Business People 6 (Michael Kruse)

Today we continue with John Knapp’s How the Church Fails Businesspeople (and what can be done about it). We turn now to Chapter 6, “A Moral Theology of Work.”

The business environment can often present significant ethical challenges. Where might we begin as we think about ethical behavior? Knapp suggests a good place to start is with Micah 6:8:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?”

Is it possible to be competitive in business while loving justice and kindness, and walking humbly with God, while grounded in love and responsibility?

What would it take to create the five-fold moral community Knapp describes?

Is Micah and the Jesus Creed the place to ground our ethical reflection or would you frame things differently?

Grounded in Love

Knapp says this definition of what is good is grounded in the Jesus Creed: Love God, love neighbor. What would it mean to respond to others out of this ethic in business? Knapp writes:

“An ethic of love goes beyond both duty (keeping promises, telling the truth, doing a job well) and compliance (with civil law, contractual requirements, or employment policies), both of which are necessary in the workplace. Love recognizes that every person is unique and must be cared for individually, whether or not a rule mandates it. This requires us to take the time and effort to discover what actually meets the other’s need.” (101)

To Do Justice

Business people are to be advocates for justice within their sphere of influence. It goes beyond just upholding the law. It is about pursing more just structures and behaviors. Sadly, Knapp writes:

“Paul Camenisch, a theologian with expertise in business ethics, believes that the church has failed to convey to believers their personal responsibilities for doing justice at work. In a critique of Protestant policy statements on economic justice, he writes, “Seldom if ever are Christians addressed as influential actors responsible in their vocations for seeing that, within their power, justice is done. They are not seriously challenged to ask questions  about the human impact of their actions as workers, managers, consumers, and owners on their fellows …” As we have discussed, church pronouncements on economics tend to critique the macroeconomic system with little or no thought to the difficulties faced by individuals or organizations within the system.” (103)

To Love Kindness

We are not just to do kind things but to love kindness. We might easily see the natural application of this to our coworkers or customers. How about to our personal rivals or the competition?

To Walk Humbly

“It is easy fall prey to an illusion of becoming self-sufficient through the accumulation of material wealth.” (106) And with this sense of self-sufficiency can come a sense of entitlement. That entitlement can be evidenced in the form of smug condescension or even as envy of others for what should “rightfully” be one’s own. For Christians there is a danger of self-righteous as we strive to be more “Christ-like” than others. I’m inclined to think that walking humbly may be the slipperiest of all. Knapp sees it as the precondition for the first two.

Responsibility

Central to living out this ethic is an embrace of responsibility. Knapp writes:

“This [human] potential includes the capacity for genuine responsiveness in all relationships, for authentic discipleship is a process of learning to enact Christian love in every circumstance. H. Richard Niebuhr … proposes that responsibility is defined chiefly by how we respond to others including God. This concept of responsibility as response-ability may be a better way to think about ethics than adherence to abstract more principles, compliance with rules, or even achievement of good outcomes. The responsible Christian must be fully attentive to the “decisive present” and the possibilities of God’s activity through the lives of others.” (109)

With the response-ability we have, we are to make “fitting responses” based on God’s justice.

Referring back to the survey results mentioned in the first post in this series (where people from all walks of life considered an ethical dilemma they had once faced), Knapp writes:

“Few of the dilemmas reported by our research subjects could be reduced to neat choices of right over wrong, good over bad. Nor were they problems where rules could determine the best course of action. The inherent difficulty in most of the cases involved conflicting values and priorities.” (111)

In short, ethical decisions are frequently messy. Two legitimate ethical concerns may be in competition with each other. On top of this, we are frequently distracted by competing demands and time pressures. All this requires conscious effort to be truly present in the decisions we are making.

Questions to guide us

Knapp offers a list of questions we might ask ourselves when we face difficult questions with justice, kindness, and humility grounded in love and responsibility (His questions with my summary sentence):

  • What’s really going on here? – Apply careful thought and investigation.
  • What makes this decision difficult? – What is the crux of the ethical challenge?
  • Who has a legitimate stake in how this matter is resolved? – Especially keep in mind those with less power or influence.
  • Am I acting in humility, or are my own interests crowding out the interests of others? – Look at things from the position of others.
  • To whom and to what am I responsible? – Be clear about our responsibilities and particularly our primary vocation of serving God.
  • What options are available, and what outcomes may result from each? – Be sure to consider long-term and broader consequences.
  • Have I sought God’s will? – Prayer, Scripture, and the discernment of other believers are important means of seeking God’s will.

