Monday, March 4, 2013

The Economics of the Ten Commandments (Final Part)

The 9th and 10th Commandments

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; you shall not covet your neighbor’s goods (Ex 20.17, NAB).

When we covet, we start to put little gods before the one true God and we begin to break all the other commandments. When we covet, we begin to accept that it’s all right to steal the object of our desire or to lie to get what we want. When we covet, we begin the process of accepting that dishonest actions are acceptable to gain the object that we desire, such as another man or woman or a promotion or to curry favor etcetera. 

We need to remember that wanting to have the same things as others is not the same as wanting those things at another’s expense. It is the first step in a moral and ethical decline that ultimately ends in the loss of our honor and self-respect. And once we loose our honor and self-respect we loose our respect for others.

We covet when we desire and work for riches, social status, and power at the expense of honesty and truthfulness. We covet when we’re unfaithful to our spouse or leave them to marry another. We covet when we try to keep up with the Jones. We covet when we buy things we can’t afford and live beyond our means. We covet when we’re jealous of another’s status, possessions, or accomplishments. Coveting is at the root of all jealousy, theft, robbery, vandalism, murder, fraud, greed, adultery, fornication, rape, arrogance, and every other dishonest, unethical, or immoral practice. St. Paul in his first letter to the Bishop Timothy (6.6-10,17-19, NIV) talked about the dangers of covetousness in this way:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Christians have always believed that relationships with others are not to be based on money. Businesses should not make profit their exclusive measure and ultimate end. The disordered desire for money will only result in perverse effects and conflicts with others. Any business practice that reduces people to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves men and women and leads to idolizing money (Matt 6.24).

History has clearly shown the adverse affects of the love of money. Over the nineteenth century, an industrial and economic revolution shook the very foundations of our civilization when unbridled greed, capitalism and competition oppressed the masses everywhere. Wealth became concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people and disparity grew between the rich and the poor. These changed the way people looked at society, the role of government, and work in general. Unfortunately, they also precipitated disastrous political ideologies like communism and fascism.

As a result of these social and economic changes, anti-trust laws were passed to control the oppressive use of money and power by individuals and corporations. Many leading Christians (especially in the Catholic Church) reminded businesses that they had an obligation to consider the good of people and not just the increase of profits, and that the ultimate purpose of business is meant to provide for the needs of people.

So what does this mean for you?

In this blog series, Allen and I have tried to show you the connection between economics, business and the central moral edicts of the Judeo-Christian faith traditions: the Ten Commandments. 

Here are ten simple rules to live by that we extrapolated into hundreds of rules to follow in life and in our economic dealings with others. The Ten Commandments were given to show us how to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves. St. Paul wrote, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13.9-10).” 

We suggest that over the next week or so, you reread one section a day on each of the commandments. Then spend each day pondering the implications of that commandment for your daily life. On the final day, read Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7 and compare it with the Ten Commandments. 
Some commandments may not be an issue for you, whereas others might be quite challenging. No one can keep these commandments all the time, but making them our daily focus will keep us from the situational ethics that cause so many moral and ethical lapses in business today. These commandments are certainly not impossible to follow, but when we do fail (as most people do) to live up to God’s commands we should admit our mistakes and try to do better tomorrow.

Final Note

Even though I have an MBA, have studied economics in depth, and have many years of business experience, I don't filter the economic choices I make through the filter of modern day economics; I filter them through a moral filter first.  And after they've passed the moral test I then try to make wise and prudent choices based on economics.  Experts can argue all day that one way of solving economic problems is better than another, but ultimately if the solution isn't morally sound, then it's bound to fail.  And this is focus of my blog. 

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