Choose Your Own Adventure

November 18, 2005 | 114 comments
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Let’s play a game. You can choose between two jobs. One pays $50,000 and the other pays $100,000. You know, or can guess, that if you take the first you will give about $5,000/yr in fast offerings and other gifts to the poor. If you make $100,000 you will give about $15,000. You will also pay several thousand more dollars in taxes, but we’ll set that aside. So in one case, you consume about $45,000 and in the other, you consume about $85,000.

Which do you take?

In the one case, you are clearly raising yourself above your fellow man. You are living on way more than average person, even as you produce more as well. The Book of Mormon is very explicit that inequality leads many people to think themselves better than their fellow man, in fact there are references all through the standard works to being equal in earthly things. Money makes us prideful, just like a fancy degree does. For some, the weak among us, it may be better to avoid that temptation entirely. For others, the gifts to the poor will keep us from being prideful, or maybe not.

Of course, you are also providing substantially more for the poor. So which matters more, inequality or poverty? Do you take the job that relieves poverty, knowing that you are explicitly creating inequity? What if you only planned to give the same $5,000 in either job?

Empirically, this question is easy to answer. The vast majority of people would not only take the money, but they wouldn’t give the $15,000. And those who do don’t appear to be any happier than those making half as much.

*Let’s ignore any differences between jobs. And we will make the assumption that the money you earn is based on what you have added personally to the world’s goods and services and are being paid for it. Thus it is not as if someone else would get the high paying job if you don’t. If this is hard for you to envision, think of it as a kind of self employment.

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114 Responses to Choose Your Own Adventure

  1. Kaimi Wenger on November 18, 2005 at 12:54 pm

    This reminds me of a conversation that I would have, numerous times, with my public-interest-minded friends at Columbia.

    Me: Where are you going to work after law school?
    Public-interest Friend (PIF): I’m going to go do public interest work.
    Me: How much does that pay?
    PIF: I’ll be earning $30,000 defending indigent clients in rural Alabama.
    Me: You realize that every Columbia grad who feels like it will have a $100,000+ job waiting for her on Wall Street?
    PIF: Yes, but I want to do greater good.
    Me: So why not take the Wall Street job yourself, and then use 2/3 of your salary to hire _two_ defenders in rural Alabama at $30,000 each?

  2. Julie M. Smith on November 18, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    I appreciate what you are trying to do here, Frank, but the set-up requires that I be the kind of person who would live on 85K when making 100K instead of living on 45K while giving away 55K. So the set-up already ‘condemns’ (if you will) the 100K-earner to deciding to not be as generous as possible. Why?

    I’m with Kaimi: go for the 100K job and give away 55K.

    I don’t want to threadjack, but if you want to do financial hypotheticals, the one that I have the hardest time with is this: on 100K, do I give away 55K or do I save it (or, how much of it?) in case I end up out of work in the future? To me, that conflict between charity and self-sufficiency is a much harder call.

  3. Scott on November 18, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    Kaimi:
    I don’t think anyone can live on 33,000 a year in NYC!

  4. Frank McIntyre on November 18, 2005 at 2:48 pm

    Julie,

    If you are willing to do that, then great. But I would guess that almost no one does. Further, I would guess that that particular hypothetical would be easy, since it helps others and leaves us the same. Where is the challenge in that? Lastly, the 100K earner is clearly being quite generous, giving both more money and more as a percentage. Just not as much as they “could”.

    A broader framing of the question would be, if you had the 100K, how much would you give? And should it depend on what your other option is at all?

  5. Last Lemming on November 18, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    And those who do don’t appear to be any happier than those making half as much.

    Omitted variables. I was happier after taking a 20 percent pay cut because I was relieved of loads of stress from working extra hours and having to produce stuff so fast. Do you think that if you held work time and effort constant between the two scenarios that you would still see the same phenomenon?

    So why not take the Wall Street job yourself, and then use 2/3 of your salary to hire _two_ defenders in rural Alabama at $30,000 each?

    And would those two defenders also be Columbia grads, or would they be last-in-their-class types who Wall Street wouldn’t touch? Two bad lawyers don’t equal one good one.

  6. Last Lemming on November 18, 2005 at 3:22 pm

    If, instead of equality, we adopt a Rawlsian criterion, the answer becomes simple. Taking the higher-paying job and contributing even one more dollar improves the position of the worst-off party.

  7. Jesse on November 18, 2005 at 3:23 pm

    I think this is a difficult issue and a very personal one. I also wonder about our ability to know what our weaknesses are prior to being exposed to the kinds of challenges that actually being in the situation bring. Riches in particular are a very subtle form of the “trials of life,” and I think different people react to them in different ways, which means that it’s really not possible to give blanket answers. Universal poverty, simply because we want to avoid a potential weakness, isn’t necessarily the answer, particularly if we’re collectively choosing to be less productive than we could be. Isn’t choosing to be only half as productive as you could be something of a cop out too?

    For me personally, I’m with Tevia, from “Fiddler on the Roof,” who, when told by his son-in-law that money was a curse from God spread his arms and cried out, “May God smite me with it, and may I never recover!”

    I also happen to think it’s way cool that all of us in the developed world, when we fill out our tithing checks, particularly as we get further along in our careers and are putting bigger numbers on those checks, are, individually, giving enough to support a significant chunk of a stake’s operation in the less developed areas of the world.

  8. Paul Mortensen on November 18, 2005 at 3:42 pm

    Julie:

    You make a huge assumption that the $55k you would save/invest would not have the concomittant effect of benefitting the poor. Investment provides entrepreneurs capital who in turn generate new jobs which new jobs drive up wages for all. That the poor don’t benefit from such effects is a misnomer.

  9. Drex Davis on November 18, 2005 at 4:21 pm

    “For some, the weak among us, it may be better to avoid that temptation entirely.”

    Easy to avoid the temptation – don’t get educated. That way you won’t have any highly marketable or useful skills that your fellow men might value and swap their resources for. You’ll also avoid that pesky debt which comes from attending excellent grad school where you might learn skills valuable to your fellow-persons. Avoid Medical School especially. You’ll have so much debt that you won’t be able “live” on less than 6 figures . . . And you’ll avoid gaining those scarce life-saving skills that are in high demand and might tempt you to set a price for your services at the point where supply and demand intersects.

    What is wrong with money and education. As I understand it, it’s the love of money and the praise of men that is the root of evil. You can have that “love” whether or not you have the possession you covet. Granted that the acquisition of it may lead to the love of it, but I think you can do more good in the world with a good heart and deep pockets than a good heart and empty pockets. And if I’m tempted to not use my resources to do good . . . well give me that moral dilemma any day and prove me herewith!

  10. maren on November 18, 2005 at 4:43 pm

    Many people in my non-profit company live (albeit not comfortably) for much less than 33000 in New York city, including myself before I got married, and the only reason I have more than that now is because I am married and we both work.

  11. Bloggernaccle semi-regular, anon for this on November 18, 2005 at 5:29 pm

    Hmmmm…. I make somewhere around 100K more or less, and I don’t feel the need to give away half my income. I don’t think that I’m an evil capitalist either… Because of my work and income, I provide work for people, both here in the US and in other countries (through programmers I subcontract out to in Kenya, for example). I pay tithing. I pay taxes. I pay a generous fast offering and donate to the humanitarian aid fund. I donate to charity, have organized fundraisers, and try to do charitable works whenever I can. But I also save money for my kids education. I drive a nice (but not obscenely nice) car. We have a nice home, that is not only comfortable and in a safe neighborhood, but has proven to be an excellent investment as well. We invest money in side ventures. We invest money in businesses family members start – helping them AND us. I’m able to help people out once in a while if they need it. We were able to spend a lot of money on Angel Tree last year, which was the best feeling ever.

    I’m not trying to pat myself on the back for any of it – I just think there has to be BALANCE. If I give away all of my money, I’m no longer in as good of a position to help others financially as I am in when I have “enough and to spare.”

    It isn’t a straight up or down choice between STRESS with MONEY or No Stress with Less Money. I know plenty of people with lots of money and no stress, no money and lots of stress, and every shade and variation in between. I have far less stress now that we are comfortably well off, than when we were scraping by. I used to get incredibly stressed out about money, and that stress is mostly gone now.

  12. Tim J. on November 18, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    A quote from a former (non-LDS) boss:

    “You don’t have to be poor to be humble.”

    Another:

    “Money is only good for the good it can do.”

    These might have been stolen from elsewhere, but he used them quite a lot.

  13. Jedd on November 18, 2005 at 7:25 pm

    Julie –

    First, as a friend of mine has often noted, the over-exuberant saver takes more of a beating in the scriptures than the foolish, over-exuberant spender. Neither help the poor as much as they should, but one is a foolish or ignorant steward and the other has made treasure (“savings”) his god. The parable of the rich land owner (Luke 12:15-22) provides a good illustration of this. Still, I’m sympathetic with the question of “how much should I save, based on the fact that I can’t predict my future needs?” Ultimately, I think faith must enter the equation — God will take care of those who put their trust in him.

    Second, the command to assist the poor has a certain immediacy about it. The poor need help NOW. The principles of investing tell me that if I invest today what I might have given to the poor, I will have much more later on and can therefore do much more good at that point. Yet God is apparently not impressed with those who hoard the abundance they receive without giving thought to the immediate needs of the less fortunate.

  14. Eric James Stone on November 18, 2005 at 7:32 pm

    > In the one case, you are clearly raising yourself above your fellow man.

    Not if Bill Gates is that fellow man.

  15. Seth Rogers on November 18, 2005 at 8:17 pm

    Kaimi,

    The problem is that with most of us (and I do mean most of us), our needs grow to match our income. When you’re only making 30,000 a year, 100,000 seems like a lot.

    But when you get there, it suddenly doesn’t seem like so much after all. Your opportunities expand. Suddenly, you start thinking about the investing you could do for your future, the legacy you could leave for your children, that foreign mission you and your wife could take. Things change in the career field as well. You start to see opportunities for advancing your career, if only you spent a bit more money. Instead of taking advantage of the $40 legal education courses, you’re spending well over $1000 to go to an educational retreat for securities lawyers in Aspen with your wife and kids.

    The justification, of course, is that you will be building relationships and skills that will net you even more money. And think of all the good I could do then. If 100,000 can do some good, $200,000 can do even more! Just like the wise steward who earned 10 talents!

    The problem is, you’re putting off doing “all that good now” in favor of the possibility of doing “more good” in some theoretical future. But somehow it’s never quite good enough. The time just isn’t right.

    Before you know it, you’re sixty and still haven’t done much more than pay your tithing and fast offerings.

    Your domestic spending habits start to increase as well. Usually in small and subtle ways. Before you know it, you’re blowing $40 bucks on a tofu cooker and it seems like a perfectly justifiable purchase. $40 bucks here, $40 bucks there. Soon you’re talking about real money.

    You can point me to rich do-gooders if you wish. But I think these guys are the exception, not the rule.

    As Neal A. Maxwell said. “Power does not necessarily corrupt. But there are so few of us who use it wisely.”

    Furthermore, you can point to a John Huntsman and his well known donations. But the very fact that you can point to them illustrates a problem:

    Huntsman already has his reward for donating the private jet to the Church. He already has his reward here on earth for many of his other generous donations. According to the scriptures, these public donations will be counted as nothing in his eternal scheme.

    Of course, he may have some private charities as well. But the point is that well known counter-examples don’t prove anything here.

    I maintain that most of us aren’t well-equipped to handle a $100,000 a year income righteously. Human nature is what it is.

  16. Seth Rogers on November 18, 2005 at 8:20 pm

    Drex Davis,

    Your right, it is the LOVE of money and not money itself that is the problem.

    I’m saying that practically every last one of us LOVES the money.

  17. Stephen M (Ethesis) on November 18, 2005 at 8:29 pm

    The vast majority of people would not only take the money, but they wouldn’t give the $15,000. And those who do don’t appear to be any happier than those making half as much

    Ah well, but some of us would. And some of us are happier.

    ;)

    Steve, having hired a guy who really needed to work and getting ready to pay someone else to fix it as soon as the guy finishes. Ah well.

    Better question: if you had an extra room in your house, would you let someone sleep in it for free?

    How long?

