Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Economics of the Ten Commandments (Part 7)

 The 7th Commandment

You shall not steal (Ex 20.15; Deut 5.19; Mt 19.18, NAB).


The 8th Commandment

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ex 20.16; Deut 5.20, NAB).  You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8.32). 


Everyone knows that taking something that isn’t yours is stealing, but there are other ways to steal. An employee that spends hours each day surfing the Internet instead of working is stealing from their employer. An employer that doesn’t compensate their employees for all the hours they work is stealing from them. A company that expects employees to drive their own cars from their regular work place to visit a customer without reimbursement is stealing from them as well. When you advance your cause at someone else’s expense, you’re stealing! In practice, this commandment not to steal includes:

Not returning goods that were loaned to us; Not returning goods that were lost when you could discover the owner; Any form of business fraud; Not paying just wages, or withholding benefits; Not paying taxes or social security contributions; Forcing up prices by taking advantage of ignorance or hardship; Artificially manipulating the price of goods; Any form of corruption or bribery; Misusing company property; Excessive business expenses and waste; Poor workmanship; Forging checks and invoices; and Vandalizing property.

Most of us think of bearing false witness in the traditional sense of lying to or about someone else, especially in legal proceedings. In the business world, bearing false witness expands to include any form of deception. This includes the things we say as well as the things we don’t say.

The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations (word or deed) with others. Since God is the source of all truth, we as Christians are called to live in truth. Jesus said in John 8.32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In other words, truth is very liberating. We should always be true in deeds and truthful in words and guard against any duplicity, dissimulation, and hypocrisy.

Honesty means that we should always keep our promises and honor the spirit and letter of contracts we make with others. We should respect other people’s property, pay our debts, fulfill our obligations, and make reparation for injustices we committed.

Respect for the reputation of others means that we should avoid any attitude or say anything that would cause others unjust injury. We should not assume the moral faults of another without sufficient foundation. We should not disclose (without an objectively valid reason) another’s faults and failings to others who do not know them. We should not say anything that would harm another’s honor and reputation.

Furthermore, we should not use flattery in order to gain favor with others. We should not misrepresent what you have or what you have done in your life. And we should not lie in order to deceive others. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Men could not live with one another if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another.”

David Callahan, Ph.D. in his 2004 book, The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead (see his web site: explores many of the sociological impetuses behind the American culture of cheating.  In nauseous detail, Dr. Callahan documents case after case after case of dishonest, unethical, hypocritical, immoral, and oftentimes illegal behavior in the legal profession (no surprise there), the judiciary, the government, in politics, in medicine, in business (no surprise there either), in accounting, in financial services, in sports, in journalism, and in academia (from preschool through graduate school). He also cites numerous examples of tax evasion at all economic levels, electronic piracy over the internet, and wealthy individuals who exploit the system at the expense of the poor and middle class. 

More than any one thing, the love of money seems to be the one common denominator to our cheating culture in America. Dr. Callahan makes a convincing argument that unless our American society reforms itself, our country may eventually end up like Brazil with pervasive corruption in every corner of society. He also offers many suggestions about how our society can transform to become more honest and ethical, but none so poignant as, “be a chump, and don’t be afraid to be a pain-in-the-ass!” In other words, be honest and ethical in everything you personally do regardless of the personal cost or what everyone else is doing. And at the same time, don’t be afraid to expose dishonest and unethical behavior whenever you encounter it.  My dad once told me even more eloquently, "Our famility doesn't eat sh*t, and we don't drink the kool-aid!"  


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