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Economics, Human Rights, Satire

On achieving 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, Science - Environment

Manure into mattresses – we 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

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, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Love Gov: Breaking up with government is hard to do

Here's something new: an economic argument for small government presented as a comedic drama. And Love Gov is a romance too, sort of. Alexis was thinking of quitting college to start her own business, but then she meets the strangely charming Scott Govinsky (known as "Gov" to his friends). To compliment her ideas, ambitions, and drive, Gov is so very caring and supportive. And eager to help. And he never seems to runs out of advice. Perfect material for a boyfriend? Alexis thinks so...at first. The problem is, Gov's advice isn't nearly as helpful as it seems. If you haven't figured it out yet, Alexis' boyfriend Gov is a stand-in for our government, which wants to mind our business because it cares for us so deeply. But as much as the politicians and burecrats might mean well, that doesn't mean they are doing well...which is what Love Gov tries to show. CAUTIONS The series' producer, the Independent Institute, is not a Christian organization. So, even as they are for limited government, they might be for less moral restraint too, as evidenced by the little boy at the very beginning (who has only the briefest of roles) wearing a shirt with a transgender rainbow on it. A more notable quibble: because Love Gov is humorous, some of its serious points are made in an over-the-top manner, which could prompt the cynically-inclined to discount those points entirely. So it's important to pitch this to friends properly: introduce it to them as the light-hearted discussion-starter it is, and don't present it as any sort of weighty "final word" on the issues it raises. CONCLUSION The overall argument being pitched is for smaller government. While the group pitching it isn't Christian, there's a lot here for Christians to love, since we should also support limited, and thus smaller, government. Why? Because God has given different responsibilities to different types of "government." The "governments" we're talking about here are not of the municipal, provincial, or federal sort but rather family government, Church government, and yes, State government too. We can throw in self-government as well. These types of government are all appointed by God to take on different roles, and while who should have exactly what role can sometimes be difficult to discern, one type of government can only gain more power and influence at the expense of the others. Which type of government is the most expansionist? The State. Its influence in our family life, the education of our children, regulation of business, management of healthcare, direction of the economy – that reach is already enormous. And just as the State's expansion into education came by shrinking the parental role, so too its expansion into other areas comes at the expense of other levels of "government." That's why Christians should want a limited government; because we know that God didn't intend for us and the other types of government to abandon our roles and responsibilities to the State. Another reason for a limited government? When the State takes on jobs God never intended for it they will tend to mess things up. Good intentions simply aren't enough (Prov. 27:14); a good dose of humility about what the State can do, and shouldn't even try to do is also vital. Episode 1: An education in debt (6 minutes) Alexis wants to quit school to start up a business and start paying off her student debt. Then she meets Gov, who encourages her to stay in school "because there's nothing more important  than your education." What about that student debt? Gov assures her, "You are going to have a lifetime to pay off debt...a lifetime!" The Bible likens debt to slavery (Prov. 22:7) – it limits your ability and freedom to do what you otherwise might want to do. Episode 2: Protection from jobs (5 minutes) After Alexis graduates college she decides to pursue her small business idea. Gov is, once again, happy to help, though this time coming to the "aid" of employee Libby. Regulations are brought in with the intent of protecting workers. But regulations also make it harder and more expensive to hire workers: One estimate concerning Canada's tech industry had a 1% increase in regulations leading to a 5% decrease in business startups. The tradeoffs that come with government "protections" are often overlooked. Episode 3: A rememdy for healthcare choices (6 minutes) Alexis is looking for a new healthcare insurance plan, and Gov knows best. Meanwhile, Libby argues that choices and options and free market competition could produce healthcare for less. In his documentary Wait Til It's Free, Reformed filmmaker Colin Gunn makes that same argument. Episode 4: House poor (6 minutes)  Alexis goes house-hunting and mortgage-hunting too, only to discover that Gov has been spending her money, putting her tens of thousands in debt. In Canada accumulated provincial and national debts averages out to $40,000 CAN per citizens while in the US just the national debt works out to more than double that at $80,000 US per citizen. Episode 5: Keeping a close eye on privacy (5 minutes) While Alexis and Gov aren't together anymore, he's still keeping tabs on her – breaking up with "the Gov" proves very hard to do. This series came out soon after Edward Snowden revealed that the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on its own citizens, though generally in aggregate – it viewed all the captured data as a whole, not tying it to specific people. But Snowden also shared that should the government want to look at your specific data it could do that too after getting a judge's approval...which was always given....

Economics

Thinking in terms of tradeoffs rather than solutions...