  18. anon on November 18, 2005 at 8:41 pm

    A lot of discussion on saving and giving to charity, but to point 13, the exuberant spender still does a lot of good – could you even argue that spending (on whatever, cars, boats, even fur coats, etc.) is better than charity because the money goes to keeping others gainfully employed? It certainly seems better than saving (at least as far as helping the poor is concerned).

  19. Julie M. Smith on November 18, 2005 at 9:05 pm

    Paul Mortensen–

    While I agree that providing working capitol is very, very important, I cannot accept that my 55K contribution to, say, Habitat for Humanity won’t end up providing more for the poor than if I were to invest that 55K in a profit-making company. Frank?

    Jedd–

    You are right about the scriptures, but less so about latter-day prophets who mention _frequently_ the need to save for a rainy day. Now the reality is that most of us should quite wasting our disposable income on our personal whims and donate more _and_ save more, but I think the ‘scriptural beating’ is tempered by what the prophets say today. Were my husband and I irresponsible to donate to Katrina victims when we have kids without college funds, loans on house and cars, and not much socked away for retirement? I don’t know. A few years ago when we put away a largish chunk of money for their college fund, would it have been better to give it away? Maybe.

  20. Scott on November 18, 2005 at 10:25 pm

    As a counter-hypothetical, you can choose between two jobs: one paying $50,000 a year (a little under the median household income in the US) or one paying $7,000 a year (a little over the median household income in Mexico). In one case, you’re clearly raising yourself above your fellow man. Which do you choose?

    If this argument condemns anyone in America, it condemns everyone–certainly everyone who reads this thread, since doing so presupposes access to (and probably ownership of) a computer connected to the Internet and the leisure to engage in such navel-gazing, which are luxuries the majority of the world’s population lacks. Do you have A/C in your home? Do you *own* a home? Have a car? Have love handles? Ever been to a dentist? Subscribed to cable or satellite television services? Have a high school degree? College? Grad school? Then welcome to the upside of inequality!

    Scott

  21. Paul Mortensen on November 18, 2005 at 11:29 pm

    Julie:

    Please explain how $55k donated to Habitat for humanity benefits society more than a $55k investment that results in 28 new jobs paying a stiff wage within the next two years. That is exactly my story only the initial bank loan I took out was for $50k. I eventually sold the business and now I work for “The Man” but eventually I’ll go out on my own again (once the kids are out of the house and I can afford to work the 18 hour days again). So if neither I nor anyone else saves the next $50k then at some future time I won’t have the necessary capital to create 28 new jobs.

  22. Geoff J on November 19, 2005 at 1:44 am

    Do you *own* a home?

    Sort of… But the bank really owns it until I pay off that mortgage right?

    The other piece of this equation that is missing is the direct instructions we have from President Hinkley to get out of debt.

    So let’s say that person that is taking the $100,000/year job has a house with a $220,000 mortgage (small change in lots of places these days). Let’s say that between grad school student loans and two reliable 3 year old cars the total debt is $300,000. So taxes and whatnot take $25,000 per year. Tithing is $10,000 per year. The generous fast offering is $15,000 per year. That leaves $50,000 per year for this family with 3 kids — or about $4000/month. The problem is that the the monthly debt payment is about $2000 per month. That leave $2000 per month for life. But groceries alone cost $700-800 per month. Gasoline for both cars is $300/month after the commute. Utilities (gas and electric), phone, mobile phones (to stay safe), basic cable, water, trash pickup, clothing, HOA fees, auto repair and maintanence, life insurance, health insurance for all, auto insurance, birthday and holiday costs, medications, and the occasional date night put this family in the red every month.

    That $15,000 going toward fast offerings would sure be helpful going toward paying off the house and other debts before the full 30 years is up… Should they do it or not?

  23. John Williams on November 19, 2005 at 3:15 am

    I thought Fast Offerings cover the cost of the two meals you skip on Fast Sunday. Maybe double or triple that if you’re “generous.”

  24. Paul Mortensen on November 19, 2005 at 3:23 am

    Geoff J:

    Paying off a house is one of the biggest mistakes a young person (someone under the age of 55) can make for two reasons. First, investing all one’s capital in a single asset (the home) exposes the individual to a single kind of risk– which is monumentally unwise. While over the long run residential property is always a winner (by which I mean one will typically sell it for more than one paid– ignoring the concept of the time value of money) short term shocks can cause prices to fall and if that fall coincides with loss of employment, or sickness, or any of a number of other events then one may need to liquidate the asset (home) which affects the return on all the capital invested. The wiser path is to invest a reasonable amount in one’s home (10-20%) and to invest any surplus in a number of other asset classes including equities (stocks), vacation properties, cash/savings accounts, bonds, etc. The second reason for not investing completely in one’s home is that by doing so one passes on the opportunity to take advantage of the concept of financial leverage– when debt is used to purchase an asset. Borrowing allows an investor (homeowner) to put up a fraction of the necessary capital to purchase the asset while at the same time being able to take full advantage of the return on the total value of the asset. It would be best to explain with an example. Suppose I want to purchase a home that costs $250k and I expect home prices in the neighborhood to increase an average of 7% per anum. I have $100k worth of capital available to invest in the home. Now, let us suppose that I invest all my available capital in the home and borrow the rest. After three years (the typical lenth of stay in any residence) I would have paid about $26k in interest and the gain on my invstment would be about $56k leaving me with a net gain of $30k. That nets out to an annual return of about 8% on the $100k invested. Now suppose I decide to invest only $25k (10% of the purchase price). After three years I will have paid roughly $45k in interest and realized a net gain of $11k. That nets out to an annualized return of 12.5% which is significantly higher than the 8% return in the previous scenario. Leverage enhances the potential returns of any appreciating or undervalued asset.

    I always take issue with blanket statements declaring all debt bad because it demonstrates a failure to educate one’s self about how debt can be used for great– and I think righteous– purposes.

  25. Matt Evans on November 19, 2005 at 3:59 am

    Paul and Julie,

    There would be many circumstances in which funding an enterprise would be better than giving the money away. For example it may be better to start a fishing school, whether for- or non-profit, than to give people fish.

    The moral problem is how our resources are *consumed* — how does the fish school financier spend his dividends? If reinvested, fine. But if he pulls out the principal or dividends for consumption, he’ll have to decide who to benefit: himself or his neighbors? That is the catch. (Especially with fishing schools!) People who feel guilty about their consumption (as all of us should) usually defend their choices by pointing out the merits and necessity of what they purchase, but that’s not responsive to the moral question. The moral question is always who benefits by our efforts — ourselves or our neighbor? Of course good things can be worthwhile, but that’s not the question. The moral question is who we buy the good worthwhile things for. (Me and mine! Me and mine!)

  26. Ayn Rand on November 19, 2005 at 4:19 am

    There are many valid reasons to choose a lower salaried job over a higher one, e.g., you enjoy it more — maybe you get an extra $50,000 worth of pleasure from it — or you believe it is an especially useful occupation that increases the total utility of the world by more than the salary would suggest. Perhaps an especially talented public defender increases the net wealth of the world (or some form of utility) by $150K, even though it only pays $30K, because it helps so many needy people live better and more fulfilling lives: so taking this job for $30K might be equivalent to taking the Wall Street job for $150K and donating $120K. Or perhaps the lower paid job allows more free time to do work (with family, church, etc.) that increases world utility but pays no salary at all.

    But I think Frank is asking us to discount these issues and to take salary as a proxy for productivity — for the amount the work increases the net wealth of the world, he says.

    So the production side of the question is this: if God has given you the ability to do $100K worth of work per year (or perhaps even $1 million or $10 million) by utilizing your unique talents (e.g., writing books, designing products, managing businesses, arguing cases), should you produce less in order to avoid “elevating yourself above your fellow man” or making yourself feel “prideful”? Wouldn’t God prefer that you work in a less exciting profession — perhaps one you’re not especially good at — so that you can stay humble? If we all voluntarily reduce our output far enough, then none of us will be above average, and there will be no more cause for pride, right? (No food either, but never mind.)

    Okay, enough. You don’t have to be an objectivist to think that this is utter nonsense. You use your talents as best you can and produce as much value as you possibly can, both for your own sake and the sake and for others.

    To simplify: if you have an economy with only one product (wheat, say) and you have to choose between harvesting with an inefficient tool or an efficient one that doubles your output, would you choose the efficient tool (even if you were especially strong and using this tool made you twice as productive as everyone else) or would you self-handicap to keep yourself on par with your fellow man?

    Silly question. And I think Frank’s argument against production is a strawman argument that we’re meant to get over quickly and not take seriously. It is of course not the least bit virtuous to limit your contributions to society out of fear of “standing out.”

    The consumption side of the equation is more challenging. Every one of us will one day face the question, “Why didn’t you give more of your wealth to people who needed it much more than you and your family?” And most of us — looking the Savior in the eye and being completely honest — will not have a very satisfying answer.

    But there are a lot of “Millionaire Next Door” people out there who live very frugally, accumulate large amounts of savings during their lives, and give most of their wealth away before they die. So I wouldn’t be too quick to knock this approach. Donations from these kinds of people are the reason that many universities, hospitals, libraries, homeless shelters, etc. exist. People who give all their money away as they go — empirically — have much less impact on the problems of the world than, say, Bill Gates (a somewhat extreme example of the wealth accumulation approach…)

    Here’s how I would summarize the wise prophetic advice I’ve heard on this subject: utilize your talents and produce as much as you can (though you shouldn’t measure your contribution purely in monetary terms), be disciplined about limiting personal consumption, stay out of debt and accumulate savings, and give time and money away when you can — both during life and at the end of life –in the way that you personally believe will do the most good.

    Meanwhile, educate your children well (a very important form of investment), buy real estate, diversify your stock and bond portfolio, hold assets long term, put a ton of wheat in your basement, and stay away from actively managed mutual funds. :)

    And see The Incredibles. Terrific show.

  27. Marc Bohn on November 19, 2005 at 4:24 am

    I’m with Seth Rogers on this one. I think we all would like to believe we are the type of person who would not get caught up in his/her wealth… but few are that person. It is interesting to note that the rich young man that approached Christ in Mark 10 was seeking direction on how to obtain eternal life. He does not come across as evil or even consumed with the pursuit of wealth, in fact he appears to have tried to live a righteous life, and yet he still chooses his wealth over Christ. Many of the things we do with our money here bring us earthly praise and blessing, but salvation requires that we be willing to forsake it all if asked to do so. I think that the real message of Mark 10 is that forsaking is a hard thing to do. Brigham Young seemed to agree when he said that “The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of this Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.”

  28. Jonathan Stone on November 19, 2005 at 8:46 am

    Seth:

    You say “You can point me to rich do-gooders if you wish. But I think these guys are the exception, not the rule.

    Then you say “Furthermore, you can point to a John Huntsman and his well known donations…. [P]ublic donations will be counted as nothing in his eternal scheme…. But the point is that well known counter-examples don’t prove anything here.

    So you conclude that rich do-gooders are the exception, not the rule, in the church. But what is your reasoning for this? Apparently your only evidence is that you aren’t personally aware of very much do-gooding. But then you criticize John Huntsman’s public do-gooding because it is public, and we’re not supposed to seek public do-gooding.

    I believe that the rich in the church may very well be far more generous than many of us know. Certain charitable acts must by necessity be public (such as lending the jet to the church). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t many that are private.

    Don’t condemn wealthy saints for giving publicly, then condemn them for not giving enough publicly.

  29. Jonathan Stone on November 19, 2005 at 8:57 am

    If only God had known what a bad idea wealth was, then he might have never blessed the righteous Nephites with it.

    Everybody agrees that it is not money, but the love of money, that is evil. But a sizeable contingent on this thread seems to believe that, if in posession of money, the love of it is all but inevitable. So therefore money is evil after all.

    Can a rich man enter heaven? I would say that for the Lord, all things are possible, including helping a wealthy saint choose to bless the lives of the poor.

