Servants of God,
“If you want more of something, subsidize it;
If you want less of something, tax it.”
What makes a community or city livable? Is it good roads? What about good schools? Do street lights matter? Is it important to be able to buy certain goods and services? Is crime or the lack of it the key? Of course, there are about as many opinions as there are noses on such an issue, but one thing is for sure: God has spoken clearly about this. Our problem as humans is that, on the whole, we don’t believe that what God says ought to bind our conscience, guide our emotions or dictate our actions. God tells us how to behave economically—believe it or not.
What if Christians got serious about some of the issues God is most serious about. God is deadly serious about the whole realm of economics. First, the earth (and all that is in it) belongs to the LORD (Psalm 24). Humans are never actually owners of anything except in a secondary sense. We are stewards. We live our entire lives in a body that belongs to God. We breathe His air. We eat His food and we interact with other humans who are under the same restrictions. We can deny God and pretend, but it won’t change reality. We owe God a responsible economic life just as we owe Him a godly thought life etc.
God calls us to love Him and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus said this is the nub of the law of God (Matthew 22). Of course, the history of our world is a long story of humans failing to understand and live out Jesus’ elegantly sufficient commandments. We always want to come up with a better way.
Have you considered that the best way you can improve the place you live is to read, believe and obey your written life instructions from God? Have you thought about how much of the Bible touches on the issues of economics? How much thought and prayer do you put into getting a firm grasp on Christ-exalting economics? Do you think of the economy of your city or town as part of your spiritual stewardship?
I am struck by the fact that so many young Americans appear to be smitten by the allure of socialism. It always sounds good to say that everyone should be “equal” even though there is no evidence that points to socialism as a road to that beloved equality. In the twentieth century alone socialism led to tens of millions of deaths and untold suffering and want. Today in socialist Venezuela the country sits on vast oil while the people starve. The people are equal when they all stand in line waiting for government bread.
The drum beat for a higher “minimum wage” sounds like a good thing—unless you understand basic economics. An artificially high entry wage means employers hire fewer employees and are less willing to hire inexperienced workers. The minimum wage means it’s harder for some to get a first job. Employers only have so much money to spend on their employees. Young people and others trying to break into the workforce get hurt most. Actually a worker is only worth what some employer is willing to pay him or her. The Bible teaches that a laborer is to be justly compensated (1 Timothy 5:18). If an employer is to be able to remain profitable, he (not the government) should be able to negotiate a fair and equitable wage with willing workers.
Governments cannot make life fair and equitable for everyone all the time—ours is a fallen world. Governments can restrain evil and foster righteousness, but government intervention to control some aspect of an economy has a long history of failure and suffering whether you are talking about Rome under Diocletian or the United States under Richard Nixon. Few Americans appear to understand that prices of goods and services are (to borrow from the great Thomas Sowell) “messengers conveying news.” Prices tell us about what is scarce and what is abundant. Scarce items like diamonds are costly. Abundant items like potatoes are cheap. Surgeons are relatively scarce; dishwashers are relatively abundant.
If a community, city or town is losing population (like so many in our state) you can be sure of one thing: such a community is becoming less of a “good purchase.” It involves a lot of factors, but people move on to where they get a better product for the price they are willing to pay (or a least a similar product for a more desirable price). It is basic economics at work. We must remember that economics, like everything, else belongs to God.
A state or a city that taxes the activities of life too much will get fewer people who are willing to buy life at the current asking price. This is why equitable taxation and the provision of meaningful jobs, goods and services ought to be the concern of Christians. We should desire that our communities be safe and that they offer a range of opportunities, goods and services that promote human flourishing.
Of course, humans can be selfish and petty. Merchants can view competition as a bad thing and desire to monopolize. Those who render services can be dishonest and mediocre. That is where a more or less free market becomes a great blessing. Human beings try to get the best buy for their money. They move from places where life stops being a good purchase. They move in the direction of a better deal.
Markets can be maddening because humans are fickle. Passing fancy can create a brief market for hula hoops but fads pass and soon not too many hula hoops are available. On the other hand, the current market for electronic and technological components means we can get better performing machines for less money than just a few years ago. A Christian who runs a business where he or she provides a good product at a reasonable price is loving and serving his or her neighbors.
Reading and obeying the Bible involves all of life. The men and women of our congregation who operate businesses are vital to the welfare and future of our greater community. I encourage each of you to pray for and to encourage our members who provide goods and services at a just and equitable price. I also want to know better myself how to appreciate the risks and sacrifices business owners live with, so I do not become too judgmental or presumptive. That is part of loving our neighbor, too!