The Necessary Role of the Church

Knapp closes the chapter with an important section called “The Necessary Role of the Church.” He lists five facets of faith community that should be present to equip and support people in the workplace. (The short summaries of each listing are mine, not Knapp’s.)

A Community of Moral Discernment – Rarely are any of us capable of answering the above questions on our own. Including people who know us, love us, share our commitment to God, and/or may have special insight into how to process some of these questions, are essential to sound discipleship.

A Community of Moral Discourse – People within a faith community often don’t agree with each other on particular problems but it is often the civil debate about a problem that helps us individually to come to better conclusions. The church needs to be a place for honest questions.

A Community of Moral Influence – Individuals often find they are powerless alone to address injustices that emerge in the work world. Congregations and denominational bodies are needed to work in support of efforts to reduce injustice and be supportive of businesspeople needing to take difficult stands.

A Community of Moral Encouragement – The business world is frequently messy. Rather than casting businesspeople as tainted Christians, we need to pray for them and support them as they work to integrate their work and faith (even as we help build the expectation that they should do so. )

A Community of Moral Example – The church needs to engage in just employment and financial practices if it expects the broader world to give any heed.

Concluding thoughts

This concludes the summary of Chapter 6. I’m not sure I’ve done it justice. I hope folks will read the book. But this chapter raised two issues for me that I want to briefly mention … one economic and the other theological.

I love the use of the Micah passage grounded in love and responsibility as a starting point for ethical reflection. And Knapp is exactly right that love is not about having warm fuzzy sentiments but rather about knowing individuals and seeking their good. Knapp is calling us to look at the neglected realm of everyday micro-economic business decisions and giving us tools to live out our calling in that context. But as we move to the meso and macro levels of economics, to decisions that deal with large firms and interactions beyond the firm, I think it becomes impossible to meaningfully apply the “love” principle.

A signature feature of advanced market economies is the ability of firms to gather and coordinate large numbers of people. Markets create vast webs of interconnection among people (who will likely never meet each other), allowing us to benefit from specialization and exchange with countless strangers. It is not possible for a businessperson to “love” hundreds/thousands of others in a businessperson’s own firm, much less those outside the firm, in the sense we have described above. Theologian Economist Paul Heyne wrote in an essay (“Morality of Labor Unions.” Chapter 24 in Are Economists Basically Immoral?, 429.):

“What does justice mean in this world of completely impersonal transactions? If we take the most general definition of justice – giving to each their due – how do we decide what each is due? In such a world the Golden Rule is simply irrelevant. Social transactions in a market-coordinated economy cannot be governed by the principle “Do for others what you would like them to do for you.” The appropriate rule is what someone has called the Silver Rule: “Do not do to others anything that you would consider unfair if they did it to you.” (429)

I do not want to minimize the important framing that Knapp has offered here.  Rather, I want to emphasize that as we move much outside the sphere of face-to-face community, we encounter inescapable sociological realties that may require a different kind of ethical analysis. We can’t simply deal with larger institutions as a family (or face-to-face community) writ large. All the more reason why we need communities of disciples to help us work our way through ethical thickets.

The theological thought I had goes directly to Scot’s King Jesus Gospel. Scot rejects the Evangelical tendency to collapse “gospel” into “salvation.” The King Jesus Gospel is about Jesus’s completion of the story of Israel and that story is rooted in the creation story, including the first great commission of exercising dominion over creation and the redemption of that mission. But I don’t think it is just the Evangelical world in Protestantism that needs rethinking.

In my Mainline PCUSA world, gospel is typically about rectifying wrong, either via compassion or justice advocacy. If Evangelicals have a “salvation gospel ,” as Scot says, then my tribe has a bias toward a “justice gospel.” Just as the King Jesus Gospel includes salvation, it also includes justice, but “gospel” cannot be collapsed into salvation, justice, or their combination. The King Jesus Gospel includes (among many other things) redemption of the first great commission. Neither the salvation gospel nor the justice gospel will do. Without the King Jesus Gospel there is no reason to give focused attention to the issues Knapp is raising. Work is peripheral to the “real” issues of either salvation or justice. I think the real starting place for a moral theology of work likely must begin with our understanding of gospel.

Questions:

Is it possible to be competitive in business while loving justice and kindness, and walking humbly with God, while grounded in love and responsibility?

What would it take to create the five-fold moral community Knapp describes?

Is Micah and the Jesus Creed the place to ground our ethical reflection or would you frame things differently?

