© 2020 Robert Osburn
“Demand-sharing? What in the world is that?”
Found almost exclusively in communal societies, demand-sharing makes successful folks responsible for the needs of poorer members of their families, communities, or ethnic groups. My African student friends who return to Africa fear the outstretched hand that expects they will fill it with goods and money. And why not? Family and community members may have sacrificed to send them to school abroad. That sacrifice deserves to be rewarded, doesn’t it?
Those who refuse the demand to share are shamed and ostracized as selfish, individualistic souls unworthy of further participation in their families, communities, or ethnic groups.
Demand-sharing fuels corruption and a host of distorted behaviors that result in widespread poverty. Until demand-sharing ends, poverty will remain pervasive throughout much of the world. There are at least five reasons that demand-sharing is dangerous.
First, the Bible is absolutely clear that sharing (giving) should always be voluntary, never forced or compelled (Exodus 35:29; Deuteronomy 15:10; I Chronicles 29:9; and II Corinthians 9:6-7). But, why would God rule out forced sharing as a way to conduct human affairs? Love, which is our greatest obligation to one another, must be voluntary because doing so reflects God’s character (He first loved us) and simultaneously elevates the humanity of both the giver and the receiver. Robotic giving, by definition, undermines our humanity, as does, to a lesser degree, the forced re-distribution required by socialists.
Secondly, as suggested a few paragraphs earlier, demand-sharing fosters corruption. In societies where demand-sharing is the norm, family, community, and tribal members have high expectations that when one of their members gains access to the public purse (through election or being hired to a government position), that person will take care of them. How? By piping public funds, licitly and illicitly, to one’s dependents. In Africa, they say “its our turn to eat.”
Corruption also happens in private enterprise. One friend who worked in Mozambique described how a Mozambican put in charge of local branch finances for a global company raided the bank account to benefit family, community, and tribal members. People in these positions are not necessarily corrupt, but the demand-sharing pressure is so great that they become corrupt anyway.
Thirdly, demand-sharing distorts economic decision-making. Everyone who travels Africa reports seeing endless partially-built structures. “Why build unless you have sufficient funds to complete the job?” The reality, however, is different: Any extra wealth gained must be quickly converted to built structures that cannot be easily “shared.” Otherwise, people line up at one’s door to demand their share of one’s wealth. Investing in a partially-built structure stops the lines from forming but also leads to unfinished structures because the money has run out. The problem is that there are often much better uses for one’s money, perhaps in businesses or other investments, but the pressure is on to hastily erect structures before neighbors and family start demanding that the wealth be shared.
Fourthly, demand-sharing decreases incentives to work and to create businesses. Other than agriculture and mining, most wealth creation involves developing enterprises that exist to serve human needs. Thus, in most societies where demand-sharing is not the norm, another norm is embraced: Those who do not work will not eat (II Thessalonians 3:10). This norm virtuously motivates those prone to laziness to creatively serve other’s needs through business, and thus earn income in the process. But, in a demand-sharing society, indolence is rewarded; someone else in the family, community, or ethnic group must come to your rescue. From a macro-economic perspective, demand-sharing contributes significantly to poverty. Societies dominated by the dependent will, by definition, remain poor.
Finally, demand-sharing not only rewards laziness, but also undermines the incentives to work harder and smarter. If one becomes a better worker, either through training or advancement, one’s increased compensation often ends up in the pockets of those who demand that you share your good fortune with them. When this expectation is the norm throughout the society, smarter, harder work is discouraged, because one gains no lasting material benefit. This also fuels poverty.
Nowhere, to my knowledge, does the Bible commend demand-sharing. Certainly, generosity is regularly encouraged, and those who generously share with others, especially younger family members whom they can help educate, do a good thing. But, demand-sharing undermines our humanity, fosters poverty, distorts economies, and fuels corruption.
A social revolution away from demand-sharing will require churches that model generosity while also teaching about the evils of demand-sharing. Discipleship in demand-sharing societies must prioritize voluntary generosity and insist that everyone find a job rather than being dependent on others whom they believe are obligated to care for them. Thirdly, the revolution will require widespread teaching about the anti-biblical nature of demand-sharing, while also offering training on how to manage and use money. Fourthly, a key network of like-minded leaders (think of Wilberforce and the Clapham community) will have to lead the movement in the broader society. Finally, one person must become the public face of the campaign to replace demand-sharing with jobs and voluntary generosity.
Christians are best poised to lead such movements, don’t you think?