ultimate focus in this business. Starting this business may not have been for his glory; but that changes today. Why do you work? Ryan Smith blogs at OneChristianDad.com where this first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission....

Economics, Movie Reviews

Wait till it's free

Documentary 2014 / 82 minutes Rating: 9/10 Why would Canadians be interested in watching a Scotsman take a look at the American healthcare system? Because this examination, of how capitalism and socialism impact healthcare costs, is very relevant for us too. The film’s director and producer, Colin Gunn, is Presbyterian and consequently a capitalist. If that seems an abrupt connection, then consider that we Reformed folks know that the heart of man is wicked. So we are well aware that if an economic system needs men to be angels, laboring for no personal benefit, then that is an unworkable economic system. So we know better than to be socialists. But for some reason, we don’t seem to think that holds true for healthcare. This comes out most strongly when Canadians, even the Reformed ones, start talking about healthcare with their American cousins. Then we seem to be quite proud of the socialistic nature of our healthcare system, which “costs us nothing, and is free for everyone.” But, of course, that isn’t really so. It certainly isn’t free – the costs are simply not seen, paid out in taxes, so that Canadians have very little idea of how much their healthcare really does cost. And that everyone is covered doesn’t distinguish it all that much from American healthcare, where everyone can get emergency care, and where more and more of the population is covered by the government-run Medicare. As Gunn points out, the American system is almost as socialistic as the Canadian. Gunn’s main argument is that a good dose of capitalism would be good for what ails the American system. His most telling observation was that in the American system no one knows what the costs will be beforehand. There is no public pricing chart, and so no way of comparing what one hospital might charge versus another. And without an awareness of how much things might costs, there is only a pretense of competition. You won't have innovation if you don't have competition so if we want to reform healthcare, this might be the first place we need to start: make all the prices public! I highly recommend this documentary – it is a brilliant argument by a Christian filmmaker who has perfected his craft. The content is superb: Gunn has assembled an impressive cast of experts from around the world to make his case. And the presentation is even better: there are fun little animated bits, and great narration, and a wonderful story arc – this is packaged up nicely, and tied up at the end with a bow. Who should see this? Anyone who thinks socialism is the answer to our healthcare needs. You can watch the trailer below, and watch the rent the full film by clicking on the "$4.95" link in the trailer below. The Wait Till It's Free YouTube site has a lot of extras that are also worth checking out. ...

