Comment Of The Day: “The Ethics Alarms 2022 ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ Ethics Guide”

Here, a Comment of the Day by John Paul, is a story about a real life “Bailey Bros. Savings and Loan.” Enough said.


Every year it seems like you post this and every year I find it inspirational. Last year was the first time I ever watched the movie. I think, it was a little fitting, because I found myself being a lot more sympatric to George and the Elder Bailey based on another project I started then. I would like to share a little bit about that and perhaps offer a different prospective on why George decided to stick around.

I serve as the president of the board for the local Fuller Center for Housing. We are a non-profit group whose goal is to provide affordable housing for low income people in the name of Christ and in the name of our founder Millard Fuller. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the man, I highly suggest you check out his story. It’s a good one.

By 29 he was a self-made millionaire, but his money and his commitment to his practice (lawyer) were tearing his family apart. His wife, thinking it was the end of their relationship, took his children and his kids to New York. He followed them, and after a long talk, they agreed to get their lives together and give away most of the money. In the following years they ended up on Koinonia Farm (another good story), Zaire (now the Congo), then came back to start one of the most successful housing movements in the United States: Habitat for Humanity. As of 2013, Habitat was the largest non-profit builder in the world and has helped more than 35 million people construct, rehabilitate, or preserve homes since 1976. Fuller Center, while different in name, has a similar mandate and purpose.

Well, what do we do? In some ways, we are a little bit like the Bailey Building and Loan. We act like the bank in the normal transaction between the people in need of housing and the builders who will build the housing. However, the biggest difference is we not only charge 0% interest on our loan, but we only charge for cost of the materials and contracted labor (we also do 80% of building). We have smaller projects we do as well; they might be home repairs such as roofs, bathrooms, ramps, or anything a person might need costing less than $5,000. Our motto is “Hand up, not hand out.” We are going to do everything we can to get you what you need, but in the end, we still expect you to pay for it. More than that, we expect you do put in a number of hours of what we call “Sweat equity” where you must help out with the home or other projects related to the program.

I believe it’s a noble cause. Every day, we get calls about housing, renting, and building repair. I see people who are forced to make 600-1200 rent payments (average mortgage prices for the area) but for some reason can’t get a loan from a bank because they have terrible credit or are living at the the poverty line. These are people that for whatever reason need that hand up to pull them out of the trenches of life that could not do it on their own. They need help. More so, they are grateful for our help. I see it in the mother and daughter who we  built a home for and who now sit on our board. I see it in the woman who just paid off her roof we installed five years ago. I see it to the dozens who came to our meetings last month asking for door repairs to keep the winter air out.

Though Elder Bailey is a fictional character, the story tells us he was motivated more by compassion than by wealth. It couldn’t have been a profitable business, to constantly be in a state of peril. I would even agree with your assessment in a few places that it wasn’t even a good way to run a business. But it’s clear Elder Bailey had a mission to help the people of the town, and as someone who sits on a board, I’m pretty sure his board was well aware of his motives, as well as George. I think if George was a real and good man, he would have not been able to walk away from something like that. He would have seen the work as too important. I think the movie tries to show this in the Potterville scene.

Millard Fuller died in 2009, but we carry out the legacy in his name and style. We rarely build garages because he believed people should be housed before cars. We give people multiple chances before allowing them to default on their loan (and work with them where we can), because of his perchance for offering others forgiveness. We give a bible at the end of every build because of his love for Christ (those we have no religious requirements for anyone we help). We make you work for it, because he never believed in a hand-out.

Elder Bailey needed to make a living to take care of his family. I can’t fault him for this. I think if he could have escaped it, he might have been another Millard Fuller. Fortunately for us, we got the real one.

3 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “The Ethics Alarms 2022 ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ Ethics Guide”

  1. Wonderful comment. It’s a shame I didn’t see it in the original thread and also that I didn’t previously know this inspiring story.

    This COTD is what makes Ethics Alarms a recommendation that I share with others.

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