  30. jeraldo on November 19, 2005 at 9:42 am

    Nowt wrong with money. Jesus may have been buried in a paupers grave if it wasn’t for Joseph of Arimetha. Also the BoM says ‘seek first and all theses things will be added’. Yes we will do good with them, but donating to the poverty stricken and neglecting your own family is ridiculous. I remember some apostle/prophet??? Saying the neglect of your own family makes you worse than the infidel. For kids to feel temporally poor is almost as bad as being emotionally deprived. Relative poverty – i.e. being poorer than those around you, leads to poor self esteem and all the related social ills. Sorry I wold take the higher wage in a minute and have no bad feelings about spending it upon the poor my family and wait for it… myself – I’m still in grad school and one day I would like to able to enjoy worldly goods after a very long time stressing and sacrificing.
    I find the whole evil money thing quite absurd really. kind of reminds me of my home ward where just about everyone was poor. I don’t know how many times I heard about the evil of money and therefore we were more righteous than our more well off counterparts in other areas – the mind boggles at that logic, it was like pride arising from being poor!
    Apologies if I got a bit off subject there.

  31. Tim J. on November 19, 2005 at 10:20 am

    $15,000 in fast offerings?!!!

  32. Kevin Barney on November 19, 2005 at 10:52 am

    Note that the hypothetical was not simply $15,000 in fast offerings, but $15,000 in fast offerings *and other gifts to the poor.*

  33. Christian Y. Cardall on November 19, 2005 at 10:54 am

    Poverty matters more than inequality. A system that raises all boats, even if differentially, is preferable to equality for equality’s sake.

    Let’s face it. Equality is not a value of the heavens (c.f. the degrees of glory).

  34. Kevin Barney on November 19, 2005 at 11:05 am

    A lot of how one views consumption is relative. To what standard is one comparing? I make six figures per annum, which by any standard is a lot of money. But I live in a very modest three-bedroom ranch (the same “starter” home we bought 15 years ago), my wife does not earn an income (good Mormons we [g]), I have two children in college simultaneously, for which we are paying several tens of thousands of dollars per year on a pay-as-you-go basis, I tithe to my church and do give a generous fast offerings and donations to my universities and other charities (although nowhere close to $15,000).

    Compared to my professional peers, I live like an ascetic monk (very Nibley).

    Compared to the people in my Ward, I live very modestly.

    Compared to the people in my blue collar neighborhood (I am a white collar attorney), I live pretty much par for the course.

    Compared to the farmer in downstate Illinois (I live in a suburb of Chicago), I live like a Duke.

    Compared to most people in the world, I live like a Sultan.

    So by some standards I am living very modestly, but by others I am living very extravagantly (as I type this on my high speed cable modem internet connection).

  35. Seth Rogers on November 19, 2005 at 11:13 am

    I never said that rich do-gooders do not exist. Neither do I know what Huntsman does privately.

    It doesn’t matter.

    Are you saying there is no room for improvement in John Huntsman’s life, or anyone else’s? That seems far less likely than what I’m saying.

    I have just sat through too many Sun. School lessons where wealth is brought up. Inevitably, before anyone can even start to be a bit reflective about their own failings, someone gives the tired old maxim: “it’s the love of money, not money that is evil.”

    There’s a sigh of relief. Glad we solved that one! Now I don’t have to lose any sleep over this!

    The old maxim is just an excuse to avoid self-reflection. Nobody wants to think about how they are screwing up. But we all are screwing up. The scriptures make this pretty clear.

    It is not our lot in life to dismiss criticisms directed our way with tired homilies. Our responsibility is to assume that the criticisms are valid and seek to improve our actions. For me, the love of money excuse is simply a manifestation of prideful unwillingness to leave one’s comfort zone. It is not a useful response to life.

  36. Julie M. Smith on November 19, 2005 at 11:30 am

    Paul–

    If the creation of 28 jobs on a 50K loan were normal, you’d be right. But what is normal is for–what’s the number, Frank?–something like half of new businesses to fail in the first year. I doubt a significant percentage of the rest create 28 jobs.

    And, Paul, you’ll need to take up the disadvantages of paying off your house with the prophet, who has repeatedly talked about his own experience in paying off his house so that (paraphrasing here) whatever comes, he would have a roof over his family’s head. But, at the risk of yet another threadjack, this raises an interesting question to me in that sometimes church counsel _does_ run counter to what makes sense fiscally. Let’s say we have car loans at 4%. What should we do with ‘extra’ money? Most financial advisors would tell us to pay the minimum on our loans since the rates are so low and to invest the rest, since we are likely to make more than 4% on an investment. But the Brethren would tell us to get rid of our debt even if it meant foregoing a higher rate of return.

    Kevin, that’s an interesting breakdown. I suppose it depends on who you think your neighbor is (grin).

  37. Veritas on November 19, 2005 at 12:14 pm

    ” For me, the love of money excuse is simply a manifestation of prideful unwillingness to leave one’s comfort zone”

    Yay Seth, this is what I am always discussing with my parents, who are quite wealthy and who I personally believe do not do close to enough to help the needy. My dad is an economist, and a capitalist, and I am quite the opposite. I believe money is a necessary evil and will corrupt even the most righteous. We have fought my whole life about this mony vs. love of money issue, and for him especially, what it comes down to is he feels an intense guilt when he sees those that are in need (he refuses to go to Mexico anymore) so he avoids them all togehter. It makes him uncomfortable. Now he was never on to lust after money either, he’s been tremondously blessed in his career while still being able to devout his time to family.
    To be fair, I do not know what he does as far as FO go…but I do know in their stake are some of the wealthiest members of the church (Marriots etc) and the stake pres recently chastised the stake because their fast offering donations were not enough to help those in their stake serve missions that could not afford it. And if you go to their ward parking lot there are porsches, ferraris, hummers etc. parked outside. They could sell one of those cars and pay for about 10 missions! My parents insist these are all great members, and Im sure in most respects they are. But there is just that one little itty bitty thing about having no poor among you that they seem to forget.

    Julie, it is interesting also that my capitalist father has always said don’t listen to the worlds advice, and pay off all your debt. He has always paid off debt, including his mortgage, before anything else. Of course, he has enough to pay off loans and invest…but that was not always the case. He really ingrained that principle into us kids though, telling us that making our burden lighter was always the smartest thing financially and spirtually. He said when the day comes you lose your job or something equally devasting financially occurs, you’ll be happy that house or car or student loan is paid off and your monthly bills are reduced, and he also always said that none of the money you are making from investments is really yours (its the banks) until your debt to them is paid. Investments can fail…but your house won’t. Makes sense to me.

  38. Jeff M. on November 19, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    Response to comment #24:

    Your financial accumen is beyond reproach. However, I don’t think that quickly paying off one’s house is “one of the biggest mistakes a young person can make.” I would reserve things like adultery, murder, or bad fashion sense for that honor.

    You are correct in stating that there is a potential financial advantage in making other investments instead of paying down a low-interest mortgage. President Hinckley actually specifically mentioned this line of thinking in General Conference, Priesthood Session, November 1998:

    “President Faust would not tell you this himself. Perhaps I can tell it, and he can take it out on me afterward. He had a mortgage on his home drawing 4 percent interest. Many people would have told him he was foolish to pay off that mortgage when it carried so low a rate of interest. But the first opportunity he had to acquire some means, he and his wife determined they would pay off their mortgage. He has been free of debt since that day. That’s why he wears a smile on his face, and that’s why he whistles while he works.”

    Now, I’m not saying that he is insisting we all follow President Faust’s lead. My point is, there is wisdom in being totally debt free. Your financial plan relies partly on POTENTIAL returns. These rates of return are usually very reliable, except when they are not.

    Paying off a house quickly does not involve any potential risk. You might not gain as much, but to be truly out of debt has its advantages. Both President Hinckley and Faust have the advantage of decades of life experience (including the Depression), not to mention divine guidance.

    Response to comment # 13:

    The church teaches repeatedly to get out of debt. This is a point not covered thoroughly by scripture. No less important, though. If you read about the structure of the Perpetual Education Fund, for example, you will see that the church could do more immediate good with the allocated funds, but instead has chosen to spend only a portion of the interest earned funding loans.

    The advantage of this approach is that there is a virtual guarantee that the PEF will always be solvent and will always be able to grow. It is in no way dependent on our donations. Why shouldn’t we follow this example with our own personal finances?

    Here is a hypothetical: How would the Lord feel about hoarding your resources throughout your life, living very modestly, paying tithes and a reasonable fast offering, becoming financially independent, then retiring at age 55 and spending ALL your time in helping other directly, serving missions, and generally doing good for the last 20-30 years of your life?

  39. Paul Mortensen on November 19, 2005 at 12:41 pm

    Julie:

    What do you think those entrepreneurs are doing with the money? Flushing it down the toilet. No, they are spending the money with other businesses benefiting those business’ bottom lines and advancing economic multipliers. The fact of the matter is that the net benefit of entrepreneurship is positive to society. The nations with the lowest barriers to forming businesses (Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore, the US) have the fastest growing economies and have the highest standards of living. As stated in an earlier post a rising tide lifts all boats. Compare the state of the “poor” in the US with the poor in Latin America (with whom I have experience) and you might understand.

    For the average person under 55 there are no advantages to paying off a home. Very few people spend their entire careers in the same 25 mile radius so selling a home is a reality for the vast majority of people. The WSJ reported a few months ago that the average person will sell seven homes during their lifetime which means that seven time times an individual is exposed to downside risk in real estate. It would be ill-advised to expose the bulk of one’s savings (which would be typical for middle-class America) to a single risk profile because it fails to take advantage of higher returns in other areas or even take advantage of risk free investments like US Bonds. Regarding you car loan hypothetical, it’s not at all related to taking out a loan to purchase a home because an automobile depreciates in value– guaranteed. With an auto you’re not just paying the 4% interest but you’re also paying actual (not just book) depreciation. So any financial advisor who would recommend using all of a surplus to invest in other instruments over paying down the auto loan (at least in part) would be promoting irresponsible and irrational behavior.

    One of the few disadvantages to having a gerontocracy as the leadership of the church is that they tend to fall behind the times in all social areas– even ones in which they ought to remain current like economics. When’s the last time Pres. Hinkley, or any of the GAs, had to think about selling a home, changing careers, accepting a promotion, etc. Our society is much more mobile today than it was fifty years ago when Hinkley became an apostle.

  40. El Jefe on November 19, 2005 at 3:09 pm

    I have to laugh at the intellectual arrogance in thinking that President Hinckley and his advisors have “fallen behind the times”! LOL! You sound like a teenager. As Mark Twain said: “When I was eighteen I thought my father was the stupidest man on earth, When I came back from college four years later, I was surprised at how much he had learned in the meantime.”

    A couple of comments. First, I recently found out (by total happenstance) that in a ward where I lived more than a decade ago, an individual contributed more than $10,000 a month to fast offerings. No one knew about it (other than the bishop and the stake president).

    Second…did you ever wonder why, in the parable of the talents, the Lord took the talent from the one who had buried it, and gave it to the one who had the most? It looks like the Lord was more interested in wise administration than in leveling income.

  41. Slam Smith on November 19, 2005 at 3:47 pm

    I believe that the base assumption here is totally incorrect, that charity relieves poverty. My experience seems to indicate that the opposite is the case, that charity fosters poverty. I have observed many people getting their handout every month, and things just never get better. In fact, I really believe a better term for this is “enabling”. I’ve seen many enablers in my life, and on occasion I’ve been the enabler. And it’s taught me one thing, the one thing that truly relieves poverty is “industry”. The old sweat of the brow thing. I’ve seen people get their head screwed on straight, get a job, and it makes an amazing change in their life.

    Let’s take Jack Welch. A guy everyone likes to hate, and obviously Jack Welch isn’t an angel, and compare him to Mother Theresa. Who really has done more for eliminating poverty, the industrialist who has grown the economy or the humanitarian who has distributed the products of the industrialist.

    All that said, take the job that gives you the most happiness in life. Don’t feel guilty for making good money by your own industry. By doing so you grow the economy, and it the end “a rising tide lifts all boats”.

  42. Tatiana on November 19, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    We’re all wealthy here in the USA. Even if we are poor in dollars, we’re rich in education, access to books and information, to clean potable water, electricity, roads, indoor plumbing, etc. The danger comes, I think, in somehow believing those things are more than just luck and gifts. If we worked hard in graduate school that’s great, but we likely had parents who knew the value of learning, exposed us to books, sent us to decent schools, and we had the collosal luck to be born in the place and time we were. If we’re intelligent, strong, and capable, that’s great, but we could have a stroke tomorrow and forget our own name.

