Written by Winter Trabex

As near as I can make out, the word service has been co-opted to mean something other than what it actually means. In my area of Central Pennsylvania, there is a large amount of religious sentiment. To the religious mind, service means something akin to “volunteering one’s labor with no expectation of compensation or reward.” By this definition, one person is giving service to another buy providing free food, or a free car ride, or by working a few hours in a church (perhaps tweaking those pesky sound systems).

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This definition has led to a belief that the opposite of service, that of working or selling a product for money, is a bad thing. The morality that arises in consequence is one of anti-capitalism. Were the people in my area to follow their ideas as far as they could, they would see that there’s no distinction between being anti-capitalist and anti-human. Declaring as evil the process by which a person can not only enrich themselves, but enable other people to do the same all while creating a product that people enjoy…this is another way of saying, “people don’t have the right to be happy in life.”

If these same people would understand the true nature of business, they might reconsider their ideas. After all, businesses sell goods and services. What does service mean in this context? It simply means human labor performed for the purpose of gaining profit. The incentive for people to make money drives the vast majority of workers in the market, most of whom see no other choice but to work in order to live. A person might work at a factory for ten years, but take away that person’s pay while still requiring that he work there and it will quickly come to pass that such a person will leave their job to find something better.

Moreover, the results of for-profit service often produce greater economic effect than non-profit services. A for-profit service allows that service to be repeated over time, as it subsidizes itself. A non-profit service must be subsidized, at the very least, by the volunteer efforts of people who decide to use their time in any other manner besides advancing themselves in life. In most cases, non-profit services are subsidized through other means, such as private donations and contributions by non-profit organizations such as thrift stores. Though there is nothing inherently wrong about such practices, it must be admitted that for-profit services are far more productive than non-profit services.

Observe for example the difference between a food bank and a grocery store. A grocery store is an unusual business which only suffers losses in the face of gross managerial incompetence. Even without the best food or the best prices, people buy products from that store anyway. Even when there are bags of candy loaded with toxic ingredients in the store, still people give that store business. The store sells food for a profit, as much as it can. With income accumulating over time, that store can then open a second location. Now there are two stores putting people to work, selling food and saving up between them enough funds to open a third store.

A food bank must, by the nature of its existence, rely on donations from individuals and companies. It can only give out whatever food it happens to have at the moment. This may be distressed produce, expired grapefruit juice, or stale cereal. Food banks cannot advertise to the public that they consistently have a special item in their location, one which other food banks do not have. Rather, those who must choose between starving and using a food bank are entirely dependent on what is in their area. The food banks, so far as I have been able to discern, do not account for a person’s age when they hand out food. A young person, one just out of high school, is likely to eat more food than an older person; this occurs due to a difference in metabolism rates.

Shopping at a grocery store allows both the young person and the old person to get as much food as their different bodies require. Going to the food bank, they are each stuck with the same amount. This amount may be too little for the young person and too much for the old person. Food banks must perform a rationing of their goods due to their limited supply. If they have too much of any one item, they advise people to take as much as they want. If the opposite happens where they are short on an item, they allow people to have only so much of it; this is usually the case.

As a result, it can plainly be seen that when a store provides a service to its customers, this service is far more effective and far efficient than a similar service performed without expectation of profit or gain. That people of religious mindsets should get it backwards and presume that giving away food is better than selling food speaks volumes about their belief system. That we as a society should idealize the person who gives away money to charity while vilifying the parsimonious miser speaks a warning about society in general.

Were it truly understood that more people could fed with a for-profit system than with a charitable system, people might come to laugh at Jesus turning over the tables of the moneylenders. Perhaps, in the long run, it would not be such a bad thing for a house of worship to be a house of profit.

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