and Finance

By: Somi Lee 

The world of finance resonates with the Machiavellian view in that the end – profit for the company – justifies the means – the way people conduct business. While other values such as philanthropy, community enrichment, work-life balance, and being ethical are important, ultimately these values come second to profit-making for the company. For example, if a company is suffering from a lack of returns, workers are expected to work longer hours, sacrifice time away from family, cut back on philanthropic giving, and sometimes explore the gray areas of ethically conducting business. The company may be doing this to outdo its competition or stay afloat in tough times, but it communicates the message to its employees that it still embodies the set of values mentioned above. The appearance of embracing and promoting values that in reality don’t actually exist is also consistent with the Machiavellian world view.

This makes me vomit because even when the company is doing good for the community by giving money away, I wonder how genuine the act is. Is it truly to benefit the community or is it to drive more profit by giving money away to charities the firm’s biggest clients are involved with? From an objective point of view, it’s not a bad thing that the firm may benefit from its donations, but what happens when there isn’t a “return” from the company’s perspective? Is the company being responsible to its shareholders by being a good “steward” of its resources? This dilemma exists outside of the finance world as well. In international politics, for instance, governments have to make decisions around which countries to give aid to and develop relationships with in order to establish favorable trading partnerships and protect its citizens. Like the finance world where the leaders wants their company to have the perception of being generous, ethical, etc, the governments want to have the perceptions that they are generous, cooperative, and reasonable.

Ultimately, it comes down to what is driving the decision and which interest is at play. Is it bottom line profit? Protecting national interests? Promoting oneself? Or is it Christ-centered motivation? And if we as a group are trying to promote Christ-motivated behaviors, would the finance world be ready to forgo its profit at the expense of promoting God’s kingdom? Would governments forgo gaining more power and protecting their citizens to promote God’s will? Maybe those two things are not always mutually exclusive, but what happens when one must take a higher priority? Did I just box God into my narrow-minded framework of the world just now? I wonder, but probably I did.