In a June 2 Facebook live discussion with fellow Conservative MP Garnett Genius, Arnold Viersen outlined two very different ways that politicians tend to approach problems. “One of my friends points out that the progressive vote thinks in terms of solutions, and the conservative thinks in terms of tradeoffs. And you can see that even in the COVID response. The progressives: ‘We have got to stop the spread of COVID!’ The conservative will much more think: ‘We have to trade off one health concern for another health concern.’ For example, in Alberta we’ve had, I think, just about 150 deaths from COVID. But in the same time period we’ve had 37 deaths from a lack of heart surgeries. And that’s a tradeoff that we’ve made. It’s not necessarily talked about. But that is the tradeoff.” That’s a fantastic point. And while Viersen framed it as a conservative vs. a progressive way of thinking, it might better be framed as a Christian vs. secular way of thinking. It is the Christian, after all, who knows why we should be acknowledging that our best efforts will always be trade-offs, rather than solutions for all. It comes down to our more accurate understanding of the world and of our own capabilities. For the secularist, G.K. Chesterton noted, “Once abolish God, and the government becomes God.” Refusing to turn upwards, the secularist is forced to look sideways for a savior, landing on the government because there is no more powerful human institution. But fallible, fallen, limited Man isn’t savior material, no matter what level of power he attains. So the secularist can only continue placing their hope in government by disregarding the limited nature of Man’s capabilities and character. Then they look for solutions rather than trade-offs because it has become their habit to overestimate what Man can do. The Christian, on the other hand, has no need to gloss over Man’s limitations. We also understand that time, money, and every other resource, are limited too, such that we need to count the cost before setting out on an endeavor (Luke 14:25-34). And, finally, we know that in this sin-stained world perfection is impossible. That’s why anything we do will always be a tradeoff, with one of the most common being that resources used for one purpose, can’t then be used to some other end. As Viersen pointed out, when most governments first proposed the lockdowns, we didn’t hear about the other health costs that would come along with doing so. Overall the situation was presented as being lives vs. money, and given that sort of tradeoff, then the choice was clear. And even as an economic tradeoff was noted, the government had their “solution” to that too – they were going to hand out money and lots of it, and we didn’t hear of any downside to doing that. However, it wasn’t just lives vs. money. The reality was that it was lives vs. other lives. There was a predictable, but overlooked cost that would come from heart surgeries, and other vital medical treatments, that were cancelled or delayed due to our COVID-19 response. There was also the physical and mental health concerns that come with unemployment on such a massive scale. Those weren’t widely acknowledged tradeoffs. Going forward, one hard-earned lesson we can take from this strange spring is to question whatever “solutions” we are offered (Prov. 18:17). As Christians, we can apply our God-given insights about the nature of Man, and our world, and help those around us by posing the important questions that spring from our better understanding. We can gently yet firmly ask: “What is the trade-off?” and “What are the costs you haven’t yet mentioned?” Because there will be such costs. In this finite, fallen world every proposal will always involve tradeoffs. ...

