“Free” and the Destruction of Worth


It's free!It takes time to prepare a bid on a project. Time is money. You make no money preparing bids. A bid is simply a hope for a future realization of money.

I don’t think the man requesting bids on one particular project was a bad person. He simply was misinformed. Or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing by submitting his project in a public forum. Maybe he was the smartest person in the forum.

The bid to write that 250-page technical manual was won by someone bidding $99.

I remember one bid where it would not have been outrageous to expect $30,000, but only $2,500 was budgeted by the offerer.

I saw a writing job offered recently that sought a writer to compose 10 children’s books. The offer was $50. Not per book, but for all 10.

And newspapers are fighting to stay alive because their revenue model keeps taking hits.

Everywhere I turn, the quality of writing has gone down. Not because people can’t write a decent sentence, but because the writing contains so few ideas of worth. It possesses no depth. It exists to occupy space on a page. Whether that page is digital or print doesn’t matter. I read the words, and they vanish from my head as swiftly as they entered, a nonstop stream of gruel.

Everyone is a writer, and yet so few truly are.

Free is to blame.

People have fallen in love with free. Open source software. Free. Internet advertising. Free. Information delivery systems. Free.

When I first started my business, I got regular calls from the Yellow Pages seeking my listing. They don’t call anymore because you can list your business for free in multiple outlets that will drive far more business to your storefront.

But, of course, more and more of that business is expecting something for free. Or darned near close to it.

Free has come to dominate how we think. In an article on unexpected trends, I read that free is killing the industry that dominates the Internet: pornography. We even want our vices free.

Don’t we get a little touchy when we can’t get something we want for free? Or a perk for free along with that paid item? Something. Anything.

That I’m using WordPress to compose this missive and power this blog is not lost on me. How WordPress makes money for Automattic is.


I think the Church is struggling with free. Most of what the Church does is free and always has been. Someone to be there by the bedside of a sick member. The dinner delivered to the family with the new baby. The Men’s Group oil change for the single moms. All free.

The struggle?

Now that we live in a world where free is expected, something terrible happened to worth.

When a company expects a writer to churn out 10 children’s books for $50, the underlying truth is those books have no worth. It is not a far stretch to consider that the writer of those books doesn’t have much worth either.

Did I mention that it was a Christian company behind that children’s book project?

What the Church offered for free once had immeasurable worth. We Christians saw how much effort went into offering to others our time and effort.

Now it seems that few consider what goes into the service we render to others. Like so many things that are now free, the inherent worth of that service and the people who give it is lost and forgotten.

Free isn’t so much appreciated as it is expected. And once it becomes an expectation, it becomes harder to see its value.

I believe that many people today cannot see the value of the little aspects of Faith in Jesus and the life we live as a Body because free has reduced their perceived worth to zero.

We do not gather together daily as the Church once did because we no longer comprehend the ROI.

We do not appreciate the authenticity of ritual because ritual is free and therefore easy and next to worthless.

We do not ponder the lives of others because human life is cheap in the eyes of the world.

Jesus is free, and so are eternal life and the fellowship of Faith.

Is it any wonder then that so few people grasp that trio’s infinite worth?

26 thoughts on ““Free” and the Destruction of Worth

  1. linda

    Hi Mr. Edelen,
    you say, “Jesus is free, and so are eternal life and the fellowship of Faith.”

    Jesus is not free. The Bible says count the cost. Initial salvation is free, but it also requires a believing heart and a profession from our lips. Then there is a cost to continue to be a disciple of Jesus.

    We have a biblical scripture and example of this. Moses counted the cost and gave up the riches and pleasures of Egypt.
    Jesus saw the glory ahead and gave up his life for it.
    These things require sacrifice, understanding, and a willingness to do God’s will in our lives. This is not free.

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  3. Jerome

    Good article, Dan. You made me think about a lot of things. I look at the elderly members in my congregation and if I’m not careful, I just see old folks. But when I look deeper, I see 50, 60 or 70 years of unbelievable service they have give to others. They’ve spent themselves, using the incomparable gifts God has given them, and so many have been enriched by them. I really need to look deeper to see the incredible riches of Christ all around me, and truly value and appreciate them! I think of our nation that wants its Social Security, Medicare, and Disability benefits paid in full, with no desire at all to count the cost (don’t confuse me with the facts, please!). All those dollars came from someone working, creating something of worth, out of which a portion is shared with others. Their work, and the sacrifice that will be required to fund everyone of these benefit mandates are not even considered – it’s promised to me, so give it to me. We are instructed to count the cost, to go in with eyes wide open. Only in this way, can Christ and the things of Christ really be appreciated and truly seen as pearls of great price.

