The economic life of Friends should be founded on the recognition that all that they have and all that they may come to have belong to God and should be used in the service of God. The earning of a livelihood is not an end in itself but only a means to maintain life, whose real purpose is to discover and to obey God's Will. Pursuit of profit is an inadequate and unworthy motive if its goal is only self-enrichment.
Friends should take care to choose occupations through which they may serve God and humanity; they should invest their funds carefully, avoiding investments, no matter how rewarding, which might serve anti-social or immoral ends; they should avoid the illusory benefits of highly speculative schemes or of practices, like gambling, which seem to promise something for nothing; especially they should avoid economic practices which can bring benefit to them only by hurting someone else. Honesty, moderation, and conscientious stewardship are qualities of Christian economic life.
Deal Justly and Speak the Truth
In fairs also, and in markets, I was made to declare against their deceiful merchandise and cheating and cozening, warning all to deal justly, to speak the truth, to let their "yea" be "yea," and their "nay" be "nay"; and to do unto others as they would have others do unto them.
George Fox: Journal, ed. J. L. Nickalls, 1952, pp. 37-38. Entry for 1648.
Free from Entanglements
My mind through the power of Truth was in a good degree weaned from the desire of outward greatness, and I was learning to be content with real conveniences that were not costly, so that a way of life free from much Entanglements appeared best for me, though the income was small. I had several offers of business that appeared profitable, but did not see my way clear to accept of them, as believing the business proposed would be attended with more outward care and cumber than was required of me to engage in. I saw that a humble man with the blessing of the Lord might live on a little, and that where the heart was set on greatness, success in business did not satisfy the craving, but that in common with an increase of wealth the desire for wealth increased. There was a care on my mind to so pass my time as to things outward that nothing might hinder me from the most steady attention to the voice of the True Shepherd.
John Woolman: The journal and major essays, ed. Phillips P Moulton, 1971, p. 35 (entry for 1743).
The two great features of the economic life of the Society of Friends were first, the practice of the "minor virtues" or personal probity, thrift, simplicity of life, and hard work; and second, the willingness to innovate, to try out new ways of doing things, not only in manufacture and trade, but in human relations as well. The particular quality of virtue which characterized Friends, which had profound economic consequences was a direct result of the nature of the Society of Friends as an experiment in organized perfectionism. It has been pointed out that the feature which distinguished early Friends from the Puritans around them whom in so many ways they resembled was not so much their mysticism as their perfectionism. George Fox's great objection to the Puritans was that they "pleaded for sin," and the Puritans' great objection to the Quakers was that they had the temerity to assert that a life without sin could be lived on this earth, and methodically went about organizing a society with this end in view!
Kenneth E. Boulding: "Economic life." In John Kavanaugh, ed.: The Quaker approach to contemporary problems, 1952, p. 47
Enterprise and Brotherhood
There are two great concepts around which the life of Quakerism revolves: enterprise and brotherhood. The spirit of enterprise is that which leads into more knowledge and power, and into better ways of doing things, whether producing an article or producing fellowship and community spirit. It leads into social experiments of all kinds by seeking out better ways not only of making things, but of living together. The spirit of brotherhood leads into peaceableness, into the search for ways of reducing tensions, and of eliminating oppression in all its forms. It sees economic and social life as an essentially co-operative structure, an arrangement for mutual aid. It goes beyond this and sees society as an expression of love and concern of all for all, in which the needs of those who cannot contribute are met as well as the needs of the contributors.
Between enterprise and brotherhood there should always exist a creative tension. It is enterprise which leads to wealth and power, not only for the individual but for the society as a whole. Without enterprise brotherhood is an impotent sentiment. Without brotherhood, however, enterprise leads to oppression and wealth leads to damnation in the satisfaction of inferior desires. This is true under any kind of economic or social system. And separated from God, separated from the sensitizing of the spirit in worship and communion with the source of all love and truth, enterprise leads to damnation in pride, brotherhood leads to damnation in sentimentality. This remains the most important thing which the Society of Friends has to say, even in the field of economics.
Ibid., pp. 57-8.
Meaning in One's Work
A man's work is perhaps the most important contribution he makes to society. It should therefore offer good possibilities of spiritual contentment. And it happens quite often that people find satisfaction, joy and meaning in their work. But, of course, it is not always the person who looks for the job; often the job looks for the person. Many jobs, especially in industry, are mechanised and humdrum, and offer the worker few possibilities of deeper satisfaction. It is especially bad if the social contacts at the place of work are also unsatisfying. It is an obvious task for Friends and others, to help to produce such an atmosphere in the work place that people can meet in mutual understanding.
William Aarek: From loneliness to fellowship (Swarthmore lecture), 1954, pp. 76-7