Margaret Young’s Daughter Is Right

August 22, 2006 | 143 comments
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The fine thread which Margaret Young’s post kicked off yesterday reminded me of some equally fine ones from the past. I’ve posted on the topic before a couple of times as well, and so–given that there was a lot to say–I was having a hard time keeping my comment to managable size. So I decided I ought to just put up in a post of my own–especially since I’m going to take the contrary position, and suggest that, while I think Jim (in comment #1) is right that “judging the wealthy to be wicked” is potentially a sin against one’s neighbor, Margaret actually shouldn’t be “appalled” that her daughter views very wealthy people as wicked. Concerned maybe, but not appalled.

Why? Because that judgment of hers–leaving aside how it might wrongly influence her ability to treat wealthy people as fellow children of God, as she should–is, in my view, more often accurate than otherwise. Great extremes of wealth in society are wicked, and the people who generate and benefit from those extremes often (too often) reflect that wickedness. Hence Margaret, I think your daughter’s conclusion is, while potentially morally problematic for herself, not necessarily unwise. We should love rich people, but also treat them (and that means–given that everyone reading this blog is almost certainly quite wealthy in an absolute sense, as Nate notes in comment #22–also treat ourselves) in the same way George Orwell recommended judging saints: as guilty until proven innocent.

Ok, the caveats:

1) I think Mark Butler is basically correct when he writes (comment #36) that “I don’t think wealth per se is a problem, as long as it is collective wealth, not individual wealth,” though I would extend on that a bit. Surely it isn’t simply the fact of possessing wealth that is an evil; if that were so, then wealthy people could never be held up as examples of righteousness, and clearly that hasn’t been the case. I think God wants the societies His children live in to be abundant ones, as much as possible, because that will mean less absolute levels of deprivation, hunger, and sickness for all. And given the differing stewardships which characterize human life, living in abundant (or even just self-sustaining) societies will probably result in varying levels of personal wealth. I think the reason why that neutral fact changes and becomes a condition of wickedness (with the result that those people most responsible for creating those conditions are likely to be similarly partaking of wickedness) in societies where wealth is not collective–where instead what wealth that exists is generated by and hoarded by a select few–is because as such inequalities harden, they make it increasingly difficult to produce any kind of wealth without continuing (unintentionally or otherwise) to “grind the faces of the poor,” as Mark also notes (#30). In a winner-take-all society, where notions of stewardship are rare and ownership is held as both an invioble right and an important marker of status, simultaneously generating significant wealth and living according to the counsels of God becomes, more often than not, impossible (perhaps not as impossible as a camel going through a needle’s eye, but close to it). I think this is why God makes it absolutely clear that when one person’s possessions put them “above” another (interesting way to put, don’t you think?), “the world lieth in sin.”

2) Leaving completely aside the wickedness of creating and perpetuating such inequalities–that is, assuming that somehow a person of great wealth is able to attain and maintain that position without adding to the continuing exploitation or manipulation of those poorer or less powerful than themselves–there remains the problem of consumption. I don’t object, and I don’t think anyone should object, to the use of wealth to create and preserve and share beautiful things; that’s all part of beautifying and taking good care of the earth. While I think the main standard here must be the accessibility of the beautiful thing to all, some goods exist in the grey area between private and public, and there’s probably room for some purely private pleasures as well. This is where I think Jonathan’s comment (#7) about “modesty” comes in. Nate links Jonathan’s comment to a “morality of display” (#21); while what that would involve theoretically is an interesting question, I think the fact that such a basis for moral judgment exists is intuitively obvious. When wealth is ostentatiously displayed (“thematized”) through the size or luxury or frivolity of a material possession, you’re no longer only communicating what it is you value (which may be problematic enough!); you’re also communicating how aware you are, and how proud you are, of your own superior ability to achieve what it is you value. And whatever else that is, it most certainly is “immodest,” as Veritas points out (#67).

3) I agree with everything that MLU has to say (#52), though I would disagree if anyone would take that comment to mean that the burdens of wealth and poverty somehow cancel each other out. There is a reason why the scriptures link wealth with pride, wickedness, and apostasy, and link poverty with humilty, teachableness, and holiness. That said, I agree that calling repentance down upon the wealthy that benefit from our unequal society doesn’t let the poor off the hook. Clearly, some wickedness is far more common and visible in poorer communities than in wealthy ones. But I suspect that “the poor” we talk about today are not “the poor” that the Savior blessed, and not the poor that can serve the rest of us as a reminder of what God wants from His children (as Margaret hopes coming to know some Cakchiquel Indians will help her daughter). Poverty in the advanced, capitalist societies of today (and in those touched by such societies–which unfortunately probably also sometimes includes even rural Guatemala) usually means indebtedness, unhealthy lifestyles, the disappearence of jobs, a breakdown of the family, crime, drug use, welfare dependency, alienation, insolvency, an entitlement mentality, and a host of other ills. Poverty in agrarian, rural, or otherwise more “simple” societies usually simply meant, and still means today, “not very much money.” While it is better to have an abundant life than a strapped and desperate one, those who live simple lives, or at least accept or even inject some simplicity into their lives (like, say, gardeners and farmers, or like Hugh Nibley for that matter) seem to me to have much greater likelihood of avoiding both the sins which usually come with wealth, as well as the particularly modern burdens and trials associated with poverty. I think this is what MLU and Tim J. (#17) are getting at in their emphasis on simplicity.

4) Are there exceptions to this? Sure there are. There are lots of exceptions; there are scads of exceptions. I would even go so far as to suggest (or at least hope) that there are more exceptions amongst wealthy Mormons than amongst other segments of the world population, if only because we have the legacy of the United Order hanging over us, the temple covenants regarding consecration to commit us, and the basic duty of tithing to remind us regularly of all these principles. Still, I think they remain exceptions. Given the clear teachings of the prophets and the scriptures about what wealth tends to do to a people, I would be interested to see any argument that could prove otherwise.

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143 Responses to Margaret Young’s Daughter Is Right

  1. Julie M. Smith on August 22, 2006 at 4:55 pm

    RAF, you went from ‘wealthy people are wicked’ to ‘great extremes of wealth are wicked’ in your first few sentences. Which position are you defending here?

    My only concern is this: without the potential for great wealth at the end of the tunnel, most people who devote long hours to difficult tasks (medical researchers, businesspeople, etc.) would just stay home and watch Lost. Which means that I would be without the drugs that saved my child from dying of pneumonia and the swoopy new mop I bought that saves me time. I suppose it would be a better world if the SwifferWet inventor spent time researching out of a deep feminist commitment to liberating housewives, but the reality is that without a monetary reward, we’d look like a communist nation where you have to stand in line for four hours to buy a crummy mop.

    In other words: I think great disparities in wealth are a terrible, awful thing, worse than anything imaginable–except for the alternative.

  2. J. Stapley on August 22, 2006 at 5:05 pm

    Seems to me that you could take most things and make a similar statement:

    Great artists are wicked.
    Great philosophers are wicked.
    Great musicians are wicked.
    Great accademics are wicked.
    Great capitalists are wicked.

    One is tempted to think that greatness is wickedness. Then we have our heritage of pioneer pragmatism:

    Lazy people are wicked.

  3. Russell Arben Fox on August 22, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    “You went from ‘wealthy people are wicked’ to ‘great extremes of wealth are wicked’ in your first few sentences. Which position are you defending here?”

    Did I ever baldly say “[all] wealthy people are [always] wicked”? I think what I said (several times) was, in essence, judging wealthy people to be wicked is not necessarily a bad judgment, since odds of that judgment being accurate are fairly good. We are called to judge righteously; assuming that wealthy people are wicked isn’t the most righteous of all possible judgments, but given that the ways in which those with wealth often get to that stage, and stay at that stage, frequently involve them in the sinfulness of “great extremes of wealth,” I’d say that there are lot of possible judgments that are far more unwise.

    “I think great disparities in wealth are a terrible, awful thing, worse than anything imaginable–except for the alternative.”

    I didn’t know there was only one alternative. It seems to me, rather, that there are several. One might indeed be “a communist nation where you have to stand in line for four hours to buy a crummy mop.” Another might be Sweden. Am I allowed to choose between them?

  4. Russell Arben Fox on August 22, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    “One is tempted to think that greatness is wickedness.”

    J., this reminds me of a great essay by Eler Bruce Hafen, written years ago, back before he was a GA: “Two Cheers for Excellence.” His overall point being, yeah, yeah, it’s nice to live in a world where everyone wants to be the very best they can be, but really, the whole cult of greatness and progress and accomplishment has some serious downsides. (I don’t have a copy of the essay, or I’d quote something from it. Does anyone know if it can be found online?)

  5. Silver on August 22, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    I’ll go with your guilty until proven innocent statement. I see a general lack of generosity and care for needy folk. It was a few years ago that it was brought to my attention that charitable giving was higher among the less affluent.

