Economics 101

How the Market Process Enables You to Make an Impact with Your Work

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When we’re at work, how do we measure whether we are making an impact?

Doctors and nurses have jobs that allow them to help people. If you have spent any time in a hospital relying on a doctor’s wisdom, you certainly understand. Doctors save lives.

However, we can’t and aren’t all called to be doctors. Do you ever hear people say “I want to be a truck driver because I want to help people?” We don’t hear that too often, but perhaps we should. Truck drivers help people, often in ways we don’t realize:

  • They transport gasoline so we can drive our cars and heat our homes.
  • They bring us fruit, vegetables and milk so we get nourishment.
  • They transport necessary medical supplies so the doctors and nurses can do their jobs.

This is the benefit and the power of the market process.

Comparative Advantage

The market plays directly into our God-given skills. He created each of us uniquely with different sets of skills, talents, abilities, and propensities, all in his image, as Genesis 1:27 reminds us.

Each of us has something very unique and special to offer the world. This is how God designed it. He knew we couldn’t go through life alone. We are inter-dependent creatures, and it’s because of this interdependency that we work together, even with strangers, and are able to thrive.

If we focus on the things we are good at producing, what economists call our comparative advantage, we are then able to trade with others for the things they are good at producing. Doctors can only save lives if they have the buildings, supplies and technology to do so. This requires a vast array of skills. None of us are autonomous, but rather we are God’s handiwork, created to come together to serve the common good.

Markets Bring Us Together

Markets, through the price and profit/loss system, bring us together to serve each other. They allow the truck driver to focus on his skills. He doesn’t have to make the truck, the gasoline, and the products he transports. He focuses on his gifts as a driver and lets others do the rest. Because of this, he is able to do more than he ever could alone. The same is true of us in our lives.

Getting back to the question posed at the beginning, how do we measure if we are having an impact? We do our jobs to the best of our abilities. When we create value and serve others, the market rewards our skills. This process encourages creativity in each of us, and causes us to strive for excellence in all that we do.

We can also make an impact by being who God created us to be. We make an impact when we use our specially created skills and talents to serve others, whether that happens to be in the non-profit world or whether you work as a truck driver. All of it matters to God if it is what he has called you to.

Our society tends to glorify two polar opposites in term of work. We glorify some high-paid professions like doctors and entrepreneurs, and we glorify lower-paid volunteer work as something noble that needs to be pursued without the reward of a salary. Neither of these is necessarily biblical. Pursuing a job with a high salary is no nobler than being a volunteer if you aren’t being called to that work.

Pursuing what God has called us to do with excellence, as Daniel did in Babylon (see Daniel 6:3), regardless of the salary, is biblical and it’s what can bring us joy. Markets enable us to come together not only to serve others but also to engage in work that brings us delight.

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  • Tim Weinhold

    Anne, your column strongly suggests that markets necessarily create win-win outcomes where all participants are better off. It is increasingly evident, however, that the great ‘market expansion’ of the last few decades — what we refer to as globalization — has left many participants decidedly worse off.

    In a recent piece entitled “Globalization and It’s New Discontents,” Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stieglitz points out how neoliberal economists, and the great proportion of political leaders who ascribe to their views, assured citizens across the world that globalization would be broadly beneficial. Their reasoning was precisely your ‘comparative advantage’ logic. But Stiglitz, and many others, make clear that the empirical data now paint a decidedly different picture — globalizations’s big winners have been the middle class in developing countries, and the global economic elite, the top 1%. But in advanced economies, globalization has made the middle and working classes, and the poor, big losers.

    In the U.S., for example, the bottom 90% have had stagnant real (inflation-adjusted) incomes for the past third of a century. And for a full-time employed male worker, median real income is lower today than it was 42 years ago. At the bottom, real wages are comparable to what they were 60 years ago.

    Markets are often decidedly beneficial. Unfortunately, they are not as simply, or as broadly, beneficial as your piece suggests.

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