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

A sad tale of a wealthy millennial’s moral confusion

A few years back my wife heard a young woman share that she had felt guilty for being able to go out to dinner with friends in Chicago. She knew her mother, still living in South Africa, wasn’t able to dine out like this. When she later told her mother about her feelings during a phone call, her mother was having none of it. She told her daughter that gratitude, not guilt was the appropriate response to God’s blessings. The young woman was told that she should thank God for how she’d been able to immigrate to America, and she could also pray and work for a time when South Africans, and others around the world, would enjoy blessings similar to those she was experiencing now in America. Is wealth immoral? I remembered that story the moment I began reading about Adam Roberts, a Millennial who in his Vox article “Is wealth immoral?” expressed his sense of guilt and injustice at having inherited over a million dollars as a child of wealthy parents. “As I got politicized around things like wealth inequality, climate change, war, and the forces connecting them, I didn’t connect it too much with my own family or history,” he wrote. But then he came to understand things differently. He confessed, as if they were sins, that his family had gained wealth through the oil industry, banking, and stock in companies that built things for the military. His parents had given him stock in ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron – another reason for guilt. As he became active as a “community organizer” in Boston, “no longer surrounded by wealthy peers,” it “felt absurd … to have access to so much when so many others didn’t.” “As a result,” he wrote, “I got real weird about money. I’d barely spend any of it.” He’d walk instead of taking Uber. Spending of $300 a month for prescription drugs for his mother-in-law was okay, but he was conflicted about putting down $30,000 on a house or spending $6.99 for a bag of popcorn at a theater. So he offset those two by contributing $30,000 to a land trust and declining to get a soda refill. But such things, he believes “are imperfect, individual actions.” The whole system that allows people to amass such wealth while others struggle is “immoral.” Everyone, he thinks, should have a modest first home, but nobody should have a “$20M mansion in Newport, RI,” a second home if anyone else is homeless, or a third (or fourth or fifth). Nobody should buy a new $799 sofa when he could buy a used one, and nobody should have a yacht – at all. “Is it moral to hold any excess  private wealth under capitalism?” he asks – and later reveals that it’s not. “Does it matter how that wealth was accumulated?” He offers four examples: fossil fuels, medical doctor, useful invention, or stocks. He draws toward his conclusion by writing: “In a system that produces a handful of people with billions of dollars while hundreds of millions of people still lack access to basic human needs like health care and affordable housing … the question isn’t what billionaires should do with ‘their’ money. It’s how to enact policies that prevent any one person from concentrating that much wealth and power in the first place.” He recommends “taxing wealthy families like mine a whole lot more” because it’s “totally happened in the past,” it’s “part of the Green New Deal,” and it’s “widely supported.” At the level of individual choices, he reports that he’s donated roughly a third of what he inherited to charitable causes and intends to donate another third. “For me, it feels like part of becoming more connected and alive on this planet,” he says. Good motives; bad conclusions How should we respond to such thinking? Certainly not by condemning Roberts’s motives. It’s refreshing to see someone born rich who cares about those who weren’t. His charitable giving is to be commended, as is his self-restraint. And, frankly, as I read his article (accompanied by brilliant illustrations that drive home his points), my heart went out to him. Nonetheless, there are serious problems with his thinking. Is “wealth inequality” unjust by definition? Why, then, hasn’t he already divested himself of everything he owns except what would equal the average net worth of people around the world? How can anyone buy a used sofa – or any sofa at all – if nobody buys a new one? What constitutes a modest first home – something typical of Corinth, Mississippi, where median home value is $105,900? Or of Boston, where Roberts lives and the median home value is five-and-a-half times as much, or Manhattan at eleven times as much, or San Francisco (tack on another hundred grand)? Or – let’s get real now, and care about the whole world, not just wealthy America – is $1,000 a square foot, common in Boston, “modest,” or $99 (7,000 rupees) a square foot, common in Bengaluru (Bangalore), India’s “silicon valley”? Or next to nothing for the cardboard shacks in which millions of the poor of Africa, Asia, and Latin America live? And what’s the dividing line between a moral system and an “immoral” one that allows people to amass such wealth while others struggle? Is personal net worth of $10,000 okay, but not $11,000? Or $250,000 but not $300,000? What objective standard justifies where Roberts draws the line? And what is “excess” wealth? Consider millionaires and billionaires – the sort of persons Roberts thinks “the system” should disallow. What do millionaires and billionaires do with their “excess” wealth? Well, they might buy stocks or bonds – providing the capital to pay workers, equip them with expensive tools that enable them to produce the food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care, and other benefits still other people need. They might buy a second or third house (or a yacht, or a private jet), construction of which employed workers whose wages provided food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care, and other benefits to themselves and their families. Maybe they’ll just stick it in a bank account – from which the bank will make loans to companies that will employ people to make things that benefit others. About the only thing they can do with it that will be of use to nobody is hide it under the mattress. (Let me know if you run into a millionaire who does that. I’m curious to meet such an eccentric.) It’s pretty clear that Roberts thinks there’s something particularly immoral about accumulating wealth from fossil fuels. Yet using those fossil fuels has lifted billions of people out of the poverty that breaks