Monthly Archives: May 2015

“Why ‘Overpaying’ Workers Makes Biblical and Business Sense;” But Not Yet

greed

The link below is an excellent article by Tim Weinhold. See if you can spot the flaw in his argument.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/may-web-only/why-overpaying-workers-makes-biblical-and-business-sense.html?share=1VfMAeltTzsQyhId8dBZ80loae0IajOs

Here’s the flaw: The problem of static and declining worker wages in America cannot be fixed solely by promoting the formulaic idea that it is simply a good business practice for employers to pay workers higher wages than the free-market dictates. Why? Allow me to explain with an example: I once worked for a medium size company that paid all its employees more than the free-market rate in wages and benefits for our type of business. Unfortunately a competitor with deep pockets came to our communities and paid their workers less than the free-market rate. Our competitor was prepared to sustain losses for many years in order to drive us out of business and capture market share in the long run. We lost too many customers to our competitor’s lower prices which were subsidized by their workers lower wages. Since wages were the largest expense for our business, we could not compete without implementing severe cuts in wages and benefits, and so we folded.

The solution to the problem is not a business formula. The solution is first to change our hearts and accept the reality that something has gone amiss with our long-cherished American value of the free-market setting wages and providing equal opportunities for all. Then, either this generation or the next will need to fix the free-market, which has actually become crony capitalism.

free market occupy

Government can’t fix this problem because government is in bed with too many big businesses and special interests. More importantly, government can’t fix what ails the human heart. This next statement will sting but here goes: perhaps we followers of Christ ought to focus as much or more on the corruption of the free-market as we do on gay marriage. Why? Partly because a free-market that provides opportunities to all is part of the very soul of America. An uncorrupted free-market has the best chance of raising more people out of poverty than any other economic system on earth. The plight of the poor (and the middle class which is becoming poor) may take priority in God’s estimation over issues such as gay marriage. I base this statement on Ezekiel 16:49 that says:

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

Granted, America spends billions on government services to the poor. And yet we have hardly made a dent in poverty. Dependence on government programs is rampant. Only an uncorrupted free-market that provides opportunities to the poor like it does to hedge fund managers is moral. A corrupted free-market (due to insatiable human greed) will inevitably exploit the poor and the middle class.

Whereas socialism’s Achilles heel is human sloth (not the critter), the free-market Achilles heel is greed; and both share the common characteristic of being a condition of the human heart. Conservatives like to decry sloth while liberals decry greed . . . while God decries both, though based on my readings of the Bible I suspect greed really gets in God’s craw. Whether sloth or greed there are natural unpleasant consequences to both. And America is experiencing some consequences of both, and it will get worse if we do not have a day of reckoning or repentance from the highest levels of society to the lowest.

I do not agree with everything the Pope says, but at least he has spoken out on this issue of corrupted markets and capitalism gone awry. The silence from leaders of evangelical Christianity is deafening. Oh by the way, many employers pay higher than the market rate, but they treat their employees like slaves under their yoke 24/7; this, too, is an abomination. But I digress.

Dan Price is a young optimist. For a variety of reasons I do not expect that his admirable decision to pay all his employees no less than $70,000 a year will be successful in the long run (though I hope I’m wrong). It certainly won’t be successful unless the ENTIRE Christian world supports his efforts, and likeminded efforts, by helping to change our culture so that uber-wealthy businesses that insist on paying workers as little as possible are treated like pariahs in our society. On the other hand, workers have a moral obligation to make themselves more valuable to their employers. Undereducated workers or workers with no trade skills who feel entitled to a high-paying job … well, they also deserve pariah status. Making our economy work for more than a top tiny percent of the population requires that everyone accept their responsibility. I’m just saying.

Here is some interesting data from Pew Research on wages:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/09/for-most-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/

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Diverse Diversity

Diversity Group

Recently, we celebrated a friend who got hired for a ministry position in a town a couple hours up the road. Our friend shared his excitement about the new job, though he was disappointed to be leaving his diverse church. He’s going to a community with virtually no diversity, or I should say with no diversity based on the common understanding of diversity—that diversity is about skin color and ethnicity. His comments made me realize that I take my neighborhood diversity for granted. The zip code where I live is said to be the most diverse in America. See the article at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-10-most-diverse-zip-codes-in-america-2012-11#95834-south-natomas-sacramento-1 The diversity of my community has benefits. For example, when Cindy and I go out for dinner, our vast options for ethnic cuisine staggers the senses. I was reminded of the extent of my spoiling when we visited a region of the country where they used ketchup as red sauce on enchiladas (I kid you not).