    We have Bill Gates and Warren Buffett doing great things, but as a people, “the wealthy” are shown to be somewhat stingy.

    http://www.generousgiving.org/page.asp?sec=28&page=

    Two clips:

    San Francisco – December 19, 2005 – Affluent income tax filers under age sixty-five are only half as generous as their more modestly situated peers, according to a new report by NewTithing Group, a philanthropic research organization and developer of donor education tools.

    —and—

    Mississippi is considered the most generous state in the nation for the eighth consecutive year. Though it is ranked as the poorest state, it comes in fifth for its “giving� rank, according to the Generosity Index, an evaluation begun eight years ago by the Boston-based Catalogue for Philanthropy. After calculating the disparity in income and charitable contributions, Mississippi ends up in first place. Spokesman Martin Cohn explains this method for measuring philanthropy: “Generosity is really what you give as a function of what you have.� Connecticut, in contrast, has the nation’s highest average adjusted gross income (at $64,724) yet ranks 44th on the Generosity Index. The Index shows that Southern and Midwestern states lead in giving, with these regions’ high generosity being attributed to the practice of church tithing.

  6. Mark Butler on August 22, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    Everyone needs their daily bread. Not only that, they need daily bread for their spouse and children as well. Nothing wrong with that.

    The case about greatness is related to the rationale for copyrights and patents for limited times a constitutional principle which has been much neglected lately. This is what Stephen Breyer had to say on the subject:

    Similarly, those who wrote the House
    Report on legislation that implemented the Berne Convention
    for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works said
    that “[t]he constitutional purpose of copyright is to facilitate
    the flow of ideas in the interest of learning.” … They added:

    Under the U. S. Constitution, the primary objective
    of copyright law is not to reward the author, but
    rather to secure for the public the benefits derived
    from the authors’ labors. By giving authors an incentive
    to create, the public benefits in two ways: when
    the original expression is created and . . . when the
    limited term . . . expires and the creation is added to
    the public domain. Id., at 17.

    For present purposes, then, we should take the following
    as well established: that copyright statutes must serve
    public, not private, ends; that they must seek “to promote
    the Progress” of knowledge and learning; and that they
    must do so both by creating incentives for authors to
    produce and by removing the related restrictions on dissemination
    after expiration of a copyright’s “limited Tim[e]“…
    (Breyer, J., dissenting, Eldred v. Ashcroft (2003))

    Every artist and writer needs his daily bread, and needs daily bread for his family. But how can we be certain that artists and authors and engineers and musicians would not create great works unless there was a possibility to get obscenely rich? I sure hope not, because if that is the case, there will be no great works in the celestial kingdom.

  7. Dan Richards on August 22, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    J. Stapely

    Your list reminds me of a series of posts by Adam Greenwood.

  8. Clark on August 22, 2006 at 6:28 pm

    Is this a winner take all world? Doesn’t seem that way to me.

  9. Jacob on August 22, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    More than just needing my daily bread, I view it as my _responsibility_ to amass a great deal of money, because:

    I have a family to support
    I must plan for various catastrophies that may hit me
    I need to be able to retire some day
    I am supposed to avoid debt and houses and cars cost a lot of money
    I am hoping I can help out relatives that fall on hard times (as church welfare always suggests as a first option)

    Now, having enough money to retire turns out to be a lot of money, even if I don’t plan to live like a king. Also, it is irresponsible to give away all your money and live on the brink of needing help from family or ward if something goes wrong or there is an unexpected expense.

    The only way to have monetary equality in the world as it exists today is to have everyone be poor, because if we spread all the money and goods out evenly between everyone in the world, much of the wealth taken from (or donated by) the rich and given to the poor would not be added upon as fast as it would have been if we left it in the hands of the rich. If you put a system in place to perpetually keep things even, this fact leads to everyone being poor in not too long of a time.

  10. Geoff J on August 22, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    Russell: I think what I said (several times) was, in essence, judging wealthy people to be wicked is not necessarily a bad judgment, since odds of that judgment being accurate are fairly good.

    I think I’ve come down off the Nibley high I was on in 2004 or something because a lot of this is starting to sound like a crock to me…

    So why are the odds of pre-judging a “wealthy” person to be wicked high again? (And what is the definition of wealthy you are working with again? Is it a net worth thing? An annual income issue? I can’t tell…) Is the state of owning a lot of valuable things a generally wicked state? So for instance, if a person owned $5 Million worth of dot-com stocks in 1999 and then lost it all in the dot-com bust of 2000 did that person cease to be in a state of wicked ownership?

    I thought wickedness was almost purely an issue of character. Plus I still think that Nibley was on the right track when he said that the righteous are those who are actively repenting (read: freely choosing to become more Godlike). I just can’t understand how the stuff a person has or not is an indicator in itself of wickedness or righteousness of a person as you seem to be implying.

    Further, I have a very difficult time seeing how “one man having above another” actually is the cause of the world lying in sin. Are you actually saying that you think that if everyone in the world suddenly had the same amount of stuff that the world would no longer lie in sin? What about the individual character and choices of people?

  11. Chris Grant on August 22, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    Russell:

    Excuse me if you’ve answered this already, but why is it okay for children to be taught to perceive the wealthy as wicked but not correspondingly okay for them to be taught to perceive, say, those participating in homosexual activity as wicked?

  12. Kaimi Wenger on August 22, 2006 at 8:23 pm

    Chris,

    It’s entirely possible that people who participate in homosexual activity could be wicked. This would be the case, for example, if those people were also wealthy.

    I hope that clears it up.

  13. Mark Butler on August 22, 2006 at 8:23 pm

    Geoff (#10),

    By a celestial standard, yes material disparity is evidence that the world lieth in sin. Since there are many causes and sustaining factors for material disparity, we cannot trivially identify all of the contributing factors that are sinful. I believe there are very many.

    Now if we say that material disparity implies sin, we cannot conclude that lack of material disparity implies no sin. That is a non sequitur. Material disparity is sufficient evidence to conclude the presence of sin (under a celestial law), but it is surely not the only possible evidence of sin.

    I will say that I consider Nibley’s discourses on the subject to be over the top in a manner I consider to be radically unsustainable, especially his unqualified attacks against the practice of business management. Not exactly in the tradition of Brigham Young, who was a manager par excellence.

  14. Jacob on August 22, 2006 at 8:34 pm

    Kaimi – lol

    Mark: “I will say that I consider Nibley’s discourses on the subject to be over the top in a manner I consider to be radically unsustainable, especially his unqualified attacks against the practice of business management. Not exactly in the tradition of Brigham Young, who was a manager par excellence.”

    Agreed.

    Geoff – apparently great minds not only think alike, but also post at identical times.

  15. Russell Arben Fox on August 22, 2006 at 8:40 pm

    Clark,

    “Is this a winner take all world? Doesn’t seem that way to me.”

    Others disagree with you.

    Jacob,

    “The only way to have monetary equality in the world as it exists today is to have everyone be poor.”

    1) I didn’t insist (because no sane person–certainly not any of the prophets to my knowledge–has ever insisted) that reducing extremes in wealth and thinking of ourselves as stewards and treating most goods as held in common will require perfect “monetary equality.”

    2) That said, while I wouldn’t suggest that everyone ought to be “poor,” I would suggest that a good way for there to be fewer extremes in our society, and thus less occasion for wickedness, would be for everyone simplify their lives to whatever degree their stewardships allow. If “simple” means “poorer,” well, there’s some truth to that.

    Geoff,

    “I thought wickedness was almost purely an issue of character.”

    I agree. But what is character if not your intentions, your actions, your desires? As I allowed in my post, there are many, many exceptions to the judgment I laid out; lots of wealthy people get wealthy and stay wealthy without ever loving their money, without ever showing off their money, without ever taking advantage of their neighbor, without ever bending the rules, without ever burdening their employees or harming consumers or bankrupting the competition or anything like unto it. But the evidence–and the scriptures–suggest that such exceptions do not constitute a majority. Why on earth would Jesus have speculated about rich people and camels and needle’s eyes otherwise?

    “I have a very difficult time seeing how ‘one man having above another’ actually is the cause of the world lying in sin.”

    If you read my post, then you know that I clearly don’t think the simple fact that any given person may have many possessions constitutes, in itself, an evil. I think the scripture you’re cite refers to inequalities, not wealth. If that still doesn’t satisfy you, well, hey, take it up with the Author.