Roberts’s heart by providing not only energy but also plastics that prevent foods from spoiling; fertilizers that allow farmers to grow more food on less land to feed the growing human population while leaving land available for wildlife; pharmaceuticals that heal diseases; and literally thousands of other products derived from them. And when he bemoans fossil fuels’ contribution (however great or small) to climate change, does he weigh that against all those other benefits from them – plus the roughly $3.2 trillion in extra crop yields the CO2 emitted from them added to global crop yields (making food more available for the poor) from 1960 to 2012, with another $9.8 trillion expected by 2050? Medical doctors, whose method of accumulating wealth it seems Roberts favors over fossil fuels, would be severely handicapped without fossil fuel-derived medications (maybe including some his mother-in-law takes), not to mention the electricity that lights their operating rooms and powers their refrigerators to preserve their medications, their MRIs, and every other high-tech invention that enables them to restore people’s health and prolong their lives. How many of the things that raised human life expectancy at birth from about 27 or 28 years before the Industrial Revolution to about 70 today worldwide (and 80 in developed countries) would have been developed if no inventors, innovators, or entrepreneurs could have received any more rewards for their efforts than those who dug ditches (an honorable task but not highly rewarded) or just sat on their haunches? For some, wealth is a problem When a rich ruler asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to obey God’s commandments – something the man says he has done from his youth up. “One thing you still lack,” Jesus says. “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The man leaves sad, prompting Jesus’ remark, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” – i.e., impossible. But, He explains, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:18–27). So does that justify Roberts’s feeling guilty about his inherited wealth, and demanding that “the system” be changed to prevent anyone’s amassing “excess wealth” while others struggle? Charity is good, and so is investment No, for in the very next chapter, when Jesus encounters a rich tax collector who says that he will give half his goods to the poor and restore fourfold anyone he has defrauded, Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:1–10). So which is it? Must one give everything away, or half? Or is there a different point entirely – wealth takes the place of God for some people, and must be given away entirely, but not for others. After that encounter, Jesus tells a parable about a nobleman (who represents God) who entrusts money to each of ten servants and instructs them to engage in business until he returns. On his return, the servants report their performance. The first has multiplied the investment ten times, the second five times. He rewards them proportionately. The third servant says, “Lord, here is your mina , which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” The nobleman, ignoring the obvious lie that he was reaping where had not sown, responds, “I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?” Then he instructs others to take the money from him and give it to the first servant. “Lord,” they protest, “he has ten minas!” And the master responds, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Luke 19:11–27). God condemns injustice, not wealth The Bible has much to say about the need to protect the poor from oppression and to give charitably to help those who cannot help themselves. But nowhere does it condemn wealth. Indeed, some of the most important of God’s people were wealthy – Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea, and wealthy women who provided for Jesus and His disciples. The Bible condemns greed, selfishness, and injustice – but it never equates injustice with inequality. Adam Roberts’s confusion is sad, for it means he encourages not only envy and resentment toward many whom God has blessed but also false guilt on the part of many, including himself, who are blessed. By all means, whether you consider yourself rich or middle class or poor, give to the poor, and work to protect the poor from injustice. But don’t condemn all inequality as injustice, and don’t feel guilty for the gifts God has given you.  Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a former professor of historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary, is author of Social Justice vs. Biblical Justice: How Good Intentions Undermine Justice and Gospel. Questions to consider How does God's "equality" as found in James 2:1-4, and Lev. 19:15 differ with the sort of equality that Adam Roberts wants the government to bring in? How does equal treatment under the law differ from being made equal by the law? (See the comic below). Roberts feels guilty for two different reasons: 1) for being wealthy, and 2) for how that wealth was garnered. As Christians, which of those two could be a legitimate concern, and which is not? Why? Each time money is exchanged for merchandise both parties become "wealthier." When I pay $5 for a book it's because that book is worth more than $5 to me and the merchant gives me the book because the $5 is worth more than the book to him (or else neither of us would make the trade). Amazingly both of us came off the better for the trade. Thus, money gained via legitimate means (piracy and money laundering are both out) represents good that has been done and wealth that has been increased. How should that understanding color our impressions of billionaires and millionaires? How much "good already accomplished" does their wealth represent? The 10th Commandment (Ex. 20:17) says we're not to covet our neighbor's stuff. Is it still coveting if we support a political party that has plans for our uber-rich neighbor's wealth? Explain. Lord Acton's most memorable quote "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is based on a biblical understanding of Man's fallen nature. Is this adage a good reason to want to diminish the wealth – and thus the power – of the very wealthy? Or does the 10th Commandment apply even to their power? In Luke 12:48 we read, "...from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Is this passage a good justification for higher taxes on the rich? Is this God speaking to government about what the wealthy need to do, or God speaking to the wealthy about what the wealthy need to do? ...

