At Work & Economics 101 & Theology 101

Why I Am Not A Plumber

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Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

-1 Corinthians 12:13-20

It was a short list, just a few “plumbing” things that needed to be fixed before the closing on our house. “I can do that; no need to call a plumber,” I said to my wife.

A week later, the bill from the plumber was over $900…obviously, plumbing is not my comparative advantage.

Why does comparative advantage even matter? Because it’s an important tool for thinking biblically about faith, work, and economics.

In my first post in this series, I suggested five tools that should shape and support our thinking and decision-making, and help us build a holistic biblical worldview. By using these tools, we can take biblical principles and apply them to various contexts we encounter in our daily lives.

These five tools are:

  1. Personal Vision – understanding who God has created you to be and what he has called you to do.
  2. Gifts and Talents – understanding your comparative advantage.
  3. Wisdom and Knowledge – understanding that as Christians we trust Scripture as our only authoritative source for faith and practice.
  4. Stewardship – understanding that we are accountable to God for what we do with everything that he has given us.
  5. Biblical Self-Interest – understanding that obedience to God’s call on our lives is in our own best interest.

After examining the first tool, “personal vision,” today we want to turn our attention to “gifts and talents.” This involves understanding your comparative advantage.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear in the twelfth chapter of I Corinthians that we were not made to do everything by ourselves. We are not independent or completely dependent. We are interdependent.

Paul’s beautiful illustration of the human body establishes a foundational principle that we are each uniquely created with different combinations of gifts and talents, both spiritual and material. These gifts and talents are what economists call “comparative advantage.”

Anne Bradley, in her paper, “Why Does Income Inequality Exist?,” writes,

“If I had to possess all of the gifts in a fallen world, I could never accomplish anything. The market is a God-given construct, a methodology for exercising our gifts, and through our unique contributions whether they are through the church, the business world or motherhood, we can make a contribution to the common good.”

God intends for us to use our gifts and talents to glorify him, serve the common good, and further his kingdom in all we do at our churches, in our families, within our communities, and at our jobs.  A proper understanding of our comparative advantage can help us to achieve those things effectively.

  • Comparative advantage means it’s better to capitalize on your strengths than to improve on your weaknesses.
  • Comparative advantage means we work better if we focus on what we do best, and work with others who are also focusing on what they do best.
  • Comparative advantage is the reason why diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams.
  • Understanding your comparative advantage is how you can best make a difference.
  • Knowing your comparative advantage does NOT mean always committing to doing just one thing.
  • Comparative advantage helps us understand why we can do what we do best, even though there are others who can do it better.

Comparative advantage is not just a boring economic concept. As we will see in my next post, it is an incredibly powerful tool for helping us understand the world and making better decisions–like calling the plumber first.

That reminds me, I have one more thing to fix on the roof…

How do you apply the concept of comparative advantage to your daily life? Leave your comments here.

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