The following is a letter to the editor written in response to Joel Belz's column "He meant what he said" from the Aug. 25 issue of WORLD Magazine.
I appreciated Joel Belz's editorial concerning President Obama's "You-didn't-build-that" comment, which echoed previous comments by Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren.
Given our president's lack of experience in business, one can sympathize with his lack of understanding of the process. However, what remains so troubling is the prevailing attitude to those who did "build it" and continue to do so. When all federal, state, property, and employer taxes and other government-mandated fees are added up, we pay more than 60 percent of our company's income to "the government," yet we stand accused of greed and of not paying our "fair share." Companies like ours are exhorted to "give back" as if we have taken something by force instead of having to compete every day for our customers' hard-earned dollars. Because we choose to work with skilled partners both within the U.S. and overseas, we are accused of "exporting American jobs." In general, those whose skills earn them high salaries in business are derided while those who earn similar amounts (or far more) in sports or the entertainment industry are ignored.
Even within the Church, there is often little comprehension of the value of the entrepreneurial process. Christian friends have told me of how they would not seek a career in business because they wanted to work "with people," as if business is anything but working with people. Others have said that they are leaving the challenges of business to pursue "full-time Christian service," as if being a Christian in business is anything but full-time Christian service. In our prayers, we remember the "unemployed and underemployed" but rarely, if ever, pray for those engaged in a process that, if successful, creates jobs. Christians sometimes give the impression that they want the financial benefits of the entrepreneurial process so long as they can remain aloof from the messiness of a process that requires engaging with fallen people in a fallen world.
Adam Smith's great insight was, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."As I go through the challenges of trying to build a business, I often smile to myself as I realize that, living and working as a sinful man in a fallen world, the market compels me daily to spend my working hours as a servant. I have only found one way to keep my customers' loyalty: serve their interests. To keep my manufacturing partners' loyalty, I serve them by growing their sales. To retain the loyalty of those who fund our business, I serve their interests by honoring my commitments. To retain the loyalty of my staff, I serve their interests by providing an attractive work environment. I even serve our government by ensuring our company meets our legal obligations to support our armed forces and help fund those roads from which our whole nation benefits. Does my service match that of the One who "came not to be served but to serve"? Alas not, but the calling remains the same.
No one has ever suggested that Henry Ford built every one of his cars or that Steve Jobs was holed up in a factory somewhere assembling iPads - we understand they did not literally "build that." Yet their particular gifts enabled them to see what others were unable to see, and countless millions across the world benefitted as a result. While we "lesser mortals" can only hope to mirror their accomplishments, we do understand the sacrifice and perseverance that the process requires and see little reason to be ashamed for acting out of regard to our own interest. For above all, while we recognize the existence of "common goods," those of us who are Christians understand that it is not government but our Father in heaven who remains the source and owner not only of all creativity but also of the resources used in any enterprise, and who, ultimately, is the One who enables us to "build that."