    To me there’s more than giving involved. The real question is when we see a panhandler on the street do we realize it could be us? Do we treat him with respect and even the awe that we’d feel if we really knew the full extent of the experiences he has survived? When we see children being killed in Darfur or starving in Ethiopia, are they our family? Is that a situation that stirs us to action? And closer to home, when we help those who are struggling in our wards, do we think of it as a chore or a great opportunity? Are those of us with a 4.0 in Life’s Graduate School still cognizant of how much there is we can learn from any given individual who may happen to be struggling to make Cs in Life 101? Or do we dismiss them from our minds and hearts, and think of them as somehow less than us?

    I think the real problem is the social hierarchy that naturally springs up in any group of fallen humans (or any other mammals, for that matter). Those with advantages of beauty, money, education, youth, or even strength in the gospel, are placed by circumstances above those without. This is true on every scale, global, local, and in our wards. But we must never feel ourselves to be above others due to our own qualities or abilities. There’s no room for the cool and uncool people, the in crowd and the weirdos, among God’s people. We’re all eternal beings with divine natures. God does not recognize or accept any of our social hierarchies.

    So I say we should go ahead and earn six figures, if we can. It’s a good thing to do. But we should never forget that we’re as weak, fragile, and vulnerable to disaster as any other creature on earth. We’re all one family.

  43. Russell Arben Fox on November 19, 2005 at 4:40 pm

    Christian (#33);

    “Let’s face it. Equality is not a value of the heavens.”

    If, by this, you mean simply that “not everyone will end up having the exact same relationship with God at the final judgment,” I agree. But I also have no idea how such an observation is remotely pertinent to this discussion. If, however, you meant something broader–something like, “equality is not state either valued by or of interest to those who truly seek to live in accordance with the heavenly order of things”–then obviously your observation is pertinent. But it is, I think, also totally, spectacularly, and ridiculously wrong. (See, for example, Acts 2: 44-45; 2 Corinthians 8:14; 4 Nephi 1:3; D&C 49:20, 70:14, 78:6; and many more. Or just listen to Brigham Young, who put it simply: “The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until inequality shall cease on the earth”–Brigham Young, JD 19:47.)

  44. Ivan Wolfe on November 19, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    Jeff M. #38:
    Here is a hypothetical: How would the Lord feel about hoarding your resources throughout your life, living very modestly, paying tithes and a reasonable fast offering, becoming financially independent, then retiring at age 55 and spending ALL your time in helping other directly, serving missions, and generally doing good for the last 20-30 years of your life?

    Though not exact, I think Luke 12: 16-21 answers that pretty well – if we wait till the end of our lives to help others, our lives may end before we get around to helping others.

    In general to this thread -

    well, I know a church leader who has become rather rich by hiring poor people and single moms and by skillful uses of contracts, getting away with paying them less than minimum wage. One single mother I knew (her husband up and left her through no fault of her own, after they had had seven or so kids) was forced to work 60+ hours a week by him (nearly all of her kids have since left the church as far as I know). Yet he talks about his compassion because he gives jobs to these “poor people.” Meanwhile, He’s a millionaire, and this single mother barely makes rent. (I could go on – I know of a Stake President who used contacts gotten through his calling to underbid a poor member who luckily had gotten a loan to start a small business, forcing that member to declare banckruptcy. But since “the market will bear” than it’s apparently okay. And don’t get me started on the excessive rent charged students in Provo).

    Often, giving rich people more money (through investments, etc.) just allows them to make more money off the poor by exploiting them even more.

  45. Matt Bowman on November 19, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    “I believe that the base assumption here is totally incorrect, that charity relieves poverty. My experience seems to indicate that the opposite is the case, that charity fosters poverty.”

    Setting aside whether or not this is true, I believe that relief of poverty is only one among many reasons that we are encouraged to give to charity. Changing our own hearts, developing humility and Christlike love for others are two.

  46. Matt Evans on November 19, 2005 at 6:48 pm

    Of course charity relieves poverty, even if charity doesn’t end poverty. That’s a critical distinction. If you give a man a fish he has one more fish than he would otherwise, and some people can’t learn to fish. There have always been and always will be people who need us to give them fish. Or to say the same thing another way, a rising tide can’t lift boats with irreparable holes.

    Seth,

    The next time someone in Sunday School tries to excuse their consumption by saying that it’s not the money but the love of money that’s sinful, respond with Mormon 8:37-39. Moroni says we can know if we love money by how we use it. If we use it for “that which hath no life,” on things like houses and clothes, rather than on the hungry and needy, we can know we love money and houses and clothes more than we love our hungry and needy neighbors. That should keep the conversation going!

  47. Rich Guy on November 19, 2005 at 9:22 pm

    I am rich. There, I said it. My net worth is several million dollars–the exact amount is irrelevant for the purpose of this discussion. These issues are not just theoretical for me. They are real.

    I live much more modestly than I can afford, but I still live in a larger house than I need, drive a more expensive car than I need, and take more expensive vacations than most. When I think about this issue, and I do think about it a lot, here are some of the somewhat disjointed thoughts that go through my mind.

    1. Frank’s point about equality is well taken. There certainly are scriptures that suggest that inequality is sinful. I don’t deny that they are there, but I am not sure I believe them. Or maybe I am not sure how to interpret them. I don’t know which it is. However, I just don’t believe that anything less than perfect equality is sinful. That is largely because once we have a certain amount of material goods, more does not bring more happiness.

    2. I see virtually no examples within the church of people who take seriously the law of consecration. On the one hand, it does not seem to be morally justifiable for any of us to have more than sufficient for our needs, while any of our brothers and sisters anywhere in the world are deprived of the necessities of life. I have been relatively generous, but I still could do much, much more. I still hope to do much more in the future, but I struggle a lot with my conscience and I am not certain what I should do.

    Having said that, I do not know of anybody who has reduced their own standard of living to a subsistence level in order to give to those in need. I have some friends who hold very high positions in the church who are quite wealthy. They seem to sleep well at night. I am wealthier than most members, but the large majority of members live lives of luxury compared to their brothers and sisters in many other countries. So either we are all hypocrites (including, as far as I can tell, all of the general authorities), or there is something that I don’t understand. I genuinely struggle with this question. Brigham Young, as quoted above, talked the talk about the need for equality, but he didn’t walk the walk. He lived in far better circumstances (at least in his later life in Utah) than most of the Saints. And he is by no means the exception.

    3. Why does the Book of Mormon seem so obsessed with the notion that God prospers the righteous? I see no evidence in our world today that he does, and I don’t know why he would ever do such a thing. What am I missing here?

    4. I have noticed that being wealthy buys me unwarranted respect within the church. Church members and leaders treat me as if I am much wiser than I am. I notice it in many subtle ways, and it troubles me.

    5. Warren Buffet once said that many people told him 25 years ago that he had so much money then, that he should give it all away to charity and he was selfish not to do so. He responds by saying that if he had done that, he could have given away a couple of billion or so (I don’t remember the exact numbers and it doesn’t matter.) Now, when he dies, all of his $40 billion or so (except a few million for his kids) will go charity. As a result, the charities he will support are much better off because he did not give his money way sooner. I think he is right.

  48. Jonathan Stone on November 19, 2005 at 9:50 pm

    These are my takeaways from this discussion:

    - “Rich” is defined as “someone who makes more money than me”, not “someone who makes more money than the average Indian.”
    - I don’t see most rich people giving to the poor, so they must not be doing enough. They’re going to hell.
    - The few rich people that I do see giving to the poor already have their reward. They’re going to hell too.
    - I’m not going to hell because I have to save my salary for my family obligations, and those are important!
    - Investing my money helps the poor more than giving my money to them.
    - Spending my money on cars and clothes helps the poor more then giving my money to them, since they work for it.
    - Therefore, hoarding all my money and spending tons of it on extravagant purchases for myself is really the best way to help the poor after all! We all win!
    - We should try to avoid producing a lot since God doesn’t like inequality.
    - The “money” vs. “love of money” distinction is bogus. Clearly everyone who has money loves it. Otherwise, why would they have it?
    - Church leadership should get with the times and recommend to the entire church that we use debt to leverage high-return investments. Clearly many lives are being ruined because people are paying down their mortgages too quickly. If only people used debt more, the membership would be happier.

  49. Julie M. Smith on November 19, 2005 at 9:58 pm

    The contrast between #38 and #39 is fascinating to me. (Thanks, Jeff, for that quote–it was what I was thinking about but couldn’t place.)

    Paul, I’m more than happy to run the risk that the prophet is out of date financially because I know he isn’t out of date spiritually. We will continue to pay down the mortgage on our home more quickly than we need to and let the chips fall where they may.

  50. Jonathan Stone on November 19, 2005 at 10:05 pm

    Paul (comment #24),

    You made a few errors in your economic argument.

    First, regarding risk: Using your surplus capital to invest instead of pay down your loan actually increases your risk exposure. By buying the house, you are exposed to the whole risk of a decline in value, no matter how much or how little your equity is. Therefore, choosing whether or not to put your money into your house or another investment has no bearing on your true risk exposure with regard to your house.

    The question is, what is higher risk: paying down your mortgage, or investing in T-bills or stocks? T-bills are effectively risk free, but so is your mortgage, since paying off debt at 5% is identical to investing risk-free at 5%. Stocks are clearly riskier.

    Investing surplus capital into the stock market instead of your house does increase your expected return, but it also increases your risk exposure. You talked about the principle of using financial leverage to increase your expected return, but you forgot that financial leverage also increases riskiness.

    You made the mistake of using the principle of risk reduction through diversification and applying that to a mortgage. Keep in mind that by paying down a mortgage, you are not investing in real estate, you are investing in debt reduction, which is already risk free. There is no risk to diversify away.

    Church leadership counsels in favor of debt reduction precisely for this reason. Families are ruined because they can’t pay their debts. I doubt any are ruined because they only got a 5% return paying off their mortgage when they could have had 10% in the stock market. While paying off debt may decrease your return, it decreases your risk.

  51. Christian Y. Cardall on November 19, 2005 at 10:41 pm

    Russell (#43): It has been my privilege numerous times over the course of my life to be “totally, spectacularly, and ridiculously wrong.” This might be one of those times, but I’m not yet sure, and for the moment I’ll dig in my heels. My response was longer than I like comments to be, so I made it a separate post.

  52. Ivan Wolfe on November 19, 2005 at 10:50 pm

    It has been my privilege numerous times over the course of my life to be “totally, spectacularly, and ridiculously wrong.�

    I can say the same thing. Seems to be going around. ;-)

    Of course, I usually don’t realize how wrong until years after the fact, at which point it would be almost pointless to track down those involved and say “sorry. You WERE right.”

    now, back to the thread at hand.

  53. scott on November 19, 2005 at 11:10 pm

    “I believe that the base assumption here is totally incorrect, that charity relieves poverty. My experience seems to indicate that the opposite is the case, that charity fosters poverty.�

    Very important point. Some charity does more harm than good. Some charity does only marginally more good than harm. Giving to panhandlers, for example, may in general be a pretty inefficient use of money. Some charities are downright fraudulent and destructive; others are well-intentioned but nonetheless wasteful, redundant, ineffective. Finding efficient ways to do good is not entirely trivial.

    On the other hand, IT’S ALSO NOT THAT HARD. There are so many causes one could give time and money to (hospitals, food banks, disaster recovery units, universities, malaria research institutions, orphanages, national parks, churches, your unemployed brother, etc.), that if (after weeks of research) you can’t find even one that you can support without ambivalence, you’re probably not really trying.

    “I didn’t want to be an enabler, so I turned down the panhandler and instead used the money to buy vaccinations for children in third world countries,” somehow sounds better than “I didn’t want to be enabler, so I turned down the panhandler and bought myself a boat,” even though both the boat and vaccine purchases stimulate the ecomony. Somehow easier to reconcile with New Testament sermons and King Benjamin’s address.

  54. Stephen M (Ethesis) on November 20, 2005 at 12:02 am

    Well, are we helping people move with the Elders Quorum or going on the Church trips to help clean up after tornadoes in Oklahoma or FEMA in Louisiana?