 

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Joe Canner

    This is probably a good a time as any to ask this question: is it consistent with justice and kindness to raise prices (or lower wages) due to low supply or high demand (i.e., the fundamental basis for capitalism)?

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Joe, I would say yes. What issues does this raise for you?

  • Joe Canner

    Michael, it depends on the circumstances. In the extreme, reducing or withholding supply to increase prices certainly seems unethical. Also, if the item is a necessity, raising prices due to high demand seems to be a little unethical, although I’m not sure what the best alternative would be. Of course, if raising prices could increase the supply (e.g., oil) then that’s perhaps a different story.

    There are similar concerns about lowering wages below what is fair and liveable just because there happen to be people who are willing to work for less.

    This is admittedly a complicated subject and some of my concerns may be economically naive, but I think it’s also worth questioning some of the implications of unrestrained capitalism when considering justice and kindness.

  • RJS

    Michael,

    I think it depends on circumstance doesn’t it?

    Do you think it was consistent with justice and kindness for stores near a disaster area, or, say, gas stations in the Detroit area during the big blackout, to raise prices to exhorbitant levels because they had a scarce commodity in high demand?

    Is it consistent with justice and kindness to fire older higher paid workers in favor of younger cheap workers?

    These are specific extreme examples, not the everyday workings of a large firm. But we can’t be too quick to condone profit-centric behavior. While making a profit, even a significant one, is not unChristian, profit-centric ethics are unChristian.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    Regarding Joe’s particular concerns

    I believe, like many 20th century authors did, that a significant part of these problems is “giantism” or the incredible size of corporations. While giantism raises many problems, the one I focus on here is lack of contact with the local environment. When wages or prices are set by a centralized decision-making process with little or no knowledge of local situations, there is a major problem with any kind of justice. There has been a great deal of study of these situations and their obverse –where entities seek input from local people, including employees, regarding policies and wages.

    One way of addressing these problems is to limit the life of corporations; another is for companies, corporate or not, to consider and recognize where the goals they advocate become twisted out of shape while businesses grow.
    I must say that the only place I have seen this, is among locally oriented organic farmers in Central Iowa. Farmers who could have expanded production indefinitely set a limit on who they would serve, and stuck to it in order to maintain the principles that they started with.
    Peace,
    Randy Gabrielse

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Thanks Joe. Context is everything. Here are a couple of my thoughts.

    In the agrarian societies of the past, I think you often see a dream by the commoners of living a life of relative self-sufficiency supplemented by trade with neighbors. But with no central authority to guarantee security against the inevitable “strongmen” that would emerge, it was necessary to give homage to some powerful figure who could offer security. And the inevitable danger there was that the protector would become the oppressor.

    One economic historian I’ve read suggests that a key challenge over human history has been to develop societies that are strong enough to protect personal property and liberty from tyrannical people but not so strong that they can’t be brought to heel when they become abusive themselves. Without that balance, the pervasive result has been pyramidal social/economic structures that are vertically oriented toward Patron/client, sovereign/subject, relationships rather than horizontally oriented relationships of people interconnecting to meet each other’s needs through specialization and exchange. Economic mobility is usually severely constrained in pyramidal societies because you cannot easily move laterally from one similar job to another. The relationship of superior to subordinate (employer to employee) is nearly comprehensive creating a considerable dependence by the subordinates. For the “employer” not to pay a “living wage” is unconscionable.

    In a market economy, the economic orientation is far more horizontal. No employee needs their employer’s protection against tyrants and strongmen. Other societal institutions ensure that role. Employers must compete for workers and workers can shop for employment. Generally speaking, if a worker can’t find a job in a market economy that allows them to survive, that is a market signal that the worker needs to improve their skills to more attractive to employers.

    I’m talking in sweeping generalizations to simply make a point. The context of the Bible is the context of agrarian society and our context is the context of a market economy. I want to suggest that we need to be cautious that when we use Scripture as an ethical guide for our contemporary business decisions that we are truly wrestling with transcendent ethical concerns and not inadvertently just critiquing modern economic realities for not being an agrarian society.

    And as a footnote, I will add that in some emerging nations the world is more similar to ancient agrarian societies than to a market economy. Consequently, discernment in ethical reflection is needed.

  • Percival

    Michael’s point below is cogent. We need to take a new look at Christian economics and charity.

