Playing Our Game

Michael Metzger

The Dayton Flyers were the fan favorite in this year’s March Madness. Unranked, they upset three highly regarded teams by dictating the tempo of the game. That’s a strategy the faith community might want to consider.

The Dayton Flyers were the darlings of this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. Their mascot “the Flyers” says it all. They want to play the game as fast as possible. Dayton did it for three rounds, winning three successive games. They dictated the tempo and upset Ohio State (60-59), Syracuse (55-53), and Stanford (82-72).

Dictating tempo, or making an opponent play your game, is shrewd. It’s a strategy I see one side of the ‘capitalism controversy’ taking – the Progressive movement. Whether or not you agree with their agenda, you have to credit progressive leaders for making opponents play the game according to progressive dictates. We see this in the reception given Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty, of the Paris School of Economics, believes free markets, by their nature, tend to enrich the owners of capital at the expense of people who own less of it. Capitalism creates unfair income disparities.

Piketty made the rounds in Washington two weeks ago, meeting with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, giving a talk to President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and lecturing at the International Monetary Fund. Then he flew to New York for an appearance at the United Nations, a sold-out public discussion with the Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, and meetings with media outlets ranging from The Harvard Business Review to New York Magazine to The Nation.

This is how progressives play the game. Progressivism is a 19th century movement seeking to redress income disparities associated with the Gilded Era. Capitalism and free markets were considered the culprits. The remedy is redistribution, taxing the rich and giving to the poor. Like Robin Hood, this requires a bit of coercion. Government, by its nature, is coercive. It also requires a bit of re-education. Academicians became the new “experts” on finance. Progressivism believes the network of politicians and professors yields a just society. It’s a small planetary system, revolving around Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Washington. That’s why Piketty visited Washington and New York.

This isn’t how the faith community ought to play the game. According to Jeremiah 29:7, faith and free market organizations ought to gauge success by the degree to which our leading financial institutions (think Goldman Sachs) look to the faith as a resource. Not Congress, which can’t even balance its own books. The faith community’s strategy ought to target genuine experts, those with the most hands-on experience (Gen.4:1). That would be a practitioner like Warren Buffett – less so a professor.

Don’t get me wrong. Politicians and professors have a role in culture-change. Progressives see them as most influential. Proponents of free markets generally don’t. They view media, marketing, business, the arts, and finance as more influential in forming our desires. To be fair, progressives are entirely consistent to play the game primarily with politicians and professors. But you have to ask why their opponents – those arguing for free markets – seem to be playing the same game.

I raise this question because I routinely ask leaders in the faith community for updates on their work. For those in the free markets field, I have yet to hear Well, it depends on whether Goldman Sachs is taking us seriously. These organizations don’t seem to be measuring the right things. I do hear about the number of papers published or how many attended a conference. I hear about having a presence in Washington. Professors and politicians – sounds like progressives are dictating the tempo.

I would urge those involved in the faith and free markets arena to play our game. The tempo is set by the telos – the end game, or what constitutes a “win.” In Jeremiah 29:7 we read, as the Babylonians flourish, so shall you. Translated, as our financial institutions – Goldman Sachs for instance – take the gospel seriously and flourish, so does the faith community. Think about it. If Goldman Sachs credited the church for its success, how many other financial institutions might turn to the faith? How many might emulate our strategy? I don’t know. But at least they’d be playing our game – and that would make it more likely that the faith community, like the Dayton Flyers, might pull a few upsets.

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike

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12 thoughts on “Playing Our Game”

  1. Mike,
    So what your saying is “non-profit” corporations should be helping for profit corporations be more profitable? That is as counterintuitive as the last being first or losing one’s life to save it.

  2. Mike Metzger

    Perry:

    I’m saying that enterprises in the faith community – profit and non-profit – should seek the flourishing of all. That’s love. That’s laying down our lives. That includes becoming more profitable. As Max de Pree put it, profits are like breathing – we don’t live to breathe but we do have to breathe to live. So yes, we do aim to help for-profit enterprises become more profitable – but profitable in the best sense of the word. Accomplishing this requires a great many things aligning, including having our center institutions take the faith community seriously.

  3. I was amazed to discover (teaching my first Business Ethics course) that most of my students automatically assumed that the primary “duty” of a corporation is to make money. As you can imagine, we spent a lot of time questioning that assumption. . . .

    When the question is asked ‘what profit is it to a man to gain the whole world – yet forfeit his soul’, I don’t think the question turns on economic terms.

    Seems to me we should insist on a broader definition of profit as pointing us to the good, generally. It’s not just about money, it’s about what good or benefit we might gain from pursuing a certain course of action.

    At the same time, it would be good – it would profit us – to point out where we have blindly accepted “financial” as the unspoken adjective modifying (and limiting) our understanding of “profit” in any given case. In those terms, of course we see no profit in, for example, studying a language or practicing an art, apart from using those skills in paid employment or trade. . . . sigh

  4. And the principle of Jubilee and gleaning ?
    Apparently the the bottom 50% of the UK possess 3% of the wealth. Does this reflect spirituality, greed or financial evolution ?

  5. Mike Metzger

    Barnabas:

    Not sure what you mean by spirituality. I am sure it reflects a bit (or a great deal) of greed as well as how people become habituated to whatever leading financial institutions stipulate is “normal.”

  6. How much is the balance dependent on Babylon how much on Mammon and how much godliness ?
    Is it responsible to attempt an answer ?

  7. Mike Metzger

    “Balance” is not a word found in the Bible. Nor it is even an idea found in scripture. The Bible frames these issues as tensions. The tension is this: In a fallen world, behavior is cultivated (via desires) or coerced (via directives). It’s a tension – both/and. Institutions operating in the market (say, Goldman Sachs) cultivate desires (you don’t have to use their services). Governmental institutions operate outside markets, relying on directives (try not paying your taxes). They rightly coerce behaviors. In a fallen world, to what degree do we cultivate desires vs. looking to political institutions that can only coerce behavior?

  8. Mike Metzger

    To complete my comments, I believe it is far more effective to shape desires than coerce behavior – if you want to change the world for the better. That’s why I suggest the ‘faith and economics’ folks ought to measure their success more by whether Goldman Sachs is taking them seriously – less by measuring whether they have profs and politicians promoting their work. It’s a both/and. But if the church is in exile, we measure success more by whether Babylonian institutions flourish (Jeremiah 29:7). Goldman Sachs cannot flourish if it doesn’t take the scripture’s take on finance seriously.

  9. I appreciate your observations Mike. My use of the word ‘balance’ was to communicate a reference to the respective contributions that could be attributed to particular sources. Is it possible in a world of mercy and grace to be specific in attributing a particular outcome to godliness ? My perception is that Daniel, Joseph etc were employed because of their integrity and its intrinsic reliability, more than Babylon attempting to be godly.
    The rich young ruler also comes to mind.
    Is financial gain directly related to godliness ?

  10. Mike Metzger

    Of course not. Financial gain has no necessary relationship with godliness. Good point (or question). btw, your perception is on target. The sons of Judah were employed because they demonstrated integrity and reliability, a reputation earned by previously serving in King Jeconiah’s courts.

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