  16. Russell Arben Fox on August 22, 2006 at 8:47 pm

    Mark (and Jacob),

    “I will say that I consider Nibley’s discourses on the subject to be over the top in a manner I consider to be radically unsustainable, especially his unqualified attacks against the practice of business management. Not exactly in the tradition of Brigham Young, who was a manager par excellence.�

    You’re not the only person who considers Nibley to be over-the-top; my father’s mission president, Marion D. Hanks, once told him the same thing. Still, before we all agree that Nibley had no respect whatsoever for management, let’s be reminded of this quote (which I cited in this old post):

    “I certainly pray that we may fill our hearts with the desire to fulfill the Lord’s purposes on the earth. Some of us are good at administrating the things of the earth. ‘Some of us’–I use that very flatteringly, because there never was a worse one than myself for bungling with thinkgs like that, so I can very well talk sour grapes. But notice the spirit in which it’s to be done. Brigham Young, the greatest and certainly the most able economist and administrator and businessman this nation has ever seen, didn’t give a hoot for earthly things: ‘I have never walked across the streets to make a trade.’ He didn’t mean that literally. You always do have to handle things. But in what spirit do we do it? Not in the Krishna way, by renunciation….If you refuse to be concerned with these things at all, and say ‘I’m above all that,’ that’s a great fault. The things of the world have got to be administered; they must be taken care of, they are to be considered. We have to keep things clean, and in order. That’s required of us. This is a test by which we are being proven. This is the way by which we prepare, always showing that these things will never captivate our hearts, that they will never become our principal concern. That takes a bit of doing, and that is why we have the formula ‘with an eye single to his glory’ (Mormon 8:15). Keep first your eye on the star, then on all the other considerations of the ship. You will have all sorts of problems on the ship, but unless you steer by the star, forget the ship. Sink it. You won’t go anywhere.â€? (â€?Three Degrees of Righteousness,â€? Approaching Zion, 336).

  17. Chris Grant on August 22, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    Kaimi:

    If you feel like doing something other than making stupid jokes, question #11 is also open to you.

  18. tyler on August 22, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    If this article has already been linked, please forgive me (also, if someone more technologically-minded can convert this address into a hyperlinl, I would appreciate it): http://sociology.byu.edu/courses/rjohnson/Wealth%20and%20Poverty.htm.

    In any case, this is a fascinating take on why, in Johnson’s view, wealth, per se, is wicked. I took Richard Johnson’s “introduction to social problems” as a freshman at BYU and, while I did not agree with everything he taught, he struck me as a proufoundly kind man. I still remember him quoting the parable of the widow’s mite and then suggesting that perhaps the moral of the story is that, in a world of nearly unbounded need, it is not how much we give but how much we keep that determines the morality of our stewardship. In other words, whatever use I get out of my wealth, it is, in some objective universalist worldview, probably not as great as the use the desperately poor could derive from my wealth. Since I am, then, valuing myself over other children of God, I am not acting as morally as I might.

    The years since have begun to convince me that this line of reasoning may not be as cogent as I once thought (I was thunderstruck as a freshman), but the reasoning haunts me still.

  19. tyler on August 22, 2006 at 10:05 pm

    Johnson’s closing shot is provocative: “Might not the great lesson for the last days be that in order for peace to prevail or for Zion ‘with no poor among them’ to be established, that there must also be no rich among them?”

  20. queuno on August 22, 2006 at 10:40 pm

    Guess I’m missing part of the point of #11.

    Homosexual activity is wicked.
    Teaching children that homosexual activity is wicked is not wicked.
    Wealthy people are not wicket per se.
    Teaching children that wealthy people are wicked (without qualifying it) is in itself wicked.

    Now I want to go see a musical.

  21. annegb on August 22, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    If I had a choice between being rich and always being nice, I would pick nice. It saves trouble, you can’t buy your way out of the trouble that a temper brings. But since I don’t have a choice, a temper being a major character defect of mine, I guess I could have a little extra money to soothe my fevered brow.

    On a serious note, I have three millionaire friends (not on blogging, I have some blogging rich friends, too, but in real life). I mean, these guys have millions. They inherited it. And their families are unhappy and fight about money all the time. My best friend gives away a great deal of money (I would never take money from her) and honestly strives to bless the lives of all she knows, but her brothers and sisters are the whiniest contentious bunch of people I know.

    My experience with these friends has made me more careful with money re my kids.

  22. Jack on August 22, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    Well then, I guess Abraham did have a flaw after all.

  23. Mark Butler on August 22, 2006 at 11:51 pm

    One should not look upon wealth per se as a flaw in character – it is what one does with it, and the reasons and methods whereby it was acquired that make the difference. I beleive that if a man or a woman treats wealth as a true stewardship to be administered for the greatest benefit of all, i.e. if he truly loves his neighbor as himself, that is all we can ask, until the United Order or some other system based on celestial law is re-established. Scattering ones wealth to the winds is not always the best way to administer it. Of course neither is a life of luxury, however inconspicuous.

  24. Mike W. on August 23, 2006 at 12:39 am

    Jacob #11: What if we were all poor? Would it affect God’s plan in a significant way? It might, because we would be more llikely to actually be humble and hearken unto the counsels of the Lord and His prophets. I admit that the wealth of the Church and its members have made it easier to proclaim the gospel widely, but this has likely come at a great cost. Wealth precipitates worldliness and moves us into Babylon more effectively than almost anything else (whether one has it or wants it). I believe that the Lord is very serious about things being equal among His people. We can rationalize it all we want, but that doesn’t make it go away. And yes, Brother Nibley was quite radical about the topic. However, that doesn’t mean he was wrong.

  25. Jacob on August 23, 2006 at 2:31 am

    Mike W,

    Of course, if we were all poor it wouldn’t thwart God’s plan, I wouldn’t suggest otherwise. I just don’t think there is anything inherently sanctifying about misery. Wealthy people tend to set their hearts on things of this world. So do poor people. The reason we are supposed to donate money to the poor is that God doesn’t want people to be poor. I don’t doubt that equality would be good, I just think the goal should be for us to be equal in *not* being poor rather than equal in everyone being poor. The phrase “no poor among them” comes to mind.

    The problem with equality is that I don’t know of a practical way to bring it about except having everyone be poor, and I don’t think that is a very good option. Should I tear out my indoor plumbing as long as there is someone who doesn’t have it? Am I justified in spending money sending my kids to swimming lessons while there are people in the world that don’t have enough to eat? In my mind it is obvious that I shouldn’t tear out my indoor plumbing and it’s obvious that I am justified in sending my kids to swimming lessons. But then, maybe I am just rationalizing as you suggest.

  26. Jacob on August 23, 2006 at 2:47 am

    Russell (#15),

    I realize you are allowing for exceptions and you are not condemning wealth as inherently evil. I approve of all of that. One thing that bothers me in your post is that you say it is ok to view wealthy people as evil because it is true more often than not. By the same logic I could say it is ok to view _people_ as wicked because it is true more often than not. Or, I could say it is ok to view poor people as wicked because they are wicked more often than not. Any one of these statements is as valid as another, but none are commendable. I think the sort of generalization against the wealthy you suggest is no better than the people who assume poor people must be lazy.

  27. MLU on August 23, 2006 at 4:15 am

    I’m quite leery of attacks on capitalism.

    I think capitalism means I’m free to act–I can start a locksmith shop or learn to do brain surgery or haul apples from someplace with a lot to someplace without many. I think capitalism means if I have more milk than I need but no eggs, I can find someone to trade with.

    If capitalism means vast accumulations of wealth in the hands of a few, then I would favor some rule changes. And of course, I’ll join in on attacks on greed, or exploitation of the poor, or cold-blooded pursuit of profit as the only or the highest moral criterion for chosing a course of action.

  28. Russell Arben Fox on August 23, 2006 at 7:32 am

    Jacob,

    “By the same logic I could say it is ok to view _people_ as wicked because it is true more often than not.”

    Well, given the Fall and everything King Benjamin said about the “natural man,” this seems reasonable to me. But, assuming that we are attempting to exercise that “righteous judgment” the scriptures speak of, and are trying to be practical in how we apply it to the myriad of people and choices we encounter daily, I stand by my original suggestion that all expressions of and justifications for great personal wealth–including our own–be viewed with particular suspicion.

  29. Mike W. on August 23, 2006 at 9:01 am

    MLU,

    I think you have mistaken free enterprise for capitalism. Capitalism IS vast accumulation of wealth into the hands of very few and generating a legal and political framework to perpetuate that accumulation. It is the system that encourages, protects, and perpetuates the “grinding” of the faces of the poor, tossing the widow and the orphan out on their respective ears, and makes a playing field so unequal that small business start-up is frought with regulation and difficulty (only the big businesses are able to comply with the rules that they have set up).

    Are we to this point yet? No, but we are headed there; hence the rules must change.

    Jacob,

    I don’t propose any sort of forced equalization in any sense. What is needed is change in the attitudes of Christians and God-fearing people the world over to actually live up to their ideals that every human being is a child of God, their brothers and sisters, not in some theoretical, vague manner, but in a real and actual fashion and that any thing we own is actually on loan from our Father and we are commanded to use that stewardship to bless the lives of others, not enhance our status in the world.

  30. Toby on August 23, 2006 at 9:10 am

    In a church where you can be judged wicked for all kinds of things, e.g. voting for a Democrat, it should come as no surprise that someone might think a rich person is inherently wicked. Maybe we should not be so quick to judge anybody.