Economics

On Union Membership: voices from the past

On March 9, 2017 the Abbotsford Canadian Reformed Church held a forum on "Christians and Union Membership" and I was tasked with presenting a historic perspective on the topic. Why look to the past? There are at least a couple of reasons to look to the past when figuring out an issue. First, it is a matter of appreciating the wisdom of our elders – honoring our father and mother. In times past union membership was a much-discussed and debated issue, so if we think our parents wise, why wouldn't we want to hear from them? Second, as C.S. Lewis has noted, every generation has its own particular blind spots. Just like a fish doesn't know it's wet, we have biases we aren't aware of because they are such a part of our culture and time. Thus the benefit in studying history is that we'll be able to see through the biases in times past – we can spot their blindspots because we don't share them. And, more importantly, our ancestors may be able to highlight and help us see our blindspots because they don't share them. In doing my digging I came across a half dozen articles, from the years 1975-1993 that made important points. While these articles, by 5 different authors, could all be characterized as "anti-union"  it is important to note that no one here is objecting to collective bargaining. If workers want to come together to negotiate with their employers, we all agree that they should be free to do so. What these authors are saying is that there are demands that some unions make of their membership that Christians should object to. UNIONISM by Rev. W. Huizinga (1975) SUMMARY: Rev. Huizinga shares quotes from a number of union constitutions, bylaws, and oaths, noting some unions would require of Christians oaths of allegiance. What sort of oaths are these? Well, as Rev. Huizinga's examples were dated, here is a more current example, from the Laborers' International Union of North America (active in the US and Canada): I do hereby solemnly pledge that, as a member of the Laborers' International Union of North America and of this Local Union, I will be active in its affairs, loyal to its cause and interests, and obedient to my constitutional obligations and responsibilities. In the fulfillment of this commitment I will regularly attend Union meetings and volunteer my time as a VOICE organizer, on picket lines, in get-out-the-vote efforts and in local charities or community activities on the Union's behalf. I will be true to my responsibilities as a citizen of the United States or Canada. So help me God. We are to be loyal to the union and it's "cause and interests"? What about when those interests include supporting political parties I oppose, or charities I disagree with? If we look at unions as contract negotiators, the idea of such a loyalty oath is very strange. After all, any other time we hire a negotiator – say a lawyer, or a realtor– we don't have to make a loyalty pledge to him. When a union requires this sort of oath they are looking for a bigger role than just as a negotiator – they want us to join in their movement. And that brings us to the second objection Rev. Huizinga raises. He also showed there is a Marxist "class struggle" idea – workers versus owners – that seems to underly unionism. In some union constitutions it is even stated explicitly. But whether explicit or not, many unions will pit employees against employers, or seek to pit customers against the company (by asking for a boycott). This adversarial approach is completely foreign to the Bible. Huizinga points to Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 111, where, in explaining the 8th Commandment, it reads: I must promote my neighbor's good wherever I can and may, deal with him as I would like others to deal with me... Or as Jesus puts it, "Love your neighbor as yourself," which most certainly includes our employer (Luke 10:25-37). Pastor Huizinga also sees strikes as a revolt against the 5th Commandment, which tells us to honor our father and mother and by extension, all those God has placed in authority over us. While this seems to be a common view, particularly historically, Rev. W. Pouwelse argues in his article "Labour Relations" (included below) that the 5th Commandment is not all that applicable. A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF LABOR UNIONS by Gary North (1978) SUMMARY: Gary North argues that strikes are based on "the wholly immoral premise that the worker owns his job (can exclude others from the position) even though he refused to work for his employer." What North says here requires a little unpacking. That the worker owns his job is a Marxian notion too. Karl Marx argued that the value of a good was dependent only on the labor that went into it - the more labor, the greater the value of the good. When we view production this way – employees are the only source of value for a good – then owners would seem to bring nothing to the table, and yet they are profiting from other people's efforts. If this were true, we could understand why a worker would think he owns his job. But this is at odds with the truth. When I hire someone to mow my lawn, I as the employer, have created that job - it didn't exist until: 1) I decided the job needs doing. 2) I decided I was going to invest my own time elsewhere. 3) I decided it was worth my money to hire my neighbor's son to do it. So who owns the job? I do because this job is a product of my thought process; it did not exist until I decided it existed. Now imagine my neighbor's son wanted more money, and came to me and made his request. What would we think if, when I didn't agree, he not only refused to mow my lawn, but he told me I wasn't allowed to hire his sister (who's happy to do it for a buck per hour less) because this is his job. Just to complete the illustration, we can imagine that he somehow gets the government to legalize his scheme. It still would not change that he has taken from me what is mine. He has stolen a job that I, as the employer, created. So North is arguing that strikes – those that prevent replacement workers – whether they are legal or not, are a violation of the 8th commandment not to steal. North also argues that while unions may increase the wages for union members, they do so in precisely the same manner that monopolies increase prices – by preventing competition. Unions do this several ways, but one way is by excluding non-union members from competing for certain jobs (ie. in a strike, workers who would be willing to do the job for less aren't able to take the job). LABOUR RELATIONS by Rev. W. Pouwelse (1983) Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 Part 4, Part 5 SUMMARY: This is one longer article broken up into 5 parts, and for our purposes, parts 3, 4 and 5 are the relevant ones. Rev. W. Pouwelse argues (in contrast to Rev. W. Huizinga above) that it isn't the 5th Commandment (at least not primarily) that governs employees' relationship with their employers but the 9th. The 5th commandment, to honor our father and mother, can be extended to those in authority over us, like the government or our church consistory, but doesn't extend in the same way to employers. Why? Because the authority employers hold over us is an "agreed upon authority." We agree to do this, and in exchange they agree to pay us that – it is a contractual arrangement between two parties. The difference can be seen in how we are free to quit our jobs at any time, but we are not free to stop listening to our parents, or our government, or our consistory. That's why, when we leave our job, no one accuses us of violating the 5th Commandment. The 9th Commandment – do not bear false witness – would apply to our contractual relationship with our employer. If we sign a contract we would need to live up to the terms; we do need to do as we have promised. LABOUR MOVEMENTS by Rev. Pouwelse (1984) Part 1, Part 2,  Part 3 SUMMARY: This longer article is broken up into three parts, and in part 3 Rev. Pouwelse speaks out against strikes for several practical reasons: 1) In strikes in the past "workers threatened and even violence is used" 2) Also "workers who had nothing to do with unions were prevented from doing their work" These are very good objections – clearly Christians should not join a union that threatens and commits violence, and shuts down non-union workplaces – but these objections seem to have been more of a concern at the time this article was written. Strikes in the 1980s were more often marked by violence than they are today (at least in North America). But Pouwelse also notes that: 3) Strikes "puts a burden on innocent people....this burden has to be carried not only by the workers and their employers, but many other people suffer as well. During a bus strike the general public suffers in the first place." This would seem to be contrary to God's command to show love for our neighbor. 4) Strikes are a "denial of our God-given mandate to labour faithfully" – when we strike, we are, as a part of our negotiation strategy, no longer doing productive work. That might seem a minor thing, but when we realize that God calls us to be productive then a negotiation strategy that prevents productivity is one we have reason to question. Like Huizinga above, Pouwelse also points to the oaths or pledges required by some unions as conflicting with our call not to serve two masters. But not all unions require such oaths or pledges. UNION MEMBERSHIP...AN HISTORICAL STUDY by Rev. J. L. van Popta (1992) SUMMARY: This is a 21-page paper so we can only touch on a few highlights here. In the paper Rev. J.L. van Popta compares and contrasts the way union membership has been viewed, historically, in the Christian Reformed Churches (CRC) with how it has been viewed in the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC). In the late 1800s in the CRC, while unions were deemed "usually un-Christian," it wasn't until 1904 that they really tackled the issue of union membership in detail. Seven objections were raised, including the matter of oaths: ...many unions would cause their members to live contrary to the first and the fifth commandment by “exact an oath or promise of unconditional obedience to the majority or the board with disregard of one’s duty toward God, the State, the Church, and the family.” In the Synod of 1928 there was a new development. 1928...changed the understanding of corporate responsibility. In 1904 members of unions were guilty of union practices. In 1928 members were absolved of guilt if they protested. In other words, if a union engaged in violence, in 1904 a CRC member would be required to get out of that union. But in 1928 the Synod said they could remain in the union, though they would have to publicly protest the violence. This issue of corporate responsibility – how responsible we are for the actions of a group in which we are a member – is an issue that future synods will continue to debate, with the 1945  Synod then turning back to the clock to adopt a stance very similar to that of 1904. The first CanRC position on unions came about in 1951, and was made by the consistory of New Westminster. They raised two objections to union membership. The first objection was to unions that required "unconditional obedience to laws and bylaws in force or yet to be enacted." The second objection was against “closed-shop” policies of unions. This was judged to be in violation of the 8th and 6th Commandments. Calling on Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 42 and 40 the consistory showed that the self serving motive of the “closed-shop” policy was at bottom theft and murder, and members of unions were then guilty of these sins. This precluded any membership at all. Closed shops are companies where the union has so negotiated things that union membership is a condition for being hired. Or, in other words, if someone wasn't willing to join the union then they were barred from working there. In this stance the New Westminster consistory came out against all unions, but as Rev. van Popta notes, their decision came out 1 year before the formation of the Christian Labor Association of Canada (CLAC), and 12 years before it was recognized as a union. So while the consistory was objecting to all the unions at that time, they had not anticipated the birth of a Christian Labor movement, and their decision should not be understood as addressing a group like the CLAC. UNIONS by Rev. G. P. van Popta (1993) SUMMARY: Rev. G.P. Popta notes that "blanket statements that all unions are evil and we may not join any" are not useful since situations can be so different. Van Popta states that the first step in deciding whether or not you can join a specific union would involve reading through the union's constitution, and the collective agreement between the union and employer, to find out what promises or obligations come with membership in that union. And if they demand unconditional obedience, that is a promise we can not make. He also raised the issue of the "adversarial model" in which strikes are a key tool. "The Bible teaches a harmony model." He ends by sharing how, in some cases, it is possible to seek an exemption from union membership, with dues going, instead of to the union, to a charity agreed upon by the union and the person seeking the exemption. This is an option he urges Christians to investigate....