    At the end of the day, does the lord of the vineyard pay us each our penny and upbraid those who complain that the payment is equal?

  55. Jeff M. on November 20, 2005 at 12:06 am

    “I believe that the base assumption here is totally incorrect, that charity relieves poverty. My experience seems to indicate that the opposite is the case, that charity fosters poverty.�

    One’s obligation when it comes to “charity” does not begin and end with a certain dollar amount given. I believe the Lord expects us to be wise stewards with our resources. This entails seeking out high-yield venues for charitable contributions.

    I hate to sound like a broken record, but I believe the PEF is a perfect example of true charity. It is not a handout, and it is not a temporary fix. Instead, it is a loan which enables a paradigm shift in a person’s income potential. Furthermore, eligibility requires yielding one’s financial habits to scrutiny and counsel. Many applicants find they don’t actually even need a loan.

    My own personal concerns with some handouts, for example with FO from the church, is that although only certain “essential” bills can be paid with the FO money, there is often no requirement to curb spending on unnecessary items. So, $500 given to cover rent frees up $500 dollars to be overspent on a cell phone, a long distance bill, fast food, a big screen tv payment, etc. Meanwhile, a poor family in Nigeria works 12 hours a day for about $1/day and wishes they could get a $500 loan for tuition for a trade school in order to quintuple their income.

    Some might consider it rude or inappropriate for a bishop to demand certain lifestyle changes in order to receive long-term help from the church. I would argue that it is self-defeating not to require some accountability. The sense of entitlement we enjoy in the US is really sickening when compared to how so many others live.

    Bottom line, we must see to it that our charitable offerings actually do lasting good. We each must set our own cirteria and see that they are met.

  56. ed on November 20, 2005 at 12:07 am

    First, Jonathan Stone (49) is right in his correction of Paul.

    There is one caveat, though: you shouldn’t pay any extra into your mortgage until you have accumulated some cash in the bank for a rainy day (at least a few months salary). Then if you lose your job or something, you can still live on the cash without having to miss house payments or face expensive refinancing or even forclosure. I’d argue that “paying off debt” in such a circumstance would be foolish and irresponsible. I don’t think that Pres. Hinckley would disagree, (and if he did he’d be wrong).

    The most important thing is to follow the spirit of the law, which is don’t spend beyond your means and don’t risk your family’s financial security unecessarily. It matters much less whether you have a dollar in debt and a dollar in the bank, vs. no debt and no dollars in the bank…either way your net wealth is zero. The problem is not so much with people who don’t pay off their mortgage promply, it’s with people who get in over their heads with too big a mortgage and/or fail to save for a rainy day. And for people who lack the self control to save, paying off debt might indeed be a great self-control device.

  57. Erica Merrell on November 20, 2005 at 12:13 am

    This has been an interesting thread to read from a perspective of living as a foreigner nin Central Asia. While our grant is closer to the lower end salary of this little game, we have far more money than almost anyone in this country. However, it would be impossible for us to live here on an average local salary; our monthly student loan payments are more than the average annual salary.

    So what’s an LDS family to do? There’s no one right way for anyone to deal with this, but we’re satisfied with the way we’ve chosen to handle this. I’m sure many here would do things differently, either giving more or giving less, and I’m sure some would criticize our choices.

    I don’t feel guilty that I have more money than almost everyone living around me just as most Westerners don’t feel guilty that almost everyone else in the rest of the world has much less money than we do. Instead, I’m glad that I am here, that I do have enough money that I don’t have to spend my time washing my clothes in the bathtub and selling gum on the street corner, and that I can choose to give service instead of just sending money.

  58. Slam Smith on November 20, 2005 at 1:20 am

    I suppose I ought to offer a little additional explanation of what I mean. I realize that some poeple are in a situation in which they can’t provide for themselves. I currently have a family member in this situation, and I help him both financially and with my time. But this really tends to be the exception. I really like Jeff’s(#54) comment. I feel that the PEF is one of the best philanthropic initiatives the church has. It isn’t a handout as much as it is an investment.

    I just believe there isn’t any reason to feel guilty for make a good living. Indeed I feel just the opposite, by making a good living and providing well for your family, you truly are more of a help to ending (not relieving thanks Matt) poverty, by helping to provide opportunity.

    I’m very careful in targeting my funds for charity, I vastly prefer my charity to take the form of an investment rather than a handout. In my opinion, some forms of charity really make things worse.

  59. gst on November 20, 2005 at 2:36 am

    Slam, that’s why I give to the Human Fund. In fact, I just donated $500 in your name.

  60. Weston C on November 20, 2005 at 4:50 am

    ““I believe that the base assumption here is totally incorrect, that charity relieves poverty. My experience seems to indicate that the opposite is the case, that charity fosters poverty.â€?

    Saying that charity fosters poverty is very much like saying capital exploits the industry of labor: there’s always a variety of cases where this is demonstrably the consequence, but it’s not clear that either charity or capitalism are the causes.

    Failure of character occurs in/after both kinds of exchanges. Good stewardship means realizing that and working to minimize it where one can.

  61. Frank McIntyre on November 20, 2005 at 9:24 am

    Thanks for all the wonderful comments. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to respond to all of them (or, you know, any of them).

    I think this point is pretty well covered, but let me add my voice that investment (or savings) is a fine way to use some (or, in the early days, much) of one’s money, but basically it just defers the question of consumption vs. charity until one pulls it out and does something with it. On the other hand, when you do pull it out, you have more to give (or consume) because that money has been productive. Arguments that one should consume or invest as a way to create jobs are, on average, wrong. You can, as has been noted, do just the same consumption by giving the money to the poor and having them consume. I see nothing wrong with getting a house and paying it off. Since real estate prices tend to move together and since one typically always needs a place to live, they are not nearly as risky to own as they first appear, because the income risk of real estate is largely cancelling out consumption risk of needing a place to live.

    As for how to give, I favor Fast Offerings, Humanitarian Aid, and the PEF. I don’t think the PEF is a panacea, but it is a reasonably well thought out program. Also, charitable giving is a lot like having children. How much we give is a personal, yet very important decision. It is. like temple attendance, one of the ways we worship outside any specific mandates or clear expectations. And since it relies upon us being unselfish, I would guess that on average members don’t give enough because we tend to be selfish like the rest of humanity. And I’m quite sure I’d take the 100K.

  62. doug on November 20, 2005 at 9:58 am

    Awesome thread, which is prompting me to comment on T&S for the only second or third time ever…

    Seth said:

    “it’s the love of money, not money that is evil.�

    The old maxim is just an excuse to avoid self-reflection. Nobody wants to think about how they are screwing up. But we all are screwing up. The scriptures make this pretty clear.

    and then Veritas added (regarding his parents):

    I do know in their stake are some of the wealthiest members of the church (Marriots etc) and the stake pres recently chastised the stake because their fast offering donations were not enough to help those in their stake serve missions that could not afford it. And if you go to their ward parking lot there are porsches, ferraris, hummers etc. parked outside. They could sell one of those cars and pay for about 10 missions!

    Indeed.

    I’m a student at BYU, but my family moved into the Washington, DC Stake more than twenty years ago. Since then, after stake reorganizations, etc, they’re not in the stake anymore, but a lot of my good friends are from the DC Stake. Having grown up around such incredible wealth, I would have to say that Seth is right on when he says “we all are screwing up.”

    Two quick examples:

    Bill Marriot puts The Book of Mormon in his hotel rooms, he is an absolutely stellar ambassador for the Church in the community (local, national, and global), and he donates millions of dollars each year to the Church and other charities…Bill Marriott also has a sports car collection that would make Saudi Arabian princes jealous, he blows more money annually on extravagant luxuries than most people make each year, and he has homes that could shelter an entire Mexican village.

    And Bill Marriott is one of the more generous members in the area (to wit, if all members were as generous as Marriott then the stake president certainly wouldn’t be calling people to repentance re: fast offerings, mission funds, etc).

    One of the things that has motivated me to donate (generously?) to fast offerings, PEF, etc. is the absolutely horrible example that I saw growing up from wealthy members of the church. Another is the exposure to horrific poverty during my mission in Latin America, and my two subsequent visits/internships to different parts of the region.

    Yet here I am, using a broadband internet connection, on my computer that I spent more than necessary on. After getting home last night I was listening to some music on my paid music service, Rhapsody. Right now I’m planning my day, during which I will drive the car my parents paid for. Which reminds me, my brother was going to call me…I still need to check my cell phone for messages.

    Like Seth said…”we all are screwing up.”

    Now, I’m not advocating an ascetic lifestyle (even folks in 3rd world countries find the time and/or money to spend on recreation), but I think that Hugh Nibley’s writings on the topic are closer to the truth than any of us want to admit. We’ve got a long way to go, which hopefully helps motivate us to do more for others and less for ourselves.

  63. Ivan Wolfe on November 20, 2005 at 12:22 pm

    I think too many members see capitalism as a good in and of itself. I think a lot of problems could be solved if we realized capitalism is NOT the best economic system on the earth now, but instead the “least evil” one (since communism/socialism are evil, and the law of consecration is being practiced nowhere).

    I used to be a big proponent of capitalism, until I went on my mission (here in the states) and saw how many of the Lao refugees who came here in the 1970s were still being exploited and how people were becoming rich by taking advantage of a largely powerless demographic (by forcing them to work overtime with no pay, refusing workman’s comp, etc.)

    Of course, there are no real solutions to these problems. The market will always bear some exploitation, and the alternatives to capitalism are always worse.

    I also read Nibley’s Approaching Zion and was convinced wealth is incompatible with the gospel.

    And I’d still take tho 100,000 job. And likely burn in hell because of it.

  64. Tatiana on November 20, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    I, too, would take the 100,000 job. No question. But I want to ask the bloggernacle what they think about the high cost of poverty in the U.S. Paycheck loans offering exhorbitant interest rates, rent-to-buy furniture at many times the cost of that bought with cash, low-end used cars for sale at per-mile prices that dwarf those of a new Honda, very high late fees and penalties for missed payments, all these things and more mean the price the poor pay for the same goods and services is far higher than wealthier people pay. How can that be fair? Is that what Heavenly Father wants our society to be like?

    On the one hand, the businesses that serve the poor can cite higher operating costs, more defaults, etc, to justify their higher charges. On the other hand there are a lot of people who run those businesses getting rich off the misfortunes of others. Should the saints be doing something to change this? Do you consider it ethical to own such a business?

  65. Tatiana on November 20, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    Scientific American this month (December 2005) has a great article about the high health costs of being poor, as well. The risks are much more than disparities in access to health care or lifestyle differences can account for. The poor have a much lower life expectancy and as much as twice the risk of the wealthy for many major diseases, even when other factors like differences in the quality of health care and differential rates of smoking or exercise are taken into account. The reasons why are not at all clear.

  66. Seth Rogers on November 20, 2005 at 4:33 pm

    I don’t mind the idea of people raking in 6 figures (or even 7). I just want them to remain healthily uncomfortable with their good fortune. #47 is just the sort of self-reflection I wish we were willing to engage in more often both privately and in Sunday School. It’s when we are no longer bothered by our own disproportionate share of good fortune that we are on the easy road to hell.

    Veritas,
    Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I’d be careful about bagging on your dad too much, seeing as he isn’t here to defend himself.

  67. Seth Rogers on November 20, 2005 at 4:42 pm

    Tatiana,

    My experience is that most Americans have very little sympathy for what they see as pure stupidity. “Buyer Beware” still holds a lot of weight around these parts. If you were dumb enough to sign a loan with 40% interest rate and $500 in hidden fees, that’s your tough luck.

    I don’t know. For me, how one regards “the stupid people” is often a good barometer of your own degree of Christian charity.

  68. Mark Simmons on November 20, 2005 at 4:51 pm

    The best analysis and debate on this topic can be found here: http://www.comedycentral.com/sitewide/media_player/play.jhtml?itemId=24678

  69. Kelly Knight on November 20, 2005 at 5:48 pm

    I don’t understand- Tithing on $50,000 is $5,000, leaving $45,000. But tithing on $100,000 is $15,000? New math? I thought tithing was 10 percent, regardless.

