Business as Usual
Manufacturing Costs=DM + DL + MOH
The above equation is one of the important formulas learned within Accounting 221, one of the required courses all business majors at Wake Forest University take. Here we learn how to do internal accounting, making sure the business knows what costs make up its operations, thus being able to use that data in order to cut costs in the future. In this formula calculating the manufacturing costs that comprise the production of a good, we see Direct Materials (DM), Direct Labor (DL), and Manufacturing Overhead (MOH).
I outline this formula, not to give a primer on Managerial Accounting, but to argue that “business” is not neutral. The mathematical formulas we draw up to reflect “good” business practice have important implications on the well-being of others. How specific monies are spent or saved whether in business, politics, families, or otherwise have distinct effects on human beings. I want to highlight in particular the Direct Labor portion of this formula because I find it so relevant to today’s cultural and political climate. Hidden within the abbreviation “DL,” lies the income of millions of Americans who depend on the numbers in this formula for their well-being. Many business students each year, including me, go through the motions of performing various calculations—connecting, for example, the value $200,000 to the letters “DL”—without ever considering that these two letters represent the livelihood of first and last names. What I want to suggest is that when “DL” is not connected to a “Jane Doe,” the business manager becomes disconnected from the laborer both socially and monetarily. For when one is constantly fixated on reducing the costs associated with labor, as in Accounting 221, one is also disconnected from the bodies those costs represent.
Two conclusions result from this analysis. First, as philosopher James K.A. Smith argues,”an education-whether acknowledged or not-is a formation of the desires and imagination that creates a certain kind of person that is part of a certain kind of people. The facts and information learned as part of the process are always situated and embedded in something deeper that is being learned all along: a particular vision of the good life.”1 As Christians we are called to the first commandment of Christ–to love the Lord with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. I think this calls for a critique of an education that forms our imagination to “see” the laborer as invisible, as merely a cost to be reduced. When we recognize that there are counter-educations to the gospel that form our minds and hearts to reject Christ’s second commandment–Loving your neighbor as yourself—we learn to be formed by the true gospel that calls us to love. Second, I want to argue with theologian William Cavanaugh that Christians, both consumers and business leaders, are “called to create concrete alternative practices that open up a different kind of economic space—the space marked by the body of Christ.”2 Our practices of business leadership and consumption are to create spaces that recognize all workers as created in the Image of God, not as mere vehicles for profit, easily dispensable as “production needs” change.
What might this mean for the real world? Certainly this requires a large-scale Christian critique of the capitalistic system, a project not fit for this blog post. What I want to minimally argue in this space is that a Christian understanding of business practice must embody, against the supposedly neutral profit maximization gospel of capitalism, an understanding of the wage of the laborer as tied to his/her flourishing. A Christian, it seems to me, armed with the view that all workers are dignified, must be repulsed at a world in which CEOs make 204 times the average worker.3 A Christian business leader should work to create alternative spaces in which this chasm is unthinkable, in which profits don’t float up to the top, but are reinvested into the workers of the company-the ones most vulnerable within the system.
In conclusion then, there is no “business as usual” or “it’s just business,” for there is no neutral “business” in which all actions are to fall under. All business action is normative, guided by a vision of the good life. One of these visions, offered in the formula above, revolves around a telos of profit maximization hindered by the costs of labor. As Christians, I believe we are called to a different vision, a different formula, guided by a different normative vision of the Image of God Christ calls us to recognize in everyone.
1. James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 29
2. William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), viii
3. Elliot Blair Smith and Phil Kuntz, “CEO Pay 1,795-to-1 Multiple Wages Skirts U.S. Law,” Bloomberg. 30 Apr 2013,