Economics, Human Rights, Satire

On equality...

I was recently confronted with the disturbing statistic that evidences the ultimate case of gender inequality: the life expectancy of males is 6.1 years lower than that of females. This phenomenon must be properly discussed. What is a more valuable commodity than life? Nothing, I would say. And yet females habitually possess over 8 percent more of it than men. It is clear that when it comes to life, there is no level playing field in our society between males and females. I, therefore, call upon the government to take measures to empower men to overcome this glaring inequality. What we need is legislation, programs, and lots of funding. First of all the government should enact human rights legislation which will unequivocally state that males have the right to the same life expectancy as females. This legislation will empower the government to make proactive adjustments in Health, Social, and Education programs. I would like to share with you the following suggestions for such adjustments. An immediate transfer of medical research dollars from female diseases to male diseases. The inclusion of a mandatory life expectancy rights component to be taught in all our schools starting at the kindergarten level. The appointment of kommissars (also call commissioners) for each federal and provincial ministry who are to scrutinize all proposed legislation for life expectancy bias. Mandatory sensitivity training for all our judges to ensure that crimes against women are not more discouraged than crimes against men. Mandatory affirmative low-stress jobs action for all businesses employing more than 10 people to ensure that men will be employed in at least 50 percent of such jobs. The creation of Men's Issues Department at both the federal and provincial levels. Thus far my suggestions. If we do not want to lose the image of Canada as a caring and nurturing society we had better implement these suggestions regardless of costs. Of course, some naive people may suggest that it would help if men changed their lifestyle by smoking, drinking, fighting, and fornicating less, and by being more spiritual and less macho. However, though in the past this might have been a solution, we now know that we can only lead fulfilling lives if we are true to ourselves. Since institutions of education and our public media zealously indoctrinate the populace with this new gospel, it would be futile to appeal to "the man kind" itself to heal the wound of life expectancy; the government is our only hope. This post first appeared way back in the May 1999 issue, but doesn't it seems like it was written for today? As Christians we believe God calls us not to be partial to rich or poor, black or white, young or old – He calls us to equality. But what kind of equality does God call us to? Is it an equality – as is called for in this article – of outcomes? Or is the equality meant to be in how we treat people? The world says the former, but God is calling us to the latter (Leviticus 19:15, James 2:1-9, Acts 10:34)....