Economics

A multi-level warning about multi-level marketing

Multi-level marketing’s end is nowhere in sight. Years ago, my personal ministry was. Yours truly accepted the invitation of another minister to jump into the multi-level pool. I stayed just long enough to nearly drown. During that time (and the drying off period which followed), I’ve done much thinking about the nature of multi-level marketing (“MLM”), with particular concern as to whether it is compatible with a lifestyle of devout obedience to the Christ of the Scriptures. My conclusion? There is a way that MLM is commonly done that conflicts at many points with Biblical values. So in what follows I submit several cautions – several lessons I’ve learned – for you to consider if you are involved in or thinking about joining one of these organizations. These points could be summed up as how we don’t want to do multi-level marketing. 1. Competing with the Church The first and deepest caution concerns multi-level marketing’s competition with the Church. From this one grand problem flow many others. This competition is undeclared but it is quite real. Consider, for example, how MLM literature is often liturgical in form. It contains praises for the company and/or its leaders, thanksgiving for its products, testimonies to the greatness of both, confessions of doubts, and even songs of adoration (no kidding). “Church” can meet in small groups (devotionals?) or large auditoriums. In the latter, the atmosphere is truly reminiscent of tent revivals in both program and intensity. Of course, you are urged to bring anyone you can. Every day is “Friend Day” in MLM. Furthermore, their agenda includes fantastic goals which, if truly representative of the organizations’ objectives, are frightening. They are out to “change the world.” Having made a “covenant with life” they are seeking to “infuse…lives with some measure of grace and beauty and purpose and joy.” MLMers are told that they are the “comfort and hope, promise and dream” of the world. Despite attacks or setbacks, these organizations will “survive and prevail(!)” Their enthusiasm is positively postmillennial in intensity. MLMers will often call each other “family.” They are urged to make a 100% commitment to the organization (something God alone can demand). They are encouraged to believe that the more they devote themselves to the plan, the closer they will be to tapping into “a life force of unlimited power.” People claim to have been “born-again,” either through the use of the company’s products or through participation in the multi-level program. They have been “set-free,” made “brand new,” delivered from fears, and are no longer able to hide their joy. Small wonder they can’t resist “sharing the good news”! The list could go on, but this tiny sampling of MLM rhetoric is sufficient to show the Messianic self-consciousness of many of these organizations. They are out to save the world. The problem, though, is that in their view salvation is primarily economic. People are unfulfilled or repressed or depressed because they haven’t got enough money. And this MLM organization will show you how to get it! Their method is (allegedly) guaranteed…but if you don’t get saved, it’s your fault. The impression is certainly given that the method is faultless. When I confronted one MLMer with the fact that he seemed to be saying that his organization was perfect, he quickly retorted, “Oh, no.” But in hours of talking, he yielded no ground. He could not (would not?) see any drawback or downside to his company. The Church should only fare as well when scrutinized by even her most loving critics! To review our first point, Christians need to be wary of MLM organizations that set themselves in competition with the Church by claiming the same mission (they are out to change the world – cf. Mark 16:15), by borrowing heavily from Biblical evangelical terminology (grace, born again, set free, covenant, joy, hope, comfort, sharing the good news, etc.), by pushing an economically-based soteriology (another gospel, my friends – Galatians 1:9), and by presumptuously arrogating to themselves invincibility (“we will prevail” – cf. Matthew 16:18) and possession of the keys to omnipotence (“a life force of unlimited power” – cf. Ephesians 1:18-23). It might be said that the organizations don’t really mean these things, that this is just the kind of hyperbole required to be competitive. But if they don’t mean these things, they should not say them (and they say them over and over and over again). If they do mean what they say, it necessarily makes it exceedingly difficult for Christians involved with the organizations to distinguish between things that differ. Sharing so much vocabulary necessarily cheapens the meaning of the words. When we remember that it is by means of some of these words that we are saved and sanctified, the precarious position of the Christian in such an MLM group becomes clearer. 2. Using friends and family A second concern for Christians involves how MLM can impact the way we view our social relationships. There would be little or no problem with the simple retailing of the products offered by these companies. They are usually as good, or better (though more expensive) than comparable items available in ordinary retail outlets. But, as you’re quick to find out, retail ain’t where the money is. No, the pyramid is climbed primarily through recruiting. You see, in MLM you get a cut of the sales of those recruited by you, and potentially of those recruited by them, and so on, ad pyramidium. Needless to say, you are at least as concerned to bring in the salesmen, as you are to bring in the sales. One Christian MLMer told me it was “just like making disciples” (there we go again). So the danger, then, is, that we start viewing everyone as potential timber with which we can build our little empire. Family members and close friends become the prime targets for you to “bring in under you.” Friends you have not called for 10 years, and casual acquaintances, who have to be reminded how they know you, come next. In MLM, propinquity = profit. But, by grace, the Christian MLMer will know he is in real trouble when, upon making new acquaintances, he doesn’t know which gospel he should seek to share first. If the company’s “support system” has indoctrinated him properly, he will consistently choose to first tell them about his new life in MLM. He hopes that it might lead to an opportunity to share God’s good news sometime in the future. The rationalizations one offers one’s self for this infidelity to God are myriad: “I feel led to share MLM first” / “If this person is among the elect he’ll be saved anyway” / “I’m going to use the money I make for God’s glory” (that was my favorite) / “If we share a business interest I’ll have more opportunities to witness,” etc. A prostitute can be very creative when comforting her conscience (see Proverbs 30:20). To review: MLM is bad news when: 1) it seeks to usurp the role of the Church 2) relationships become exploitation-ships. 