By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Uncertain Market Times

The New York Stock Exchange, the world's large...Image via Wikipedia
The news is full of uncertain economic times, as it has been since 2008. Money issues have a way of getting the attention of people, even when more important issues, such as matters of honor and character, get consistently indifferent short shrift.

The wisdom of Christianity, and also of some other traditions, teaches that personal contentment should be immune to money issues. The Gospel message is to focus on true treasure, not on silver and gold. Paul remarks at one point how he has learned to be content both in plenty and in need. That's the peace that eludes so many of us. When you just have to have a granite countertop in the kitchen to be happy, then it is clear that you are on the wrong track.

As an economist, I, of course, am interested in the stock market as a leading indicator of future economic health. I want people's material lives, especially of those unemployed, to get better and not worsen. Yet the most important market is the "character market" which measures true personal greatness, a greatness not based on dividends or portfolios but rather on what you do daily to lift others up.

This character market never closes. This character market charges no fees and has no barriers to entry. This character market is one where everyone can win simultaneously and always. This character market is not a competitive zero-sum game. In addition, the returns of the character market are immediately redeemable and potentially infinite, inexhaustible, and endless. We should ponder our personal rise and fall on the character market more than we do the rise and fall of financial markets. A Christian way of putting the matter is this: the agape market is the crucial market for both present and future contentment.

Here is a related quote to ponder:

Personal greatness is about potential and influence. It is not about how powerful a position you may achieve [the world is littered with elected officials or business leaders who lack any trace of personal greatness] or about how many people you may supervise or have in your "camp." Real greatness is about how much of your personal potential you actually achieve and how positive an influence you have upon people in your life.

Tim Lavender, Achieving Personal Greatness (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002), p. 8 (bold added).

The crucial Christian footnote to the above excerpt is this: your personal potential is your potential to be another Christ, another Jesus, to others. That's the reliable gold standard in uncertain times.

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