Something for Nothing
We like to think of ourselves as generous, but there is something about human nature that causes us to want “something for nothing.” This tendency causes all kinds of trouble. Learn to get away from it in our latest presentation, Something for Nothing.
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Today we’re going to talk about an aspect of human nature that has caused all kinds of trouble – the desire to get something for nothing.
Let’s just take a silly little example to show you what I’m talking about. I first started thinking about this several years ago when I turned on my computer, went to Google, typed in a topic, and that took me to the first hit on the list – an article about the topic I was interested in – in Wikipedia. By the way, have you ever gone to the Wikipedia home page? There’s a little search box so that you can look up whatever you want to look up, and then the option of dozens of languages. Contributors from all over the world contribute their time to translate articles. It’s really quite amazing.
Now I know what you’re thinking. There’s been some criticism about Wikipedia not being accurate. In most cases, the material I have used has been very accurate. It’s only when I’ve read articles about the Church of God that I have found bias, propaganda, deliberate attempts to make merchandise of readers, etc. But that only happens because those of the Church of God, who are not out to confuse, deceive, or take advantage of others, are so apathetic that they won’t challenge the liars. Wiki has a system of evaluation that causes their articles, in time, to self-correct. It’s really quite amazing. But I’m jesting – just kidding – there are lots of errors in Wiki, just like in any other humanly created document. But it seems to me, they are mostly to be found in articles about hot-button issues, like anything related to the independent Church of God. But I’ve already digressed. And so soon! Back to the topic….
At the top of the article what I found was a banner with a message from the founder of Wikipedia. He told me that, instead of filling Wikipedia with all sorts of annoying ads and taking up my precious time and cluttering my screen with distracting graphics, videos, obscenely large, colorful, tight faces, bikini-clad or unclad women like Google does, every year they hold a fundraiser until they’ve made enough money to cover their expenses for the year. He said that, if everyone who used Wikipedia during any year sent in the price of a latte, they could stop spending so much time on fundraising. All their employees would get paid and they could continue to provide their service to the public – worldwide – for free.
Now, let me ask this question. Do you ever use Wikipedia or any other free service on the Web? Why do you use it? Do you use it because it’s a piece of junk, lousy service that you don’t find any use for? No. Those services go away – the ones that aren’t any good, because they can’t find funding. Mediocrity weeds itself out. Or do you use it because it’s handy, easy, helpful, beneficial? If you use any of these free services on a regular basis, and you don’t support them financially, you are trying to get something for nothing, because it costs money to produce Wikipedia. That desire is what we want to talk about today. Like I said, I was going to take an example that’s kind of a silly little example. It doesn’t matter much to most folks.
Let’s think about Wiki. Wiki works better because anyone can use it without charge. When there are a lot of people using it, it works better, because more people contribute, more people evaluate. It becomes more inclusive. It gathers more topics. There is more evaluation and correction. It’s more dynamic and, therefore, more useful. And everyone can use it, even if they can’t afford to contribute their fair share. Think of all the school kids who write reports and learn a lot because of what Wiki’s doing. They can’t afford to pay, but others have paid for them. And it looks like a scholarly work, instead of a three-ring circus on your screen.
Now, anyone who uses Google can also use it without charge, because they charge people to advertise on it. But look at how cluttered your screens have become. YouTube – now that they’re owned by Google – is becoming the same way. So, Google, being free – you can use it without paying a dime ever – they don’t ask you to – but is it really free? Well, no, it’s not. Google provides a valuable service, but it’s not free to anybody. You might say, “But I use it all the time and I’ve never paid for it.” I’m here to tell you that you pay for it all the time. All the advertising takes your time to wade through. Is your time worth anything? All the products advertised on Google cost more to sell, because of the advertising. Google is selling your Internet habits to vendors, too, who target you with spam email, requiring you to spend time weeding it out or researching a spam-filtering program.
So YouTube is now owned by Google. If you have a YouTube channel, and you get enough hits, you can become a partner, which means you can get money from Google for letting them run brief ads on your YouTube channel before one of your videos runs. Have you ever looked at one of those? Utterly annoying and time consuming. We won’t let them run ads like that on our channel. Let’s move on.
One of the points I hope to make today – and I think I’ve already made it in a minor kind of way – is, there is no such thing as something for nothing. There’s always a cost to someone, somewhere when you use a product or a service that has value. If you use Wikipedia and you find it useful, then the right thing to do is to support it proportionate to your use, instead of mooching off the generosity of others. You know, a latte – the cost of a latte – for a year’s use, that’s not such a bad deal, is it?
Now, most of the people who use Wiki don’t contribute to it. That’s why I picked it as an example. So how does it get paid for? Well, there are a significant number of people in the world who like it that school kids can use Wiki for free, so they pay their way. They pay it forward so that others can use it. They like the idea so much – they think it’s so important and it’s such a great example of cooperative effort and productivity – that they feel like it’s necessary to support it. Other people say, “Oh, it’s too much trouble to pull out the credit card and donate the cost of a latte. I just have to enter the number and it’s just too much trouble.” Well, is it too much trouble to use Wiki? Then the “too much trouble” thing is a hypocrisy. It’s not too much trouble to use it, so it’s not too much trouble to support it.
Since this is a Christian presentation, let’s look at some of the things God tells us about this “something for nothing” thing that we all have. In 1 Timothy 5:18, it says:
1 Timothy 5:18 – For the scripture says – so here’s a Bible verse quoting a Bible verse – you shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain and the laborer deserves his wages.