    On the other hand, several people here have alluded to something and someone (Prof. Johnson at BYU) that could make for a good discussion. What exactly is it about wealth that is wrong — not in our eyes, but in the Savior’s? One possibility (also alluded to) is this: If we lived in a world of infinite resources and everyone had an equitable shot at those resources, would there be anything wrong with wealth or materialism or conspicuous consumption? Apart from wearing your values on your sleeve and saying these are the things I care about, who would be harmed? But we don’t live in a world of infinite resources and we don’t have equitable access to what resources we have. The United States has a small percentage of the world’s population but uses a disproportionately high percentage of its resources. By doing so, are we harming others in other countries, maybe Third World countries? It does seem we worry enormously about sex, drugs and homosexual marriage, but give little thought to those things condemned by the Book of Mormon.

  31. Chris Grant on August 23, 2006 at 9:22 am

    queno:

    Read #11 more carefully. Your response in #20 says that homosexual activity is wicked but doesn’t say that the *people* participating in homosexual activity are wicked. Would you care to make the latter assertion, and would you feel fine if your children displayed that general perception? More importantly, would Russell? Judging from his silence, the discrepancy between his responses to these two varieties of sin is an issue he’d prefer not to address.

  32. Chris Grant on August 23, 2006 at 9:39 am

    In #28, Russell says: “I stand by my original suggestion that all expressions of and justifications for great personal wealth–including our own–be viewed with particular suspicion.

    Why particular? You don’t seem to have even attempted a justification of that crucial part of your position. It’s hard for rich men to get into heaven (Matt 19:24), but it’s hard for anyone to get into heaven (Matt 19:25) without God (Matt 19:26). There are sins egregious enough that the prophets and apostles deem it appropriate to strip those committing them of their ordinances and temple blessings, yet you seem reticent to apply the “wicked” label to those people as freely as you apply it to the wealthy. Why?

  33. Mike W. on August 23, 2006 at 9:52 am

    Chris,

    The social reformer/prophet Isaiah spoke much more about the wickedness that wealth brings about than he did about sexual sin. It was likely due to the priorities that Israel had (making money at all costs and keeping it for themselves/worshipping idols). I don’t see our day to be much different. And just because sexual sin is “more wicked” than misusing financial stewardship, that doesn’t mean that misusing financial stewardship isn’t wicked and also won’t keep us out of the Kingdom of Heaven.

    It’s easy to find any sin that is worse than the one we are guilty of.

  34. Chris Grant on August 23, 2006 at 10:02 am

    Mike W. writes: “The social reformer/prophet Isaiah spoke much more about the wickedness that wealth brings about than he did about sexual sin. It was likely due to the priorities that Israel had (making money at all costs and keeping it for themselves/worshipping idols). I don’t see our day to be much different.

    We have a prophet nowadays, too. Which sins does he speak more about?

  35. Russell Arben Fox on August 23, 2006 at 10:14 am

    Chris,

    “There are sins egregious enough that the prophets and apostles deem it appropriate to strip those committing them of their ordinances and temple blessings, yet you seem reticent to apply the ‘wicked’ label to those people as freely as you apply it to the wealthy. Why?”

    Where do you get this “reticent” idea? Is it from some former post of mine, or what? This thread is about the reasons for and the possible legitimacy of judging extremes of wealth (and those who benefit from them) to be wicked; I’m not sure why other sins need to be brought into the discussion for comparison purposes at all. But, since you’ve brought it up, I’ll answer. I would like my children to (carefully, responsibly, mercifully) understand that great wealth almost always involves one in wickedness. The same goes for homosexual activity. The same goes for smoking. Except, of course, for all the differences between these three: a rich man may be one of the exceptions I’ve mentioned before. A gay man may never have been taught why homosexual activity is wrong (and moreover, he may be–or at least may be striving mightily to be–celibate, in which case, as I argued over at M*, I don’t think he’s necessarily wicked at all). A smoker who isn’t a Mormon isn’t beholden to the Word of Wisdom, and thus is not doing anything wicked (though the people who manufactured the cigarettes may well have been!). And one can go on.

    It is true that at the current time, the church disciplines baptized and committed members of the hurch who engaging in homosexual activity and who smoke, but does not discipline those who have excessive wealth. Turn back the clock a 120 years to the 1880s, check out some of the frontier experiments with the United Order, and you’d find things were different. I expect they will be different yet in another 120 years. In the meantime, the scriptures are pretty explicit about the pitfalls and sins associated with wealth. I’m not instructing my children on how to run a church court; I’m trying to pass along to them my understanding of the “counsels of God,” for which the scriptures are my primary guide.

    As for “attempt[ing] a justification of that crucial part of [my] position,” I’m kind of at a loss. I argued, echoing a point originally made by Mark Butler, that the accumulation of great wealth almost invariably involves one in potentially selfish, exploitive, manipulative, uncharitable practices as just the ordinary cost of “doing business.” I argued that the accumulation of great wealth often leads to habits of consumption and display that are immodest, prideful, overbearing and vain. And I reiterated just a few of the many scriptures that make it pretty obvious that when the Lord talks about his people being “one,” He ain’t talking about us all singing Kumbaya together; there is a real demand for some level of equality in that call, with the clear implication that without at least some level of equality (about which we can argue; indeed, I have in this thread already), those who get the better of existing unequal arrangements stand under condemnation for their (at the very least apparently somewhat more likely) sins.

  36. Chris Grant on August 23, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Russell writes: Where do you get this “reticent� idea?

    From the fact that I had to ask you twice to get an answer. And in your current answer, you seem not to want to use the same blunt language you did before, now preferring to call the activity rather than the person wicked. About the wealthy, you wrote: “Margaret actually shouldn’t be ‘appalled’ that her daughter views very wealthy people as wicked. Concerned maybe, but not appalled.”

    Resolved: People shouldn’t be appalled if their children view gay people as wicked; concerned maybe, but not appalled. Are you pro or con?

    This thread is about the reasons for and the possible legitimacy of judging extremes of wealth (and those who benefit from them) to be wicked; I’m not sure why other sins need to be brought into the discussion for comparison purposes at all.

    Because comparisons shed light on the meaning and validity of assertions.

    As for ‘attempt[ing] a justification of that crucial part of [my] position,’ I’m kind of at a loss.

    None of the things you go on to say explain why the wealthy should be viewed with particular (i.e., “distinguished in some way among others of the same kind; not ordinary; worthy of notice, remarkable; special” -OED) suspicion. Why should they be viewed with more suspicion and labelled with stronger language than potential practitioners of other sins?

  37. JKC on August 23, 2006 at 10:58 am

    Some people have raised universal poverty as some kind of bogeyman. Don’t you know that equality would lead to poverty?!! As if that were some reason to not pursue it. Poverty and wealth are really subjective terms that are determined by context. Having $30 in my pocket makes me average in one context, poor in another, and wildly rich in another. When the Lord says that there were no poor among the people of Enoch, I don’t think he meant that they were all rich, or that the poor weren’t allowed since they’re obviously lazy and therefor unworthy of the kingdom. If wealth and poverty are functions of comparison, the only way for there to be no poor is for there to be no differences in material posession. This would mean that there would be no rich either (other than rich in the things of the Spirit). A Zion society cannot, in material means, be characterized as rich or ppor without resorting to some out-of-context comparison.

  38. Mike W. on August 23, 2006 at 11:10 am

    Chris,

    Agreed that our current prophet warns against sexual sin more. My point was that we face similar sins in our day that Isaiah warned against. Is one sin more greivous than the other? According to Alma it is.

    However, I think we need to take into consideration the words of GWB (who I don’t quote often) in one of his more profound moments: Bush reportedly confided in Wead, “I think he wants me to attack homosexuals.” But, the future president said, he told Robison: “‘Look, James, I got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I’m not going to kick gays, because I’m a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?’”

    A sin is a sin. We can spin it all we want, but it doesn’t change the sinfulness of it.

  39. Mark IV on August 23, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    Russell,

    Jacob in # 26 comes closest to describing my response to this post. I think you have outlined the fallen nature of humanity and sketched out how that fallenness might apply to people who have lots of money. In your comment # 35 you enumerate certain temptations and suggest they may be special temptations for wealthy people. You say: “…selfish, exploitive, manipulative, uncharitable practices as just the ordinary cost of “doing business.â€? I argued that the accumulation of great wealth often leads to habits of consumption and display that are immodest, prideful, overbearing and vain.

    It is not at all obvious to me that rich people are any more selfish, exploitative, manipulative, immodest or prideful than anyone else.

  40. MLU on August 23, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    Mike W,

    My leeriness remains.

    I’ve spent my life hearing incessant attacks on “capitalism” from the academic left. They seem to me to tend always towards solutions that diminish free enterprise. Chairman Mao was forever trying–violently– to curtail outbreaks of capitalism–people trading surplus eggs for needed milk. What noncapitalistic system do you propose that will preserve free enterprise?

    As you go on to acknowledge in the second half of your post, the trouble is not capitalism but character flaws–indifference, cold-heartedness, etc.

