Regrettably, there is much misunderstanding of economics in our day, and that leads to shallow thinking about economic issues. In many cases, our political rhetoric assumes that large companies are the enemy. Candidates repeat mantras such as “people, not profits,” the assumption being that if you are out to make a profit, you cannot possibly care about people, and that the only party to profit in a transaction is the seller.
In our fallen world, some individuals exploit other people for personal gain. However, it is false to assume that being motivated by profit always entails overlooking others and that the only person who ever profits from a business transaction is the seller. Let us consider a barter transaction. John the chicken farmer needs a pitchfork to do his work, but he does not know how to make one. Aaron the pitchfork maker needs a chicken to feed his family, but he does not know how to raise chickens. So, they agree to trade a chicken for a pitchfork. In this trade, both parties profit. John gets something he needs—a pitchfork—and so does Aaron—a chicken. Furthermore, each person has done something good for his neighbor; he has looked out for his neighbor’s interests by using his talents to produce something the neighbor needs. Though he benefits, he has done something good for the other person.
Today, we commonly use currency in economic transactions, so the mutual benefit is harder to see at first glance. When Kevin pays five dollars to Thomas the almond grower for a bag of almonds, we might think that only Thomas has profited. But this is not the case. Kevin valued his five-dollar bill, but there came a point when he valued almonds more than he valued keeping his money. He willingly exchanged that five-dollar bill for something he valued more, and because he received something he valued more highly, he profited. Another person, such as Robert, might not value almonds as much, and so he keeps his five dollars. All of this shows the subjective theory of value, an important economic concept. Economically speaking, we do not all value the same things in the same way, but that is OK. It makes possible a diverse economy where all people have a chance to use their talents to produce things that others value and to use their income to purchase things they value.
This is not subjectivism, for while we may put varying values on different material things depending on our tastes, we may value nothing higher than we value God (Ex. 20:3). And if our heart is making Him our treasure, we can know that we value Him more than all else.