Virtual Voices

Greedy Bible profiteers

Media

"Bald greed has no place in Bible publishing."

This statement is from Will Braun, writing about Rupert Murdoch's recent ensnarement in a British media phone hacking scandal. Murdoch's New Corp owns, among many businesses, Zondervan, one of the largest publishers of Bibles in the world. "What are we to make of the fact," Braun asks, "that every time we buy a Zondervan product we contribute to Murdoch's mogul-dom, which includes a personal fortune that Forbes pegged at $6.3 billion last year?"

I wrote a book published by Zondervan. I've also been published in The Wall Street Journal and The London Times, both owned by Murdoch. And I'm not at all worried about whether he got richer as a result of my labor. In fact, the more money Murdoch makes from selling my little book, or my essays, or the Bible, the better.

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This is a truth about capital-it goes to where it can multiply (provided, of course, its handlers aren't offered a guarantee against loss, which is what the Bush and Obama administrations, aided and abetted by Congress, have offered many corporations in recent years). Assuming Braun believes it's a good thing that Bibles have become easier to afford, and that it would be wonderful for even more Bibles to be printed and spread around the world, he should applaud Bible profiteering. The more money Murdoch makes by publishing redeeming material, the more people will be drawn to publishing such material.

"Yes," the conscientious purchaser might object, "but instead of buying a Bible from a greedy capitalist, buy it from someone who isn't motivated by bald greed, but instead by the desire to spread God's Word."

Greed, I'm coming to learn, is a slippery term. After all, most of us would prefer more money to less and are willing to make considerable sacrifices to get it. But some of us are really good at getting more, and when this is the case it's inevitable that some people who are less good at getting money decide the ones who are really good at getting it are "greedy." If the person with more money happens to support free markets and limited government, the application of "greedy" is a near certainty.

To be sure, a man with a greedy heart will be taking that up with the Lord come Judgment Day. (So will, it's worth remembering, the envious man.) But I don't think Braun's concern is for Murdoch's soul; he seems to believe that Murdoch's desire for profit actually hurts someone, and further, that profiting from Bible sales somehow defiles the Word.

But here is the thing: You make money, in a society where people are free and fraud is punished, by serving others. Eschewing greedy capitalists in order to buy Bibles from people who don't care about profits is to reward those who are being careless with scarce resources. Think about it: If it costs me $5 to make a Bible and you can make one with the same quality for $3, that means you've discovered how to deliver equivalent value to customers while using 40 percent fewer resources. That's a good thing. And it forces me not to coast on good intentions, but to either innovate so I can create more value or devote my energies elsewhere.

Braun decries the pursuit of profit in publishing Bibles, but it's precisely the profit motive that has facilitated widespread availability of Bibles. Producers of paper and ink, printers, packagers, shippers-they all cooperate to produce the lowest cost Bibles they can, not because they care so much about spreading the Word, but because they want themselves and their families to prosper. In fact, the best way to ensure a Bible shortage would be to eliminate the profit motive from its production and distribution.

"Yes, yes," comes the rejoinder, "but you're enriching Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch!" But here's the silver lining in my buy-more-Murdoch-Bibles scheme. Murdoch will put his money where he gets the greatest return. Do you want that to be Bibles or trashy tabloids?

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