© 2020 Robert Osburn
I hope by now that your neck has recovered from the double-take at what some will consider an absurd title.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Karl Marx and his followers would torch this page, but in the 21st century they would certainly launch a Twitter-fest in order to shame me.
I can imagine the Western capitalist rolling his eyes at the word “love.”
You may, however, be surprised to know that in Africa I speak about wealth creation as an act of love. No one shames, torches, or rolls their eyes at me.
I start by saying that people create businesses, mine buried minerals, and undertake productive (not subsistence) agriculture because they are designed by God to be productive. Loving my neighbor depends upon my productivity.
Productivity is obviously in view in Genesis 1:28: God commands the first humans to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.” But this command to reproduce ourselves reflects a larger pattern in God’s creation: the pattern of productivity, which is making more of something than we personally need. Note how he also expects the trees and vegetation to reproduce themselves (1:11-12), and likewise with the animals (1:22). All of it, God declared, “is good!”
So, my starting point for wealth creation is that productivity is God’s plan. We miss God’s plan when settling for mere subsistence, which is producing just enough for myself and my family. Whether sowing a bushel of seed in the ground and harvesting a wagon load, or investing my surplus mental energy to create a smartphone—both are productive endeavors that are a touchstone of wealth creation.
But, productivity alone is not enough. That’s where the second, and more controversial, biblical touchstone comes in: love. Matthew 22:39 simply commands: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
My black pastor friend grew up in segregated Mississippi where his father, also a pastor, suffered under the racism of Jim Crow. When my friend turned 14 during the 1950s, he had to decide: Would he hate or would he love the white man who treated his father and his family so badly? He chose love by asking himself, “What does the white man need?” He looked around and saw sweaty white men mowing their yards.
He knocked at one of their homes, and asked if he could mow their lawn. “Sure.” He mowed, and afterwards the white homeowner paid him. He mowed lawns for dozens of other white people, and all paid him. Within a year he had more wealth than his father had ever accumulated.
Rather than hating or stealing from the white man, he instead loved him by discovering his needs, and then serving those needs with his surplus energy. In return, white people loved him by paying him instead of stealing his labor (as Marx had theorized).
I teach our students that a society where wealth is created has nothing to do with depending on outside parties to re-distribute their wealth. As Dambisa Moyo points out in Dead Aid, re-distribution often favors elites who know how to co-opt re-distributed wealth from the West.
Real wealth creation starts with loving my neighbor enough to find his or her unserved needs, and then creating a product or service to meet those needs. When we show love to others in this way, the vast majority of people will love us in return by paying us. They pay us because they value our service. When value is created, wealth is created. That means an economy springs to life as money is transferred between parties that are served and serve.
Think about it: Electricity powers the computer upon which I write this article and the network that deliver it around the world. It took men like the devout Christian Michael Faraday who theorized and experimented with electric motors so as to make electricity a force that would vastly improve our lives. Yes, I grant that most were not thinking love when they created electricity, but they could have instead relaxed and nestled themselves around their hearths, written their letters under kerosene fires, and used animal-drawn carriages. But, because they were born to be productive and to love, they sacrificed hours and toil and money in order to create harness electricity for their neighbor’s benefit.
Economists and others may shrink in horror at the simplicity of this, perhaps because I ignore the importance of capital, infrastructure, and legal environments. Or perhaps because Adam Smith portrayed economics as a matter of pure self-interest. However, I must ask: What, in the nature of things, prevents self-interest from being married to love for neighbor? Can I not create a solution to my neighbor’s needs that also offers the promise of economic benefit for me?
Human beings were created to utilize our productive capacities in order to design products and services that lovingly serve our neighbors. Unless we understand that, many societies will continue to produce little wealth and, instead, wallow in poverty.