Economics

What makes a salesman good?

I didn’t know too many salesmen while I was growing up, so my perception of them was shaped in large part by the jokes made about them. I understood the jokes weren’t meant to be taken literally, but hear something often enough and you do get impacted. So yes, I knew used car salesmen didn’t always trick widows into emptying their bank accounts to purchase oil-leaking gas-guzzlers. But it happened more often than not, right? My own sales experience only reinforced this villainous stereotype. For a grand total of two weeks I sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door. While the vacuums were remarkable our sales pitch was not. We’d bully our way into a home, counting on most people being too polite to throw us out. Then we’d give them a half hour demonstration, uncovering all sorts of hidden dirt and filth in the house – this machine could pull it out of even a newly laid carpet. Then we’d make an emotional appeal, asking parents how much their children mattered to them, and presenting the $1,500 machine as a way to save their children from sickness and allergies. I wasn’t all that good at this guilt-inducing plea, so in that two-week period I sold just one vacuum, and even that was only because my trainer clinched the deal. A few days later I was greatly relieved to hear that the couple had changed their mind and gotten all their money back. This brief foray into sales taught me that it was every bit as sleazy as I had imagined. Two contrasting ideas Some years later I started dating a lovely sales manager. If I’d been thinking it through, that should have challenged my perception of sales as a low-ethics field. Clearly it wasn’t true of all salespeople! But I didn’t put two and two together. I didn’t really think about how what she was doing – selling student agendas to schools across North America – was, in fact, sales. It was only later that year, when I had the chance to meet her company’s sales staff at their annual sales conference, that I was forced to re-evaluate. Talking with them made me realize it was possible to be a good salesman and still be a good man. It all came down to two very different understandings of what makes a salesman good. 1. Can sell anything to anyone? One of the first salesmen I met at the conference was a twenty-something-year-old who bragged he could sell ice to Eskimos – didn’t matter the product, he could sell it. He went on about how good he was at upselling, convincing principals to buy this and that add on. As he talked I noticed something he didn’t. His fellow salesmen were not impressed. I can’t remember now whether he was cut off, but he was answered. A more experienced fellow made it clear that this is not what a good salesman does. In the days that followed I had a few conversations with this second gentleman, and was able to dig into what he thought sales was all about. 2. Can meet his customer’s needs His understanding was built on his love for God and a love for his neighbor. He saw his role as a salesman as trying to meet his customers’ needs. That could be a complicated task: it might involve explaining to a customer that they have a need they didn’t even know about. The product he sold, student agendas, weren’t standard school equipment in the same way that pencils, paper, and rulers are. But he believed in his product; in a very real way he was in his job for the same reason a good teacher takes her position: they both want to help students learn. He knew that his agenda could help students be better organized by helping them manage their time and keep track of assignments. There were features that could help teachers and parents too, and all for the price of only a few dollars each. His sales pitch wasn’t dependent on pressure – he presented the features of the agenda in as clear and concise a manner as he could, respecting both the principal’s intelligence and his time. A couple key differences So what’s the difference between the first sort of salesman – the one who thinks he can sell anything to anyone – and the second sort who is trying to meet the customer’s needs? Attitude is the biggest part of it. Instead of being full of himself, the Christian salesman is thinking of others, trying to serve them by offering the opportunity to buy a valuable product. A second difference is that a Christian salesman can only sell a product he believes in. Christians wouldn’t want to sell sand in the Sahara, even if our powers of persuasion were such that we could pull it off. A Christian salesman needs to be doing his customer a service that is to the customer’s benefit. It was no coincidence that the sales staff at this agenda company also had a role in product development. They were trying to meet customer needs, and after talking with the same principals and superintendents year after year, the sales staff could give valuable advice to the product development team about improvements, and good features to add. Conclusion I was grateful to meet this second salesman and his many godly sales colleagues. They changed forever the way I understood sales, showing there is a way to honor God in this field too. Of course, there are still the sleazy sort, and lots of them. In some companies there could be pressures to overhype products, and to push customers into buying options they don’t really need. But that shouldn’t make us steer clear of the sales field. We do need to be aware that we might face such pressures, and understand that in standing against them we could even lose our position. But at the same time, the servant-minded salesman is going to be appreciated by all his customers – honesty and integrity are valuable “sales tools.” In fact, the godly salesman I talked to was later honored as one of his company’s top sellers. If you have that servant mindset, and a product you can believe in, then sales can be a God-honoring job indeed!...