    Anyway, my thought is that while I could live on the $45,000, and have for many years, I still owe it to my children to provide for them a better life. Likewise, to put away for the future through savings so that I am not dependent on my children, family, or the Church would be wise. Additionally, if I am to serve a full-time mission with my wife when I am old, that extra money would certainly be useful.

    Your premise would state that the J W Marriotts and Jon Huntsman’s of the world should give up their millions and billions respectively, and live like the rest of us. I suspect they offer their fair share to the Lord, and with the rest do an awful lot of good amoung charities and causes of choice, including the employment of others.

  70. Ivan Wolfe on November 20, 2005 at 8:11 pm

    Your premise would state that the J W Marriotts and Jon Huntsman’s of the world should give up their millions and billions respectively, and live like the rest of us.

    Pretty much. Isnt’ that what Christ required of the rich young man? Or what Jacob in the BoM said those who recieve riches would do? Give them up to feed the poor, etc.?

    I suspect they offer their fair share to the Lord, and with the rest do an awful lot of good amoung charities and causes of choice, including the employment of others.

    I suspect so to. But often, just employment is not all its cracked up to be. I recall reading an article in Utah County magazine about the lady who owns NuSkin. She offered up as an example of her charity towards the poor an anecdote where she discovered one of her hispanic maids needed some extra money for her family, so she arranged for some more overtime work for her maid (thus requireing her maid to spend more time away from her family).

    And considering some of the shady but legal things I’ve seen the Mariott hotels company do, I have to wonder if all that wealth is really worth it in the end. I’ve also seem many Mariott hotels, etc. and the very existence of many of them does more to exacerbate the divide between rich and poor. Yes – it employs some people, but it excludes and hurts more people than it helps.

    Of course, I really like Wal-Mart, and do not hold with those who find it evil. But then, from what I know (which may be wrong), Sam-Walton drove a beat-up pickup truck to work and wore workaday clothes most of the time. But in either case, Wal-Mart pays above minimum wage, hires lots of people (employment always goes up when a Wal-Mart moves into town) and sells products for dirt cheap, making them accessible to the poor. Mariott is built on making products the poot can never use and the rich can use in order to intensify the difference between themselves and the lower classes – one of the many modern day analouges to “fine twinned linen” IMHO.

    But then again, I may be wrong on this all. But I have a hard time seeing overt displays of riches as healthy or good after reading the Book of Mormon. Riches are only good in the BoM when everyone is rich, or no one can tell who is rich and who isn’t.

  71. Ivan Wolfe on November 20, 2005 at 8:42 pm

    Although I should probably add I really don’t condemn Marriott or Covey or whoever, since not being God I really don’t know enough about any specific situation to be able to make a truly righteous judgment. But I’m afraid some of my comments might be seen that way, so I want to avoid that: I am in no way trying to judge any specific rich member of the church – but I do want to condemn riches in general.

    In a more general sense, I see little compatibility between the gospel and extravagant wealth. Can a good member of the church be wealthy? Yes, I can envision circumstances where it might happen. I would also guess those members of the church (wealthy but also righteous with their wealth) – well, no one will know who they were until after this life, since you wouldn’t be able to tell who they were in this life.

    But I also have too many of my own sins to worry about and correct to wonder whether Marriott, et al are righteous or not. I’ll leave that to them and God.

  72. El Jefe on November 20, 2005 at 9:25 pm

    Of course, Ivan, you hedged your bets with the Lord by adding in that last disclaimer, after you had trashed the Marriotts, the Huntsmans, and even the lady who is an owner of NuSkin. Perish the thought that you might be judgmental.

    “But Brutus says that Caesar is ambitious,
    And Brutus is an honorable man.”

  73. Ivan Wolfe on November 20, 2005 at 9:35 pm

    El Jefe -

    well, you know. We do what we can. I could only think of specific incidents that made me suspicous. But then, that’s all we really have to deal with – specific instances and people. I have yet to meet a general person.

    But I felt I had to hedge my bets, since I felt like my post came out a lot more judgemental than I originally intended it to be. But then, that’s how I feel, so perhaps I shouldn’t have posted my disclaimer.

    So, in the end, this is an issue where no ones mind will get changed in the short term. All we have are charges and counter charges apparently.

  74. Kelly Knight on November 20, 2005 at 9:37 pm

    When the Washington, DC Temple was announced, it is reported that Brother Marriot Sr went to the Stake President’s office and offered a rather sizable contribution (if I remember correctly it was in the $1 million range) toward cost of construction. Reportedly, the stake president thanked him, but did not accept the full contribution stating that the members of the stake needed an equal opportunity to step up to the plate and make a sacrifice.

    Elder Huntsman (now emeritus) put aside somewhere in the range of $50 million for the study of a cure for breast cancer. If this is not a worthy cause…

    Here in Phoenix we have Ira Fulton, founder of Fulton Homes. Recently, BYU was the beneficiary of a $50 million grant to the engineering department, as was ASU. Not long ago, an endowment for music was created in the name of Sister Fulton. On the other hand, I have a personal friend that worked for Ira and held to the idea that he should stop giving so much money to the Church and pay his employees more.

    Money is not the root of evil, but the love of money. I also believe that the despising of money is evil. Those who look at the rich as evil because they are rich, are no less guilty of sin than those who have money and do nothing good with it. Whether is comes of envy, jealousy, spite, etc., it cankers the soul to hold feelings of ill will toward anyone, including the rich.

    I am poor, but thank God for the rich. My employer is personally worth $1.5 billion. Thank heavens, because that means he has money with which to give me employment. My wife works for the same individual, as do 7,000 persons across the country. Does he need this much money? Probably not. But he worked hard for it, and because of agency, has the right to choose how he will spend it. I do not envy him his riches, but hope that some day, if I work smart, and finsih my education, I can increase my own personal wealth, and give freely as I will.

    Lastly, it is interesting the view each of us takes toward others. Some here see Marriott as evil, while others see all of the good that comes from the moneys so freely given, even if it is not all they have. Perhaps we each need to examine our inner soul and seek for understanding of why we feel the way we feel. Then, if need be, change our hearts.

    Elder Dunn, for what it is worth, once quoted the following: “It is only the view from where we sit that makes us fear defeat. Life is full of many isles, so why not change our seat?” Possibly, those seeing the Marriotts, Huntsmans, Fultons, and others as evil are half-empty’ers, seeing only the bad that comes from money. Others are half-full’ers, seeing the good.

  75. Ivan Wolfe on November 20, 2005 at 9:44 pm

    Kelly -

    but then, the question is: Why do the scriptures only seem to see the bad?

    And the glass is still what it is – if you see only the good, you overlook the bad.

    I also realize there need to be people with the capital to start businesses and hire others. But I might wonder – does your employer use all that money solely to help others get employment? Or does some of it go to selfish ends? Is the employment always “above board” or are their people at the bottom rung of society (like the Laos I served on my mission) who are exploited so those at the top can have more money to hand to each other and their buddies.

    A more realistic view is needed. Unfortunately, I apparently don’t have it. I’ve seen too much poverty that made others rich, and seen too many rich people waste money on themselves. Plus, I’ve read the scriptures and haven’t found anything that approves the lifestyles of the rich in today’s society.

    But, I think I’ll bow out of this discussion, since I’m too emotionally worked up over this. I think I’ll sit down and read some Nibley.

  76. Frank McIntyre on November 20, 2005 at 9:58 pm

    I would hesitate to start making determinations of what counts as exploitation and what does not. If a person is being paid the value of their labor, then it is presumptious to claim they are being exploited. Are they being paid the value of their labor? One is probably not often in a position to tell.

    Kelly,

    I am not talking about tithing, but about other gifts. Nor am I offering any “premise” that presupposes that Marriotts should give all their wealth. I am not asking what others should do, but what you believe you should do.

    Ivan,

    I much prefer the parts where you talked about yourself and your relation to money over the parts where you ruminate about what other people should do with their money. :)

  77. Julie M. Smith on November 20, 2005 at 10:12 pm

    “If a person is being paid the value of their labor, then it is presumptious to claim they are being exploited.”

    Can you clarify this? If I were to open a factory in another country and pay 50 cents per day because I could get away with it, are you saying I am not exploiting them? How is that not oppressing the hireling in his wages (see Mal. 3:5 and 3 Ne 24)?

  78. Ty Mackey on November 20, 2005 at 10:16 pm

    Anyone who makes more money than me is prideful, arrogant, and puffed up. Anyone who makes less money than me is lazy, indolent, and doesn’t care about his family enough to provide the basics.

  79. Tim J. on November 20, 2005 at 10:29 pm

    “I recall reading an article in Utah County magazine about the lady who owns NuSkin. She offered up as an example of her charity towards the poor an anecdote where she discovered one of her hispanic maids needed some extra money for her family, so she arranged for some more overtime work for her maid (thus requireing her maid to spend more time away from her family).”

    The NuSkin lady has started The Rose Education Foundation (http://www.roseeducation.org/), which has built schools for the poor in Guatemala. I know because I served my mission there and saw first hand the impact these schools had on the community. It was huge.

    I don’t understand what she did wrong with the maid. Was she just supposed to giver her what she needed without her working for it?

    On a side note, the NuSkin lady is CRAZY. My bro-in-law worked for her with her foundation and ended up leaving because he just couldn’t take it anymore.

    About charity being an enabler, there is some truth to this. Why does there exist a rule that Missionaries are forbidden to give money to the poor people in their missions–even to members? It’s because they don’t want to condition the members to rely on the missionaries to provide for them. That being said, I went home right before Christmas, and instead of buying souvenirs and gifts, I left the equivalent of $100 to a single mother of two who had nothing and weren’t going to have much Christmas at all.

  80. Ivan Wolfe on November 20, 2005 at 10:48 pm

    Frank -

    I much prefer the parts where you talked about yourself and your relation to money over the parts where you ruminate about what other people should do with their money

    Looking bacl over my comments, so do I. I regret a few of my harsher comments above. Sometimes I wish there was an “edit” function.

    Oh, well. My foolishness can be on display for all to see and to keep me humble.

  81. Ivan Wolfe on November 20, 2005 at 10:56 pm

    (although in response to Tim J. – I can’t see how a small pay raise [if the maid was a good servant and did her job well] would have been wrong, whereas overtime work makes the maid spend more time away from her family. But, I need to stop talking about this. As Frank said, I’m not at my best speculating how others should spend their money.)

    Okay, now I’m done. (yeah, right).

  82. Frank McIntyre on November 20, 2005 at 11:07 pm

    Julie,

    I’ll write something up on this some time, but it is probably worth keeping in mind that 50 cents an hour is way more than the market wage of people in Christ’s time. Thus it cannot be that He is saying there is some absolute wage below which one cannot pay. If someone does 50 cents of work for me, then 50 cents is the right amount to pay. Like I said, this deserves its own post, and there are issues like monopolistic employers and so forth to think of. I think oppressing a hireling has to reference some sort of non-competitive market outcome, like lying about wages or paying below the worker’s marginal productive value.

  83. Jonathan Stone on November 20, 2005 at 11:09 pm

    I don’t think that the scriptures universally condemn wealth. Lehi was clearly wealthy, yet he was singled out by God to be a prophet. And the only reason the Nephites kept getting prideful is because the Lord kept blessing them for their righteousness with prosperity (wealth).

    Now this does support the argument that wealthy is a powerful force pushing toward materialism, even for the righteous. But it also contradicts the argument that wealth is incompatible with the gospel.

    But I will say that, for the hard-core “love of money is evil, not money” advocates, there seems to be almost no level of consumption that they are willing to condemn. Seemingly any amount of extravagance can be justified by donating huge sums of money to the poor. But if that is true, then the criticisms in the Book of Mormon of consumption of “fine-twined linen” and other luxuries are rendered vacant. We can’t buy “indulgences” for materialism with large gifts to good causes.

    On the other hand, about everything we wear today would be considered “fine-twined linen” by Book of Mormon standards, which takes us back to the original post: is having nice clothes that is wrong, or simply having clothes that are much nicer than our neighbor?

