Thursday, February 22, 2018

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Competition & Christianity, Part 4 of 6

by Jeff Gunther

in Character,Leadership

This series was originally published as an article in Vocatio, Vol. 8, No. 1, FALL 2005. Vocatio: A publication of the Marketplace Theology concentration at Regent College, offering reflection on the ministry of the whole people of God in the workplace.

Competition Needs Boundaries

Some passages seem to speak directly against competition: do not covet your neighbor’s possessions; help the stumbled donkey; love your neighbor and your enemies; honor others above yourself. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”1 God is a God of justice; examples in the economic sphere include rules for the Sabbath year and Year of Jubilee.2 These commands identify the dangers of unbridled competition and signal the need for appropriate boundaries. Flaws inherent in today’s free market are recognized and remedies are provided. The approach to economics is laissez-faire, subject to these remedies.3

Just as games have boundaries called rules, business has boundaries called ethics. Without rules, a game is not a game. In poker, bluffing is okay, but a marked deck is not. Friendly competition between basketball players on the same team is tolerable only insofar as it improves overall team performance; it may cause them to play better, or it may jeopardize team cooperation; competition between individual players is secondary to competition between teams. There are limits here too: excessive brutality is not tolerated because it compromises the integrity of the sport. Good competitors view their opponents only as temporary enemies. “Competition is a shared set of goals and rules.”4

“Business competition is indeed competition, but it is competition severely restricted within the limits of law and general consensus.”5 Earning respect in business is, among other things, ‘playing by the rules’ – not just moral rules, but unspoken rules of fair-play as well. This means seeing ourselves as part of a cooperative enterprise. Self-regulated professions establish clear boundaries – ‘codes of ethics.’ The dental profession, for example, is to be viewed as a “partnership of equals.” Their code describes how dentists should represent themselves; that they must respect the public’s right to free choice; and make no disparaging comments on the procedures or qualifications of a colleague.6 Similarly, the Realtors’ code not only limits, but extends to encouraging cooperation:

You should cooperate with other licensees on all of your listings. In cooperating with other salespersons and agents you are furthering the interests of your clients by creating much more interest in the listed property and by obtaining the assistance of other agents and salespersons in trying to sell the property.7

Documented ethical codes are merely written versions of existing, but unspoken, rules of fair-play in the marketplace.

Next Post: Competition, Cooperation and Community

1 Exodus 20:17, 23:5; Matthew 5:43-44; Romans 12:10; and Philippians 2:3-4.
2 Leviticus 25.
3 Geoff Moore, “Beyond Competition,” in God and the Marketplace: Essays on the Morality of Wealth Creation, Jon Davies, ed. (London: IEA Health and Welfare Unit, 1003), 116.
4 Robert C. Solomon and Kristine R. Hanson, Above the Bottom Line: An Introduction to Business Ethics (Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1983), 111.
5 Jones, Business, Religion and Ethics, 66.
6 Canadian Dental Association, Code of Ethics, 1990.
7 Peter Watts, Real Estate Practice and Ethics (Vancouver: The British Columbia Real Estate Association, 7th ed., May 1991), 54.

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