  4. Eli

    I somewhat see where you’re coming from… that said money is not the only valid measure of worth. In fact money is a very limited and skewed measure as globalisation has shown us. Services, products and salaries are so different from locale to locale.
    In some ways we have substituted love for money… and increasingly people in the west find themselves in short supply of both.
    The short supply of love shows we are not investing in it so our ROI is low. Faith is very costly, just not in dollar terms necessarily.
    Love costs us everything.

    • Eli

      I would also say Debt has destroyed worth more than ‘free’.
      Paying through debt devalues most everything. Prices are going sky high such that there is increasing pressure to offer things for free to balance/protest the madness. Also people weighed down with debt become desparate.
      No surprise Jesus spoke frequently of debt.

      • Eli,

        While I am sympathetic to the “no debt” idea, it doesn’t work in a technologically driven society.

        One Boeing 787 costs $207 million. One. No airlines could afford to buy it without debt. In short, there would be no airlines if we eliminated debt instruments.

        If it were possible to drive down the price if debt didn’t exist, what would it sell for $100 million? You’re still talking about a huge figure. The nature of building such a device builds in too much cost, all debt instruments accounted for.

        Most houses are too costly for people in the U.S. to afford without debt. When people CAN afford to buy one out of pocket, it is usually in a location that is devalued. If everyone moved to that location, the situation would reverse and it would suddenly be too costly to live there.

        The “no debt” idea sounds great on paper, but everything is too big and too costly today to make it possible.

        • Eli

          to clarify i do not mean all debt is wrong, rather that it has to be reigned in, especially interest. This is something lost on most christians. I would say some other religious groups understand it better than we do generally speaking.

          • Eli,

            Isn’t the interest rate on loan around 3% right now? I bought my first car back in the early 1980s when the interest rate was around 18%. What’s to “reign in”? The problem is, if the banks aren’t charging a decent interest rate, then people who save (like me) earn no interest on their accounts, which means money is losing value over time.

            All these issues are two-edged swords. The solutions are not simple. Most solutions look good on paper, yet they do not work unless the entire way in which we work in this country is revamped. I don’t see that happening because the infrastructure is too enmeshed for it to change quickly. Over 100 to 200 years, perhaps, but barring a complete economic collapse, I don’t see it changing. Fact is, the vast majority of Christians don’t want it to change. I find that disappointing, but what else explains the wholesale support “the system” gets from Christians?

            • Eli

              Yes you are right, it does require radical change. It is complex but there are basic principles that even the OT law had right which we have abandoned. eg we have embraced perpetual debt, plus interest, plus theft by the rich.

    • Eli,

      Money is the only item of worth I possess from the perspective of the utilities companies. I can’t pay for my electrical bill with love.

      I hear what you are saying, but we are talking two very different worlds that value different things. We have to be operate in both those worlds.

      This is where the Church seems perpetually short-sighted to me, and getting worse. The only real innovators in the Church today are those people who are not blanching in the face of real world problems and are seeking to address the whole man or woman, that person who has both an earthly life and a spiritual one. Liberal churches focus too much on the earthly side and Evangelicals too much on the spiritual side. That we can get so few people on both sides to descend from their strongholds and look at what the other offers is a serious, serious problem, one that is likely to get worse in the days ahead.

      • Eli

        I’ll reply to both in one go. Massive inequality and debt are reason enough to be skeptical of views that debt is working for us or we are using money wisely for the most part. The difference in buying power between the top 10% and lower 10, 50, 90% is huge and impacts all of us.
        Houses cost upwards of 10 times the average salary in parts of the world.
        To my mind there are not two worlds. Love impacts how we spend. It is precisely because the lack of love that we see rampant inequality and corruption. The church just needs to connect the dots and be the prophetic voice it should be, demonstrating a better way in all respects.

        I agree undervaluing services is a terrible thing. The issue is often that money is going to other things. Perhaps if a church didn’t pay for an expensive building and paid staff it could use that money for other things. Some churches actually have properly funded community service operations.

        Wealth is being drained from the bottom to line the pockets of the top such that there just isn’t much to go around for the middle and bottom as best I can tell.
        Free is a sympton not a cause as I see it. Just look at hollywood, piracy of entertainment isn’t hurting those at the top, its hurting the middle and those starting out.
        People now feel they deserve free or low cost because prices are either out of reach or they’re so extended in other areas.

