Archives For Craig Newmark

Sin Is Expensive

Mark Beuving —  October 25, 2012 — 1 Comment

A couple days ago, I blogged about Craigslist’s faulty theological foundation. Basically, Craig Newmark built Craigslist on the belief that people are basically good, so if you give them a platform for interaction, everything will work out. But because the Bible is correct in saying that people have a sin nature, things are bound to go wrong on Craigslist, even as they go wrong in every area of life.


The McDonald’s Hamburglar

In this post, I’d like to briefly explore the economic impact of sin. In other words, sin is expensive. Certainly sin tears apart our relationships, our psychological health, and most significantly, our relationship with God. But sin also costs money.

In the case of Craigslist, the site has been used as a marketplace for prostitution, which has forced Newmark to make preventative changes to the site. Scammers have also been using the site to swindle sellers out of their goods, which means that Newmark’s team has had to add security measures. All of this means increased expenses.

In his excellent book Truth and Transformation, Vishal Mangalwadi talks about visiting a dairy in the Netherlands. When he walked into the dairy to buy a glass of milk, he found no attendants—there was only a cashbox in which to leave his money and make change if necessary. He observed that this is the most cost-efficient way for the dairy to sell its milk, but once enough people took their milk without paying (or even stole the money from the cashbox), the dairy would be forced to hire an attendant. This means money out of the dairy owner’s pocket, which means higher cost of production, which means higher prices for the costumers, and on and on it goes.

Vishal Mangalwadi

Vishal Mangalwadi

Mangalwadi also describes an experience he had while traveling through eastern Europe by train. He couldn’t figure out the automated ticket dispenser, so he asked a couple of young ladies how it worked. “We don’t know,” they told him. “But don’t worry about it. Just hop over the turnstiles. We’ve been travelling like this for weeks and no one has checked our tickets.”

Do you see where this is going? Once enough people hop the turnstiles and begin travelling for free, the railroads will be forced to hire clerks to check tickets on the trains, which increases their expenses, which in turn ups the price of a train ticket.

Sin is expensive.

The point is, not only was Craigslist built on the faulty premise that people are basically good, but the reality that people have a propensity toward sin is costly in every way. Think of how much money companies would save if they didn’t have to hire security guards. Or how much cheaper our goods would be if stores didn’t have to build compensation for a predicted amount of theft into their prices.

Sin is bad, and we all end up paying for it.

Craigslist is a great idea. Yard sales are so random, you have to be in the right place at the right time, and you never know what you’re going to find. But Craigslist essentially links every yard sale in your extended area so that you can find exactly what you’re looking for. It’s simple and effective.

I’m pro Craigslist, generally speaking. I have used the site to successfully buy and sell items. Chances are, so have you.

Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark

But a couple of years ago I read an interview with Craig Newmark, the “Craig” in “Craigslist.” He explained that his site is based on the belief that people are basically good. So give them a platform for interacting with one another, and everything will work out fine.

The Bible, however, has a different view of mankind. Yes, we were created good, but since the moment sin entered the world, we all possess a sin nature. This does not mean that we are all as bad as we could possibly be. Far from it. God’s grace is constantly restraining us from being as bad as we’d like to be. But we are all prone to sin, and the Bible can safely go so far as to say that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9).

So Craigslist is based on the assumption that people are basically good, yet in reality people are basically sinful, though not as thoroughly as they might be. What does this mean for the functionality of the site?

Because people are not as bad as they might be (because God’s grace is constantly working in all of us—even though we are typically unaware of its presence), we are going to have a pleasant experience with Craigslist much of the time. Given a platform in which to exchange goods, people will often be kind, straightforward, and honest.

But because sin lurks in every heart, we are also going to have bad experiences on Craigslist. I have had to dodge scams from people trying to “buy” my stuff on Craigslist, and I know others that have been ripped off. Craigslist has also served as a convenient marketplace for prostitution. They have been making changes to the site to try to avoid this, but the issue doesn’t appear to be resolved yet.

To be clear, this doesn’t make Craigslist the worst site on the net, nor is it the only site affected by human depravity. But I do think that sites like eBay, which enforce rules and have some level of governance, take human depravity into account and function better because of it. There’s still something to be said about freeing people up to do business (this is the basis of capitalism, and most of us enjoy this system on the whole), but we would be foolish to assume that no problems will arise (our form of capitalism is not this optimistic—we are miles away from a true free market economy).

Craigslist Warning

This warning comes standard in Craigslist email exchanges.

In reality, Craigslist does not function entirely on Craig Newmark’s assumption that people are basically good. The fact that they have made changes to the site to try to avoid prostitution shows that they are being forced to account for depravity. I have also noticed that every email interaction on Craigslist includes a standard warning about giving too much information to inquirers—another nod to mankind’s sinful condition.

As I said, I’m all for Craigslist. But our theological assumptions matter in the business world as much as anywhere else. Viewing the world as God views it means that we are viewing the world as it actually is. And when we view the world as it actually is, we are bound to function better in the real world.