At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

Sending A Message to Business: A Christian Perspective On Creative Destruction

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Taylor University students rally outside of their local Circle K store. Image courtesy of Jim Garringer, Taylor University.

Taylor University, my alma mater, is a small, Christian, liberal arts university in Upland, Indiana. I attended that fine institution from 2005-2009. Whenever someone spends more than a day on campus or around the student body, they always remark about the tight sense of community.

In August 2012, this community rallied to save a local convenience store from closing because they valued not only the products and services it offered, but more so the place it had in the community.

“Handy Andy,” as I knew it, is a Circle K convenience store gas station no more than half a mile from Taylor’s campus. Since Upland is a small rural town of about 4,000 people, Handy Andy was the only local twenty-four hour spot to get a less-than-$1 soda or snack.

When it was announced that Handy Andy would be closing, students didn’t want to lose what had become an extension of their school’s community.

This situation provides a good opportunity to think through the economic concept of creative destruction. What is it, what are its advantages and disadvantages, and how should Christians approach it from a biblical perspective?

Creative Destruction

Creative destruction is a difficult but essential aspect of any functioning economy. The economist Joseph Schumpeter popularized this term, and studied its role in a healthy economy. He described this process as the means by which economies evolve. Businesses, processes, and products are constantly replaced by newer, more effective companies, goods, and services.

Without creative destruction, you wouldn’t have a computer to read this blog. Humanity would not flourish to the degree it has without this process.

Flourishing is one way to begin thinking biblically about creative destruction. We are called to bring about human flourishing through our work. Creative destruction can be a tool for flourishing, a process whereby we use our creative talents to constantly refine, update, and improve things for the good of others.

Creative destruction can also help us fulfill the Cultural Mandate. Genesis 1:27-28 gives us the command to exercise dominion over the earth, stewarding its resources and creating more out of what we’ve been given.

Creative destruction takes existing resources and channels them to more effective uses that raise the prosperity and abundance for everyone, especially the poor. One example is the development of cell phones: human ingenuity has developed this technology to the point where, as the New York Times reported, even the poorest of the poor can purchase one and use it to start entrepreneurial endeavors.

The Pros of Creative Destruction

In saving Handy Andy, it’s possible Taylor students may have curtailed future benefits wrought by creative destruction:

  • By keeping Handy Andy open, what if Taylor University students prevented something better from using that space? For instance, would their reaction have been the same if there was a late-night Chik-fil-a scheduled to open after Handy Andy closed?
  • If employees had been let go, what if some or all of them would have taken that as the inspiration to pursue their true passions? What if employees took the opportunity to enter in meaningful work that people valued, creating something beneficial for even more people? In a healthy context, losing a job can be a defining and constructive period in one’s life.

The saga of Handy Andy also highlights some of the harder issues surrounding creative destruction.

The Painful Part of Creative Destruction

When the “destruction” in creative destruction takes place, there is no denying that it can be painful. Business and jobs are lost, and the impact on communities, families, and individuals can be detrimental, at least for a time.

  • One reason students rallied to save Handy Andy is because they didn’t want to see members of their local community without work. They demonstrated appreciation and concern for their neighbors, and for the fact that these employees were created in God’s image as people meant to work. Employees told news reporters that they felt valued as persons because of student’s concern.
  • Employees may have had better work opportunities made available had the store closed, but the opposite could also be true: having a job is better than not having one, especially if there are no other opportunities available.
  • Who knows why the store was unprofitable? It could have been because the store provided little value, but it could also have been because the store was mismanaged. Rather than closing the store, what if new management made the business more efficient and productive?
  • Students also wanted to say “thank you” for how the store had served the community. Something the community valued would have been lost, something more substantial than sodas and snacks. Relationships were forged over communal trips to Handy Andy. I would have been sad to see this lost.

It’s hard to know what the right thing to do is in this situation. The speculation over pros and cons could be endless. In this situation, the students’ rally sent a message to business: their care and concern signaled to investors that there was still a market for Handy Andy. New owners bought the store shortly after the rally, and it is still open and profitable to this day.

The students’ actions showed investors that the community cared about the well-being and value of both the store and its employees, and that’s a message worth sending to everyone.

What is your opinion on creative destruction? Is it good or bad? How should Christians think about it? 

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