Acton Institute Powerblog

A Great and Mysterious Collaboration: How Trade Turns Work Into Fellowship

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“The fruit of our labor is fellowship. It’s community. It’s relationship.”

Global trade has suddenly emerged as a hot conversation in the current election cycle, with candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders leading the charge toward severe protectionism, while the others quietly shrug and nod along accordingly.

Voters of all ideological stripes are responding with fervor, calling for more trade barriers and increased manipulation of prices and wages, hoping to insulate the American economy from our global neighbors and “keep what’s ours.”

Such stances quickly fall apart when one looks to basic economic theory. But well before and beyond its threats to material wellbeing, protectionism inhibits and prohibits something far more important: widespread creative service and the transcendent beauty of free and open exchange.

We were created in the image of a creative God to work and to serve, to create and to collaborate, and that activity ought to extend well beyond our short-term self-interest and national pride. “Our work is not just toil, or something that concerns just us,” says Stephen Grabill in For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles. “It’s something that creates a huge organic mass of relationships between human persons…The fruit of that tree and all of our creativity is not only products, but relationships…The fruit of our labor is fellowship. It’s community.”

Expanding opportunities for trade is simply expanding opportunities to connect the work of our hands to the hearts of our neighbors through creative service and collaboration.

“Work restores the broken family of humankind,” writes Lester DeKoster. “As seed multiplies into a harvest under the wings of the Holy Spirit, so work multiplies into a civilization under the intricate hand of the same Spirit.”

Or, as Grabill concludes:

This is the oikonomia of economics…All our work, every product, is a result of a great and mysterious collaboration. Every product that you see here is the result of an enormous, organic collaboration of individuals…It’s a picture of abundance and harmony, and if you try to control the process, it’s like we’re trying to control how people offer their gifts to other people. And what we really need to do is to allow people to offer their gifts to one another in free and open exchange, so that others can flourish.

There are plenty of good reasons to oppose the wave of protectionism that’s now sweeping across society, but this is the most fundamental: God created our work to bear the fruits of flourishing and fellowship.

As we seek to construct a just and prosperous economic order, that basic tweak to the economic imagination makes all the difference.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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