    “I’m talking in sweeping generalizations to simply make a point. The context of the Bible is the context of agrarian society and our context is the context of a market economy. I want to suggest that we need to be cautious that when we use Scripture as an ethical guide for our contemporary business decisions that we are truly wrestling with transcendent ethical concerns and not inadvertently just critiquing modern economic realities for not being an agrarian society.”

    RJS gave an example about shortages during a disaster. Should we enforce morality in the marketplace? For instance, I remember a clear example of price gouging during a disaster. There were people who brought generators down to the South after hurricane Katrina. They tried to sell them for high prices. The police took the generators and fined the sellers. The end result was no more generators.

    John Stossel reports here: http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Stossel/story?id=1954352&page=1#.T3CSY8zkxbs

    So-called price gouging is a morally neutral act unless in a monopoly situation or if others are prevented from offering their services or products.

    On the other hand, generosity is a virtue. Helping the poor is good too, but sometimes good intentions have bad results. For example, US government price supports for crops are partly responsible for famine around the world. How can plentiful cheap food be a bad thing? Ask a poor farmer in a developing country who has to compete in the same market with no local subsidies.

    I was just talking to a Business as Mission (BAM) guy who was telling about this project they have for an appropriate technology for Africa that would help provide clean water. He said that the problem was that if they started the business with local manufacture and distribution and it worked, they had a problem. Large NGO’s and charities would come in and undercut the local business by providing the same product for cheaper. So now, no one will try out the business project because they know that they will be undercut. As a result, the idea never gets implemented and there is no development. It’s happened over and over.

    What a strange world we live in. Generosity can keep people in poverty, and price gougers can stimulate much-needed provision of help.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    RJS,#4

    The crisis example is one that I’ve seen used in business ethics discussions. Let’s clarify the issues a bit.

    A crisis has happened. There is insufficient gasoline in gas station pumps to meet demand. Delivery will be cut off for days. I think we would agree that every use of the limited gas would not be equal to every other use. (ex. Molly needs gas for her car so she can get meals to shut-ins while Joan wants gas for her riding lawnmower to mow the ten acres where her business located.) How will you set priorities?

    Let’s not raise the price for the moment. A) First come, First serve? That isn’t going to set any priorities. And in fact, nefarious characters who know the supply is limited are likely to take more than they need to ensure they don’t run out later or to sell it on the black market. B) Based on need? The gas attendant will have each customer present their case for why they need gas and then adjudicate which customer’s needs take priority. C) Rationing? What if some very important priorities require more than the rationing allows while frivolous uses are still using up gasoline. D) Power? We let everyone show up armed and whoever can commandeer the gas gets it.

    But if you let the price rise, most people with frivolous uses will refrain from buying. People who do buy will economize. The supply will we generally be better allocated and the supply extended. Plus, the higher price will give suppliers an incentive to take extraordinary measures to get supply to the pumps more quickly.

    As to firing older workers in favor of hiring a younger cheaper worker, I want to know more of the specifics. I know of one case where a worker in her late fifties had been doing a job that was experiencing considerable automation. She had been a faithful employee for years but she had little aptitude for computers. A younger worker with the right training could do her job much more productively and at lower wages. What should the employer have done?

    In this case it was a large company and they managed to find her another job of comparable pay so she could work to retirement. But what if you are in charge of a small firm with, say, eight employees and two older employees can’t adapt to change? And what if not taking advantage of new technologies by substituting younger workers threatens the survival of your firm and the possibility that eight people will lose their jobs?

    I’m not making the case for simply raising gas prices in a crisis or dumping older workers but rather I want to make the point that a great many business decisions are not between a neatly delineated right and wrong, but between competing options that all have merits as well as unhappy consequences. And this is my roundabout way of agreeing with you that we need to be reflective about our decisions. Everything can’t be about profit, but without profit, the firm dies.

  • Joe Canner

    Michael #8, Thanks for the example of gas shortages, which I think addressed my question better than your response in #6 (perhaps because RJS’s question was better formulated than mine). I was thinking about this as I wrote my original question and I can certainly see how higher prices can help establish priorities and order in the marketplace. The problem is that the supplier is benefiting from a crisis without necessarily having to put any effort or input into the equation.

    As I recall, during the 1980s there was a “windfall profits tax” on oil companies who benefited from higher crude oil prices. This, to me, is a sensible way to deal with this issue, particularly if the profits are not being reinvested in solving supply shortages and if the taxes are being used to assist low income folks with energy costs. In today’s climate, however, even the notion of taking away tax *breaks* for oil companies gets people squawking.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #7 Percival

    Great example with clean water technology! Thanks.