3. The god of Mammon Greed can be a temptation in any business venture, but in MLM the amount of money you could make is mentioned again and again. That means covetousness is a real danger (see Proverbs 21:6, 16:8, Mark 4:19, Luke 12:15, 1 John 2:15). It is rather remarkable how few MLMers will be frank about this (though some are). The money can be significant, though – even astronomical, (for a few) – and it is possible to build a profitable business rather quickly. This is because MLM, when the people “under you” make money, you make money. The more they make, the more you make. Everyone is constantly “encouraging” everyone else to go for it. Of course, the difference between greed and simple financial success is not in the amount of dollars amassed, but in what one has exchanged for those dollars. One MLM convention or large rally would reveal what some poor souls have lost to gain what they now, temporarily, have. Superstars in MLM are often unabashedly ostentatious self-aggrandizers. Many of them, sorrowfully, have given up, or reprioritized (which is, after all, the same thing – Ex. 20:3) their first love for baubles, trinkets and the way of death. It is very sad. 4. Competing with the communion of saints A fourth concern is that MLM devotees are drawn into an independent subculture. For Christians, MLM involvement is, in some respects, akin to membership in a lodge. MLM is intrinsically and increasingly esoteric. The fellowship of the saints is usually seen as inadequate. A new club is formed and the password is not the blood of Jesus but the name of your MLM organization. Man is ever finding new ways to put asunder that which God has joined together. Conclusion There is a solemn warning in 1 Timothy that tore at my conscience the whole time I was involved in MLM. I actually avoided looking at this passage because it got too close, penetrating my soul, judging the thoughts and attitudes of my heart. Rather than submit to this passage, I was considering leaving the ministry! Oh brothers, listen to the Word of God. Don’t give heed to the siren song, no matter how sweet, if its lyrics contain an invitation to disobey the tiniest commandment of God. The devil is seeking to devour us, but God has given us His Word for our good and for our protection. Obedience to God’s Word is life! “If we have food and clothing we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:8-11). Beware of giving heed to the voice of seducing spirits. God has called us to peace, which is found in the pursuit of Himself – not gold. By all means, work hard. By all means, bless Jehovah for the increase He grants the labor of your hands. But never make money your chief pursuit, or you’re dead. Abraham Kuyper was certainly correct when he said, “If you are truly subject to God, money will be subject to you and will not harm you.” But Kuyper demonstrated his balance and wisdom when he added, “If, on the other hand, you undertake to defend yourself against the fatal influence of…money and its seductive power, you are lost before you know it, and deeming that you are your own master, you have found your master in the money-power.” If you or someone you know is considering entering the world of MLM, wait. Before committing yourself to such a lifestyle (for that is what it is), take your time and pray. Consider the points made in this article. If they were made too strongly, modify them, but be sober and judge with right judgment. Look beyond surface claims; look for truth in the inwards parts. MLM organizations usually offer excellent products and most operate with a great degree of internal integrity. But product and corporate reliability, while important, are not the only factors which a child of the Living God should consider before biting at a ten-tiered carrot. If you’re not very careful, you may bite off more than you can chew. A version of this article first appeared in “Messiah’s Mandate: UPDATE, Volume 2, Number 2,” and is reprinted here with permission of the author. Rev. Steve M. Schlissel is the pastor of Messiah’s Covenant Community Church (MessiahNYC.org) in Brooklyn, New York. Questions to consider 1. This article presumes Christians want to talk about God with whomever we meet. But is that accurate – are we eager to talk about God? What stops us from talking about God? 2. How are the article’s four cautions applicable to other business ventures? 3. Pastor Schlissel says we should be wary of messianic, save-the-world language because it competes with the real Messiah, and the real Savior. So how should we respond when we hear it elsewhere? Like presidential debates? Or discussions about plastic straw usage? Where else do we hear this kind of language? 4. How would a Christian involved in MLM do it differently than non-Christians? What would that look like? 5. In a report posted to the US Federal Trade Commission website, Jon M. Taylor detailed how, in the 350 leading MLMs he’d looked at, 99% of sales consultants lost money. Taylor suggests that before you join any particular MLM you ask them for: “the average amount of money paid by the company in commissions and bonuses to participants at the various levels in the compensation plan.” If the organization won’t provide this information he suggests, “you should consider that a red flag.” While this isn’t a question, it is worth considering....

