Profits, Service, and Tax Day
Acton Institute Powerblog

Profits, Service, and Tax Day

Work: The Meaning of Your Life“When conducting Business as Mission, the primary purpose has to be to expand the Kingdom of God,” said Joseph Vijayam, founder and managing director of Olive Technology, a Colorado Springs-based information technology services provider. “Profits and an increase of shareholder wealth are an important result of a solid business that is well executed and are essential for the survival of any business, but they need not become the very purpose for existence.”

Vijayam invites Christian business leaders to reflect on the place of profits in the context of Tax Day here in the US: “I am not challenging business owners to stop making profits, but instead to look at those profits in a completely new way.”

In a piece for Comment magazine last year, “Reforming Economics,” I argued, “For too long a view has held dominance that has portrayed profit as a purpose or end, rather than as a means or a consequence. That is to say, the pursuit of profit is acceptable when it is couched within the broader framework of and constrained by the norm of service of others.”

“Make no mistake, profit remains indispensable,” I continued, noting the insights of Jeff van Duzer’s book Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed), in which he writes, “Profit is not easy to come by, and generating profit is critical to the health of the organization. It just isn’t the purpose — the why — of the business.”

Indeed, our view of the relationship between profit and service is one of those things that needs to be fixed, as I write in the Comment piece:

Profit is, in fact, a meaningful signal that the product or service a business provides is actually valued by its customers and clients. When people value what a business does for them enough to pay for it, indeed, enough to pay an amount that allows the business to be profitable, this is a very clear indication that, at least from the perspective of the client (who is in the best position to judge), a real service is being performed. As Reformed thinker Lester DeKoster writes, “We find work to do, in fact, only because what we do is useful, that is salable, to another.”

Profits, then, are more like the consequence, the side-effect, of a successful attempt to serve others, than they are the whole purpose of the enterprise. In the context of concerns about service and institutionalization, we might say that profits (and prices more generally) help us organize and direct our service to others more efficiently.

For more on Business as Mission, check out video of Rudy Carrasco’s lecture, “Business as Mission 2.0.”

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.