"Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good." – Gordon Gekko (aka Michael Douglas in the film Wall Street)
The Wall Street Journal recently released a piece by journalists Christopher M. Matthews and Rebecca Elliott detailing the ancillary effects of the oil boom in the Permian Basin. According to the article, hotel chains in the Basin are charging over $500 per night for a room that normally runs $69. Restaurants and bars are charging $600 to reserve a table for one meal and barbers accept $60 facilitation payments to move a patron to the front of the line.
Gordon Gekko would be proud. Practitioners in the West Texas towns of Midland, Odessa, and Tunstill, to name a few, claim the right to raise rates because demand outweighs supply. According to the article, they tell locals who make normal wages to come back when the boom is over and that they need to capitalize now while they can – opportunity trumps ethics.
"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Matt 6:24, NIV)
"That's not fair, Mark. You would do the same thing given the circumstances," is a common refrain of anyone defending his or her greed and gouging. "And I'm not gouging them. Their companies reimburse them every penny!"
Merriam-Webster defines "price gouging" simply as "charging customers too much money." Other sites define it similarly as "pricing above the market when no alternative retailer is available" and "sharply rising prices of items in (often temporary) high demand." But sellers and servers often cite defensive practices of sharply increasing cost to cover the eventual loss of revenue once the on-hand supply is exhausted. That is, of course, the justification of the barber and bartender in the WSJ story – once the boom is over its back to normal for them, fighting for every penny, every dollar, every meal.
Well, God has an answer for that too. In Genesis 22, when Abraham was tested with the very life of his son, he trusted God to deliver his need. Never once did he confuse his need for a sacrificial lamb with that of his want for preserving the life of his child. If God can provide a ram at what was definitely a time of reduced supply for Abraham's immediate demand, then He can provide a dollar or a meal when the oil boom ends. As a matter of good business practice, shouldn't the locals be cared for equally during boon as during bust? Isn't that just poor, short-sighted business? God has an answer for that too.
When the oil is gone, when the $600 tables and $80 haircuts have evaporated, how will you incriminate your local consumer base for finding supply elsewhere while you gouged and for remaining faithful to that new supplier when the boom goes bust – the new suppliers who loved their neighbors enough to care for their needs during the glut as much as they did during the dearth?
"For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (1 Tim 6:10, KJV)
Money doesn't solve all problems. In fact, the love of money blinds us to the sorrows soon to befall us. Follow Jesus' principles and love your neighbor as yourself. Think about that the next time you have a business ethics choice to make.
–Mark Klages is an influential contributor, a former US Marine and a lifelong teacher who focuses on applying a Christian worldview to everyday events. Mark blogs at https://maklagesl3.wixsite.com/website under the title "God Provides where Hate Divides," with a heart to heal social, political, relational, and intellectual wounds through God's divine love and grace. Mark can also be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-klages-04b42511/.