    Lastly, it is important to note that wealth today is very different than wealth in Nephite times. Wealth today is, largely, paper wealth. It is not hoarded, but invested, enabling economic growth and doing nothing for the owner until it is spent. I don’t think somone’s paper worth means anything whatsoever to God. The real issue is with regard to consumption–when money is spent, what is it spent on. So knowing someone is worth 10 million or 10 billion says nothing. It only matters how they spend the money they withdraw from their accounts.

  84. Ivan Wolfe on November 20, 2005 at 11:13 pm

    I’ll jump in one last time:
    #82 by Jonathan Stone was an excellent post I agree with 100%.

    Good job. I wish I was as thoughtful on this issue.

  85. drex davis on November 20, 2005 at 11:31 pm

    Re #63″I also read Nibley’s Approaching Zion and was convinced wealth is incompatible with the gospel.”

    With all due respect, while Bro. Nibley is free to comment on anything he wishes, I think he’s one of the least qualified people to be speaking on the subject . . .

    “Wealth” is nothing more than resource. Resource is not incompatible with “the gospel”, as I understand it. If a portion of the gospel has to do with providing the poor, naked, and hungry with resources, then not having resources to give them would seem a great tragedy.

    There’s nothing inherently good or evil about resources, only the way they’re utilized. Money is just a resource. One that Hugh Nibley, in my opion, does not understand. I’ve often thought that if Nibley had it his way, we’d all be agrarians . . . I often see his writing as more “nostalgic” than anything.

  86. Tim J. on November 20, 2005 at 11:38 pm

    “On the other hand, about everything we wear today would be considered “fine-twined linenâ€? by Book of Mormon standards, which takes us back to the original post: is it having nice clothes that is wrong, or simply having clothes that are much nicer than our neighbor?”

    Christ never had nice clothes did he? Certainly not better than His neighbor. Oh wait:

    John 19:23,24

    23 ¶ Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: NOW THE COAT WAS WITHOUT SEAM, WOVEN FROM THE TOP THROUGHOUT.

    24 They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.

    In other words, he had a real nice coat. So nice, that the Roman soldiers didn’t want to tear it, and instead cast lots for it.

  87. drex davis on November 20, 2005 at 11:38 pm

    #71 “And considering some of the shady but legal things I’ve seen the Mariott hotels company do, I have to wonder if all that wealth is really worth it in the end.”

    The Marriott family doesn’t own Marriott hotels. They sold years ago. That’s why there p*rn on pay-per-view there. I highly doubt a majority ownership by the Marriott’s would accept that. Does anyone know how long ago they sold their majority stake? I don’t remember, but it’s been a while.

    I, for one, don’t know the Marriotts, don’t know how much money they have, and don’t know what they’re doing with it now. And I doubt that, other than anectodally, any of us knows. It would probably just be good to say, as we learn in the book of mormon “if I had, I would give.”

    Wasn’t N. Eldon Tanner worth nearly an “obscene” amount of millions of dollars? (didn’t he hit it big in oil or something? and he gave almost all of it to the church)

    Here’s just one story. Just after I returned home from my mission in Argentina, a missionary was shot and went into a coma. His family could not afford to bring him home, and the cost was so high (brining a comatose person from South America to the states is almost unheard of) that the decision was made to temporarily leave him there. John Huntsman, who was not a GA at the time, heard of the situation, contacted Pres. Hinckley, and offered to donate his personal jet, retro-fit it at his own expense with all of the medical supplies needed, and pay for the medical team to travel down, get him, and return. The cost was several million dollars. Thank goodness for wealthy members who do good things with their money. Thank goodness the Lord has blessed some with the means to do great good in the lives of those in need.

  88. Ivan Wolfe on November 20, 2005 at 11:43 pm

    drex -

    we could probably trade counter examples all night (I’ve seem lots of rich members get rich at the expense of the poor or by creating poverty), and I’ve already distanced myself from my ill-worded and ill-thought out comments in #71, so I think the “my anecdote can beat up your anecdote” type discussion has passed.

  89. drex davis on November 21, 2005 at 12:04 am

    Ivan – you are right. I got to your earlier posts and commented on them before I read your later posts. Please understand no dead-horse-beating intended.

    And I agree, there are plenty of people corrupted by wealth. I had just hoped to elaborate by belief that such corruption probably says more to do with the people themselves than by the resources they’re employing (or not employing) incorrectly (correctly).

    Best,
    Drex

  90. Jonathan Stone on November 21, 2005 at 12:07 am

    This could be an urban legend for all I know, but I’ll throw it out there, because if there’s one thing this church needs, it’s another unverifiable quote attributed to the prophet.

    The temple in Houston is in a very upscale neighborhood. Country club surrounded by ostentatious mansions, Texas style. President Hinckley, when riding through the neighborhood to get to the temple for its dedication, said, while looking at the mansions, “I hope none of our members live in any of these.”

    I hope I do well financially in my career. I hope I can use that success to provide a comfortable lifestyle for my family, financial security, college educations and missions for my children, and a good retirement that includes one or more missions. I also hope I am able to help the less fortunate along the way. But no matter how successful I am, I hope my perspective on money never gets so twisted from what it is now that I think that a 10-bedroom mansion or a $3,000 watch is a good way to spend my money.

  91. drex davis on November 21, 2005 at 12:17 am

    “I’ve seen lots of rich members get rich at the expense of the poor or by creating poverty”

    Or at the expense of the environment. Hunstman Chemical did, after all, invent the styrofoam that McDonalds used for their big-macs and other sandwiches . . . HC made a load of dough on that one. It was the very styrofoam that many environmentalists claimed was eroding the ozone layer, causing inestimable damage to the earth and its inhabitants. By the time MikkieDs went back to paper, HC had raked it in and the fortune was made.

    Blood money? ;)

    Food for thought.

    So I guess one issue is how the money is made, and the second is how it’s used after it’s been made . . .

  92. El Jefe on November 21, 2005 at 1:07 am

    Quite a lot of mote noting, in the eye of others. Because I do not know how others choose to spend their money, I prefer not to point fingers.

    But if someone in an underdeveloped country, living barely above subsistence level, wished to point fingers, he could probably point at all of us who have posted here. TV’s, cars, telephone, computers, houses, toilets, many changes of clothing, etc. All too often, we look at those who have a higher standard of living than we do, and point out how ostentatious they are, how they spend their wealth, and what they ought to do with it.

    Perhaps that is the beam in our eye.

  93. Julie M. Smith on November 21, 2005 at 1:48 am

    “because if there’s one thing this church needs, it’s another unverifiable quote attributed to the prophet.”

    Very nice.

    (And the irony, of course, is that all of those McMansions in Champions Forest are less expansive than the _average_ home in a city like San Diego or San Francisco.)

  94. Cordeiro on November 21, 2005 at 9:08 am

    Finding myself a few “large” short of the 100K job, I guess I’m not ready to burn in hell just yet – perhaps just stay comfortably warm in the Telestial Kingdom.

    I’ve been on both sides of the wealth spectrum. I find it much easier to live with money than without. I’ve been blessed enough to pay as much in tithing as I made when I graduated from college. OK, that was only once, but I found it ironic.

    What I don’t spend much time doing is wondering what Marriott, Huntsmen, et al do with their acquired wealth. As that will do little to improve my chances of moving up the salvation ladder, I find it to be a rather large waste of time, regardless of your economic , financial, or spiritual acumen.

  95. Seth Rogers on November 21, 2005 at 11:56 am

    Well, I guess it’s my fault even bringing up John Huntsman in the first place. I seem to have incurred the wrath of his fan club.

    Calm down guys.

    I never said he was evil. I don’t know him at all.

    I never said it’s bad to make public and visible donations. In fact, I think they have their own place for mere good-example value. I merely stated that they don’t really change the “salvation equation.” Christ makes that ABSOLUTELY clear. The fame is its own reward. By all means, continue making the headlines with your largess. Just don’t expect any eternal dividends from it.

    Note also that such shining lights as Enron and the Mafia were also well known for their MASSIVE charitable works. So you’ll pardon me if public acts of charity just fail to influence my view of a person or organization one way or the other.

    My point is that we are “lower even than the dust.” We are failing … miserably … daily. Every last one of us.

    We haven’t earned the right before God to be talking about justifications for why our present inequities are OK. We don’t have the right to make excuses.

    What the scriptures require of us is to get on our knees and beg forgiveness for our failings.

    Sure, money is just an amoral object. Sure it doesn’t need to corrupt. Maybe it didn’t corrupt John Huntsman. That just isn’t my point. My point is that I know money has corrupted me in various ways. And it’s more than likely that it has corrupted you too.

    What is needed is self-reflection and repentence. Not dry philisophical discussion about some abstract definition of what money is.

  96. Veritas on November 21, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    “But in either case, Wal-Mart pays above minimum wage, hires lots of people (employment always goes up when a Wal-Mart moves into town) and sells products for dirt cheap, making them accessible to the poor.”

    Wow. Wal-mart pay above minimum wage to a few employees…but offers no benefits and sells products made in sweatshops. They also refuse union partnership, leaving their employees with no advocacy for workers rights. They also participate (despite their denial) in wage slavery. I’m sorry, but a company the size of Walmart offering few full-time positions and giving no medical benefits to their employees is pretty dispicable. Thats a whole lot of America’s work force making 7 bucks an hour to support their families. You cannot get medical coverage on that salary. Looks to me like Walmart is fostering poverty. They also destroy small businesses and contribute (in the states) to our gasoline dependance. (Sorry, thats my little I-hate-walmart rant.)

    The way these conversations always turn is a back-and-forth justification battle. American members seem totally unwilling to recognize our consumption is bad. Consumption, after all, is the american way. Our clothes, homes, cars, boats define us, after all. I am not saying we shouldn’t own these things obviously, but that there is a level above which you are living in excess, and the key is recognizing it.

    See the point is, homes in Champions Forest (by the houston temple), while the dollar amount probably equals a pretty modest home in San Francisco, are excessive. They exist to ‘look’ rich – they easily constitute conspicuous consumption. You can even buy a house with equal square footage in Houston for much much less (in just as good of a neighborhood). The members in my parents ward aren’t wrong for buying a car – but, to drive a Ferarri to church is conspicuous and excessive. We are to live the law of consecration and to be wise stewards over that with which the Lord blesses us – whether it be millions or thousands or less.

    Should we feel guilty about living in an affluent country? No way – but we should remember why these blessings are given and be careful we use them in a manner according to the covenants we have made. It is important to remember that as far as money goes, we should have ‘sufficient for our needs”. In excess of this, we should be prayful how we use it.

    (I don’t want to join in the I-hate-rich-people thing either, I fall into that trap very easily and I know I’m guilty of being judgemental etc. Why it may be ok to make such obversations and allow those opinions to shape how we may excercise our stewardship differently, we cannot get caught in they “im holier cause I live in a smaller house’ trap either – and Im sorry if my previous post fostered this)

  97. John Williams on November 21, 2005 at 4:22 pm

    Veritas,

    RE: Wal-Mart

    I believe in a free market, so I think Wal-Mart should have the right to do whatever it wants. It should have the freedom to pay its employees what it wants. It should have the freedom to deny its employees health care if it wants. If Wal-Mart employees don’t like their compensation package, they should quit and go try to find better pay elsewhere. How can you accuse them of “wage slavery” if the employees are free to quit any time they want?

    The companies that sell goods on the shelves of Wal-Mart should have the right to make those goods in factories any country, and they should have the right to pay those laborers in those factories whatever wage they can get away with. If laborers in these factories in China don’t like what they’re being paid, they should just quit and go try to find better pay elsewhere.

    No one forces anyone to work at Wal-Mart. No one forces anyone to work in the factories in Bangladesh or China that manufactures the goods sold in Wal-Mart. And no one forces you to shop at Wal-Mart. So stay out of Wal-Mart if you don’t like it.

    I believe what Wal-Mart is doing is just increasing the efficiency of bringing a tube of toothpaste or a DVD to your home in suburbia. That’s a sign of progress.

    Wal-Mart enriches lives by making it less costly to live. Wealth is measured by valuable goods, and Wal-Mart is making it possible for the average American to have more of these goods by selling them at a cheaper price.

    And if the people who are making the goods in “sweatshops” are being exploited, why don’t they just quit their jobs? I would imagine the reason they don’t quit is because those factory jobs are the best ones they can get. The alternative to working in a “sweatshop” must be much worse.

