Enron. The banking and mortgage crisis. Bernie Madoff. Climate change. FoxConn. Drug cartels. Human trafficking. Slavery. Rising oil prices. Pink slime. The list of examples of commerce without morality goes on and on. In fact, given the struggle humanity has with the correlating seven deadly sins of greed, lust, envy and the rest, it’s no wonder commerce without morality is so pervasive.
Adam Smith was an eighteenth century social philosopher and political economist who laid the foundation for modern economics. He explained that the success of our economic and political systems was based on a moral foundation: how we treat one another and the spirit of benevolence, service and contribution. All economic and political systems are ultimately based on a moral foundation. He said that without a moral foundation and ongoing education, our society and business would become amoral, if not immoral.
To Adam Smith, every business transaction was a moral challenge to ensure that both parties came out fairly. The underpinnings of our free enterprise system or capitalism is based on fairness and benevolence in business. Our economic system comes out of a constitutional democratic system where everyone’s rights are equal and protected. Faith systems underscore this with various versions of the Golden Rule, treating others the way you want to be treated.
Jesus would be absolutely appalled by what is said and done in his name. First of all, the United States was not established as a Christian nation. Yes, many of the founding fathers were Christians, but there were many who were influenced by the Enlightenment. These founding leaders understood the necessity of a strong moral foundation for their experiment in democracy to work. Appealing to the moral teachings of the Bible and other philosophies strengthened that moral foundation.
Secondly, we all know that just because someone can quote Scripture and goes to church does not ensure their actions are Christlike. Many of the most egregious offenders are believers and leaders in their churches. The Gospels are full of accounts of how Jesus turned the accepted mores – toward religious rules, the treatment of women and children, attitudes toward people outside religious circles – upside down. The religious and political leaders were so threatened by how his teachings were uniting the oppressed and challenging their authority, they executed him. What was once carried out through the crusades and heresy trials, is now more subtlety applied through character assassinations and oppressive restrictions. It’s still wrong and violates any moral foundation.
Commerce without morality is a social sin because all of humanity is impacted when business is conducted without a moral foundation. Fairness and a regard for all parties in every transaction is the only way our systems of free enterprise and democracy can work.
Simple, yes. Easy, no. It requires that all of us willingly evaluate our decisions and choices in everything we do. As a person of faith and specifically a Christian, I am already called to do this: be a person of love and grace because God has extended love and grace to me through Jesus. Amen.
Photo credit: CaptPiper