    #9 Joe

    Sometimes I find that if I keep rambling long enough I can eventually get to something that makes sense. ;-)

  • RJS

    Michael,

    I fully realize that individual situations vary – and I have had to fire people.

    But you write from an attitude that seems at times to fail realize the gross depravity of the hearts that make these decisions rationalizing away the pervasive attitudes of greed and ego that go into them. In fact you seem at times to be arguing that we need a government to protect rights and this absolves the businessman of responsibility.

    So here is the big thing – I think the church needs to preach to all of us that we will stand before God and be judged for our actions and decisions. This includes the way I review a proposal, treat those who work for or with me, and the way a businessman chooses to set prices. If I can – before God who knows all – defend the fact that the action was for the greatest good and not to pad my pocket, or for my greatest benefit, or to privilege my people, excellent. But we are called to a very, very high ethic in love of God and love of neighbor and there is no justification for equivocating on this under any circumstances at all.

    To take an example from my field: It doesn’t violate love of neighbor to give a deserved F. It violates love of neighbor to give cavalier directions and thus undeserved F’s, being unwilling to take the time to care because I am more concerned with my own ego and gain.

    Percival,

    Price gouging is not a morally neutral act and it and the greed that drives it damages the very souls of those who participate. It should be treated by all of us with the contempt it deserves. If the people who had the generators had sold them for a reasonable price, even a modest increase over normal, all would have come out ahead.

  • RJS

    Michael,

    To clarify a bit – I don’t deny the complexities of decisions. But when we ask how the church fails business people – or for that matter all of us … well I think the biggest way the church fails us is by rationalizing away sinful behavior, especially greed and pride.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    RJS #11

    “In fact you seem at times to be arguing that we need a government to protect rights and this absolves the businessman of responsibility.”

    I’m not following. I’ll offer this. I’m not saying that businesses don’t have ANY obligations to employees beyond pure profit considerations. I am suggesting that modern societies have a complex decentralized array of institutions for addressing the issues that were once all the purview of a patron or lord. Business is one. Businesses have a more circumscribed role and that means they have less responsibility. That also means the individual has a more circumscribed relationship to the employer meaning greater mobility and freedom. Our lives have moved from tight pyramidal relationships to more flexible, decentralized, horizontally-integrated relationships.

    “But we are called to a very, very high ethic in love of God and love of neighbor and there is no justification for equivocating on this under any circumstances at all.”

    You hear me side-stepping a moral question. I’m pressing an epistemic question. I’m pressing at the point of what we mean by “love.” I quoted Knapp:

    “An ethic of love goes beyond both duty (keeping promises, telling the truth, doing a job well) and compliance (with civil law, contractual requirements, or employment policies), both of which are necessary in the workplace. Love recognizes that every person is unique and must be cared for individually, whether or not a rule mandates it. This requires us to take the time and effort to discover what actually meets the other’s need.” (101)

    I have a decision to make that affects hundreds of people (thousands? Millions?). If I am to “love” my neighbors in this decision, then I must get to know each of them individually. I must meet their families. I must know their financial circumstances and priorities. I need to assess each person’s health status and other limitations that might affect to their ability to adapt. I need to take into account each person’s hopes and dreams.

    How am I supposed to do that? I can’t. I can’t “love” that many neighbors. No one can. Neither can I simply do what is in the “greatest good” or the “common good.” No person can possibly know what that is. That is why we need standards of justice when we make decisions that affect many people and Christians can’t just assume that every standard of justice society has settled on is the best we can do. Telling people to love their neighbor in such situations doesn’t answer the question.

    I am in no way side-stepping the command to love neighbor where that is within human capacity. But massively decentralized economies at times place us in the position of making decisions that are beyond this capacity. What then? That is the issues I’m raising.

  • RJS

    Michael,

    No – inorder to “love your neighbor” when making decisions for a large corporation or in a massively decentralized ecomony you do not have to know all the people personally. You probably don’t have to know any of them personally. You do have to know and consider the aggregate effect of any decision to the best of your ability and you have to have in the front of your mind the fact that they are all humans created in the image of God with hopes, dreams, and problems. To claim that love is by its nature limited to individual interactions with those you know personally is, in my opinion, moral side-stepping. This is what disturbs me about your approach.

    Christian politicians, university presidents, business people – every last individual Christian in every last circumstance – no equivocation allowed, must be governed by this ethic. There will be “greater good” claims because there are always consequences. And any decision involving a large number of people will have a complex set of interrelated ups and downs. It is a very hard optimization problem. But that doesn’t change the bottom line.