Economics

What if selling could be a beautiful thing?

“I hate sales.” That phrase came up again and again while I was working with a group of Christian not-for-profit leaders. As we explored the issue together, it became painfully clear that worldly stinkin’ thinkin' had crept into their minds. For them, sales meant…. Prompting people to do something they didn’t want to do. Twisting people’s arms. Using people for your own good and not theirs. Images of cold-hearted, self-focused, not-for-the-good-of-others, coercive people dominated our discussion. It was time to move our stinkin' thinkin' to Kingdom thinking. Over my 25 years as an entrepreneur, business and sales professional, one of the bigger challenges to overcome has been the negative sales mindset many Christ-followers have adopted. In my experience, many see “sales” as a dirty word… a “necessary evil” to somehow make their business work. In their thinking, “wouldn’t business be great if I didn’t have to sell”! But consider these questions: What if “selling” could be a beautiful thing? What if we looked at engaging in the sales process as a gift of service to the one with whom you are looking to “make a sale”? What if  you could quit focusing on selling and, instead, help the potential customer buy? What is your response? How do you view sales? What follows are five very "Deliberate sales mindsets" I invite you to make your own. If you do, these could be game changers for you and your business! They were for me! Deliberate sales mindset #1: THE PROCESS OF SALES IS BEAUTIFUL! God created work! Yes, we corrupted it as part of the Fall into sin, yet in the original design work was beautiful. Therefore sales, done in a Kingdom way, is also beautiful. (Genesis 2:2, Colossians 3:23, Ephesians 6:5-9) Do you believe that selling can be a beautiful process? Why or why not? Deliberate sales mindset #2 FOCUS ON LOVE! A Christ-following sales leader is called to show Christ’s “love” to the potential buyer. This is non-negotiable for one who is committed to Christ. Either the “Great Commandment” is the “Great Commandment” or it is not. If this is so, an essential focus for the sales person is to ensure that they “love” (Matt 22:34-40). This kind of love is where I choose to extend myself for the highest good of another. Deliberate sales mindset #3 CHOOSE TO SERVE! Your mindset is to serve and not be served. Jesus in Mark 10:45 says it well: “For the son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And we are called to become imitators of Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2). Deliberate Sales Mindset #4 HUNT FOR VALUE! If “sales” is beautiful, and you are committed to loving the customer, then you are “free” to hunt for the value that will be meaningful for the customer. You are in pursuit of doing whatever you can to add value to your client’s world. Within the bounds of your well thought out business model you are free to listen well and ask thoughtful, meaningful questions. Pursue uncovering the value that may be hidden, just waiting to be discovered. Deliberate Sales Mindset #5 BE CURIOUS! Nothing will kill a sales opportunity faster than approaching it with a “know-it-all” attitude. Pride and ego are “show stoppers” for sales people (let alone everyone else). Think of the times you have encountered an arrogant sales person – I suspect not a great experience. Again, Jesus paves the way for us. He showed us, in His role, what it meant to operate with humility. (Phil 2:1-3 & 1 Peter 5:5-10) To bring authentic curiosity, where you are truly interested in what is best for your client, requires humility. Humility communicates that you are learning from this client; they will teach you what they need. You job is to offer a heart and mind that is keen to listen and learn from them. PERSONAL APPLICATION So let’s move our view of sales from stinkin' thinkin' to Kingdom thinking! Either by yourself or with the help of others in a group ask: Father, what are you teaching me about you, and your view of “sales”? What are you teaching me about my view of sales? How aligned is my view with yours? What actions would you have me take as I “sell”? And, is there someone you want me to share this with? Pete Kuehni is a partner at DeliberateU, a group offering business leadership mentoring for Christian business owners in their workplace, families and communities, with the goal of increasing their capacity to grow in both faith and business effectiveness. Their conviction is that God uniquely uses the marketplace to extend His kingdom purpose – to serve others while growing in faith, hope and love. You can learn more at DeliberateU.com where this article first appeared under the title "Tired of selling but you need more sales?"...

Economics

If work is worship, does that mean I just gotta be warm and fuzzy all day?