        This is all part of the ongoing collapse and downward spiral of capitalism… which the church is largely silent on because its served it very well. ‘Everyone’ wants to be rich.

        • Eli,

          I once got into a heated discussion with some Christians over the support of artists within the little “c” church. If a local church has artisans within the Body, is it not the prerogative of others in that Body to buy the items those artisans produce? Is this not loving your brother or sister in Christ, that you support their skill and help them support their family?

          In this discussion, everyone told me I was wrong for thinking that the church “owed” anyone their business, no matter what their skillset was. So I asked a simple question: If people in that discussion group wanted to buy a painting of a rose, and there were gifted painters in that church who could paint a lovely rose painting, would people in the discussion group buy (a) a mass produced in China and sold at WalMart painting of a rose for $20 or (b) a $100 painting of a rose done by someone in the local church? Every person chose (a) the $20 option.

          You are not going to change anything unless you change that bias. You can claim that this exemplifies the problem you see with lack of love in an economy, but there it is. How anyone overcomes this is beyond me. I have no answer.

          • Eli

            Well yes on a global or large scale i dont expect much change but in smaller communities this is possible. But it requires more than just buying of each others goods and services. Those are outcomes of a certain type of connected communal context. When we see each other as family in real terms, because are actually living as family then that sort of support will happen. It does happen. I have experienced it.

  5. Swithun Dobson

    Re- debt. It isn’t a problem per se but the present banking system means it’s much more prevalent than it otherwise would. The main problem is central banks which inflate the (paper) money supply constantly- national/central banks have nearly always begun as a means to finance government wars, the Bank of England for example. This new money reduces the interest rate and induces more borrowing. Further if you deposit your money in the bank it doesn’t actually remain there, only say 10% remains and the rest is lend out; this is the reason they don’t tend to charge for deposit accounts anymore, previous to this you’d pay warehousing fees. Of course the Banks make more money out of this lending than the cost of warehousing (because it now exists on a computer).

    This system artificially inflates the demand for many goods especially housing. Without the FED and the present banking system house prices would plummet and you’d have much less borrowing with much higher deposits.

    See the case against the fed. http://mises.org/books/fed.pdf

    • Eli

      yes fractional reserve is a nasty thing. We have bought into the lie that it is necessary, but its not… at the very least not to the extent it is used.
      Interest is still a huge problem, especially for the poor who rely on high interest loans or even if interest rate is low but the sum is very large (housing, sovereign/nation debt).

  6. linda

    Hi Dan,
    I think some of the conspiracist theories are correct in that something is going on. It seems there are many thoughts and ideas of what this
    ‘going on’ might be or might mean.
    For sure it seems to me that the ‘churches’ over the past decade or so are trying to lead God’s people back into free labor for the world. This is called ‘ministry’ by leaders of the church. Free labor that is organized and managed by the church (or other leadership) for the benefit of the world is not ‘ministry’ its a type of ‘slavery’. This situation is what God brought his people out of from Egypt (the world), today’s churches are now trying to lead God’s people back into this situation.

    The ‘New World Order’ means change for us in North America. We have to accept that life may be different for us than what we envisioned in our retirement years. Youth may have to accept, out of necessity, that their lives may not be a copy of their parents’. We need to get our eyes off of these goals and get our eyes on Jesus. What does this mean in my thinking?

    It means we do what we have to do and also to maintain our integrity, love for God, our faith, our belief in Him (Jesus, Godhead, Father, Holy Spirit). For example, if we cannot maintain our lifestyle we should be looking at making changes. We should be looking at what the options are. Do we need to sell some of our things in order to downsize our debt, so our cost of living is less? Do we need to look at some reasonably priced education or upgrading to find better work that is available in our area or our countries? Do we need to find a different type of work altogether because our line of work is no longer demanded from buyers? Should we sell our house (if we own one) and pay off debt or reduce our living costs? Check this out, because sometimes living in our homes is cheaper than trying to rent an apartment. Can we rent out bedrooms to help with needed income? etc. etc. etc.

    I believe that there is a downgrading of people quality in our current days. By this I mean that people are becoming more mean and wicked. The light we have from God must be maintained in us. We would be extremely foolish to not value the ‘light’ that we have as believers. We should be doing everything we can to maintain this light for the world to see. This is not just love. There are many other attributes that are very important. Honesty, integrity, good judgment, wisdom, hope, joy, peace, fairness, equity, etc, etc, etc. These are fast disappearing in our part of the world.