    So – if as a Christian business person the standard of justice of society allows you to do something that is wrong by God’s standard you are still culpable. The kind of approach you are advocating – so it seems to me – is the kind of approach that allows even Christian business people to rationalize a decision that is ultimately governed by greed and pride.

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    @RJS wrote: No – inorder to “love your neighbor” when making decisions for a large corporation or in a massively decentralized ecomony you do not have to know all the people personally. You probably don’t have to know any of them personally. You do have to know and consider the aggregate effect of any decision to the best of your ability and you have to have in the front of your mind the fact that they are all humans created in the image of God with hopes, dreams, and problems. To claim that love is by its nature limited to individual interactions with those you know personally is, in my opinion, moral side-stepping. This is what disturbs me about your approach.

    But by the very nature and constitution of a *corporation*, this cannot happen — indeed, if officers act in a “love your neighbor” fashion, they would be violating their fiduciary responsibility and be liable for the lapse in “judgment”, that is centered entirely on profit/loss, and the amoral mechanisms that simply are concerned *only* only with the revenue stream. The well being of the financial status of the corporation trumps the health of the community or the lives of workers and citizens. A lot of lip service is employed to sell that the corporation is “a good citizen”, but that is only congruent to the point of its financial success.

    The film, The Corporation expresses this well, but it’s the truth about any corporate entity.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #14 RJS

    I think we are talking past each other at some level. I think you are using a more expansive definition of love … a fraternity of humankind … than Knapp has explicitly stated here. Some biblical scholars here will have to arbitrate if I’m straining gnats to say this idea of “love your neighbor” may not so easily embrace that.

    I’m saying that love is a deeply personalized and particularized action toward a specific “other.” What I hear you describing is the existence of a “generalized other” whose nature is informed by Christian anthropology. We imagine what impact our decision might have on this generalized other. We empathize with the generalized other and ask ourselves how we would feel if the generalized other was us. From that we reason what might be the most desirable decision. I’m agreeing that this is an essential component of any ethical reflection. What I’m saying is that this reasoning to a decision from a generalized other is not loving your neighbor. To define it so expansively runs the risk of converting “love” into a generalized abstraction … an affinity for others … that it does not demand personal response to actual people in front of us.

    I would suggest that relating to a generalized other is part of how we navigate these messo and macro level questions. I think we need to look at law, tradition, and custom because there is often collective wisdom that develops over time (but, yes, that custom and tradition can be tainted by sin). We need to look at what social sciences might tell us, particularly with an eye toward latent and unintended consequences. And, yes, we look at what may be most advantageous for creating wealth. We lay all this before the King in whose dominion we serve, and from this we discern what we think is the most just response. I would say that what we are wrestling with in these messo and macro level decisions is a matter of justice, not love (again, love being the deeply contextual thing I described above.)

    Again, my point is that “love” as I defined it, as I think Knapp is using it, and as I think Scripture likely means it, is not a guide at the messo and macro level. We leave love and move to more abstract discussions of justice.

  • Percival

    RJS,

    I was being deliberately provocative when I said that price gouging is a morally neutral act. (Michael may want to distance himself from me on this.) The term price gouging is a negative term for an act that is contextually determined. Is selling something for twice what you paid for it price gouging? In the example of the generators above that’s what happened. they doubled the “normal” price. If gasoline was sold at stations for twice the price that owners paid for it, we’d be paying $8.00/gal. Price gouging! However, we routinely pay double wholesale prices for retail items like clothes and this is considered normal.

    Let me address the specifics of you objections.

    You said:
    Price gouging is not a morally neutral act and it and the greed that drives it damages the very souls of those who participate. It should be treated by all of us with the contempt it deserves.

    My response:
    I never said greed is morally neutral. Before judging an act as contemptible, we had better know the details of why someone is demanding a certain price. In my own field of teaching, I demand that a group of people pay me close $100/hour for me to give them information that I obtained for free. That’s quite a markup! Without context, what I do every day might seem greedy and exploitative.

    You said:
    If the people who had the generators had sold them for a reasonable price, even a modest increase over normal, all would have come out ahead.

    My response:
    The simplest proof that this is not always true is to look at what happened with the generators. When the price gouging laws were enforced, the supply of generators to those who wanted them immediately dried up. No one came out ahead. In retrospect, doubling the price of generators was reasonable because that’s what it took to make things work.


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