Thursday, August 27, 2009

The profit motive

Some of my readers know that in my non-church-musician life, I am an academic who studies statistical finance. That puts me in contact with plenty of people, books, ideas, and philosophies about the importance of free markets and the role of the profit motive. Many of those ideas have had incredible power in shaping modern American life.

I was poignantly reminded of that fact by an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer a few weeks back about the future of the US Postal Service. On the whole, it is a challenging time for the organization. They are losing money and struggling to compete with traditional rivals as well as email, of course. The author of the opinion piece, however, noted that the profit motive was not the driving philosophy of the Postal Service. Instead, it was founded to provide an affordable service to every citizen. It was a democratic institution with high-minded ideals.

I can't help but notice the way that schools and churches - similarly idealistic public, democratic institutions - are also struggling because they don't turn a profit. In particular, music and art must work hard to justify expenditure during tough economic times. We don't fund these activities, nor do we participate in them, because they provide measurable, financial benefits. We participate because they enrich our lives and enhance the broader community.

I understand the need for balance, and we cannot waste valuable resources. I just hope we continue to recognize nonmonetary values can be just as important. If the Post Office shrinks or even closes, I will miss it, just as much as we would miss the music that fills our church. So this week, I encourage you all to write a letter and to sing out in church - even consider joining the choir! We had a good first rehearsal last night, and we'd be happy to see new faces next week.

1 comment:

  1. Certainly the Gospels are filled with ideas about keeping balance in our lives, and that balance should not put the pursuit of material gain first. We have somehow created a nation where it has become necessary for many people to work to the point where a sense of balance is lost. Or, do they just need to find a way to do with less?