Salary and Finance, Workplace Issues

Paychecks and Self-Worth: An Introduction to Industry and Economics Part I

Last week in “Scripture’s View on Human Value”, we explored what the Bible has to tell us about the worth of each of us as individuals. With this in mind, it might seem reasonable that a society which recognizes this worth would ensure that every individual received an equal share of the wealth.

Unfortunately, as those who have lived and died in communist countries may attest, such generosity is possible only in a society in which every individual is altruistically dedicated to the greater good. In reality, such “equal” distribution tends to promote both corruption and a decrease in productivity. After all, why should I work extra hard so that the person who sits around doing nothing can feed his family? Instead, many nations have opted for the “fair” system known as capitalism: each individual is free to make as much money as is possible provided that they “color within the lines” of the democratically determined laws.

Our goal here, of course, isn’t to debate the relative value of communist/capitalist systems, but to provide an introduction to the free market economy which drives the latter. An understanding of this economy is essential if we’re to comprehend why our pay doesn’t reflect the constitutional principle that “all men are created equal”. Or why our seemingly “upside down” society in which those who appear to do very little often earn more than those who do much may not be so upside down after all.

This understanding begins with the law of supply and demand. Put simply, this law states that the scarcer a resource is, the higher the price it demands. There aren’t a large number of people in our country (or throughout the world, relatively speaking) who are qualified physicians or certified engineers. The result is that the price for those services and the salary of the individuals who provide them is high. There are, however, millions of people capable of hauling carts out of the local Walmart parking lot. Greater availability = lower demand price.

Whether you own a small Mom and Pop store or a publicly traded company, your goal as the business owner is to maximize profit… and one of the ways this is accomplished is through minimizing expenses. But is it fair to minimize expenses by depriving others of a higher wage? We’ll take a closer look at the answer to this question next week. Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts on the law of supply and demand in the comment box below!


Salary and Finance, Workplace Issues

Our Effort or God’s Gift: Where Does Money Come From?

My dad is a hard worker. He always has been and I expect that he always will be. He grew up with a traditional Protestant work ethic that demanded a day’s work for a day’s pay. And he firmly believes that good, honest work (even if it doesn’t pay much) is never beneath the dignity of a real man.

I watched him live out his beliefs on a daily basis, but at no time were they quite as impactful as that winter. Due to cutbacks, his good government job had come to an abrupt and unanticipated end. Unemployed and with mouths to feed, he did the only thing his sense of duty would allow: he took a minimum wage job. It wasn’t long before he was able to add a couple more and I watched as he faithfully showed up on time for each. He wasn’t getting much sleep, but he was supporting his family.

What stood out the most to me that winter, however, was that I never once heard Dad complain either about the odd hours he was working or about the low pay he received. To be honest, I can’t say as much for most of the folks I know. I, myself, have been known to complain about the disparity between the amount of work I put in and the amount that I get paid. Yet this highlights an important point: long hours and hard work don’t yield the same results for everyone.

A close examination of income disparity reveals a startling fact that there is very little connection between the amount of work (either hours in a shift or actual physical effort) a person performs and the number of zeroes on their paycheck. Nor is there a universal connection between the type of work we do and the income we receive. (If you don’t believe me, take a look at the difference between what your family doctor makes and what a missionary doctor gets paid.) Work, it seems, doesn’t create or, for that matter, guarantee cash flow. (If you still doubt me, just ask any stay-at-home mom!)

But if money isn’t the result of our efforts and education, where exactly does it come from? While an economist would argue that it originates with banks, the Bible would tell us that it’s a gift from God. Ecclesiastes 5:19 states that, “for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.” Moses explained Israel’s trials saying that they had been for an express purpose: “Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:17–18) And the Apostle James reminds believers, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

So what exactly does this mean for those who are busting their tails working odd shifts at odd hours for low pay just like my dad did that difficult winter? It means that they’re in the same boat as those with high wages and cushy 9-5 jobs. Who employs us, the hours we work, and the wage we are paid are, to a large degree, irrelevant. We are all recipients of God’s gift… and each of us, regardless of the magnitude of that blessing, is responsible for using it well.