In an earlier article we peered into God’s design for business and how that changes one’s outlook on vocation and the marketplace. Our work done His way reflects God’s character and unleashes His beauty. Because faith and work are seamless, our work is worship. But some of us stand on the proverbial shores unsure, skeptically dipping our feet into these new waters. A first response is often, “So we’re gonna sing “Kumbaya” around the water cooler all day? Do you expect me to turn my business into some charity and not make any money? That’s all very nice, but it’s not the real world. We have to get stuff done here!” Do you feel the tension in doing your work as worship? Is there a strain between serving others and making sure that your business gets its needed results? Herein lies the false dilemma that often brings us unneeded guilt. But there’s hope! GOD’S MODE In His image, reflecting His beauty, God perfectly designed us for every aspect of work. He loves our work – because of its purpose. In the last article we learned that even our work is an expression of Him. God is deeply interested in every part of it. How we care for people, balance books, run systems, innovate, hire and fire and make healthy profit – it all matters to Him! He designed us to run our businesses with excellence, reflecting His character. That means He’s deeply interested, involved, and holds us accountable in our businesses’ customer service, sales, finances and operations. So yes, he even cares about your bottom line. It too is an act of worship! Proverbs encourages us in pursuing excellence and shows how honest gain is an outcome of God’s blessing on hard work. Competency and profits increase our capacity to do more good As we read in Proverbs 14:23: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Proverbs 22:29 tells us that if we are skilled at what we do, we’ll always be in demand. Bruce Ashford practically writes “God often works through our jobs to love his image-bearers. In other words, God uses the products of our work to provide for our fellow citizens. When God wants to feed a hungry child, He does not usually do so in miraculous manner; He usually does so through farmers, truck drivers, grocery store owners, contractors, electricians, plumbers and a myriad of other types of workers… In conclusion, our callings are our primary means to bring God glory by loving Him and our neighbour. If we are seeking to fulfill these callings faithfully and with excellence, we can multiply our faithfulness in every dimension of society and culture, and across the fabric of our shared human existence.” OUR MODEL So what does this look like in business terms? I work in a Christian leadership mentoring firm called DeliberateU, where we’ve honed the art of business down to three foundational pillars. Wrapped in a kingdom-focused culture these are: People: Creating a great place to work where people are growing and led by clear purpose and values. Sales: Serving others, not self. Creating a “wow” experience with a great product and service. Results: Building a healthy, sustainable business that is well positioned to grow and give back. When these spheres work in synergy something stunningly beautiful takes place! Rooted in the essence of the Great Commandment of Matthew 22:36-40 they unleash in us the capacity to reflect God’s creativity, excellence, grace and truth. They allow us to worship Him by blessing and serving our neighbor. But here’s the scoop: it always starts with people. Why’s that you say? Well, who has God made the pinnacle of His creation? People. So as business owners we are entrusted with God’s greatest creation. Whether staff, customers, or janitors, people like you and I are His craftsmanship made in His image. If we as Christian business leaders saw all people as our neighbors, how might that change the way we steward His most precious creation? What a privilege! How can we glorify God in the spheres of team and customer experience together with business processes, all while producing a healthy bottom line? In this 2013 video, Cardone Industries shares how it is trying to deliver on all three. When we intentionally lead the businesses entrusted to us in a God-focused way, to His design, our work is worship. Our work opens up opportunities to practically serve people while blessing them, their families, and communities. Is your business an act of worship? DELIBERATE APPLICATION: If work is worship, do I view my business as something I built or something God entrusted me with? How does that change how I view work as worship? Look in the mirror and ask yourself. “What primarily drives our business: People, Production, Profit or Pride”? If I’m to lead with “truth and love” do I care for people, carry people or care less for people? This is part 2 in the “Work is the Worship” series – you can find part 1 here. Darren Bosch is a partner at DeliberateU - leadership mentors for Christian business owners looking to grow in their workplace, families and communities. Their conviction is that God uniquely uses the marketplace to expand His kingdom purpose – serving others while growing in faith, hope and love. ...

Economics

BUSINESS IS BEAUTIFUL! How do you view your business?

