He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it. Proverbs 11:26
Today's proverb is fascinating to me because it addresses an abuse that often happens in the area of economics. This abuse, though a proven way to make money, results in the inflation of prices for food. What has happened over the course of economic history is that when this is done - and it reaches a critical level in food prices - it leads to riots and in some cases the overthrow of a government.
Our proverb speaks of one who has much grain. Here is a man who has worked hard and labored to produce a crop on his farm. As a result he has a large amount of grain. He can choose to withhold grain from the people and not sell it. By doing this he will drive the price of grain up due to a scarcity of grain in the market place. This will make him very wealthy, but in time it will backfire on him. The people, who need grain, will begin to curse him because his actions are preventing them from eating - or is making it to where being able to provide food is becoming very expensive. The cost is not coming due to natural reasons such as a flood or drought or crop failure. The added cost is coming due to a man's greed. But for the man who sells his grain there will be a blessing - not just a financial one - but one from God Himself. This proverb allows us to consider the whole area of how Biblical authority addresses economic theory.
In our day it is considered a wise business move to hold on to goods until they wind up in short supply. This allows the person who has them to artificially inflate the price of what they sell so that they can make huge profits from it. Such actions eventually become accepted business practices on larger levels so that embargos are used by nations to boost the price of their domestic products. In time groups of businesses form consortiums that try to corner an entire market so that they can set the price wherever they want. The government then steps in a tries to enforce what they call "social justice." They impose restrictions on businesses so that things will be fair. The problem is that in time the government oversteps their bounds and corruption within the government (due to the sin nature in all of us) begins to crystalize. It is then that officials learn how to use their power to corner their own political markets and do the very thing they initially were trying to prevent in the public sector. The problem throughout all this is that the poor are hurt the most by such practices.
Some think wrongly that the end of all labor is to make money. But Scripture militates against that philosophy. God desires us to work hard and be diligent to make a profit - but - He also desires for us to be compassionate in the process. This sets up a very interesting tension in life and in the economic theory that governs Bible-believing Christians. At one end is the philosophy of pure Capitalism. This philosophy functions under the idea that life is about the profit motive at all times. But God warns against a "love of money" which He says is a root of all sorts of evil. At the other end is Socialism and Communism. This philosophy functions under the assumption that a government should rule over all land and production efforts. Their goal is then to take all profits and distribute them equally to all the people. Both of these extremes will fail.
Pure Capitalism will fail because greed will so rule men's hearts that they will lack compassion for others - and especially for the poor. In time their greed will consume them with a desire for more and more profit - and an insatiable desire for more and more wealth. In the process they will shut their hearts to the plight of the poor. This will lead to greater levels of abuse of the poorest - who will then curse those who have the economic power - and will ultimately lead to revolution and the overthrow of those who have the wealth and power in society.
Communism and Socialism will fail because of greed as well. Though such economic philosophies sound wonderful at the outset, they fail because of several factors. First, there is no man who is not fallen. When given the power to confiscate the wealth of a society, they will NOT distribute it equally. They will eventually treat themselves well - and let the rest of society live on the rest. This has happened in every situation when such an economic system prevails. Their goals may sound lofty, but their practices wind up eerily similar to the captialist. Second, there is no motive in this system to work. Actually there is a motive - to do what you do for the good of all others in the collective society. But this equates good as distributing things equally among all in the society. This will not work in a fallen world because over time some will sinfully decide that if they don't work hard - or at all - they will still get an equal part of the collective pie. Others who intially work hard - will be greatly discouraged that it is their hard work that is allowing the lazy, the undisciplined, and the slothful to live just as they do. In time there will be an equality - but it will be an equality of poverty and want - because no one will be motivated to work to the best of their ability. No matter how hard they work - they only get the same part of the collective's goods. These will never be enough for collective prosperity because sinfulness will move many to barely work at all - or at a level where they are forced to work.
The system God will bless is one that encourages and rewards hard work and industriousness. This is captialism - but there must be a restraint in this system as well, if it is to succeed. This is what I call "Compassionate Captialism." It is a system where the profit motive and self-interest is encouraged. But it is also a system that values compassion and kindness. Where a profit and self-interest motive might move a man to withhold grain so he can make an obscene profit - he does not do it. He is moved by the desire to serve those who buy his grain. Understanding this he chooses to sell his grain - not just for a profit - but for a profit that also allows those who are poor to be able to afford to feed their families. In the end, this man is blessed with profit - and also is blessed with the favor of God for acting with kindness and compassion toward those who can easily be taken advantage of by the system. He chooses a wise profit level rather than one driven by greed alone. This promotes peace and the welfare of all those in the market.
It is fascinating to see the wisdom of God address all areas of life. One would not readily think that the Word of God would be a good place to learn economic principles. Yet when we read and mediatate on God's Word - immeasurable benefit is gained from it. Oh, that we would not divorce academic pursuit from the queen of the sciences - theology. May God gives us wisdom to see that His perspective is best in all academic and lifestyle pusuits. Then we can be blessed - not just a religious context - but in all of life.