When I wrote my book The Economics of Happiness in 2006 I was encouraged by MBA students from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle — the first MBA program in sustainable business and ethics — to write down what I had taught them about economics. I learned more about economics and business, and about my own Christian faith during this writing journey than in the years I spent earning three degrees, two in economics and one in forestry, from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta.
My students told me that I made economics interesting and had taught them about the nature of money, which no other person had ever told them about. I shared with them part of my own spiritual journey; my ‘calling’ in Jerusalem in 1992 to the vocation of an economist and to marriage. I had gone on a 3-month vision quest to discern whether God was calling me to be a Christian minister of monastic prayer or the priesthood. God had other plans.
During the past 25 years God has revealed to me many truths and affirmed to me that we are all called to be genuine economists in creating conditions for genuine wealth and authentic happiness. I love looking up the origin of words in my on-line etymological dictionary. It is written that ‘in the beginning was the Word.’
I reminded my business students the word ‘economics’ means ‘household stewardship’ from the original Greek work oikonomia. That the word ‘competition’ comes from the Latin competere meaning ‘to strive together.’ The word ‘wealth’ (which most of us associate with money) is a 13th century English word meaning ‘the conditions of well-being’ and is closely related to the word ‘health.’ Genuine Wealth is akin to Jesus’ teaching of ‘good trees bearing good fruit.’ Perhaps most fascinating is the word ‘happiness,’ which literally means ‘well-being of spirit’ from the Greek eudaimonia. Most chilling is the word ‘mortgage,’ which comes from the French meaning ‘a death pledge.’
As I pondered the true meaning of these words I began to ponder how we might reclaim the true wisdom and meaning of economics and accounting that also aligned with my Christian values. I began my career as an auditor with the accounting firm PwC back in 1981 then turned my life to forest economics; accounting for the value of trees and nature in our corporate and national balance sheets. I would learn later in life the father of double entry bookkeeping or accounting was a Franciscan monk and mathematician named Luca Pacioli who in the late 15th century along with Leonardo da Vinci developed our current accounting system. Luca said that all wealth came from God, that a wise businessperson maintained an inventory of his assets (as an account to God) and that in the days of guilds in Venice, there was no such thing as profit.
In my first book I laid out a new framework for developing a new economy of well-being, based on the fundamental Christian principle of accounting that Pacioli espoused, that we needed an accounting system that actually measured genuine wealth: the conditions of well-being of the assets of an enterprise or community or nation. I developed and tested new accounting tools and protocols for measuring the well-being conditions and their true ‘economic value’ for companies,
communities and even nations. The result is a new balance sheet that is more akin to what I believe Pacioli imagined. This well-being balance sheet would guide decision makers, whether in a business or in local or national governments, to orient their operations to a well-being bottom line not only monetary. My hope is this approach to measuring what matters to well-being will orient a company from a good company to a great company, characterized by a happier workplace and happy customers.
Taking such an approach to measuring what matters to well-being, is in my mind something God would find pleasing. Such a system of accountability would cause us to examine our conscience as to whether we believe our actions are in alignment with Christian values and virtues. We might become more virtuous in our business dealings and governance practices. I envision a day when all decisions will be examined through the lens of ‘did my/our decision contribute positively to the well-being conditions of my neighbor, employees, my community, and nature?’
Moreover, If we were to use Aristotle’s original definition of happiness that concerns the well- being conditions of our soul, then how do we individually and collectively, as Christians or non-Christians, whether church leaders, business leaders, politicians and even bankers, create conditions in which we can all flourish and the fruits of our spirit are fully optimized?
In April my second book will be published titled An Economy of Well-being in response to hundreds of questions from readers around the world who wanted me to provide more examples and details on how to go about building this new economic and accounting model that focuses on well-being. I provide a logical rationale that maximizing well-being impacts is more compelling than simply maximizing financial profits; indeed focusing on the well-being impacts of others from our businesses is about following the teachings of Jesus. I give examples of common sense steps we can all take no matter how large or small our business or organization to orient our culture towards well-being, meaningful work, and authentic happiness.
