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The Matthew Effect in monetary wisdom

Abstract

Robert King Merton’s article published in Science popularized the Matthew Effect: “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29). The Matthew Effect prevails at the individual, organization-industry, and country-global levels. This interdisciplinary review connects the Holy Bible with agency theory, tournament theory, corporate social responsibility (CSR), prospect theory, behavioral economics, the psychology of money, and business ethics in the literature. I expand the Matthew Effect, incorporate prospect theory and the love of money (1 Timothy 6:9–10), and develop a multi-level theory of the Matthew Effect in Monetary Wisdoms: Individual decision-makers apply their deep-rooted values (avaricious monetary aspiration, the love of money attitude) as a lens, frame the critical concerns in the immediate and omnibus contexts, and maximize expected utility and ultimate serenity-happiness across people, context, and time at the individual, organization-industry, and country-global levels. The rich (with talents, integrity, character, and wisdom) serve God, enjoying the ultimate joy and happiness. The poor serve mammon, destroying their lives. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. Scholars of business ethics and CSR must explore this phenomenon in future studies.

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Data availability

This research does not collect empirical data from individuals.

Notes

  1. I would like to thank one anonymous reviewer for this excellent suggestion. Please note my discussion of this ratio (7.72) later in this article.

  2. According to Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile: When creativity is under the gun, it usually ends up getting killed. In the Parable of the Talents, the reality is the same for all three servants, yet their perceptions or attitudes differ, leading to various behaviors and consequences. Attitudes predict behaviors.

  3. The Matthew Effects is strongly related to faith and good works. “See how a person is justified by works and not faith alone” (James 2:24). “Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five” (Matthew 25:15–16). This verse reflects the servant’s good works. Individuals’ ability (talents, can do), motivation (good works, will do), and opportunity (equal opportunity in the context, time) define performance.

  4. “He was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions” (John 12:6). “Then, one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver” (Matthew 26:14–15). Did Judas apply his deep-rooted monetary values—the love of money—to frame the betrayal of Jesus and negotiate thirty pieces of silver to maximize his expected utility? This story in the Bible reflects the dark side of the Matthew Effect in Monetary Wisdom.

  5. “Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy, 9–10).

  6. Judas was the treasurer, CFO, of Jesus’ not-for-profit ministry in the Gospels. Andrew Fastow was the former CFO of Enron. Besides, Nissan’s board gave power/authority to former CEO, Carlos Ghosn (a Brazilian-born with French and Lebanese nationality), to set executive compensation, including his own. Ghosn’s financial fraud (misreporting income to financial regulators in Japan and using company funds for personal use, involving up to $140 million paid/unpaid income/retirement benefits) forced him to step down as CEO of Nissan and chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. Greg Kelly was the former CFO and co-conspirator. Following the Parable of the Talents, the master entrusted his possessions to his servants. The presence of abundant wealth, or seeing green-cash, excites one’s envy and greed. The love of money is the root of all evils.

  7. Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit” (John 15:2). The rich get richer.

  8. In 2019, the median household income was USD$63,688, according to the US Census Bureau. With a 50-year work life, this overly simplified calculation suggests that it takes 2072.60 years, or 41.45 lifetimes, for the median income person to make $132 million in 2019. ($132,000,000/year)/($63,688.00/year) = 2072.60 years; 1 career = 50 years, 2089.30/50 = 41.45 lifetimes. They served mammon.

  9. I would like to thank EIC Allan Chan and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions.

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Acknowledgements

The author thanks late Fr. Wiatt Funk, late Prof. Kuan Ying Tang, and Fang Cheng Chu Tang, and Fr. Mark Sappenfield for their inspiration, Theresa Li-Na Tang for her continuous support, Editor-in-Chief Allan Chan and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestion, Brian Walsh, Alex Sherrod, and Alyssa Sons for their support.. I presented portions of this paper at the 25th International Academy of Management and Business (IAMB), Lisbon, Portugal, October 17–19, 2018.

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TLPT reviewed the literature, wrote the paper, and approved the final version for publication.

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Correspondence to Thomas Li-Ping Tang.

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Tang, T.LP. The Matthew Effect in monetary wisdom. Asian J Bus Ethics 10, 153–181 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13520-021-00126-x

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Keywords

  • The Matthew Effect
  • Haves/have-nots
  • The rich/the poor
  • Serving God/mammon
  • Management/spirituality/religion
  • Prospect/agency/tournament
  • Behavioral economics
  • Monetary wisdom/intelligence
  • Utility
  • Serenity/happiness/positive psychology
  • Meritocracy/egalitarianism
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Business ethics
  • Nobel Prize
  • Enron/corruption
  • Talents/possessions/money/time/equal opportunity/justice
  • Accountability/responsibility/ROI
  • Creativity/imagination
  • Multi-level