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Economics, Watch for free

It's A Wonderful Loaf: why free enterprise makes bread in abundance

In the illustrated economic poem below, the author shows how the free enterprise system – with supposedly no one in control – can deliver bread in a great variety, and more cheaply than a socialist system. A socialist system would have some "bread czar" making decisions about what sort, and how much, bread would be made, but then he'd also have to decide how much rye or wheat would have to be planted, and also what other crops would have to be curtailed to make room for the wheat crops. To keep everyone happy, from the rye lover to the white bread aficionado, to the gluten intolerant chap, the number of decisions this bread czar would have to make would be beyond the ability of any single human being – or even a government department – to manage competently. The video is fantastic, but it's missing something vital – the author, Russ Roberts, doesn't see the Christian connection. He says that the ability of the free enterprise system to deliver hot, fresh, affordable bread in an abundance of varieties each and every day is something "no one intends" and "no one has to orchestrate it. It’s the product of our actions but no single mind’s designed it." The truth is different. No human mind designed it, but the foundational principles of the free market system – what makes it work – are Christian principles given by God. Do not worship other gods – Whereas the 1st Commandment (Ex. 20:3) teaches us not to turn to other gods, Socialism is dependent on someone at the top being near-omnipotent, knowing all the right moves to make for the betterment of everyone. Don't steal – The 8th Commandment (Ex. 20:15) make clear God's intent for us to be able to own property, while Socialism takes away property rights. Don't covet – Socialism wants to know what everyone makes while the 10th Commandment (Ex. 20:17) forbids us from looking over the fence to see what our neighbor has got. This commandment frees us to develop what God has given us (Matt 25:14-30) instead of minding our neighbor's business. Other biblical texts could be highlighted and explored but the point is, the reason the free market works as well as it does is that, in these commandments and more, it better lines up with what God commands. And when we obey these commands, then His is the "invisible hand" guiding farmers, mills, bakers, and consumers to arrive at this wonderful loaf. (h/t to Albert Van der Linden)

Economics

Sales as a noble calling

We might not think of sales as a good job for Christians...but we should ***** Many years ago, when I first arrived in Australia, I was working for a dry cleaner who soon realized that I would never make it as a professional dry cleaner. One morning he asked me what I really wanted to do. When I told him that my ambition was to sell, and preferably clothing, he spoke to a fellow businessman and arranged for me to start working for him. That was my start in the menswear trade. Take a genuine interest The man I started with was a very hard taskmaster, but knew his trade inside out. The lessons he taught me have stood me in good stead. One of the first things I learned from him was to take a real interest in the customer. Customers soon know whether you are interested in them or only in the money they will leave behind. Taking a real interest means listening - taking the time to hear their concerns so you can best meet their needs. For a teenage apprentice that was sometimes a little difficult, especially on a Saturday afternoon when the beach beckoned and you really wanted to shut the shop but the customer had much to share. If I got distracted, or started giving the customer only half my attention, my boss would soon notice and let me know his displeasure immediately after the customer left. So my first lesson was to take a real interest in the customer. Sell only what meets their needs The next lesson: make sure that you sell what suits the customer. Far too often people try to sell what they want to get rid of, or what they have overstocked. Or, they take the attitude anything will do as long as I make a sale. Well, the best way of losing customers is to sell a product for the wrong reason. If you are not a salesperson, you might think this is self-evident. But when the opportunity presents itself to make a big sale it can be rather tempting to sell the product regardless of whether it suits the customer. And lets face it, some customers are far too gullible for their own good, and will buy whatever the charming salesman shows them. So this can be a real temptation. But not only is it wrong, it is shortsighted. You might be able to sell anything to them, but when the customer gets home that night his wife, or his friends will be sure to tell him he got snookered. Once he learns he has misplaced his trust in you, he will no longer be your customer. To meet your customer's needs you need not only to take a genuine interest, but you need to really know your product. That means studying, reading, and listening to others to learn more about what you are selling. I learned the necessity of that especially during the time I was in the insurance business. The client may trust you, but then you better make sure that that trust is warranted. The only way to do that is to really know your product. And it makes no difference what trade or profession one is in. The customer is turning to you for your knowledge, and your experience. The latter comes only with time, but the first can be increased with good effort. Service, service, service My boss also taught me about service. Many people have no idea what service is. It means giving of yourself, and making the other feel valued. This can be worked out in big ways and small. Many in sales, when they answer the phone fail to sound friendly, or they do not announce the name of the firm they represent nor give their own name. Small things maybe, but important ones. It is even important to smile when answering the phone. You don't believe me? Try it with someone. I did. We had a fellow working for us who always answered the phone in the most serious manner. When I tackled him on this he replied that it should not matter as the other person couldn't see his face. We decided to do a test. I picked up my phone in my office and rang him. I spoke to him in various ways and asked him later if he had noticed the difference. He had. He could tell when I smiled or when I was serious. Many people forget that the phone is often the first contact one has with a firm. So yes, service starts even in answering the phone. In a shop or showroom it is important to welcome people in a friendly and sincere manner. Let the customer know that you are there to help them. Even when you are busy serving someone it is often takes but a little effort to recognize another person and let him/her know that you will be with them soon. Go the extra mile. If you don't have the item the customer needs, offer to get it. Sure this sometimes can cause extra costs, but if you put yourself out the customer will generally appreciate it and become a customer for life. You might not be the cheapest in town but if your service is better than that of others, customers will even accept that as the price to pay for top class attention. A real estate agent will tell you that there are only three things that matter when buying property: location, location, location. Well, there are only three things that matter in sales: service, service, service. If you don't want to give service – friendly, well meant, genuine service – don't become a salesperson. How do Christians do sales differently?  So far I have only dealt with matters that everybody can agree on. But is that all there is to it? What about the fact that you and I are Christians? Won't that affect the way we do things? That is a good question. The man I learned my trade from was not a Christian. The reason he did things the way he did was because he believed that it was the best way to build a business. So whether you are Christian or not, it is easy to see the benefits of having an honest, up front approach to serving the customer. Many salesmen do not use this approach, but the best will. What then is different about the way Christians might do sales? The difference comes down to why we do things. Our whole life should be lived in a Christian manner, to the honor of God and to the benefit of our neighbor. That means that we need to examine ourselves to see if we are doing our work out of a real desire to serve God and our neighbor. We need to remember it is not possible to wear one hat on Sunday and a different one during the rest of the week. You cannot be a pious godly Christian on Sunday and a hard, sharp businessman the rest of the week. Being a godly salesman means that even if no one will find out about a little untruth – some little subterfuge which can help to increase the bottom line, some little exaggeration, or some not quite honest spin – that can never be part of our thinking. People should know you claim to be a Christian, and they will watch you to see if you are true to your profession. Therefore it is imperative that a Christian businessman lives very close to the Lord and asks Him daily to direct his life, so that in selling, too, we may give glory to Him. A version of this article was first published in the January 2000 issue under the title "Salesmanship." Rene Vermeulen published more than 150 articles in the pages of Reformed Perspective from 1984-2010....