This first statement about muzzling the ox is from Deuteronomy. Paul asks the question in 1 Corinthians when he quoted this scripture also, “Do you think it’s the oxen that God is concerned about?” In the context, he was pointing out to the Christians in Corinth that they were being served by a ministry and they should not mooch off the contributions of others, but contribute to that ministry – the ministry that was serving them or that they found value in. They shouldn’t try to get something for nothing.
The second part of this scripture – where we’re told that the laborer deserves his wages – is a quote from Jesus, where He told His disciples to go out into the world and preach the word and take very little with them, relying that God would take care of them by inspiring those who value the work they were doing to give them money and food. This is the model that we’ve used in LifeResource Ministries. Nothing we produce is free, but no one can buy any of it. We give it away. And we rely on God to inspire people of a good heart to support us. Sometimes it’s surprising to see where the money comes from and where it doesn’t come from, as well. But it’s worked for us. And, in doing it this way, we’re jumping into God’s arms every day. It’s an act of faith. And all those who truly cannot afford to pay what it costs for our products can still have them for free. And that’s not thanks to us. It’s thanks to God and to those of good heart who value what we do and want others to have it, too.
Now let’s look at the other side. We’ve talked about paying the wage earner what he’s due. What should the person laboring do? There’s a lot in the Bible about that side, too. We should be willing to work all day for a day’s wages. We shouldn’t steal from our employers. If we agree to work for a certain amount, then we’ve agreed that that’s fair and we shouldn’t complain about it later.
I was reading an article in the paper about Detroit recently. The city’s broke. So many people have left that no tax revenue is there to maintain services. They said the city is turning back to wild land again – inhabited by raccoons and other rodents. How did that happen?
Well, my father had an interesting perspective on that whole situation in Michigan. He told me, when I just a young boy, that when he started working in a factory in Detroit many years ago, the gates would go up and the assembly lines would all start at the same time. People had to run to their positions and try to catch up. That was when most accidents and injuries to workers occurred. Breaks were sparse. People got tired. They made mistakes and then they got hurt. Wages were low. Manufacturing owners had the upper hand. They were taking advantage of people who needed jobs.
So to combat that unfairness, workers formed unions to represent their interests. Some people, seeing what was going on, smelled the money and the unions were infiltrated by thugs, who intimidated their own workers as well as management, who stole retirement funds from the hard-working laborers. My father told me that by the time he had worked his way up from being an assembly line worker to being the manager of a manufacturing plant, he wasn’t even allowed to walk through his factory and greet the workers in the morning. It had become a giant tug-of-war between management and labor. Each one felt like they had to fight to keep things even.
And the result of that has been the demise of the US auto industry in Detroit – sullen workers doing lousy work, producing junk for cars, getting paid way more than other industries that did equivalent work, and management trying to rip them off whenever they could to keep things even – in their way of viewing it – cutting corners to keep prices down and producing junk for cars. It took awhile, but they were no longer, in the end, able to produce good enough, quality cars to compete on the world market. Production lagged, workers were laid off, they moved out of Detroit. The government tried to prop up the sagging industry, which was a joke. Nothing worked and, eventually, so many people left Detroit that there wasn’t enough money to fund the city any longer. And that happened because both sides were trying to gain an unfair advantage – to get something for nothing. More work out of less workers for less money or more money and less work from the employer.
What does God say about this? Philippians 2, verse 4:
Philippians 2:4 – Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interests of others.
See, there really is no such thing as something for nothing. If you go to buy a widget, and enough people can beat the widget maker down enough on the price – to where he’s not making any money – then he’s going to go out of business and there are no more widgets to buy. We have to take care of everybody.
In trying to wring the last ounce of labor out of workers for the lowest wage, the auto industry cut its own throat. And the laborers, tolerating unions that try to get more wages and benefits than the market could bear, cut their own throats. If the industry would pay fair wages and workers would deliver fair quality work, then it would work.
I heard of a company in the Midwest some years ago that paid workers about twenty percent more than the local equivalents in other companies for the same jobs. And they also had a company gas pump, where people could buy gas for a greatly reduced price – I think it was half. They had a gym up on the roof where people could work out before or after work or during lunch. They had ridiculously cheap daycare on site so parents could take care of their kids in case of emergencies. The cafeteria served tasty healthy food for low prices. One of the examples they gave on the TV show I was watching was pheasant under glass. People could schedule their forty hours of work most anytime they wanted. The management knew the people who worked on the assembly line. And they knew that they knew more about problems on the line and bottlenecks than they did sitting in the front office, so they included some line workers as reps in efficiency and management meetings. It was a dream place to work!
What do you think happened? The company had their pick of the best, smartest, most efficient workers in the area. Absenteeism was nonexistent. There were no union battles to fight. Their assembly lines were efficient and productive. Their products were excellent quality, long lasting and well designed. The success of the company made everybody feel proud. The atmosphere of the company made everyone feel included, like in a family. And everyone made money hand-over-fist. Did you hear that? Everyone made money hand-over-fist. God’s way works, even if you don’t know it’s God’s way.
But when you go against that “take care of your brother” principle and try to get something for nothing at the expense of others, then Detroit happens. And it happened in Detroit and it will happen wherever you are, as well, if you have the something for nothing mentality.
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