Cost-benefit decisions permeate the whole of life.

Benefits and costs are inescapable because everything we do has benefits and costs.

Cost-benefit analysis must not dominate any area of life, including business. Economic considerations should never totally dictate decision-making even in business. Responsibility to God trumps cost-benefit in every area of life, including business.

A businessperson may not steal, even if the benefits outweigh the costs. They cannot use violence or threats against their staff, even if the benefits outweigh the costs. They cannot use sexual favours to get ahead. A manager is still required to care for his/her family.

False Dichotomy

Life cannot be divided business where prices and free exchange prevail and other areas (health and education) where caring and giving prevail. Life is not that simple. In every area of life, whether business, health or education, we have a choice between giving away our services for free, or selling them for a price.

On the other hand, we must not force other people to provide services for nothing. People must be free to choose

A doctor (or pastor) will sometimes sell his services for a fee. At other times he may choose to give them for free. The choice is his. We must not force him to provide his services for free, and he must not charge exorbitant prices to people desperate for care. He is always accountable to God for how he uses his gifts and calling.

The same applies in families. Parents will do most of what they do for their families expecting nothing in return, but sometimes a father will say, I will take you to the game, if you wash the car. A parent must never treat their children as slaves. Parents are accountable to God as parents.

The businessperson has a duty to care for the poor, even if, like the good Samaritan, he uses his own money to pay someone else to provide care for the needy person. He must not take other people's money to care for the poor, because that would be stealing.

The price/cost/benefit grid is useful in every area life, but it should never dictate all our decisions.

Limited but Useful Information

Prices bring together information about costs, usefulness and value to other people in an imperfect but informative way. Money is a scale that allows us to make comparisons between vastly different objects. How do you compare the value of a rose with a computer? Having a common value scale that allows us to make and approximate comparison between disparate things in a way that helps us to make decisions. This scale is never perfect, so it should never be the only factor that feeds into decisions.

This grid is useful in every sphere of life. If a friend who lives 20 miles away asks you for pastoral care, you will drive to see him, because you care. If he lives a hundred thousand miles away, you would first find out the cost of the airfare. You might decide that you could not help the person enough to justify spending the money it would cost. You might suggest he get help from someone who lived closer. On the other hand, if the person was really close to you and think you could really make a difference, you might go regardless of the cost. The money/price grid must not dictate your decision, but it should inform it.

The same is true in business. A person will not buy a new business just because the benefits outweigh the costs. They will need to have an affinity for it. It will need to fit in with what they think is important. Very few people can devote their life energy to something they do not value. Many factors other than cost-benefit will affect the decision. Other values will be important in most decisions that are made. Price/cost is just one factor that will feed into a decision making process. A business person will often put some business the way of a friend who is struggling, because he cares, even if the cost-benefit does not add up.

Business people should not become cost-benefit machines, and I doubt that there are many that are. Certainly, they are not portrayed that way in business biographies that I have read. The cost-benefit driven business person is mostly a straw man set up by envious Christians. People in business know that life is much more complicated than that.

The price/money grid is useful for all of life, but it is just a tool. It must not be our supreme guide. Only God can take that role, whether we are a pastor or a plumber.

None of our decisions should be made solely on the basis of the price/money grid. That would be foolish. On the other hand, saying that there are areas of life where it is irrelevant is equally foolish.