The peculiar thing about being white and living in supposedly the most diverse zip code in America is that sometimes it doesn’t feel like the most diverse zip code in America. I suppose part of the reason for this blindness to diversity is due to the human tendency we all have to live in enclaves of people who look and act somewhat like us (though I pity anyone who looks and acts like me) even when the surrounding population does not look and act like us. Anyhow, the church I attend is mostly white with a broad smattering of people from a wide range of ethnicities. The church has mostly transitioned through the church-plant phase and has entered the comfortable-with-each-other phase. The comfortable phase feels good because we have started to love each other despite our array of differences. Becoming one body as described in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 takes time and malleable hearts. Becoming one body is not possible without the glue of love found in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Out of all our efforts and spiritual gifts in the church, love lasts forever. Prophesy, speaking in tongues, etc. … those things are finite. Not so with love.

A church in another part of our town has a reputation for opposition to diversity, they’ve even been accused of racism. They do not go out burning crosses at night nor do they tattoo their bodies with images denoting white supremacy (which would also denote their glittering ignorance regarding God’s kingdom). They just have a reputation for making non-whites feel like they might be better served by finding another church. Are they racist, or are they just afraid of people who might cause change in their church? I’d guess it is both.

There is a movement in the American church toward diversification. I hope it’s more than a fad that gives us bragging rights. Here’s the thing: diversity is not limited to skin color and ethnicity. Diversity can be also achieved in church via a variety of measurements such as: Rich and poor, liberal and conservative, Young and old, employed and unemployed, good part of town and bad part of town, industrialists and environmentalists, gay and straight, single and married, married and divorced, educated and uneducated, healthy and sick, contemporary music lovers and traditional music lovers, Giants fans and Yankee fans. Leaders who tweak church outreach efforts and leadership vision in order to encourage the growth of a diverse congregation—however diversity is defined in their community—are likely to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s glowing pleasure. That’s not to say that making changes to increases diversity can be achieved without blowback and resistance. After all, going down the path of diversity is likely to reveal some hidden and unexpected prejudices in places we would not dream they might be found. But what the heck, we need to deal with those prejudices if we want the privilege of considering ourselves genuine followers of Jesus. I’m just saying!

Equal Opportunity Police Brutality

Police-Officer

Many moons ago, I worked as an undercover store security agent. The work brought me into contact with a variety of law enforcement officers. One store I covered, located in a rough part of town, fell within the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s department. We caught many shoplifters and fraudsters and we referred them to the sheriff’s department for criminal prosecution. I used to cringe when one particular sheriff responded to the store. We’ll call him Joe. Joe was the quintessential middle-aged officer who had long since burned out on law enforcement. He was mean to every suspect right from the point of first contact, often antagonizing them until they fought back physically. If a suspect did not answer his questions quickly or if he felt they were deceitful, he would come down on them hard. Suspects that could have been released with just a citation to appear in court ended up being painfully restrained, arrested, handcuffed, and hauled off to jail with a big brouhaha in front of customers and employees. (Oh such fond memories … not.)

All of our security personnel and many deputy sheriffs knew that Joe had a problem, but it was challenging to get anything done about it. He had tenure, so to speak. I eventually went to work for another company, so I never heard what happened to Joe and his rough-handed approach to the administration of justice in the community.

Here’s the thing: Joe was abusive and even physically brutal to ALL suspects. He did not care if a suspect was black, brown, or white; he was brutal towards all humanity that might find itself afoul of the law, no matter how minor the offense. As it turns out, Joe was a great mentor. Yep, he was one of the reasons I decided to not go into policing. Don’t get me wrong. I had the privilege of working with hundreds of law enforcement officers who executed their duties with professionalism, firmness, and even compassion. Out of those hundreds of officers, I encountered maybe two Joes. But being a police officer can wear a person down.

Real law enforcement work bears little resemblance to what we see on television and in the movies. Rarely is it glamorous. Officers, quite frankly, spend most of their time encountering the detritus of humanity. Yes, I know that God does not see any human being as garbage. But the reality is that some human beings live like animals. Day in and day out, year after weary year, police officers interact with the same types of people—criminals, the uneducated, the uncouth, the addicted, the manipulative, the violent, the deceitful, the mentally insane and occasionally some regular citizens who just need some help. After years working in the trenches of law enforcement, police officers can easily get jaded towards all humanity. It takes a special type of person to remain positive and professional under these circumstances.

You may have heard about the recent riots in Baltimore over the mysterious death of Freddie Gray, a black man, who died in police custody. After Gray’s death, the City of Baltimore erupted with cries of police brutality and racism. When these tragedies happen, some in the community immediately default to racism as the root problem. Apparently those same people seem to think the job of a police officer is little different than, say, a dentist or a businessperson. The reality is that if a police officer has crossed the line and used excessive force, or has simply been careless in his duties, it is quite possible that the officer has simply become extremely jaded towards people in general. It may have little if anything to do with racism in the heart of the officer. But apparently being excessively jaded isn’t as sexy as racism, though it is just as tragic. This is not to say that racism does not exist in police departments across the country. But come on folks, our police officers have a most unpleasant job that places them in constant contact with the worst the human race can produce. We can’t excuse their behavior when they cross the line, but we can at least have a little understanding and sympathy.