    It seems to me that blaming things on “capitalism” and “corporations” is a lazy mental habit that frequently leads to a misdiagnosis. If the problem is vast scale and greedy action, then say that. It will keep you closer to naming the correct solution.

  41. Russell Arben Fox on August 23, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    Chris,

    “And in your current answer, you seem not to want to use the same blunt language you did before, now preferring to call the activity rather than the person wicked. About the wealthy, you wrote: ‘Margaret actually shouldn’t be ‘appalled’ that her daughter views very wealthy people as wicked. Concerned maybe, but not appalled.’”

    Looking back at my original post, it seems to me that I always tried to make it clear that I thought a judgment against extremely wealthy people arose not from the simple fact of their wealth per se, but from the activities they were involved in. A person is wicked if they do wicked things or contribute to a wicked state of affairs. It the majority of cases, being an extremely wealthy person has probably meant being involved in benefiting from and exacerbating the sin of inequality; hence, wickedness.

    However, for the sake of moving the conversation forward, I hearby renounce and repent of my earliest elaboration of this principle. Consider my actual position to be: “Margaret actually shouldn’t be ‘appalled’ that her daughter views the conditions and activities which the very wealthy benefit from and contribute to be wicked, thus suggesting to her that many of the extremely wealthy people she sees, interacts with, and has to assess, either consciously perform or tacitly endorse wicked acts. Concerned maybe, but not appalled.’” Is that better?

    “People shouldn’t be appalled if their children view gay people as wicked; concerned maybe, but not appalled. Are you pro or con?”

    For reasons that I went into over at both M* and BCC, I think the implication of the latest statements from the church on homosexuality are that no one should consider gayness wicked. But should I be appalled if my children view sexually active gays as wicked? No. I should be concerned, because I don’t want them to become judgmental people, I don’t want them to assume that all society must necessarily agree with their judgments without argument, and because I want them to be able to treat everyone with love and respect. But I can’t say I think there’s anything outright and absolutely terrible with making the practical judgment that any person engaged in illicit sexual activity (whether homosexual or heterosexual) is probably wicked. The same goes for persons who deal heroin, mug old ladies, blackmail children out of their candy, sneak booze onto airplanes, lie about their taxes or reasons for going to war, and spend $800 on shoes instead of giving it all to the LDS Humanitarian Fund.

  42. Geoff J on August 23, 2006 at 12:52 pm

    Russell,

    I think Chris and Jacob and others are on the right track here. You call attention to the fact that most rich people are wicked, but when others point out that most everyone is wicked so rich people shouldn’t be singled out you seem to say “yep, most everyone is wicked so what is wrong with mentioning that rich people are wicked? The scriptures do it after all”. But the problem with singling out a certain group as “likely to be” wicked and with teaching your children to so is that it is not righteous judgment – especially if you not are willing to judge everyone and their “likely wickednessâ€? by the same standard.

    So for instance, if it is ok to teach our children to assume rich people are in all likelihood wicked (using scriptural support and all) isn’t it then also ok to use scriptural support to teach our children that obese people are in all likelihood wicked? I mean we have scriptures condemning gluttony, and the Word of Wisdom, and we have Paul telling us our bodies are temples and that God will destroy those who defile/mistreat their bodies. So even though not all obesity entails the wickedness of gluttony most of it probably does. Are you willing to be that consistent and teach your children to assume the obese are wicked along with the rich?

    Here’s how your own words would sound with obesity substituted for great wealth:

    Margaret actually shouldn’t be “appalled� that her daughter views very obese people as wicked. Concerned maybe, but not appalled.

    Why? Because that judgment of hers–leaving aside how it might wrongly influence her ability to treat obese people as fellow children of God, as she should–is, in my view, more often accurate than otherwise. Great extremes of eating is wicked, and the people who are extremely fat often (too often) reflect that wickedness. Hence Margaret, I think your daughter’s conclusion is, while potentially morally problematic for herself, not necessarily unwise. We should love fat people, but also treat them (and that means–given that everyone reading this blog is almost certainly quite fat in an absolute sense, as Nate notes in comment #22–also treat ourselves) in the same way George Orwell recommended judging saints: as guilty until proven innocent.

    Did I ever baldly say “[all] obese people are [always] wicked�? I think what I said (several times) was, in essence, judging obese people to be wicked is not necessarily a bad judgment, since odds of that judgment being accurate are fairly good.

    What do you think? Does that sound like something you’d teach your kids?

  43. Geoff J on August 23, 2006 at 12:53 pm

    Oops, maybe I was one comment too late…

  44. anonymous rich guy on August 23, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    I am one of those rich guys y’all are talking about. Not Gates rich, not even Huntsman rich. Not even close to those levels. But still rich by any standard. I will leave it to others to decide whether or not I am one of the exceptions that Russell allows for. I have quite a few friends who are rich too, although very few of them are members. I want to take exception to a few comments here.

    First, most rich people I know made their money through a combination of luck, hard work and having the kinds of talent that generate wealth. I don’t know anybody who got rich by being deceptive, greedy or exploitive although I am sure that such people do exist. In fact, I would argue that those qualities are usually deterrents to acquiring wealth. All of the rich people I know are at least as honest and decent as church members that I know. Without exception, in the course of acquiring their wealth, many others benefitted.

    Second, the argument that economic disparity is evil needs to qualified. There is no material difference in the level of happiness experienced by the rich and the middle class. The poor need to be cared for, and the existence of poverty in the face of great abundance is an evil. But I see no reason to worry about the differences between those who make $50,000 per year and those who make $1,000,000 per year. The evidence indicates that the latter are no happier than the former. Why worry about disparities that result in no difference in life satisfaction?

    I agree with those who have suggested that our wealth must be considered a stewardship. Wealth is not evil, but consumption of that wealth may be. Surely God is not pleased when we have the ability to help the poor and choose a life of self indulgence instead. However, it is not just material wealth that constitutes a resource available to serve others. For example, if one chooses to dedicate one’s time to writing Law Review articles on obscure legal issues that will be read by nobody other than the editors of said Law Review, instead of helping out at Habitat for Humanity, is that person really so different from the self indulgent wealthy? Or the person who chooses to study and write about 13th century German literature instead of teaching underprivileged inner city children? Or the person who thinks that after 2500 years there really is something new to say about Plato that requires his particular talents instead of caring for the children of uneducated, single mothers while they acquire job training. Or marathon running instead of soup kitchen working? Or Disneyland vacations rather than vacations building schools in Guatemala? Or compulsive blogging instead of visiting the sick? Surely the way we spend our time is at least as important as the way we spend our money.

  45. Russell Arben Fox on August 23, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    Geoff, I’d be interested in counting that up. My guess is that, including ALL the standard works, and leaving aside all obviously purely metaphorical references, the number of scriptures which suggest an actual correlation between wealth and wickedness outstrips the number of scriptures which suggest an actual correlation between obesity and wickedness by a factor of about 50. I’m prepared to be proved wrong, though.

  46. Geoff J on August 23, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    Hehe. That’s because food was had to come by thousands of years ago…

  47. Jacob on August 23, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    JKC,

    Yes, wealth and poverty are relative terms, that doesn’t mean they have no meaning if everyone was equal. We can still judge how poor *everyone* is relative to the average (or mean, or worst, or whatever) poverty they would have had if they were not equal. What if, after making everyone equal, the standard of living is worse than the current worst standard of living? Are you ready to use your “it’s all relative” argument of #37 to say that no one is really poor at that point because poor is just a word of comparison? I think not. Despite your claim that rich and poor mean nothing in context of a Zion society, the scriptures do, in fact, use the word poor in their description of Zion. There are countries in which large groups of people are all dirt poor. They are all basically equal because they are all just scraping to stay alive. Does this equality make them more holy? All these arguments against wealth seem to be divorced from reality.

  48. Chris Grant on August 23, 2006 at 1:13 pm

    Russell writes: “For reasons that I went into over at both M* and BCC, I think the implication of the latest statements from the church on homosexuality are that no one should consider gayness wicked. But should I be appalled if my children view sexually active gays as wicked?

    The resolution isn’t up for amendment; I’m asking for an up or down vote. Changing “gay people” to “sexually active gays” is tantamount to changing “very wealthy people” to “selfish, exploitative wealthy people” and breaks the parallel to your original statement. (You have presented no evidence that wealthy people are more likely to be be selfish and exploitative than gay people are to be engaged in homosexual activity.)

  49. Mark IV on August 23, 2006 at 1:18 pm

    Russell, # 45,

    If you arrive at a total number of passages in scripture that suggest a direct correlation between wealth and wickedness, you would then have to also consider the number of passages that suggest a direct connection between wealth and righteousness. There are lots of those, too, maybe more than the other kind.

  50. Wilfried on August 23, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    Please note comment 44, which got through the system late. ARG makes some interesting remarks which deserve attention.

