So we understand that motives matter a lot when we’re dealing with 1) Our relationship with God, and 2) Our personal relationships with others, i.e. our spouse, our family, and our friends. But when it comes to the millions of people who serve us every day through the Free Market System (FMS), motives matter little to nothing, and as we'll see, that's a really good thing. But let me submit some caveats:
· Of course this doesn’t mean that as believers we don’t care about individual people. Like my Lord, I want everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. On top of that, I want everyone to be obedient to Christ, and this includes an “as working for the Lord” mentality towards our work. But I’m realistic about the fact that the vast majority of the people who supply my needs and desires through the FMS aren’t saved. And of those who are saved, probably a good portion of them don’t have completely pure motives towards their work. I know I don’t all the time. But this realization isn’t going to deter me from benefiting from their service. More on that in a moment.
· Of course this also doesn’t mean that I don’t care about basic honesty and keeping one’s word in business transactions. Obviously I don’t want to be cheated or lied to when I’m making a business transaction. When I buy a can of soup, I expect it to contain what’s on the label, as opposed to, say, rat poison. More on that in a moment as well.
Let me expand on the first caveat from a biblical perspective. Is there any precedent for God’s people to benefit from the less-than-pure motives of pagans, even evil people—in the Bible? Of course there is! The first one that comes to my mind is Joseph and his brothers. He was assaulted by his brothers, stripped of his colored robe, cast into an empty well, and finally sold as a slave to some passing traders and taken into Egypt. His brothers did this out of the basest of motives: murderous jealousy towards their brother. But hear Joseph’s final commentary on what his brothers had done: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” The Lord used their bitter envy to accomplish his own purposes. This takes absolutely no responsibility off the shoulders of his brothers, but it does establish a precedent of God using bad people doing bad things with bad motives in order to bless his own people.
And of course the absolutely prime example of this was the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus. Without violating anyone’s free will, the Father used the horrible decisions of evil people (the Sanhedrin, the Roman soldiers, Pilate, et al) to accomplish his own purpose: The salvation of countless sinners (like me).
Now on a much much much lesser scale, this is what happens every day for us in the FMS. People with less than 100% pure and noble motives, e.g. desire for more money, or maybe pride, or desire for fame, etc., serve us by providing us with goods and services we desire and need. Most of this service has little to no direct eternal significance. But the principle’s still the same.
But what about people—with less than noble motives—who lie and cheat? Well, as I mentioned earlier, of course I don’t want to be cheated or lied to. Who does? But there are two things to consider: 1) There are laws to prevent this. My understanding (along with every other conservative I’ve ever heard) defines the FMS as people being able to freely exchange goods and services for their mutual benefit with the obvious exceptions of force, fraud, or theft. If someone welches on a contract they’ve signed, that’s not the FMS in action. If someone engages in force, fraud, or theft, then that’s why we have the State/government.
2) The FMS has some pretty good safeguards on its own. I’m not an anarchist (I think I’ve made that clear now), but even before it gets to the point of the State being involved, there are some self-correcting apparatuses in place. What’s the most valuable asset a company has? It’s not its stores of cash, nor is it any physical assets such as buildings or widgets, nor is it the employees, nor is it intellectual property like patents. No, as Solomon—the wisest and richest man of his time—said, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” It’s the company’s name, its reputation that matters most of all. If it has a reputation for honesty, for serving its customers, for providing the best value for the best price, then it’s going to be successful. If it ever loses that, then it doesn’t matter what else it has.
Same thing with employees, which we’ve discussed before. My friend, if you’re the employee who’s constantly late (“The traffic was horrible again”), who has to be constantly monitored to get an honest day’s work out of you, and who leaves exactly when his shift is over even if there’s work still to be done, then your boss will notice that. He might or might not take you into his office and yell at you, but he’ll take note. And if you’re the employee who arrives early, who finishes his own job then looks for something else to work on, who stays late when there’s still work to be done, then your boss will notice that as well. And when it’s time to promote someone to take on more responsibility, well. . .
I can hear the objections already: “But my boss is a jerk! He promoted someone just because he’s friends with them! He promoted his own nephew who couldn’t find his own rear end with a flashlight and a map!” Yes, this is a fallen world. Injustices happen all the time. People get hired or promoted who don’t deserve it, based on whom they know instead of their work ethic or skills. But in a basically Free Market, you get punished for your bad economic decisions.
If a boss promotes his nephew who’s incompetent instead of the hardest-working employee, he’s going to pay for that. He’s going to lose money. If he fails to give good pay to his best employees, he’s going to probably lose them to his competitors. If a company keeps cheating its customers, then eventually it’s going to gain a reputation as a company that cheats its customers. Especially in today’s world, where it’s easy to research a company and online reviews are becoming ubiquitous.
Take the example of the two stockers from the last posting. Let’s assume that the “bad” stocker, the atheist, doesn’t have good motives at all. He just does his job out of pride, along with a strong desire to make his fellow stockers look bad by comparison. That’s not good for him personally: Eventually the Lord and he will have a less-than-pleasant chat about that. But if he tries to make his fellow stockers look bad by cheating or by sabotaging their work, then eventually his boss will notice that. He’s going to get a certain reputation, and if nothing changes then he’ll probably lose his job. And if he does his job well—even out of less than noble motives—then I walk into Wal-Mart and see the products on the shelves that I need and want.
But in a non-FMS, you don’t get punished for your bad decisions, or at least not as much. Let’s take the extreme example, that of communist countries. Have you ever seen a “store” in one of those? How well-stocked were the shelves? How clean was it? How friendly were the employees? Why do you think that was the case?
Or let’s move down the economic spectrum a bit. In an FMS, if a car company doesn’t please its customers, it’s going to stop selling cars and eventually close its doors. But in a “mixed” economy, if a company has the right political connections, then it can make all the bad decisions it wants, since it knows that it’ll be bailed out (with taxpayer money). This is otherwise known as “crony capitalism,” and it’s disgusting to anyone who really believes in the Free Market.
The FMS takes into account that people aren’t angels in human form. If someone loves Jesus and takes a biblical attitude towards their work, that’s wonderful. But if not, then there are built-in safeguards, not to mention punishment via the legal system. I’d love for everyone to be doing their job out of love for the Lord, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. And in the meantime, in a fallen world, the Free Market System is the best protection we have.