If you are an average healthy, able-bodied North American you will spend at least half of all the waking hours in your life at work (which, for most of us, is a separate place and community from what we call “home”). You will spend the majority of the remaining available hours engaging the marketplace in some way. Given that level of involvement, it’s remarkable how negative our outlook often is of work, business and the marketplace. Work continues to receive a bad rap. The world of business is often characterized as a cold, calculating, sometimes cutthroat place where relationships are exploitative and largely dysfunctional. We might be tempted to think that, at its best, doing business should be nothing more than money changing hands. Terms like “work/life balance” indicate a prevalent notion that there is no life at work. Rather life is something we escape to after work. Similarly, a saying like “living for the weekend” would indicate that we view work as an unfortunate but necessary detour on our way to our real life. And if we’re fortunate enough to not be suffering through feelings of drudgery, perhaps we’re still at a loss as to the meaning of it all. In the Christian community especially – how many Christ followers haven’t had an inferiority complex about their work; as if church ministry was somehow a better or more faithful endeavour than whatever it is that they put their mind to from 8 AM to 5 PM each day? How many console themselves with the idea that the work they do provides funds for ministry which is where the “real meaningful” work in our world is done? A necessary evil? But is that really true? Is ministry the only way to really obey the Great Commandment and Great Commission? Is business only a necessary evil in the process? Consider what James K.A. Smith, editor of Comment magazine once wrote. When we spend our money, we are not just consuming commercial goods, we are also fostering and perpetuating ways of being human. To be a patron is to be a selector, an evaluator, and a progenitor of certain forms of cultural life. You didn’t realize that you exercised such power did you? Our entire lives, including the purchases we make and the businesses we patronize, tell a story. If we are impacting culture – if we are telling a story – as patrons, then wouldn’t we be doing the very same as producers? Our businesses are also an opportunity to impact the world around us. Consider the influence we can have in our business life with: our employees, customers, contractors and suppliers, the entrepreneurs we encourage the business leaders we meet the organizations we build, the products we develop, the work we produce, the services we deliver, the way we serve our customers and the way we cooperate with each other at work. All of this too, reflects what it is to be human. All of this too is “ministry.” Our work is a prime opportunity for us to create beauty. Not a superficial surface beauty but the kind of beauty that flows out of love. The kind of beauty that reveals something “other.” Business is an opportunity for beauty Makato Fujimura, founder of the International Arts Movement, says: Human beings cannot live for a long time in a place bereft of beauty. We hunger for beauty if we are robbed of it. True beauty nurtures our deepest longings. Our time spent at work and in the marketplace has an impact. All the time and all the resources available to us on the job and all the activities we engage in offer us an amazing opportunity to meet not just people’s physical needs but also their deepest needs and influences our understanding of what is to be human in the process. Fujimura continues… In our pragmatism, beauty and art have been exiled to the peripheral realities of our culture and our business environments. So we can approach work as something to be endured. Or we can see it as an opportunity to encourage something beautiful. Love transforms our businesses from cold, hard utilitarian structures into powerful catalysts for human flourishing. Our leadership – creativity – innovation – organization – resources and the power we’re each given, everything in the world of business tells a story. When love for God and neighbour is the driving force in our life – including our businesses – the story that that tells addresses our fellow man’s deepest longings. Because when love drives our business, “business is beautiful.” Jason Bouwman is the founder of Compass Creative (CompassCreative.ca).  Questions for further study How do you view your business? Do you see it as beautiful or a necessary evil? Why? Discuss your perspective of business with a friend or colleague. What is their feedback to you on your perspective of how you view your business? What steps can you take to help you and others see that, by design, business can be beautiful? ...

Assorted, Economics, Science - Environmental Stewardship

Manure into mattresses

Man can "create" resources! Economist Julian Simon's key insight is that man's creativity – his brainpower – is a resource that creates other resources. So while some view a rising population as a threat to limited resources ("We're going to run out of oil!") Simon viewed a growing population as a growing resource base. Our brains, when properly applied, could in a reflection of God's own creativity, turn nothing (or next to it) into quite something. For example, when copper – a key element in our phone lines – started getting very expensive, this motivated some smart chaps to develop a much cheaper alternative: sand! That's what our telephone lines are today: Sand (silicon) + Human Creativity = Fiber optic cables Making sand into something is amazing enough, but a much more impressive example of "resource creation" is the way some farmers have turned poop into bedding (or if you prefer alliteration, manure into mattresses). It is quite a story! Rising prices prompts creative thinking Down where I live, in the Northern Washington/Southern BC area, some dairy farmers used to use sawdust as a cheap bedding material for their cows. The cows could sleep in it, poop on it, and the farmer could then come along, clean it out, and put a new layer down. Sawdust clumped together, making it easy to scoop away, but perhaps its most attractive quality was its cheapness. Sawdust used to be viewed as a waste product from the lumber industry – they couldn't give it away and would even bury it. But then creative farmers created a market for this castoff. Or to put it in more mathematical terms: Sawdust + Human Creativity = Cow bedding Some time later, other creative folks started to see more ways that sawdust could be used, including as fuel. Because it originated as a lumber waste product it was cheaper than many other fuel options. So some greenhouses owners figured out a way to use it to heat their buildings, and started to outbid the farmers. This result was this waste product – nothing more than garbage before human brainpower got involved – had so increased in value that farmers could no longer afford it. They needed to find a cheaper option for their bedding! And then it happened. Some ingenious dairy farmer, probably sitting out on his tractor staring out across his manure lagoon, started thinking about the possibilities in all this poop. The result was a separation system that used the undigested fibers found in cow manure. This is fed into a rotating drying drum, where high heat kills the germs, and the output is fibrous bedding material for the farmer's cows. Poop + Human Creativity = Cow bedding Manure has been turned into mattresses! Conclusion Julian Simon was an atheist, so he didn't understand why we have this capacity – why we have a mysterious, awesome ability to use our brains to create something out of nothing. But Simon did recognize Man was more than his mouth; he understood that Man wasn't best understood as a consumer of scarce resources, but that instead Man has an ability (and Christians would add, a calling) to be a producer of plenty. So, in this limited way, Simon has a more accurate understanding of Man than any of his critics. So where does our creative capacity come from? It is a reflection of God's creative Genius. We can't create ex nihilo – out of nothing – like God does, but when we take what was once useless, and put it to productive use, we show ourselves to be His image-bearers....