I will be presenting some of the stories from the past 12 years of my life as a Christian businessperson in which I have experienced the successes and challenges in moving our world towards what some describe as Kingdom economics. Like the stories of many ‘Boss Christians’ I have read, I have experienced similar struggles and anxieties over making money versus surrendering to God’s grace and providence. I have learned from my 28 years in the business of economics to let go and let God. I have pondered what Jesus taught about money, giving, stewardship, and, trying to live these teachings in my work. I had to critically examine what made my family and me truly happy. In moments of financial anxiety I learned to abandon my stress to Jesus living according to what I call ‘God’s business plan.’ God has never failed to bless my work and my family with abundance, great clients, meaningful work, sufficient income and the most precious gift of all, discretionary time to spend in service to young aspiring entrepreneurs encouraging them to follow their heart and surrender everything to Jesus. When the wolf of anxiety tries to crawl into my heart, I am reminded to pray for patience, humble myself and trust God without reservation.
My own calling to try and change the nature of our global economic, trade and money systems towards well-being is not easy. But I know with God and the power of love commingled with pragmatism, anything is possible. Most would argue that changing human nature from greed and fear and a world obsessed with money and materialism to a civilization of love is improbable. However, reading the conversion stories of many Singaporean Boss Christians, affirms that supernatural deliverance is possible both for individuals and whole economies.
I am a pragmatist. My well-being accounting and measurement model is designed to appeal to the common sensibilities of individuals, families, businesses, church communities, municipal and national governments, and even impact investment bankers who are looking for new ways of measuring performance and progress. The well-being accounting model is based on the emerging science of well-being.
Positive psychologists and a few economists are developing a science of well-being, discovering the key ingredients for a happy and joyful life. Some of these ingredients seem obvious:
– a healthy and happy childhood;
– healthy and loving relationships with family;
– good food, health, and physical exercise;
– friends and colleagues;
– strong sense of belonging to your community and neighborhood;
– adequate income, relative to expectations, and;
– recreation time in the natural world.
These are many of the so-called ‘intangible’ assets that we intuitively know make life worthwhile yet are currently absent from the balance sheets of businesses and governments.
I propose a new financial architecture as well that orients banking and investment policies towards well-being using the same language commonly used in the financial services industry as well as real estate. Words like ‘highest and best use’ of the human, social, natural and build assets of a community. Return on investments but through a well- being impact lens. Shared public asset systems like Singapore’s public housing trusts and land trusts which are a model for US, Canada, and European economies that are stumbling chocking on mountains of unrepeatable debt.
During my time in Singapore we will sit together and discuss the practical things individuals, businesses, bankers, and governments can do to implement the ideas
and practices that would make well-being the heart and highest aspiration of our economic systems. I believe Singapore, with its resilient Christian faith, can be a world leader for this new economic system and what I believe is the emerging civilization of love.
I will also share the trials and tribulations of this journey. Just like trying to live a life true to the Gospel of Love of Jesus, it is difficult to remain hopeful and resilient in the face of derision and cynicism that there is no salvation for our broken economic system. I believe Jesus gave us the basic building blocks for building a civilization of love and an economy of well-being. Jesus told us it wouldn’t be easy but that we should pray always and trust that our prayers are heard and answered by God. I believe we need to literally LIVE INSIDE the Lord’s Prayer restoring the original words Jesus gave us, ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ We are called to heed Jesus’ words about our relationship with money and God; that we cannot serve two masters. Jesus also showed us the truth of abundance and stilled our fears, pointing us to the faith of children and the lilies of the field.
Following this path of love as an economist and accountant who attempts to marry economics and happiness may seem incongruent. Yet it is something I feel God is calling us to do with our gifts of the Spirit so the kingdom of love can at last shine resplendently.
I am motivated by Christians, people like Ken Costa of Alpha International and my Singaporean friend in Toronto, Eirene Wee, who remind me daily to live the gospel sometimes against all odds.
Like the stories of many Boss Christians, I believe many people around the world are looking for new ways of being liberated from the economic treadmill of this fallen world, consumed by insatiable material benchmarks, constant GDP growth, winner-take-all competition, and egocentric self-enrichment. It is we who are the agents of God’s love called upon to build a New Jerusalem — a new economic order built on His shoulders and His teachings — knowing that the Lord is wonderful and his love is sufficient to sustain us.
We are reminded of the wisdom of Watchman Nee (Nee Tuosheng) in The Normal Christian Life. Nee wrote: ‘The power of [Christ’s] resurrection is on our side, and the whole of God is at work in our salvation, but the matter still rests upon our making real in history, what is true in divine fact… we cannot substantiate divine things with any of our natural senses, but there is one faculty which can substantiate the ‘things hoped for,’ the things of Christ, and that is faith.’