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

The rich get richer by making us all wealthier too

Coveting is not only a sin, it's stupid. It's important we're clear on both points, because the Devil is willing to work any angle. He knows he's not going to fool us on the sin side – many of us hear the Ten Commandments read every Sunday again. But what if he could make the case that, sure, coveting is sinful, but it still makes sense? Oh, yes, looking over the fence at your neighbor's stuff may not be polite...but just look at it all! Does he really need all that stuff? Is it even fair that he has all that? To many, Christians included, this is an appealing pitch – fairness is a good thing, isn't it? Then comes the clincher: we're told all this ogling is okay because our neighbor’s wealth – well, a lot of it anyway – is really ours in the first place. The way the story is told, there's only so much wealth to go around, so our rich neighbor could only become wealthy by taking more than his fair share, leaving poor folk like us with next to nothing. So we're not coveting someone else's stuff – it's really ours. We have a right to it, and it’s about time that the rich starting giving it back! That’s a popular story in the world today. But as you might suspect, folks who tell us it is okay to do what God forbids (Ex. 20:17) don't have their facts straight. The truth of the matter is that, so long as our rich neighbor didn’t get their money from piracy or lobbying the government (did I just stutter?) – so long as he got his money by earning it – his wealth didn't come at our expense at all. In fact, if he got his money by selling something others wanted – whether it's iPads, cows, or his own labor – then this rich neighbor has already given back more than he got. As commentator John Stossel explains: "It is instinctive to think of life as a zero sum game – if I win, you lose. Politicians think that way because that’s how their world works. And lawyers who sue people think that way – you either win or you lose. "But in business, you only win if you give your customers something they want. If you make a big profit, it doesn’t mean you took it from the customer. The customer voluntarily gave you his money. He felt he gained something too. It is why you get the weird double thank you moment when you buy anything. If you bought a cup of coffee this morning, you gave the cashier a buck, and she said, 'Thank you.' She gave you the coffee, and you said, 'Thank you.' "'Thank you.' 'Thank you.' "Why both? Because you both felt you won. The same is true with even the richest people on the planet. We look at a Bill Gates and think that he must owe us something because he has so much. But how did he get his billions? By selling a product – Windows 1.0 – for $99. To Gates, the $99 was worth more to him than his product, and that's why he was happy to make the exchange – it made him wealthier. But here's the thing: his customers were happy to make the exchange too, because his product was worth more to them than holding on to their $99. Afterwards they felt they were better off too – if they didn't, they never would have made the purchase. So today's covetousness is as sinful as ever. But it is more than that: talk of "getting the rich to pay their fair share" shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the good the industrious rich have already done. A rich businessman like Gates has made his billions by giving something even more valuable to his customers and in doing so, he is already spreading the wealth – billions and billions of dollars worth....

Economics

Work is Worship

Done right, it is an expression of God’s character and beauty **** There we sat under the starry skies, talking faith, family, fun and business. A familiar space. Like many of you, I get to enjoy some nice campfire-convos each summer. But this particular night challenged me. It didn’t take long for the business conversation of this committed Christ-follower and marketplace leader to leave me saddened. “We’ve tried investing in people for years, even hired consultants to help us! At the end of the day, nothing works. We’ve just resigned ourselves that there’s only one reason we’re in business: to make money. At the root of it, that’s what it’s all about.” Similarly, a Christian business owner recently told me the purpose of his business was to simply retire with a healthy nest egg so that he didn’t have to worry. It's a familiar business ploy by the great Deceiver. Skewed view See, many Christians hold a decidedly skewed image of work. Some view it simply as a curse post-Genesis 3. Others make a false distinction between what they perceive as the sacred (God), and the secular (everything else), separating Sunday’s worship from Monday’s work. The problem with these is that these views of work always disappoint. They force us to view God as an evil taskmaster and you just have to buck-up because “that’s your lot in life.” Or, when my identity is not a reflection of God’s character and design, that’s because I’m choosing to run parts of my life on my own, thank you very much. Both these approaches to work will leave you banging your head against the wall – we're hungry for something more, because we’ve left God out of the picture. Work is a gift Work is God’s gift to us. It’s not a result of the fall into sin. In giving Adam and Eve the job of cultivating and caring for the garden, He not only made them the first landscapers, He designed their DNA so that whatever they put their head, heart and hands to is a form of worship. The same is true for us. Made in His image, vocation is an extension of God's work of maintaining and providing for His creation, bringing Him glory and enjoying Him. Hundreds of times in the Bible the Hebrew word “avodah” is used to mean both “to work” and “to worship.” Our work is meant to serve God’s purposes more than our own, which prevents us from seeing work as a means to stock up our coffers, set ourselves up for retirement, or just plod away ‘cause it's a necessary burden. Simply put, work is worship. The Gospel actually gives us new lenses to see work through: we actually work for God Himself! Consider Eph. 6: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people...” Now there’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning! Why does it matter? Martin Luther said that you can milk cows to the glory of God. Why? It's your attitude that says, “God I'm doing it for you.” So whether you’re cutting flagstone or someone’s hair today, your handiwork, even with imperfection, is for God’s glory. Your and my work is an expression of His creativity, because we’re made in His image. That’s a calling. That’s worship! So why does having the right understanding of work matter? Because it is only when we understand it rightly that we can best use it to: GIVE GOD THE GLORY: a response of gratitude for what He did for us REFLECT HIS CHARACTER: made in His image, we get to display this to others SERVE PEOPLE: we are conduits for God’s grace and kingdom to extend GIVE: we earn so we can to give to others MEET OUR NEEDS AND INVEST OUR TALENTS: by exercising God-given gifts He provides for us So, the next time you arrive in your office, on the plant floor or at your client's site, remember who you are, and then consider what you are doing. Your spiritual life is being expressed through your work. Your work is worship. It’s life changing. Col. 3:23 says: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.” It’s my prayer that you will see your work as significant and view that significance in the light of God’s favor and plan. We are created to intimately know God, glorify him and enjoy Him forever. Let’s do that in our work! Deliberate application: How does seeing work as a form of worship change my company’s purpose and values? If I begin doing everything "as though I’m working for the Lord and not for people” (myself or others), how would that change the way I work? Because God loves business and the marketplace, and because we are called to imitate God (Eph. 5:1) let’s consider, how would Jesus do my job? Which people would He serve? What would be His vision or S.M.A.R.T (or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time) goals? When we finish a job, can we say, “Thank you Father, for making me for this purpose”? https://youtu.be/oqxo3PiIYIU Darren Bosch 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....