Economics

What is "Equal Pay for work of Equal Value"?

Canada's Liberal government has announced plans to bring in “equal pay for work of equal value” legislation by 2018. It would apply to almost 900,000 Canadian employees, including not only federal employees, but also anyone working in federally regulated sectors like banks and airlines. To be clear, we're not talking about "equal pay for equal work." That's the idea that if two people are doing the exact same work, and to the same quality, and for the same amount of hours – if it is exactly the same – then the federal government should pay them the same. That makes good sense. But what we have here is the government deciding they are going to intervene in situations where people are doing very different work from one another. And the government is going to figure out how much their work should be worth, and whether they are doing work "of equal value." None of the newspapers reporting on this can spot the huge glaring problem with this - they talk of it as if it is simply a matter of administrating it right. So what is the problem? Who decides how work should be valued? Consider this: how valuable is the work done by a second string back-up goaltender on an NHL team? He might still make several hundred thousand, even a million or two, and yet he's not doing all that much. Meanwhile a good teacher is helping form the next generation of minds – what could be more important? Yet this teacher isn’t likely to make even one hundred thousand. Whose job is more valuable? A bureaucrat might decide it is the teacher. But are we going to start paying our teachers millions to even it up? What we have here is an example of the "diamond water paradox." While water is more important for life than diamonds (we can't survive more than 3 days without water, but we can get by a lot longer without diamonds) water remains much, much cheaper than diamonds. Why is that? As we all know, it's because water is far more abundant than diamonds. Or to say it the other way around, diamonds are more expensive than water because they are rarer...even though they aren't more important or more useful. So something’s price is not always determined by how useful it is. There are other factors involved, and when it comes to jobs, that may also include how ready a supply there is for this position vs. that position. Teachers are in a far more abundant supply than NHL players of any type. That's why the NHL player gets more. If we start arbitrarily deciding this job is the equivalent of that one, and so both should get the same pay, only bad things can result. In our example it would either mean bumping all the teachers' salaries up substantially (which we can't afford) or lowering the goaltenders' salaries to just a hundred thousand. But if these goalies are any good they could make more than that overseas. And so, suddenly, we've created a situation in which there is a shortage of quality second-string goalies because the government restricts what they can be paid. Of course, the government isn't going to restrict goalies' pay – this is a goofy example. But the principles are just the same – the government is going to set up some sort of system of deciding what work is equal to which. And because it's going to ignore simple economic rules (like scarcity driving prices up) it's going to be a mess.  ...

Economics

Let's not be the squeaky wheel

Fewer people are using VIA Rail, more trains are behind schedule, and the Crown corporation continues to bleed money by the millions: that’s what Canada’s Auditor General found when he took a close look at the passenger service this spring. In 2014 VIA had revenues of $280 million, but spent $597 million in operating costs, plus another $82 million in capital projects (putting down tracks, etc.). That works out to a loss of $399 million, all of it covered by the government. So what did taxpayers get for their money? Well, an economy ticket for a four-day trip from Vancouver to Toronto is roughly $500, but the true cost is $1,100, with the government chipping in the difference of $600.  Even with government subsidies of $55 million for the Vancouver-Toronto route, VIA Rail can’t compete on speed or price. In comparison an economy ticket for a flight on WestJet for the same route can be had for $300 and will take five hours. A bus ticket for a three-day Vancouver-Toronto trip is as little as $250. Government intrusion into the marketplace has left us with a business that is slower, more expensive, and costs hundreds of millions of Canadian tax dollars each year. Why, then, does VIA Rail still exist? Because every time they cut service on unprofitable routes, ticket buyers – those who get the bulk of their ticket price paid for by taxpayers – protest. And these squeaky wheels continue to get greased. What’s the takeaway for us? Let’s not be that sort of squeaky wheel. We can make use of VIA’s service for as long as they exists – we don’t need to feel guilty about taking advantage of their subsidized ticket prices. Why? Because so long as their trains are going to keep running whether profitable or not, our ticket purchases will amount to a small decrease in VIA’s overall losses. However, if VIA proposes cutting a money-losing route – even our favorite route – then we must not squeak! It’s one thing to make use of wasteful government services, and quite another to demand the government continue providing these services. On what biblical basis can we argue that others should be required to subsidize our scenic train trips? SOURCES: VIA Rail Canada Annual Report 2014; 2016 Spring Reports of the Auditor General of Canada: Via Rail Canada Inc. – Special Examination Report - 2016...