  98. Frank McIntyre on November 21, 2005 at 4:38 pm

    And with that we will close the “Wal-mart threadjack” portion of today’s post and return to our regularly scheduled discussion of one’s _personal_ relation to money, poverty, and inequality.

  99. Veritas on November 21, 2005 at 4:54 pm

    Awe, I don’t get to respond? :)

  100. Ivan Wolfe on November 21, 2005 at 6:58 pm

    I think part of my problem with money is that I realize if I had a lot of it, I would waste it on frivolous things. Sure, I might be able to justify it through “trickle-down” effects, but in the end, it would be me wasting my money on stuff of no worth, rather than that which saves.

    I already don’t do well with what I have (and I’m a English graduate student with lots of school loans). If the Lord sees fit to give me more, it’s probably just to further damn me in that area.

    As Seth said, though, I think we’re all failing in this area nearly all the time. But perhaps I’m just projecting.

  101. CS Eric on November 21, 2005 at 7:03 pm

    Wow, I am late to this discussion.

    I’ve never really had more than enough to cover food, housing, clothing, etc., but I have had enough to live comfortably. Since I’ve never really had the “extra” to give, I haven’t really thought about it much. Does that make me a bad person?

    When the Tsunami hit, I felt bad for all those people whose lives were wiped out, but didn’t really think about it beyond that. I contrast that to my wife’s immediate reaction when we saw the destruction on the TV news: “I wish we had more money so we could send it to them.” Yeah, I felt a little sheepish just then.

    Not that I haven’t had good examples. My uncle was fairly well off, being a heart surgeon affiliated with good hospitals in a large city. One day my aunt was complaining to him about his letting their kids take their friends out waterskiing on their good-sized boat. “What do you think I got it for?” he asked. “It doesn’t do any good just sitting in the driveway.” He also regularly supported at least one or two missionaries while his income was high.

    Service in full-time church callings and poor health cut his income so he couldn’t do as much in his later years.

  102. Last Lemming on November 21, 2005 at 10:46 pm

    Gee, with all the lawyers and philosophers around here throwing out names I’m only vaguely familiar with and whose writings mean nothing to me, I though I might stimulate a glimmer of interest by invoking the name of Rawls. But no. We’re on different planets.

  103. manaen on November 23, 2005 at 4:40 pm

    God gives the same lessons about how we use whatever power we have, whether we use it selfishly or to help others. Pride vs. humble service to others seems to be the key determinant. If we use power righteously, we gain more. Otherwise, we lose what we have. The more Godlike we become, the more like his magnitude of power we receive because we will use it to do what he does. And, what he does is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal [Godlike] life of man (Mos 1:39). I believe that “manâ€? in this verse includes all of us and could not mean just Man of Holiness developing himself — nor just me taking care of me.
    .
    Regarding PRIESTHOOD’s power, we have the familiar cautions and encouragements of D&C 121:34-45. “undertake to gratify pride — Amen to the priesthood of that manâ€? (v. 37) vs. “Let thy bowels be full of charity towards all men – then shall doctrine of priesthood distill upon thy soul.â€? (v. 45) [heavily edited]
    .
    Regarding KNOWLEDGE’s power, there is Alma 12:9-11. “And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.� (v. 10). And DOM’s “It is one thing to acquire knowledge and quite another to apply it. Wisdom is the right application of knowledge and true education – the education for which the Church stands – is the application of knowledge to the development of a noble and Godlike character.� (Gospel Ideals, p. 440)
    .
    The same pattern of “righteous use brings more & selfish use loses what you have� is given for MONEY’s power in Jacob 2:
    .
    11. Wherefore, I must tell you the truth according to the plainness of the word of God. For behold, as I inquired of the Lord, thus came the word unto me, saying: Jacob, get thou up into the temple on the morrow, and declare the word which I shall give thee unto this people.
    12. And now behold, my brethren, this is the word which I declare unto you, that many of you have begun to search for gold, and for silver, and for all manner of precious ores, in the which this land, which is a land of promise unto you and to your seed, doth abound most plentifully.
    13. And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.
    14. And now, my brethren, do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. But he condemneth you, and if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you.
    15. O that he would show you that he can pierce you, and with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust!
    16. O that he would rid you from this iniquity and abomination. And, O that ye would listen unto the word of his commands, and let not this pride of your hearts destroy your souls!
    17. Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. [not “you be poor like them�]
    18. But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
    19. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.

    .
    Or, to summarize this universal guide about power, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.� (1 John 4:8)

  104. Naiah Earhart on November 23, 2005 at 6:23 pm

    We are each given the talents that we are, uniquely individual, and we each are given stewardship over those talents–to use them to the best of our ability. To earn the greater salary, and thereby have command (active stewardship) over more resources seems the obvious answer to me–except for those who, becaue of self-awareness, know that they, themselves, would be hindered in their stewardship in general because of pride, temptations of wealthy living, etc. I, myself would take the higher salary, and do my best with the available funds. Those for whom it would precipitate a net spiritual loss should perhaps take the other.

  105. Kelly Knight on November 24, 2005 at 12:07 pm

    Imagine if everyone who has posted to this blog had enough financial reserve to earn one’s living from interest alone. Then, we took the 8 hours that we would normally work during the day, or 40 hours per week (I know there are many who work more, but for arguement sake, let’s let that slide for now) and gave it over to volunteer work or missions.

    Let’s say that there have been 20 posters on this blog alone. At 2,080 per year, we could offer 41,600 hours in service to our fellow men. Just think what wealth can do…

  106. Mike B on November 24, 2005 at 11:42 pm

    Seth #15 “Huntsman already has his reward for donating the private jet to the Church. He already has his reward here on earth for many of his other generous donations. According to the scriptures, these public donations will be counted as nothing in his eternal scheme.”

    Isn’t this interpretation just a little too literal? Moreover, just because we know about a person’s donations doesn’t mean it will count against that person. Personally, however, I believe we will be judged on who we become much more than on what we do (and we become through doing). Anyway, I’m not willing to judge Huntsman based on so little information.

  107. Kelly Knight on November 25, 2005 at 11:39 am

    Seth, not to pile on but, we are also judged on the unrighteous judgements we make.

  108. Tatiana on November 25, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    To those who feel that everything Wal-Mart and other multi-national companies do is good because it’s all legal and nobody is forced, I want to ask a question. Why is it that a large corporation can build its factories in whatever part of the world has the lowest prevailing wages, while the workers are legally constrained to stay in their country of origin? Is this a fair situation? Why should not workers have the same freedom to move where they can be paid the most for their skills and efforts? Doesn’t this unfairly favor the companies, giving them the advantage of a pool of laborers who are legally prevented from moving out of a labor market that undervalues their labor compared to the average world value? Isn’t this inefficient? When workers are just as free to move about the world as corporations, then I will believe in the rightness of your free markets.

  109. manaen on November 25, 2005 at 3:04 pm

    108
    Tatiana,
    You make an interesting point about corps (intentional pun) having greater mobility than workers. In this, I see the free markets slowly solving the problem they create: as jobs move to the lower-paid workers, the fact that workers cannot move as freely constrains the availability of workers in the new location. Wages rise in the new location as a result. Corps then move to the next pool of underpaid workers with the same result. Eventually, this may result in the whole world being evened-out. We’ve seen this over the past few decades as manufacturing jobs moved from the US to Japan and then down the Pacific Rim. China has been one of the latest sources of cheap labor recently, but their economy/wages are improving, as evidenced by their increasing purchases of higher-end consumables.

    This is the main reason that I offer only tepid support to protecting borders from entry by people whose motivation to cross is economical. We should obey the law, but the justification given for that law is to keep our (U.S). economy above that of other people’s. That justification fails the scriptural test, IMO:

    “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.” (D&C 49:20)

    I see this in perfect accord with what I cited in #103, “But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:18-19) because after we have obtained a hope in Christ, we will seek [to produce] riches in order to share them with those unable to do so. This follows the same pattern discussed in #103 about using for righteousness/helping others whatever power God gives us.

  110. manaen on November 25, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    109
    Additional observation: Given the scripture cited teaching that the world lies in sin because of the efforts of people to posses more than others (D&C 49:20), the free markets not only help the lower paid workers by moving jobs to them, but also force “repentance” on the sinning parts of the world, who prohibited external workers from sharing their bounty, by moving their bounty/jobs to the workers that were excluded.

  111. Seth Rogers on November 25, 2005 at 3:27 pm

    ….

    Despite all my attempts to clarify, it doesn’t seem to be getting through.

    When did I ever, even once, hint that I thought John Huntsman was going to hell? Care to enlighten me? Because I just don’t see it.

  112. El Jefe on November 25, 2005 at 4:06 pm

    Seth, I believe the problem lies in your apparent judgment that Jon Huntsman has made his donations “in order to be seen of men.”

    That is not necessarily true. You will seek riches with the “intent to do good”. If Jon Hunstman’s intent was to do good, and people found out about it, then the Lord will not judge on the basis of publicity, but on the basis of his intent.

    Yoiu, however, judged him on the fact that it became public (knowing nothing of his intent), and found him wanting.

  113. Seth Rogers on November 25, 2005 at 8:07 pm

    OK, I can see that.

    The problem, I think, is that I made a logical connection that wasn’t entirely solid. Christ says that publicly recognized good works are already rewarded. But re-visiting the scripture, he doesn’t say that ALL recognized good works are already rewarded. He merely states that when the person has been deliberately trying to get recognized, the recognition is truly its own reward. He doesn’t say that a generous member who secretly donates $5,000 to fast offerings in one shot, and later is embarassed when the secret gets out “already has her reward.”

    Yes … he does seem to be talking about deliberate attention getting, not passive attention receiving per se. I was confusing the two. That’s probably why it looked like I was judging Huntsman’s character: it looked like I was imputing ACTIVE attention-getting to him.

    Well, it wasn’t an accusation. Just plain old logical fallacy. Sorry for the mix up. My bad.

  114. R.H. on February 28, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    This is the first time I have run across your web site. I find it very interesting. I am not Blog literate and have not contributed to this kind of thing before but I have a question that I would like explored by thoughtful LDS people but it seems that everytime I bring it up people get defensive. I wonder if this forum might be the best way to bring it up. It is reflected to some extent by the “Choose Your Own Adventure” theme above. You can post any part of my comments but I would like to see it form a whole new page or theme or article or what ever.

    I am a physician father of 5 husband of a wonderful woman. To summerize the rest of my life and background I can simply say, when the topic of “he who has been given much” is brought up I can never think of anyone who should give more than I should.

    I think about the golden rule alot. (Can I emphasize here the word think.)

    I live in a nice house in a great neighborhood, in a great community. In terms of material things or opportunities I can give my children, and wife everything I think it would be good for them to have and then many times much more.

    Here is my question.

    Lets say that I know of 50 families where the parents in-spite of their best efforts, cannot provide even basic, food, and shelter for their children. Lets also say that I know of a way that I, personally could do something that would help them become self sufficient, but it would require that I sell my house and cars, liquidate my retirement, and move into a tiny home, in a safe, but poor neighborhood, and eat extremely simple, yet nutritions food as a family, buy clothes only at DI, walk to work, not go on vacations, etc.

    If I was a righteous father who could not provide for his children I think I would want someone, anyone, who’s children were not starving to do what ever they could to keep my children alive.

    What does the golden rule require of me?

    What if I don’t personally know people in this situation, but believe they exist,and that I could find them? What if I don’t know of the solution to their problem, but beleive that many exist and that I could find one?

    What does the golden rule require of me?

    To me intellectually this is a very simple question. The answer seems obvious. Yet what I find confusing, or should I say consoling, is that in my community I know of many great people who are close to the Lord, who I know have the Spirit because I feel it when I talk with them, yet they live in great comfort, or if judged by any other standard in the world, they, like me, live in great excess and luxury. I am not any worse than they are in this regard and they are good people so I am ok. Right?

    I welcome the comment from anyone but since he does not have a computer will some of you try and speak in behalf of Lazarus.

    If it is required you can put my name on my comments. I prefer you didn’t because in the past when I have tried to talk about this people have either thought I was self righteous, or a hypocrite, while I suspect they are both right, it is not comfortable having people think it or say it..

    [admin note - name changed to initials]

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