Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Good Samaritans in Business

The September 3, 2007 issue of Forbes Magazine has a great little article on the Good Samaritan, and what it means for the rich businessman in today's world. Check it out below:

One of the New Testament's key texts is about the good Samaritan, and its lessons can be applied to business and businessmen. In telling this tale Jesus had two objectives. The first was to condemn sectarianism. At the time, Jews were taught to regard Samaritans as heretics and enemies, but Jesus showed the Samaritan behaving better than the Jewish priest and the learned and pious Levite. The second and more important objective was to stress the importance of charity. Here was an innocent victim of thieves, robbed and left half dead by the roadside. The priest and Levite "passed by on the other side." But the Samaritan stopped, "bound up his wounds," put the injured man on his donkey and took him to an inn. There the Samaritan paid for the care of the poor man and told the owner of the inn to look after him until he was better and "whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee."

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher quoted this text often while in office. She thought it a first-class example of practical compassion in action. The Samaritan was a businessman--a merchant, a commercial traveler--who regularly traveled a certain route and knew the inns and their owners along the way. When he found the man in distress, he acted immediately. He didn't go around making speeches, setting up a fund and using the clich├ęs of the aid industry. He simply tended to the man, pulled out his purse and left him in good hands, personally financing any other assistance that might prove necessary. Mrs. Thatcher cited this as the best way to help an unfortunate neighbor--direct, person to person, with no bureaucracy, no elaborate rules.

But there was another point to which Mrs. Thatcher always drew attention--the reason the Samaritan was able to render such aid. He was a man of substance, a successful businessman who plied his trade industriously, lived within his income and was therefore able to provide money without hesitation when it was needed. There is, she added, a lot to be said for a society that allows people to accumulate wealth so they are able to spend it charitably.

All very well, you may say, but what about the other biblical text in which Jesus says: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God"? This harsh analogy "amazed" the disciples and led them to ask: "Who then can be saved?" The answer concerns not the accumulation of wealth but its disposition. It serves as a warning to the person still encumbered by his riches when he seeks entry to heaven.

Andrew Carnegie, one of the greatest of American entrepreneurs, took this particular text to heart and lived by it. He was a child immigrant, the son of a penniless Scots hand-loom weaver. Carnegie made one of the greatest fortunes in history by discovering how to produce high-quality steel cheaply--thus enormously benefiting society, as well as himself. But as he grew richer, Carnegie reflected deeply on the morality of becoming and remaining rich. He set out his conclusions in a remarkable essay that came to be known as "The Gospel of Wealth" and was published in the North American Review in June 1889. In it Carnegie argued that the honest accumulation of wealth was morally permissible, especially if in the process the interests of the public were served. What was wrong was to hang on to the wealth. He concluded: "[The] man who dies rich dies disgraced."

By the time Carnegie died in his sleep at age 83, he had given away almost all that he possessed. The canny old Scots-American had acquired his money in a businesslike fashion. And it's clear he gave it away in the same manner--and while he was still around to supervise the process (an important point).

A Better Way

More has been given in the last half-century than in all the previous ages put together. But most of it has been through transactions between governments. Immense sums have simply been transferred from one public treasury to another, with all the decisions regarding the funds--on the part of both donor and recipient--made by politicians and civil servants. The whole process takes place within a context of politics, not business, and correspondingly has been inefficient and wasteful. The big international aid organizations, though less politicized and therefore more effective, are still bedeviled by bureaucracy.

What is common to both kinds of donor, whether they're government-financed through taxes or big charities that raise their income worldwide, is that none of those making the decisions are spending their own money. It is a fundamental fact of human nature that someone who opens his own purse to give to those in need is likely to take a close interest in the ways in which and how effectively the money is spent. As a result, it is more likely to be spent wisely.

Many of the vast government aid schemes have done more harm than good, and despite all the money spent there is as much poverty and distress today as there ever has been. However, there is one consoling factor: More money is being made by the efforts of individuals than ever before. And in the U.S., where the number of such private fortunes is greatest, the culture of personal charity is stronger than ever. The parable of the Good Samaritan is remembered and heeded. The example of Andrew Carnegie is understood and followed.

We should rejoice that we have a system that allows men and women to accumulate riches--one that produces so many who voluntarily use the fruits of their industry and acumen to benefit the unfortunate. They do not, in their thousands--indeed, in their millions--"pass by on the other side."

by Paul Johnson, eminent British historian and author for Forbes Magazine.

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John Block said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Block said...

I read the essay, “The Coming Caesars” by John W. Whitehead, 1981, in the book “Freedom and Capitalism, Essays on the Christian Politics and Economics” by John W Robbins. It is a very revealing essay about the involvement of the IRS in the church affairs. There is a glaring omission in the discussion of the separation of church and state.

The church invited the state, the IRS in this case, to oversee their financial affairs when they applied for non-profit status so that charitable gifts are tax deductible when given to the church or non-profit. There is no such thing recorded in the Bible and in fact from the parable of the so called Good Samaritan, Jesus has given us the example of charitable giving and to whom it is given. It seems we have become a church with individual believers that have become so enmeshed in the systems of this world that we use our charitable gifts to pay less tax. It has become a tax strategy to stave off the consequences of allowing the government to tax us.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a classic that when looked at carefully can teach us about our individual responsibility for caring for the sick, the downtrodden, and the hurting people who we come across personally.

Anonymous said...

To look at a person, man or women one must look at the roots - Andrew Carnige the steel magnet was a protoge of the Rothchilds whose corruption knows no bounds. I find it hard to accept that earning a fortune on the crushing and satanic beliefs of his mentors. This man was a godly man. He would have earned his money at the hands of satan and would have enjoyed all the satanic fruits of it.