  51. S. P. Bailey on August 23, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    The presumption “wealthy people are wicked” seems to violate my understanding of both charity and judging wisely. Not only that, but the presumption seems calculated to reassure, in dubious fashion, the non-wealthy of their moral superiority: it seems far too preoccupied with evaluating others’ righteousness, not reflecting on one’s own. If I were wealthy, I don’t see how the thought “because I am wealthy, I am more likely than not wicked” would help me.

  52. Paul Mortensen on August 23, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    In a free enterprise system it is impossible for someone to generate or preserve wealth without serving society’s interests. A very few of those societal interests are morally evil (i.e. gambling, pornography) but the vast majority of those interests are, at the very least, morally neutral (i.e. appliances, electronics) or morally good (i.e. housing, food). I don’t think anyone can support the argument that there are more individuals whose wealth has been acumulated serving the baser desires of society than those who have acumulated wealth promoting more virtuous desires. Given that, Russel’s assertion that viewing the wealthy as wicked is “more often accurate as otherwise” seems quite problematic and smacks of common covetousness.

  53. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    While my worldview is generally sympathetic to Russell Fox’s antagonists, I just can’t get around two facts:

    (1) the fact of my experience: most rich people I’ve known seemed morally stunted in one way or another (with one exception, who were *very* rich, with inherited wealth no less, and were just marvelous, Christian people); and I’m acquainted with one family that was totally destroyed by the pursuit of wealth and the ownership of goods (this family wasn’t obsessed by pursuing wealth, either, it just sort of stumbled into it)–though truth be known the people in humble circumstances that I’ve known have also generally been morally stunted, and the one person who is neither rich nor poor that I know most intimately (myself) is also morally stunted
    (2) More importantly, the fact of the scriptural witness: the scriptures talk a lot about wealth and the evils of the rich. It doesn’t accommodate itself to my worldview very well, and this may be a problem with my worldview. Can the scriptural emphasis be explained?
    –maybe there were lots more fatcats in ancient times than there were bathhouse homosexuals or indolent and savage poor
    –maybe wealth in ancient, non-capitalist economies really did require lots of moral compromises to acquire (think wassname, the tax collector that Jesus forgave, who sure as shootin’ got his gains by lying and threats and grinding the face of the poor)
    –maybe, though the ways of acquiring wealth aren’t as evil as the grey Fox thinks, and though the possession of wealth isn’t intrinsically more wicked than lots of other sins, being wealthy tends to make one more wicked in other ways, through self-indulgence, for example, or through a false sense that you’ve dispensed with the need for God.

  54. Doc on August 23, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    #52,
    Impossible? As the world moves to more and more open markets, organized crime is becoming more and more rampant, methinks the societal interests they serve create a greater societal headache. What is in the interest of one part of society often requires grinding on the face of the poor in another (The sweatshop in Taipei creating the shoelaces on those cheap Walmart shoes for example.) Your subtle shift from societal good to societal interests allows this without batting an eyelash.

    That said, your final comment about covetousness is actually pretty astute. Taking the hard line on either side of this debate is silly. All we can do is be ready to give that we have to the building up of the kingdom of God should it be required of us.

  55. Chris Grant on August 23, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    anonymous rich guy wrote: “For example, if one chooses to dedicate one’s time to writing Law Review articles on obscure legal issues that will be read by nobody other than the editors of said Law Review, instead of helping out at Habitat for Humanity, is that person really so different from the self indulgent wealthy? Or the person who chooses to study and write about 13th century German literature instead of teaching underprivileged inner city children? Or the person who thinks that after 2500 years there really is something new to say about Plato that requires his particular talents instead of caring for the children of uneducated, single mothers while they acquire job training.

    For some reason, even the Lord’s University expects its scholars to do, well, scholarship.

  56. Jon in Austin on August 23, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    Re: 56

    For some reason, even the Lord’s University expects its scholars to do, well, scholarship.

    Which will benefit those who come to the university seeking their PhDs seeking to become scholars so they can pass on their own unique insights on Plato to the next generation of PhDs seeking to become scholars so they can share their own unique insights on Plato…

  57. Jacob on August 23, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    Re #55,

    Chris, you are just rationalizing in the same way I was in #25 when I said I am justified in sending my kids to swimming lessons while I could be donating that money to the poor.

    I think the time/money comparison introduced here by anonymous rich guy is actually worth pondering. As an analogy it doesn’t work well with respect to the unequal distribution of wealth (since everyone has 24 hours in a day) but then again, time is money, so the rich tend to have more discretionary time just as they have more discretionary money. More directly, many of the justifications we have for spending time on something other than working in a soup kitchen work as very close parallels to why we are justified in spending money on something other than food for the hungry. I may need to dedicate a post to this.

  58. Mark Butler on August 23, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    Anyone who is going to tally up scriptures about wealth and poverty needs to distinguish carefully between ones that refer to social and societal prosperity, ones that refer to personal / familial prosperity and those that refer to comparative or differential prosperity. I do not believe there are any that speak highly of the latter, per se. There is no true glory in having more than the next guy.

  59. Jonathan Green on August 23, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    Anonymous Rich Guy, you make some good points, but I would take them more seriously if you would distinguish between self-indulgent leisure activity and pursuing an honest profession. One of the stereotypes about the idle rich is that they aren’t faced with the stark choice between the two and therefore don’t understand the difference. I don’t expect the steretype applies to you, but perhaps you could show you understand the difference betweek work and leisure in your comments. As for me, my choosing to study medieval German literature is what has allowed me to teach, among others, underprivileged students from inner-city neighborhoods.

  60. Chris Grant on August 23, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    Jon in Austin wrote: “Which will benefit those who come to the university seeking their PhDs seeking to become scholars so they can pass on their own unique insights on Plato to the next generation of PhDs seeking to become scholars so they can share their own unique insights on Plato…

    When you make it to the Board of Trustees, you’ll have the power to drop the scholarship component of BYU faculty expectations and replace it by proficiency at cleaning toilets or something similarly practical, but in the meantime we’re guided by the vision of men and women who apparently have different aspirations for BYU than you do.

  61. endlessnegotiation on August 23, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    I see that ARG has offended the academic types with his very apt comparison. Academia, by and large, is a purely self-serving profession. People choose to enter academia becasue they enjoy what they are studying. The fact that they get paid for doing what they enjoy is only a secondary consideration. The four hours one might spend studying medival German literature is equivalent to my spending $1500 on a Donna Karan suit to wear to church– the four hours the academic spent on that mostly self-indulgent activity is the equivalent to the amount of time it takes me to earn the money for that suit. Thus, on a morality scale my consumption of a designer name suit is equivalent to four hours study by the academic. Unfortunately, the academic\’s near-sightedness inhibits one\’s ability to itentify the equvalance.

  62. Doc on August 23, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    Ah, but to be learned is good if one hearken’s to the counsels of God. You have to give up your posessions and we have to hearken to the counsels of God, and we both have to strip the pride that causes us to snipe at one another.

  63. Chris Grant on August 23, 2006 at 4:58 pm

    endlessnegotiation:

    Is your quarrel with the Board of Trustees (Hinckley, Monson, Faust, Scott, Hales, Bednar, Tingey, Parkin, and Tanner) that sets the expectations or with the faculty who try to live up to them? Is a professorial position at BYU unworthy of a Latter-day Saint?

  64. JKC on August 23, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    Jacob (47),

    You asked: “What if, after making everyone equal, the standard of living is worse than the current worst standard of living? Are you ready to use your “it’s all relativeâ€? argument of #37 to say that no one is really poor at that point because poor is just a word of comparison?”

    Absolutely. The royalty of Europe in the 1300s lived a rather primitive life by our standards (no plumbing or modern medicine), but they were and are considered rich. If the entire world were to live by a more primitive standard, but were equal, I would absolutely say that nobody would be poor.

    You say that “Despite [my] claim that rich and poor mean nothing in context of a Zion society, the scriptures do, in fact, use the word poor in their description of Zion.” Of course they do, but only in a negative sense. The description of Enoch’s city says that “there were no poor” among them.” The Book of Mormons’ description of the Zion-like society of 4th Nephi is even more specific, it tells us that there were neither “rich nor poor” and that they were “all partakers of the heavenly gift.”

    Some arbitrary standard of poverty or wealth makes no difference to the gospel and its objective to bring to pass immortality and eternal life. Inequality, however, is very important to the gospel. Because, “if [we] are not one we are not [the Lord's].”

    You also say that my “arguments against wealth are divorced from reality.” To clarify, I am not arguing against wealth, but against inequality. And lest I be accused of some leftist agenda, neither am I advocating some kind of forced redistricution of wealth–the only way that we can ever really reach equality is to consecrate all our possessions so that we really do own nothing.

    You ask if poverty makes people holy. “There are countries in which large groups of people are all dirt poor. They are all basically equal because they are all just scraping to stay alive. Does this equality make them more holy?” First, I don’t know that we can characterize these large groups of people as equal just because they are poor. I suspect that there is probably a comparable amount of relative inequality among these communities as among our more affluent society. But being free from material things does make it easier to be humble, to rely on God, and to not care about such things. Margaret’s original post demonstrated that, I thought, rather well.

