Loving Strangers through Work and Exchange

20150110_08102420150110_080913(0)Greg Forster and Charles Self open the session with a snapshot of the progress occurring in the Oikonomia Network. Among a number of efforts to provide growth of the influence within the network Greg notes several indicators of the group’s influence in theological education. Classroom integration of work and economics in network schools happened in over 100 classes this year with total attendance of almost 2,000 students in the past year. In addition, the network conducted over 160 extracurricular activities with total student attendance of over 6,700.

20150110_08165020150110_081704There is a new advisory committee to guide the Oikonomia Network, one that is working carefully with schools to insure that faith, work, and economics emerge as part of the integrative efforts of seminary education, not merely an add-on. The network already offers a number of resources available for seminary and congregational teaching, one of the meaningful 20150110_084842outcomes of the group. How can the Oikonomia Network know it is succeeding? Obviously print resources help such as The Pastor’s Guide to Fruitful Work & Economic Wisdom. In all, the network hopes that “primer” information evident in this text becomes existing knowledge, rather than new knowledge, for pastors.

20150110_083543 (1)This morning session P.J. Hill introduced Oikonomia Network participants to a new theme: “Loving Strangers through Work and Exchange” P.J. Hill is professor emeritus of economics at 20150110_083707 (1)Wheaton College and a senior fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center. An author and editor of books, his journal articles have dealt with the evolution of property rights, theology and economics, and the history of water rights in the U.S. He has operated a cattle ranch for most of his career.

20150110_083700Hill opened by drawing on Tom Nelson’s recent presentation that Christians should love people by engaging their need, desire for work and our role in improving their daily economic plight. Hill acknowledged this need but then reminded the audience of the range of resources now available. Hill offered graphs that noted the phenomenal growth of per capita income in the last 100 years and the number of people who are no living on more than income than before. This increase of income with people has created higher standards of housing, personal healthcare,

20150110_080814Hill credit’s this growth through the modern, entrepreneurial 20150110_085309economy that resulted from a growth of mutual collaboration, but of a different type. The collaboration was based on massive specialization, a kind of impersonal exchange, and much of the information necessary for 20150110_080925coordination is communicated through prices… the unseen agent in this change. Pricing influences the nature of supply, the ability to delivery good and services, and our anticipation of resources in most of daily life.

20150110_085418Hill then moved to discuss the “teleology” of the entrepreneurial economy. He noted that the economy has expanded opportunities to serve and be served. The economy also enables us to expand our capacity for compassion. What does it do to our character? 20150110_081153For many Christian thinkers, participation is problematic. Should we give moral sanction to impersonal work and exchange? Does the exchange of an emphasis on extrinsic rewards result in a loss of intrinsic exchange. Hill introduced the “Ultimatum Game” where $10 is divided by two people though one person (the proposer) determines the distribution and the responder/recipient must accept the distribution or else the money is forfeited. Of course, from an economic perspective, any distribution represents a positive gain but people often feel “slighted” unless there is a relatively fair distribution. So, when applied with university students from around the world the average offer was 44% while the average rejected offer is 20%.

20150110_085412Hill notes, people are willing to undergo “cost” (loss of income) because of a commitment to fairness. What is fascinating is that the same game played in non-modern (regardless of of other cultural differences) the variation of offers (28-58%) yet responses were also lower in most cases, though some refused if 20150110_081143the offer/gift was too high (over 50%)! What made the difference? Not sex, age, relative wealth, size of village or experience. What made the difference was the amount of cooperative activity in production but also an exposure to market exchange and integrate it in their lives.

20150110_083722So, is there a “telos” to markets in how they shape authenticity and dignity? Hill argues that markets do have a purpose beyond production, they encourage a sense of mutual benefit through familiarity with exchange principles. Hill argues this view does not indicate a theory of altruism, non-selfish benefit. It is a 20150110_080808distinctive moral attitude conditions by a sense of reciprocity who do not know each other, i.e. loving strangers. Participants intend to benefit others, and trust remains an important part of the process since people reward trustworthiness and punish those who abuse the process.

20150110_083721Hill argues that mutual benefit becomes a “virtue” of entrepreneurial practice that seeks out the benefit of others. He states entrepreneurs extend moral worth to others and that our encouraging entrepreneurship empowers people on the margins to no only receive but also extend benefit. Hill recognizes 20150110_081008that loving strangers to work through exchange is not the only domain of importance. Yet Hill believes believes that entrepreneurial can actually serve to improve moral, mutual, exchange even with strangers.

20150110_093955Discussion turned to the idea of the public and private sectors in relation to markets. Hill noted that both public and private sectors tend to “behave” the same (some altruism, some harmful self interest, etc.) yet both sectors can contribute to the overall public good. Overall Hill’s job seem to be to remind attendees that even the marketplace includes specific practices… and attendant virtues… that can shape people toward a positive moral stance for the sake of themselves and for others… even strangers.

About Dean G. Blevins

Dr. Dean G. Blevins currently serves as Professor of Practical Theology and Christian Discipleship at Nazarene Theological Seminary. An ordained elder, Dean has ministered in diverse settings and currently also serves at the USA Regional Education Coordinator for the Church of the Nazarene. A prolific author, Dr. Blevins recently co-wrote the textbook Discovering Discipleship and edits Didache: Faithful Teaching, a journal for Wesleyan Education.
This entry was posted in Clergy, Economics, Practical Theology, Theological Education, Vocation, Work. Bookmark the permalink.

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