Responsible consumption in a painful economy

In turbulent times, as in good times, followers know that there is hope. This is the starting point for taking responsibility and making a contribution where we live.

March 27 th 2009

Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding. (Proverbs. 23:23)

You may have noticed that the sky actually is falling—or at least it appears that way to many in the developed world who are experiencing turmoil and upheaval as a result of a floundering economy. Many feel battered, bruised, damaged, and wounded—sometimes physically, and often emotionally. Most know someone worse off than themselves: a couple who have both lost their jobs, or someone who has sunk under health costs so staggering they can no longer seek healthcare. The pain you have experienced may seem minor by comparison—perhaps you can no longer afford the good daycare center your daughter went to last year, or you must move home and attend the community college to save money.

Yet even those who feel lucky or blessed may see life through hurt eyes and a shrunken soul. It may be hard to pinpoint exactly why this is true. Some of this hurt comes from the enormity of the scam that we see perpetrated on us—and not just by one business or one group of leading financiers or captains of industry, as bad as that would make us feel. There is a sense of betrayal that comes from all the nameless "others" who "caused" this mess we're in—the foolish entrepreneurs or unwise lenders who saw a way to get quick cash through a shaky mortgage and who used that cash to finance some fleeting want, or maybe just bought an expensive toy.

But didn't we all know that at some point the system could not support itself? Was there not some evidence of it when the same franchise multiplied like rabbits on street corners and the price of their consumable goods was more than most people make in an hour of work? So to some degree we disappointed ourselves—we didn't say "no" a lot earlier, we didn't express outrage, and we didn't vote by withholding our cash. We often did not practice responsibility in our personal financial habits or contribute to a healthy economy.

In turbulent times, as in good times, followers of Jesus know that the Redeemer lives, and that there is hope. This is the starting point for taking responsibility and making a contribution where we live.

It is tempting and convenient to imagine that these issues are "above our pay grade"—to let Prime Minister Harper or President Obama handle it. However, whether we are the prime minister, a pizza delivery person or a student, we have a responsibility in this new economy. There is no room for a new protectionism that leads to cowering in the corners of our individual lives or hiding out in survivalist compounds in the wilderness. Practicing simplicity is important, but what is our role as consumers, borrowers, lenders, and investors in promoting human flourishing?

Some suggest that we have a duty to spend, rather than to withhold our hard earned (and perhaps shrinking) paychecks or income tax refunds. Perhaps we have a responsibility to create wealth; how we do that is where we take personal responsibility.

Is there space in our theology to celebrate wealth creation or purchasing power for the common good while being Christianly responsible in the broadest sense? Two key challenges in this idea of responsible consumption are making investments and helping to create jobs. What would that look like? What would we invest in? What would we consume? Can we not be consumers of knowledge, advancing our education through practical tools, courses, technology or books? What about supplying consumer goods to those who truly need them, buying wholesale to give away, or supporting the expansion of a local park?

This latter idea expands one of the most important areas for wealth creation—jobs. Building on the individual responsibility of the Christian, what if each one of us, regardless of station in life, no matter how humble, committed to creating a job, somehow, somewhere, in whatever way each could? (Special thanks to our daughter Joanna, and the Drucker Society of New York, who came up with this idea!)

Responsibility includes attitudes and actions. In the confession from the prayer book this week, the words, which pierced our hearts as well as our minds, reminded us that "we have left undone those things which we ought to have done." As Christians seeking to be responsible and create wealth for the common good, we must engage with the economy; however, rather than do this for personal material acquisition, we hope for human flourishing, realized most fully in God's kingdom.

So, let us "buy truth and not sell it." If we are to embrace the turbulence, take responsibility and make our contribution, we will certainly need wisdom, instruction and insight. How will you act?


Dr. Wesley Balda is Executive Director of the Centre for Advancing International Management [AIM Centre] and Professor of Management at St. George's University. Previously, he was the founding Dean at the George Fox University School of Management, where he developed their executive and professional MBA tracks, and created the first doctorate in management in the Northwest US. Prior to joining George Fox University, Dr. Balda served as the Director and Chair of the Executive Management and Ph.D. programs at Claremont Graduate University's Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management in California. In addition to leadership positions, Dr. Balda has taught at the Drucker School, Claremont School of Theology, Azusa Pacific University, and Hope International University; he also served as Director of Student Services at Claremont School of Theology, MBA director and chair of the business program at Hope International University, and Director of Institutional Research at Fuller Theological Seminary.


Dr. Janis Bragan Balda is Professor of Management at the Centre for Advancing International Management (AIM Centre) at St. George's University, where she also directs the specialty management degree program initiatives. Dr. Balda established the Peter F. Drucker Society of the Caribbean at SGU and leads research efforts in total health management in collaboration with the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation [WINDREF].