  65. Jim F. on August 23, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    endlessnegotiation: People choose to enter academia becasue they enjoy what they are studying. The fact that they get paid for doing what they enjoy is only a secondary consideration.

    In my experience that is true of all of the most happy people I know: they do what they do because they love it, whether it is law, plumbing, art, education, or car repair. Those people are wealthy, regardless of their income.

    In poverty a person doesn’t have a choice in what he or she does and has to do something merely for the money. That is sad, but it is tragic when someone could do something they love, but chooses to pursue money instead. I am sure there is a close connection between my definition of poverty and income. I doubt, however, that tragedy is directly correlated to income.

    In any case, it isn’t necessarily self-indulgent for a person to do what he or she enjoys doing. Otherwise, acts would only be not self-indulgent if we didn’t enjoy doing them. On that view, Mother Teresa would be self indulgent.

  66. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    “the only way that we can ever really reach equality is to consecrate all our possessions so that we really do own nothing.”

    Exactly backwards. We consecrate our possessions so that each individual owns everything.

  67. endlessnegotiation on August 23, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    Jim:

    I don’t deny that doing what one enjoys is not necessarily self-indulgent but academia tends to be so– especially the softer subjects such as the arts and humanities.

    I only kinda enjoy my work and in a world where I could pursue any career of my choosing free of responsibility of any sort I would not be doing what I do today. I happen to be a pretty good tenor– good enough that I had a performance scholarship in college, won medals at a number of national and international compettitions, and was invited to tour with several different production companies– good enough that I could have made a career out of it. I love to sing (just ask my wife and kids). But when the time came to make a career choice I could not ignore the costs associated with such a career pre-Amarican Idol– years on the road, very little earning power at the beginning if ever, no chance of family. I wanted more out of my life than a career so rather than pursue a career as a tenor I chose something esle– something that offered me the opportunity to pursue the non-career related goals I had and have today. I don’t regret the choice that I made but given what you wrote you probably pity me as “someone [who] could do something they love, but chooses to pursue money instead.” My life if much richer because I sacrifice what I would love to do for a living for a career that allows me to be more flexibility in other areas of my life.

    BTW, I met Mother Theresa and have read excerpts from her diaries. She herself was never convinced that she was doing anything more than indulging her own selfish desires.

  68. JKC on August 23, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    Adam,

    You make a good point. I said “own nothing” because I had in mind the fact that when we consecrate we do it not to the group, but to the Lord. On the other hand, when we consecrate, we also become, “partakers of the heavenly gift” and we qualify (as long as we are faithful) to recieve all that God has, so it is correct to say, as you do, that in consecrating we all gain.

  69. anonymous rich guy on August 23, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    Chris Grant: I did not mean to suggest that scholarship is bad, although I can understand why my comments may have been taken that way. However, it does seem to me that some scholars are poor stewards of their time and talents, just as some wealthy people are poor stewards of their wealth. It is not obvious to me which group has a higher percentage of poor stewards. On an unrelated note, I must disagree with your implicit designation of BYU as the Lord’s University. I love BYU, but I think it is silly and even offensive to refer to it at that way.

    Jonathan Green: Yes, I do understand the difference between self-indulgent leisure activity and pursuing an honest profession, and I also understand why you might wonder, based on my comments, whether I lacked that understanding. I admit that I may have been trying to tweak a few intellectual noses, but I did not mean to offend. I think that scholars and intellectuals perform a very important role in our society. My real point is this. We are stewards of our time, our talents and our riches. I rather suspect that some intellectuals are guilty of pursuing their intellectual pleasures, beyond what may be necessary to pursue an honest profession, instead of dedicating that time and those talents to higher purposes. Some athletes do the same. So do some artists, musicians, stamp collectors, gardeners, writers, bloggers, and clean freaks. I question whether there is a significant moral distinction between all of these people and the rich.

    Now will you take me seriously?

  70. Mark Butler on August 23, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    The Lord (as a person) doesn’t own much of anything, not even his own body. He certainly did not lift himself by his own bootstraps (cf. D&C 121:46). No person can save themselves nor be or remain divine in and of themselves. There is no salvation in owning things. Witness the example of traveling without purse or scrip. The spiritual ideal in a celestial society is not owning anything, although one may be responsible for very much.

  71. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2006 at 6:53 pm

    The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.

    All that the Father hath.

  72. Chris Grant on August 23, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    anonymous rich guy wrote: “I must disagree with your implicit designation of BYU as the Lord’s University. I love BYU, but I think it is silly and even offensive to refer to it at that way.

    I meant it somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but perhaps you should try to be less offended by the phrase, because among those who have used it in referring to BYU are Neal A. Maxwell, Hartman Rector, Jr., John H. Groberg, Henry B. Eyring, Boyd K. Packer, Dallin H. Oaks, Vaughn J. Featherstone, and Jeffrey R. Holland.

  73. Mark Butler on August 23, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    The difference between the person of average means and a wealthy person is the principle of to whom much is given much is required. An average parent often works all week long just to support his own family – in other words a working class parent often already comes close to living the law of consecration. Where someone who has by whatever means acquired great wealth often has an enormous amount of excess income beyond what his family could ever possibly need.

    Under the law of consecration, he is required to administer that excess for the benefit of all. The reason why is that in spiritual terms he has does not have clear title his own possessions. Indeed he hardly has title at all, for he was bought with a price. He does not even own his own body.

    Of course idling away ones time is a sin. But who is wasting more resources in absolute terms, an average worker who works a few less hours per week than he should, or a wealthy person who sinks hundreds of thousands of dollars into an entry level mansion?

  74. Mark Butler on August 23, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    Adam, you have modulated to the greater sense of the Lord, the sense which indeed is most often used in the scriptures.

    The Lord as a person owns nothing, except his own will.
    The Lord as a Person owns everything.

    The Lord as a person is perhaps 6’4″.
    The Lord as a Person is the body of Christ.

  75. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2006 at 7:15 pm

    You lost me at Adam.

  76. Veritas on August 23, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    RE #61 –

    Comparing four hours of studying to buying a $1500 suit is ludicrus. Knowledge and the pursuit thereof is something we seek after, and something eternal. You cannot take a lavish suit with you when you die.

    Seriously, thats about the worst comparison I have read so far (and thats saying something in this odd comparison-heavy thread).

    Its amazing to me how hard it is for people to let go of the concept of owning things. But re #65 – it is true the real rich are those who are able to pursue that which they love, even if it doesn’t make you wealthy. I have often thought it a sickness that people try so hard to find a ‘profession’ instead of just pursuing that which they are talented at/love and letting whatever follows, follow.

    One last point…”seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”. (which I’ll just combo with…) “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

  77. Mike W. on August 23, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    MLU #40,

    I don’t consider myself a leftist (although in Utah I may be), and I am definitely not an academician, so my critique of capitalism doesn’t come from that direction. The solution to the problem is to make it easier for small businesses to compete with big business; to insitute lobby reform (with teeth); and intitute true campaign finance laws. In the U.S., however, we seem to do the opposite. This just creates a political environment in which those who are running for office pander to the wealthy large business owners and are subsequently recompensed with laws which favor big business at the expense of true competition.

    Adam G., Mark Butler, JKC, I think you guys are right on.

  78. Mike W. on August 23, 2006 at 7:31 pm

    if only I could spell institute (twice)

  79. anonymous rich guy on August 23, 2006 at 7:32 pm

    Chris Grant: I am not offended, but I think we offend others when we use that designation. Especially when certain conduct is defended as being in accordance with the Lord’s will because it is sanctioned by “his” university.

  80. Mark Butler on August 23, 2006 at 7:37 pm

    Adam,

    This wouldn’t be important except it has to do (I believe) with a common and serious misunderstanding of the doctrine of exaltation. Many Latter-day Saints are under the impression that there can be more than one true and living God – I call it photocopier theology. i.e. the idea exaltation entails creating ones own universe and becoming omnipotent within that universe, standing alone independent of all other creatures, and indeed owning everything therein, to dispense according to one’s sovereign will and pleasure.

    In my opinion this is a first class heresy that has all sorts of untoward consequences, including personal kingdom building, hierarchical despotism, pride, selfishness, authoritarianism, a cult of property and ownership and so on. And this whole problem is largely due to the confusion in semantics between “god” and “God”.

    The latter is infinitely greater than the former. If one makes a careful perusal of the Gospels in the New Testament, the distinction in status between a divine person and the divine concert is made quite clear. Half of the book of John and much of Paul focuses on this very issue. There is no end of the scriptural paradoxes that can be solved by shifting appropriately between the two senses.

  81. Mark Butler on August 23, 2006 at 7:47 pm

    I am definitely not a leftist. I am a theist. In other words I believe the solution to the material problems of the world lies not in more coercive government, but rather in more religion. Not conventional state socialism, but rather religious socialism.