Economics

The rich keep getting richer… and they're not the only ones

Capitalism helps everyone. That might be hard to believe right now, with the worldwide economy in the doldrums, and with many fingering capitalism as the culprit. But before we jump on the anti-capitalist bandwagon, and before we ask the government to take over larger areas of the economy, it would be a good idea to look back and get a proper understanding of the good capitalism has done. The fact is, capitalism is responsible for lifting billions of people out of poverty and creating improved standards of living that previous generations couldn’t have dreamed of. Swedish scholar Johan Norberg has written a brief overview of this phenomenon in The Wealth of Generations: Capitalism and the Belief in the Future. Marx got it half right It’s likely that Karl Marx, the originator of Marxism, developed the sharpest anti-capitalist theory. According to Norberg, Marx believed “that capitalism would make the rich richer and the poor poorer.” If someone was making money in a free market situation, it must be at the expense of someone else. That is, somebody was losing money if another was gaining money. Thus over time the upper class would accumulate more wealth at the expense of the middle class and lower class. The middle class would be pushed into the lower class, and the original lower class would basically starve. Marx made this prediction during the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. Despite its undeserved bad reputation, the Industrial Revolution resulted in a dramatic rise in living standards. “When Marx died in 1883, the average Englishman was three times richer than he was when Marx was born, in 1818.” Since that time capitalism has continued to raise living standards to the point that “the poor in Western societies today live longer, with better access to goods and technologies, and with bigger opportunities than the kings in Marx’s days.” Lenin got it all wrong Marx’s original theory was obviously a failure; standards of living rose rapidly for all classes due to capitalism. So Marx’s disciple, and Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin had to rework the theory to explain how workers in Western countries were doing so well economically. Lenin argued that the capitalist class of the Western countries looted the poor, undeveloped countries, and gave a portion of the loot to the workers in their own countries. The rich countries were made richer because the poor countries were made poorer. Quite simply, the rich countries took the wealth of the poor countries. But like Marx’s theory, Lenin’s theory contradicts the facts. As Norberg explains, the problem with Lenin’s view is: “all continents became wealthier, albeit at different speeds. Sure, the average Western European or American is 19 times richer than in 1820, but a Latin American is 9 times richer, an Asian 6 times richer, and an African about 3 times richer. So from whom was the wealth stolen?” Capitalism benefits every class, every sector of society, and not just one special group or certain exploitive nations. In fact, Norberg describes the success of capitalism in alleviating poverty in the last three decades or so as “the greatest untold story ever.” As Norberg writes, the proportion in absolute poverty in developing countries has been reduced from: “40 to 21% since 1981. Almost 400 million people have left poverty – the biggest poverty reduction in mankind’s history. In the last 30 years chronic hunger has been halved, and so has the extent of child labor. Since 1950 illiteracy has been reduced from 70 to 23% and infant mortality has been reduced by two-thirds.” This has occurred during a period where many countries around the world have shifted away from socialism and socialistic policies towards capitalism and free market policies. Using creativity to create wealth It’s common to think of creative people as being writers, painters, musicians, and others in the fine arts. But some of the most creative people in the world are entrepreneurs. These are people who use their creative abilities to provide products and services in new and innovative ways. By doing so they create new jobs for countless people and generate wealth where previously none existed. Capitalism allows the greatest freedom and opportunities to people whose creative talents are in the economic sphere. This is a key reason (perhaps the key reason) for the success of capitalism. A thriving economy requires entrepreneurs but socialism stifles and punishes entrepreneurs. Generally speaking, socialists consider businessmen to be the exploiters of workers, therefore these “exploiters” must be heavily regulated and controlled. Capitalism, on the other hand, unleashes the creative powers of entrepreneurial businessmen, and thus becomes a driving force for generating new wealth and economic development. As economic history clearly demonstrates, capitalism is the only system that leads to prosperity. Yes, the rich do get richer under capitalism but so do the poor! Dr. Michael Wagner is the author many books, and is a regular contributor to Reformed Perspective. This article first appeared in the January 2009 issue under the title "The rich keep getting richer...and that's a good thing!"...

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