We live in a patched-up neighborhood with big, pretty houses a street away from crumbling, tiny houses. There are a few little shops side-by-side a block from our house on a main street. The neighborhood mainstay is a bar whose cigarette smoke you can smell across the street and half-way down the block.
Recently, a family bought one of the empty, boarded-up shops, fixed it up and opened a pizza place. It’s called “Givers Pizza.” The wife and her little son come down our street every few weeks, distributing flyers and coupons. Our neighborhood newsletter soon profiled them: The owners are a younger couple in an extended family that owns several pizza places. They hope to run their own store like their aunt and uncle. It’s called Givers because they plan to use part of their profits for neighborhood improvement and service.
New businesses often fail—especially new restaurants. So we’ve patronized the little place a few times, accordingly. Although we don’t eat out much or eat much pizza, we’d rather have a family business filling the place than graffiti and stray cats. When businesses thrive inside a community, the community itself is also more likely to thrive. By having a bright, warm shop a block away rather than a crumbling mess, we benefit immensely from Givers’ presence. People who buy Givers’ food benefit by getting something tasty at a price they are willing to pay—no coercion necessary. And, if the shop is lucky enough to stabilize and expand, it contributes to the community by hiring people, who themselves go on to pay for local housing, groceries and so forth. The business doesn’t even need to donate to the community to benefit it, although that is a nice extra “topping.”
Productive businesses serve communities merely by existing.
In short, providing something people need at a price that keeps buyers happy and the business running is a community service. This makes sense to lots of people, but there are still two main themes that exist in popular society which contradict this simple story. First, as we see with fast food workers protesting around the country this week, people often have an antagonistic view toward businesses, as if there is something bad about giving your customers the most you can for the lowest price. And second, I know a lot of young people like me act as if it’s somehow more virtuous to work in a nonprofit, or in a low-paying service job, than to start a business like the family that opened up Givers.
I’m not saying the opposite is true—I work for a nonprofit, and I respect people like pastors who accept low pay for crucial work. But I am saying that businesses have the potential to do a lot of good for their customers, employees and communities. No one should feel that serving others in exchange for money that others willingly pay is anything less than honorable. Productive businesses serve communities merely by existing.
For further thoughtful discussion of this topic, check out this Acton Institute article written by Joseph Sunde and Chris Horst.