Economics, News

The $33/hr minimum wage?

As of January 1, the minimum wage in New York City was boosted to $15 an hour, a more than doubling of the $7.25 minimum wage of just six years ago. Three days later The New York Times published a piece with the provocative title: The $15 Minimum Wage Is Here. Why We Need $33 an Hour. Author Ginia Bellafante didn’t exactly demand $33 as a new minimum wage or at least didn’t set a timetable to reach that number. She did argue that the new $15 minimum wouldn’t do much to meet New York City workers’ needs and “the war” for an adequate living wage had to continue. Bellafante cited a report by New York’s largest food bank, City Harvest, which calculated that a “single parent with two school-age children…would need to make nearly $69,427 a year” which works out “an hourly wage of just under $33.” But is need a good basis for a minimum wage? If a single mom needs $33, a married couple with two kids could get by with just half that. So maybe $15 is a good number after all? But then what of that single mom? And what if, instead of just two kids, she had four? Then she would need a lot more than just $33, so should we be looking at a $50 minimum wage, or even higher? If you see a problem with that idea, you’re recognizing something that many minimum wage proponents do not – that the basis for wages isn’t employees’ needs. Consider our own buying habits. We don’t buy a car from Ford because Ford needs the money – that’s not a consideration. When we head to Safeway and find out that a dozen bagels are on sale for $5 we might buy them. But not at $10 a dozen – they aren’t worth that to us. So whether we buy them or not depends on what value they return to us for the money we have to hand over. It’s no different when employers buy labor. They aren’t buying our labor out of a charitable impulse – they are looking to get good value for their money. And like us, if something is overpriced, they aren’t going to buy. That’s why a minimum wage of $50 would be disastrous. Many of us aren’t worth $100,000 a year to an employer so if $50 were the minimum wage, we would be out of work. We would be unemployed because our labor was overpriced by government mandate. While $15 is a lot lower than $50, not everyone is worth that either. Unskilled workers might not be able to produce $10 or even $5 an hour of value, or at least not until their employer trains them. If the law says they have to be paid $15/hr that makes them unemployable. It may not even be the unskilled worker who pays the price. Take as example a business that employed high school students at minimum wage, and also employed a single mom who made a bit more. When the owner needed help running the business he began training the single mom to become a manager, and increased her salary to go along with the new responsibilities. Then the minimum wage went up and the owner had to increase the pay of all his high school students. That money had to come from somewhere and the end result was that the owner had to let his manager-in-training go, because he had to use her wages to pay the students. This government-mandated increase, legislated as a means of helping the poor, didn’t help her. High schoolers who had already been happy with their wage got more, but a single mom lost a good job. The government might have meant well, but they didn’t do well. There is a Christian case to make against the minimum wage and any number of verses could be cited. Prov. 14:31 tells us to be kind to the poor, and while that is the professed intent of the minimum wage, that is not its effect on the least skilled. Just as relevant is Prov. 27:14 which tells us that mere good intentions are not enough – we actually have to be kind. In the online discussions of this article Luke 6:31 was raised: "Do to others as you would have them do to you," as in employers should pay their employees what they would think fair, were their positions reversed. True enough, but this verse is applicable the other direction too. Don't want your job banned? Then don't ban other people's jobs. There are any number of reasons why someone might be happy to work for wages below a government-mandated minimum. Someone might want to work for free as an intern instead of spending thousands learning the same skills in university. Low-skilled or no-skilled workers might want to get a foot in the door so they can work their way up to higher paying positions. Some low-paying jobs have fringe benefits, like a parking lot attendant I knew who could do his university homework during his shift. Mentally handicapped people who can't do as much as others might still enjoy work. Elderly folks who can't move as quickly as they once did might appreciate a job that doesn't demand a high output. And students might prioritize flexible hours over big bucks. Do these sound like positions that need to be banned? Should it be the government's job to make working for less than $15 a crime? God warns against arrogance (Daniel 4:30) but when a government makes minimum wage laws it is making decisions for millions and presuming it can price the value of people's labor better than they can themselves, and better than individual employers can. Our governments are trying to manage our economy in a hands-on way that requires them to be near all-knowing and have miraculous powers. But they are not God, and they can not make everyone worth $15/hr. by government decree. In humility, our governments need to recognize that their powers and knowledge are limited, and they are simply not up to that task of running an economy. Is it any wonder, then, that God never asks them to? This article has been expanded by a couple of paragraphs to answer some of the questions the original version prompted. ...

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!...