  7. linda

    Hi Dan,
    I just listened to the Unitied Hillsong ‘Lead me to the Cross’ by Adam Wang. Let’s pick up our cross and follow Him. We know that if we are going to maintain our light as believers we are going to have crosses to bear in this life. Jesus certainly did. He set the way, are we are following Him. We will have crosses in our lives as well. Let’s follow where we are led when we do the right thing in our lives. We won’t be sorry that we did.

  8. Mr. Poet

    If you want an idea of what the free market would pay in prevailing wages, then go to some of these freelance sites and check out what “companies” are willing to pay and what some people accept. I say “companies” in quotes because some projects are actually workers trying to get you to do their work for them, and they get paid the real bid for the project. One employee at a very large corporation was caught doing this. He was subcontracting his everyday work to someone in China and paying pennies on the dollar while he did nothing all day and took home a hefty paycheck.

    I used to print poetry booklets and give them away for free. Each one cost me about twenty-five cents to make. This does not include the cost of the laser printer, the time, and the gasoline. I gave away about four hundred. Then my car broke down, no doubt partly because of driving around to the different sites where I gave away booklets. I gathered up all the displays and never did it again.

    I learned what “free” meant. It meant I eliminated the price incurred to me. If I had asked the office supply store to give me “free” paper and toner, they would be eliminating their sale. If they asked the warehouse to give them the paper and toner for free, then it eliminates the sale from the distributor. Go on and on, all the way back to manufacturer, all the way back to the lumberjack felling the tree that is made into paper, etc. Someone, somewhere along the way must eat the cost. There is no “free”.

    I got tired of being an unpaid poet. I told the Lord, if I was not going to make a living as a poet, I did not want to try so hard. Sad to say, I have written one poem in the past two or three years. I also took down my Web site after the domain registrar tried to cheat me. Guess how many people noticed I was no longer writing poems? Despite so many people saying they liked my work, hardly any noticed I had quit writing.

  9. Eli

    I think many of us rightly or wrongly want our gifts and talents to be financially viable. Unfortunately we are under a system where values are all messed up.
    ‘Free’ is one of the sad outcomes of this.
    As Christians we should model a better way where free doesn’t mean poor and forced to go back to a day job because there is no income. We should embrace that there is no such thing as absolute individual private ownership and everything we have belongs to god. Sharing should take place such that the pressure to manipulate or use people to make a living is reduced.
    Much of the prevailing christian message is so other than that… we are often worse off than those who do not believe. For the most part we don’t even get solid teaching on what is wrong with the world systems which would then cause us to question our approach.
    We are all so focused on what’s in it for me, any chance to minimize costs and maximize profit is embraced.
    So I guess free and inflated are two side of the same coin, with self interest driving us into the pit. sigh.

  10. linda

    Hi Dan,
    If we look at the Biblical example we have we see Paul preaching at Ephesus. All was well until Paul’s preaching of Christ was going to interfere with the artisans’ craft of producing artifacts of ‘Diana of the Ephesians’. Then it all changed.

    Hearts were hardened, ears were closed, mouths were desperate in their denunciation of anything Paul had to say concerning Christ. They tried to kill him. We need to look at this seriously in the day and time we are in. The economy is threatening livlihoods, God is mocked in general and denounced while spiritists, new age philosphies, and anything else fau spiritual such as ‘magic rocks’ are lauded and approved by the ‘world’. Christan children are being taught continually about the ‘power’. Only this ‘power’ is anything but God. They play games, watch TV and videos, and otherwise pretend play this false spirituality many times over in a week. This is dangerous mind washing by the culture of the world.

    There are concerted educational efforts to exclude the true God from any teaching going on in our day. (other than churches and this is also questionable teaching). Many other spritual teachings are taught in our educational institutions right from Kindergarten up. I know this first hand from the kindergarten perpective.

    We will need to ‘stand’ as Christians and the world is not going to be happy with us.

  11. linda

    What is the ‘church’ teaching in this regard? “Just love the world and get along and all will be fine”. In fact the church is currently teaching that getting along with and loving the world is a ‘command and commission from God’. Churches are skewing the gospel and putting blame and guilt on God’s people if they protest or are not compliant and willing in this regard.

    There is something seriously ‘stinking in Denmark’ in the church. This ‘stinking’ needs to be found out and exposed.

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