In a recent shaky cellphone video, a man in a suit tells Carrier employees that the factory where they work is closing. U.S.-based manufacturer Carrier Corp. decided to close the Indianapolis factory and move the 1,400 jobs to Mexico. The video went viral. Then, the company’s decision became political.
Bernie Sanders blamed NAFTA. Donald Trump made a mercantilist promise to impose a 35% tariff on AC units made in Mexico. Hilary Clinton spoke against “any trade deal that hurts America and American workers.” Kasich, Cruz, and Rubio generally support trade agreements.
My point is not to wade into political waters, but to point out the nuances of policy and prescience of theology. A news story on NPR’s “All Things Considered” pointed out an earlier mercantilist period in the United States with the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930. According to NPR, “most economists say it backfired.” The story cites Mark Perry, an economist for the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Our trading partners ended up imposing tariffs and taxes on American goods and so it really reduced, significantly, global trade to a point that then some people even say that that's what made the Great Depression great,” Perry said.
What is a Christian to do? What would Jesus do? What would the Apostle Paul do? Be careful. They did not have air conditioning, so it might be an unfair question. They also did not have labor laws in any familiar sense. Jesus’ “render unto Caesar” speech might come to mind, but shoehorning contemporary public policy debates into Mark 12:17 misses the point. It misses Jesus’ radical response in the face of zealots who screamed for revolution, Roman sympathizers and collaborators, and people who were trying to figure out how to live in a complicated time.
First, sympathize with the person who loses her/his job. Regardless of how or why, people who lose their jobs feel traumatized. They enter a job market whether they want to or not. They enter a job market whether they are prepared or not. They need love, compassion, empathy, and support. They might need encouragement. Their fellow congregants, Sunday school classmates, or small group members can listen and speak prayerfully. Some people might appreciate a friend who shares every job lead she finds. Some people might not. Be Christ to the people who lose their jobs.
Second, carefully consider the complexity of public policy. There are always multiple sides to every story. Artificially keeping manufacturing in Indianapolis is like doing something a certain way in church because we’ve always done it that way before. In The Armchair Economist, Steven E. Landsburg writes about growing “cars” in Iowa. He writes, “First you plant seeds, which are the raw material from which automobiles are constructed. You wait a few months until wheat appears. Then you harvest the wheat, load it onto ships, and sail the ships eastward into the Pacific Ocean. After a few months, the ships reappear with Toyotas on them.” Perhaps there is an economic advantage to producing air conditioning units in Mexico. I do not know, but I do know that there is more to the story than mean Mr. Potter making a mean decision. Read. Find out. Learn more about the minutiae involved.
Third, carefully and prayerfully consider voting. Which candidates would do the best job? Should the candidate be moral and decent? Yes. Should the candidate be experienced and present solid plans for potential policies? Yes. Will you find the perfect candidate? No. Most importantly, which candidates appear to care about people? Do any deliberately alienate people? Do they get along with others? Voting is an important part of the democratic process.
Fourth, what about the Mexican workers? Does Carrier pay a living wage to its Mexican workers? Or, is Carrier taking advantage of them in order to provide lower cost units to people in the United States? If so, Carrier is perpetuating systemic oppression and committing injustice. I do not know the answer. Paying a living wage in Tijuana is more affordable than paying a living wage in Indianapolis, but no one asked the question: Is Carrier acting justly and treating its employees fairly, or not?
Fifth, what about the environment? Will Carrier be able to produce more pollution in Mexico than it could in the United States? What about its employees? Will Carrier protect its Mexican workers as well as it did in the United States under OSHA standards? Will it provide workers compensation if an employee is injured? These aspects of business are easy to ignore when companies exclusively seek a profit. Prophets speak against such injustice and the role of government is to protect its citizens, even from the citizens’ own employers.
Finally, if you are upset about Carrier’s move to Mexico, do not buy a Carrier unit. Buy another brand. The free market dictates business decisions. On the one hand, if Carrier’s sales suffered because of their move to Mexico, they would move back. On the other hand, if Carrier’s move to Mexico leads to lower priced units, more people can afford air conditioning and can avoid potential life-threatening, heat-related health issues.