Economics 101

How Trade Allows Us to Serve Others

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We have talked about the economic concept of comparative advantage and that ultimately we are better stewards of our gifts, strengths and resources when we hone in on producing things at which we are lower-cost providers.

You may never objectively be the best typist, software engineer, little league coach or PTA president than anyone in the world, but that is really not what matters. What does matter is that we acknowledge the unique way in which we are created, acknowledge that this uniqueness puts some boundaries and parameters around what we should do and should not do in terms of our vocational calling. And our giftedness has direct implications for our individual opportunity costs.

Because I know my gifts, I am certain that I should not put effort into being an accountant or a veterinarian. I do know that I can hone my skills as an economist and then trade them through the market.

I bet if you look back on your own life and think about the different ways and situations to which God has called you, you would be reminded that those situations were meant for you because you brought some unique skill set to the table. In fact, God was able to use you in those situations because of the unique way he created you. That doesn’t mean that we will never be engaged in work that is not scary, new or uncertain. But God has created the market order as a unique, earthly construct to allow us to serve others by specializing in our skills and talents.

Even though all of us may be good at several things, there may something at which you are a lower cost producer than others and it is key to learn your skills and gifts relative to others.

We don’t live in a vacuum, and we don’t have to do everything, which is a relief! Can you imagine what it would look like to have to grow the food you eat, grow the coffee beans, purify the water, and make your clothes— all just before you left the house in the morning? The market offers us a unique way to trade our skills for the skills of others. In this way, I can focus on producing things that are lower-cost for me to produce and I trade those things for my salary. People around the world do this every day. If you clean houses, work at the gas station or operate a truck you are engaged in serving others through trade. This trade which happens through the labor market connects us to one another.

The story of I, Pencil was told in awe of how something so simple (in this case, a pencil) is so complex to create. Not one person in the entire world knows how to make a pencil and all of its construction happens without a human mastermind. It happens because we trade based on our gifts, or our comparative advantage. Trade frees us from having to try to do everything, but allows us to do a few things which we can do better than others.

In this way we serve others through trade. We serve people we don’t even know. As Will Rogers said: “We couldn’t live a day without depending on everybody.”

This trade which allows us to serve others and attain a higher standard of living and prosperity is based on our unique creation. If we look at Jeremiah 29:7 we see a reference to the benefits of prosperity:

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

I would argue that this prosperity reference is based on trade. After all, how is it that cities prosper? The ones that experience long-term thriving do so because they are productive, they harness and facilitate trade. Trade allows us to lift up others whom we don’t even know. It’s another miracle of the market process.

So whatever your skills, whether you are a CEO, a hotdog vendor or a museum curator: you provide a role in serving others. By pursuing your gifts and skills with excellence and refinement, you free others from the worry and burden of having to do that. This is one important aspect of faithful stewardship that God has given us through trade and the market process.

Christian Economist Art Carden, working with the Institute for Humane Studies, explains the powerful phenomena of the benefits of trade in this great video below. To view the video on YouTube, click here.

Question: Can you see the benefits of trade in your everyday life? Do you see how trade allows you to benefit others? Leave a comment here.

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