Economics 101 & Public Square

Seeking to Make a Profit Is an Act of Citizenship. Here’s Why.

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What does a good citizen do?

If you paid attention in eighth grade civics class, you can rattle off the standard list of a citizen’s duties, including voting, obeying laws, becoming informed on pertinent issues, investing in your community, paying taxes, serving a jury panel, or perhaps even defending your country.

But this list is missing something. Have you ever thought about the importance of seeking profit as a citizen?

Exploring Citizenship

I recently had the privilege of speaking at a panel hosted by the Center for Reflective Citizenship at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and we examined different facets of what it means to be a good citizen.

Most things we identify as characteristics of a good citizen are outward-facing actions, things that require a measure of supposed selflessness.

Often, the law may require us to adhere to stipulations that are personally inconvenient. Voting involves effort to step outside of our routines, and often the array of candidates is underwhelming. Attending a town hall meeting may not fit nicely into your schedule, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone enjoying paying taxes.

Yet these are all things in which many of us participate regularly.

We recognize that sacrifice is essential to a healthy polity. As we understand from what the Bible says about government, the role of the citizen is essential. The burden of maintaining freedom lies on those benefiting from the prosperity stemming from it.

Exploring Profit as a Form of Citizenship

How does profit relate to these other aspects of citizenship?

Profit is designed to reward value creation. To earn profit, an entrepreneur – or in this case, a citizen – must turn his or her gifts and talents to the most productive use to those around him or her.

On the surface, this may seem self-serving. And in the sense that there is a tangible reward for certain actions, it is. But it’s more complex than that and inherently involves service to others and sacrifice of self.

When resources are used in a way that benefits others, everyone prospers. Ultimately, an entrepreneurial project benefits the community as a whole because the end result is a product that prices reveal to be valuable.

The technology that Apple has developed clearly leads to profits that benefit the makers and executives, but the beneficiaries of the developments are widespread and the benefits extend far beyond company profits.

In fact, the benefits of Apple and other technology companies to ordinary individuals far outweighs the monetary profit received by Apple. We are much better off as an aggregate because of a few individuals’ pursuit of the talents they have been given.

Citizens of Another Place

As Christians, we are aware that our citizenship is not just of the country in which we physically live. How we behave in our local and national communities reflects on the nature of our citizenship in God’s family.

While we cannot expect the complete restoration of this world until Christ returns, we can rest in the knowledge that God will use us for his glory and our good even while still on earth.

As Hugh Whelchel said in a post about voting and elections,

As Christians, our participation in this great American experiment enables us to bring a biblical influence to our culture. While this is not a silver bullet that will fix all the ills of our society, it is a part of being salt and light in the part of the world where we live. Our call to serve our communities in this way is just as important to God as the work we do in our churches, our families, and our vocations.

For those called to the for-profit space, seeking profit in a way that glorifies God is an extension of our community service. It is important that we, as Christian citizens, consult the Bible as we cast our votes, but we should not neglect to actively seek value creation through the use of our gifts and talents.

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  • Sid in Missouri

    I like the way the author holds up the benefits of profit-seeking as something to be admired. This provides a proper perspective on how moral capitalism is supposed to work. Kudos!

    Ayn Rand is a controversial author among Christians, and yet I find myself compelled by some of the statements in her novels and political writings where she basically shows that by serving our own interests best we also serve others, exchanging value for value which allows money to be ‘made’ and value created. It reminds me of how on airplane safety videos they say to put your oxygen mask on first, then assist those around you. And again when the Bible says it is our duty to provide for the needs of our own household first, because to fail in that is to be worse than an unbeliever. Far from being selfish, it’s actually the best place to start doing whatever you can to make sure others don’t have to do it for you. Of course, there are exceptions for folks who cannot–physically or mentally–provide for themselves, and then it is the joy of the believer who has succeeded in creating surplus value to assist those truly in need.

    Rand is not the authority on this matter–Scripture is–but it’s interesting to note how a self-proclaimed atheist made a very similar sounding argument, albeit for different motives and to a different end. Anyone who doesn’t like Rand, don’t worry, I have plenty of things I disagree with her on as well. My goal here is merely pointing out an interesting coincidence.

    Apple is a well-known company and they have certainly done a lot to benefit our lives through technology. Even those who protest against so-called ‘soulless corporations’ seem to treat Apple with at least some respect and use their products, though there are certainly a few folks who use hate-filled speech toward all businesses. I like Apple also. I wonder if we could further appreciation for business as a whole if we made it a goal to look at some of the more ‘meat and potatos’ businesses that still are out there, though not as flashy or seen in the day-to-day lives of people? For example, I used to work for a large company that manufactures drawn steel wire used in box springs, lumbar support systems in car seats, and for chain link fencing. The latest Apple iGaget–while certainly cool– pales in my mind to getting a good night’s sleep on a comfy mattress and box spring set or sitting on a plush seat during a 3-hour drive to visit a friend or family.

    Again, great article. I wish I could see 3000 comments on it showing it was being widely read and discussed! Thank you for providing me a chance to read and respond.

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