America Needs Work
Many conversations about work, particularly with regards to corporate decisions, seem to be about the dollars and cents of the bottom line. No one is suggesting that profits are not an important part of one's business plan. However, it should not be the only important concept driving decisions. The article below from the March issue of First Things offers a different perspective and one that should be more in the forefront of our thinking when faced with business decisions.
Max Torres, the author of this article, reminds us that work is not just about income. It is reinforcing what we already know to be true from Scripture and that is work is good.
NOTE: Sometimes it can be intimidating and overwhelming to read an article from First Things, but this is not the case with this particular piece. I would encourage you to wade into it because it is accessible and worth our time to consider. Additionally, because of file issues this article is in a little different format than we usually provide.
Last December, with a push from President-elect Donald Trump, Carrier Corporation decided to retain around eight hundred jobs in Indiana that it had slated to shift to Mexico. Commentators from George Will to James Pethokoukis and the Wall Street Journal criticized the episode as a violation of market principles. Larry Summers called it an ominous shift from “rule of law capitalism” to “ad hoc deal capitalism.”
These critics claim that carrot-and-stick interventions of the state into markets have economic costs. Free markets promote efficient use of capital, and when politicians intervene, we get higher consumer prices. Companies see that politics and regulation affect the bottom line, and this motivates them to spend time and money on political activity, creating a vicious circle as companies compete for influence in Washington rather than competing to make better products more efficiently. Worse yet, today’s protectionism may lead to tomorrow’s bankruptcy.
The critics of Trump’s strong-arming of Carrier treat the unfortunate market-distorting results of protectionism as indisputable facts, which they likely are. But they also seem to assume that market efficiency is the final end or purpose of a nation’s economy, which it certainly is not.
But jobs mean far more than income. We are created to do work, and in the doing, we become, more and more, who we are.
There is another way of looking at the issue. What if the primary importance of keeping jobs in the U.S. concerns human flourishing rather than economic efficiency? By forgoing cheaper labor in Mexico, the price of Carrier goods might rise a bit and corporate profits slip slightly. But the payoff is that eight hundred people in Indianapolis will continue to work. And what if it’s the work itself, not effects on capital, consumer prices, or middle-class wages, that matters most, ultimately even for economics?
Most of us adopt the false view that the most important feature of having a job is the income it provides. In a modern economy that runs on the exchange of money rather than clan loyalties, this is of course important. But a job does more than secure income. It provides an opportunity to work, and work more than money fosters human happiness and growth.