Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Economics of the Ten Commandments (Part 6)

The 6th Commandment

You shall not commit adultery (Ex 20.14; Deut 5.18, NAB). You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5.27-28, NAB).

If we offer to sell you a gallon of milk and deliver a half-gallon of milk mixed with a half-gallon of water, we’ve committed adultery.   Mixing water with milk is not much different from breaking one’s marriage vows because it’s altering a contract between two people.   If a company reduces the pay and benefits they’ve agreed to provide their employees, they’ve altered the contract they had with them.   If we don’t keep our promises to our employees, customers, or employers we’ve committed adultery as well.

Companies justify reducing their employee’s pay and benefits packages as cost savings measures to keep the company profitable.  But to the employees this is a reduction in their compensation package and it creates both an immediate and future hardship.   For example, if an employee has an agreement with their company for medical and retirement benefits and their company decreases these benefits without an equal value increase somewhere else then the company has committed adultery.  If this seems strange, think about that gallon of milk: we’d feel cheated if we’d paid for a gallon of milk but only received a half-gallon of milk mixed with a half-gallon of water.   In exactly the same way employees feel cheated when their company reduces their pay or medical and retirement benefits.  If the employee doesn’t like it, his only recourse is to find another job and hope his next employer won't alter the contract he made with them.  But for retired employees who lose their pension and medical benefits they have no recourse.

There have been several reported stories of employees that had their pay and benefits reduced and later discovered that management was given huge bonuses.  In some cases these bonuses exceed the cost of the lost pay and benefits.  The adultery in modern business today is when management has the power to arbitrarily reduce their employee’s compensation package while increasing their own. This is nothing more than a selfish childhood attitude of I got mine and you’re on your own.
Loyalty is a two way street with employees on one side and the company on the other.  Cheating employees, customers, or employers is not only dishonest but disloyal as well.  If a company is so poorly structured and organized that it has to earn its profits out of the back pockets of its employees and customers, then it probably needs new leadership.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Economics of the 10 Commandments (Part 5)

The 5th Commandment

You shall not kill (Ex 20.13; Deut 5.17, NAB). You have heard that it was said to men of old, “You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment (Mt 5.21-22, NAB).

You shall not kill is not just a metaphor. In the societies of biblical times, killing someone else for their land or possessions was a common occurrence. God admonishes us not to kill because to God each life is his precious gift and not man’s to take away. In the days of the American west, stealing someone’s horse was a capital crime. At first glance, this seems unduly harsh until you understand that a man without a horse was certain to die either from the harsh environment or from the hostility of the people around him. Thus, the horse thief was killing the victim either directly or indirectly. In today’s job market, putting someone’s ability to earn a living at risk so that we can gain a short-term advantage isn’t much different than stealing a horse was in the American west.

Murder is conceived in anger and it is born out of hatred; therefore, Jesus commanded his followers not to even give into anger and hatred. Wishing, hoping, or facilitating ill upon another ultimately leads to greater evil. If someone else has wronged you, forgive him or her and try to forget about it. But if you really want to even the score, you should kill ‘em with kindness (Mt 5.38-48)!  Budda once wrote, "Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."

In business, we are constantly faced with situations that seem to be them or us. If we don’t get the sale, the promotion, or whatever else there is, then the other person will.  It's a "zero-sum game".  The temptation is to metaphorically kill our adversary, or “kill the competition.” This means doing anything short of murder to gain the upper hand.

In Russia today, business rivals literally do kill anyone who gets in the way of their business activities. The tools commonly used to squash our rivals in the west are underhanded internal politics and unethical business tactics. Remember there is no such thing as them or us; there is only you and me! This commandment teaches us that it is a poor victory gained by someone else’s loss.

Read what our Lord God said to Moses in Leviticus 19.1-2, 11-18: The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.  You shal not steal.  You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another.  You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God.  I am the LORD." 

"You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.  You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God.  I am the LORD." 

"You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgement. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly.  You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor's life is at stake.  I am the LORD."

"You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him, do not incur sin because of him.  Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   I am the LORD."

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