  82. endlessnegotiation on August 23, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    Veritas:

    You miss the point of the comparison by focussing on the suit. The real focus I tried to emphasize is that the academic may spend four hours researching some obscure, irrelevant topic that does not provide society with any marginal benefit while one could spend that same time performing some social good– and that represents an equally sad waste of resources as buying the suit. RAB in his initial posting asserts that one is justified in assuming that the wealthy (however he chooses to determine that class) are unrighteous simply by virtue of their having more resources at their disposal. I (and I think ARG as well) am making a similar claim that those who pursue vanity professions, such as academia, should be subject to a similar presupposition given that such are equally likely to be wasting the same valuable resource– time. You know, the guilty until proven innocent thang.

    You also make the error of assuming that all knowlege is equally valuable in a moral or eternal sense. I’ll wager that my knowledge of programming or home repair or football (all of which I could expend vast quantities of time learning) are less morally valuable than learning about physics or prospect theory or religion. Yes I MAY be able to take my knowledge of football along with me to the eternities but I have serious doubts as to whether I should be spending my time studying football at all and whether it would do me any good in the eternities.

  83. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2006 at 10:28 pm

    Your photocopier theology is a straw man. I believe most of it, but neither I nor anyone else believe that exaltation means saying goodbye to God and y’all and living in lonely frontier isolation.

  84. Mark Butler on August 24, 2006 at 12:01 am

    The problem with most theologies is they are a bundle of strict, not just apparent contradictions. As soon as you introduce communication between universes, one ceases to believe that he can become the God of Calvin, let alone do absolutely anything according to his sovereign will and pleasure. He no longer owns everything, indeed he only has a stewardship of some sort, presumably a priesthood repsonsibility to his patriarchal superior, or at least a resonsibility to someone. No more arbitrariness, no more whim, no more everything one does is righteous by definition – indeed back to the world of Christianity.

  85. Ed Johnson on August 24, 2006 at 1:04 am

    I find annonymous rich guy’s point to be quite persuasive.

    The rich guy probably spent his time and effort doing something that society values, which (combined with luck) made him wealthy while also benefiting others. The scholar chooses to spend his time doing something that he enjoys but that society values much less, making himself much less wealthy. (Of course the market doesn’t really compensate people perfectly based on their true worth to society, but I believe there is a positive relationship.)

    Sure the rich guy isn’t perfect, but I don’t see why his riches should single him out for special scrutiny or harsh judgement. Even if he gives absolutely nothing to the poor, it is not clear to me that he has contributed less to his fellow man than the scholar. And if the rich guy gives, say, a mere 20% of his money to good causes and spends the remaining 80% on fancy cars and suits, one could argue that he has contributed much more.

  86. Geoff J on August 24, 2006 at 1:38 am

    Good point Ed. I also thought Anonymous Rich Guy’s first comment (#44) was well stated and quite persuasive.

  87. Jonathan Green on August 24, 2006 at 3:52 am

    Ed, you’re not clearly distinguishing between price as determined by economic forces, and moral value as determined by…whoever determines that. The employment market sets the prices workers can charge for their labor by balancing out the supply and demand for their services, nothing more. “Worth to society”/”benefit to society” imply a moral good that a market simply doesn’t establish.

    One problem with your argument is that it applies to every profession, not just academics, so that doing any low-paid work (“teaching inner-city children to read,” for example) becomes less praiseworthy than doing everything to maximize wealth. That’s just fine according to the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, but problematic in Christian morality. Even assuming that everyone is donating to charitable causes, the parable of the widow’s mite suggests skepticism about measuring moral worth by the size of the donation.

    Another problem with your example is that the ranks of the rich and the extra-super-duper-rich include those whose wealth is independent of the price of their labor, or anything else that society thinks about their activities. Some of the rich have inherited their wealth. For others, wealth is a result of investment decisions. And the wages and benefits of the highest-paid executives are notoriously divorced from supply and demand.

    Should the rich regard their wealth as a possible source of moral peril? Yes, they should. Just like academics should be especially wary of intellectual pride, and anyone else who faces occupational moral hazards should be particularly wary of them.

    It’s true that choosing a career, and allotting time to professional advancement or community service or leisure, and deciding how to invest time and capital are all moral choices with profound consequences. But the root of the concerns here about academics, I think, is that some people simply don’t regard academia (or only the humanities, or maybe just studying medieval German literature) as a legitimate career. I’m not sure what part of my providing services to an employer in return for a paycheck troubles them, but it’s still good to know for future reference.

  88. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2006 at 8:09 am

    Jonathan Green,

    You’re inverting the argument. Mr. Rich Guy is analogizing the rich to academics as a way of defending the rich, not of condemning academics. What he’s saying is that if being wealthy makes one presumptively wicked (because one has resources that aren’t given to the poor) then being an academic should also be presumptively wicked, because one has resources (time) that in no way benefit the poor. You’ve actually enhanced his argument by pointing out that there are moral hazards unique to each that the scriptures have identified. Mr. Rich Guy’s conclusion is that we shouldn’t view being wealthy as presumptively wicked (based on his implicit assumption that its absurd to think of academics as presumptively wicked).

    I am, by they way, completely unpersuaded by your argument that studying medieval German literature helps you help kids from inner cities or whatever. Its worth doing because its worth doing, not because it helps the less fortunate.

  89. Chris Grant on August 24, 2006 at 9:31 am

    anonymous rich guy wrote: “I think we offend others when we use that designation

    If so, someone should alert the apostles.

    Especially when certain conduct is defended as being in accordance with the Lord’s will because it is sanctioned by “his� university.

    The thing about the sort of scholarship you seemed to be belittling is that you can’t have a real university without it, Lord’s or not. A school where the teachers teach and do committee work and then work in soup kitchens instead of doing scholarship isn’t going to satisfy accreditors. And members of the Board of Trustees have repeatedly proclaimed that scholarship is a vital part of BYU’s mission–quotes provided upon request–so unless you think they’ve got their wires crossed on this issue, a presumption that having scholarship at BYU is in accordance with the Lord’s will isn’t so presumptuous, is it?

  90. Russell Arben Fox on August 24, 2006 at 10:09 am

    Ok, this thread was picking up a lot of baggage as it developed, so I thought it was best if I stepped out for a while and thought about things. My tentative conclusions:

    1) I reiterate what I said in #41: my original statement was too strong; I hereby repent of it. I continue to affirm, however, on the basis of the scriptures and personal observation (and mine parallel much more closely Adam’s in #53 than ARG’s in #44), that the evils which arise from inequality are reflected in the choices and desires of the truly wealthy often enough to form a reasonable basis for judgment.

    2) ARG’s point in #69 (which was subsequently developed by comments by Adam and Jonathan) is an excellent one: the resources we ought to consider ourselves merely stewards of, as opposed to owners of, include our time and talents, and not just our material resources. And there is a lot of condemnation in the scriptures and the Christian tradition of those who are selfish about their time or who are led astray by their intellectual talents–though not, I would also continue to affirm, quite as much condemnation as there is in the scriptures of inequality and extremes in wealth. (Scholars of medieval German or political philosophy–that would be Jonathan and me–might be faulted for all the good they aren’t doing, but they aren’t exactly “grinding the faces of the poor” either. So perhaps, while intellectuals and scholars–like gluttons perhaps, thinking here of Geoff’s comment in #42?–are putting their own salvation at risk, they are not as likely to contribute to conditions of inequity and poverty, however unintentionally, as the wealthy might.)

    In any case, if someone told me they were raised to presumptively view academics as “guilty [of laziness and intellectual pride] until proven innocent,” I wouldn’t begrudge them that judgment. My dad–a fairly wealthy landowner and businessman–once semi-humorously labeled me a parasite on society; while I can defend myself against that charge (in the same way that I think my father’s choices and desires are strong evidence that he understands his wealth to be a stewardship, and not anything that is in any sense “his”), it’s a fair accusation nonetheless.

    3) Endlessnegotiation’s comment about Mother Teresa in #67 needs to be responded to, though it is not necessarily inaccurate. There’s a lot more to the Mother Teresa story, including her own spiritual self-understanding, than endlessnegotiation suggests. This article from First Things (I commented on it once before here) is a good place to start.

    4) Adam, I love your description of consecration in #66. That’s absolutely my vision of it as well. “Ownership” doesn’t so much disappear, as it is transformed.

  91. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2006 at 10:25 am

    “Scholars of medieval German or political philosophy–that would be Jonathan and me–might be faulted for all the good they aren’t doing, but they aren’t exactly “grinding the faces of the poorâ€? either. ”

    Russell Fox, I would argue that wealth in a modern, capitalist economy is less likely to involve grinding the faces of the poor than wealth in pre-modern times. Other than that, I think I’m on board with everything you’ve just said.

  92. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2006 at 10:31 am

    Mark Butler,

    The situation you describe sounds like fee simple ownership with a contingent reversion to me. Also, I’m not sure why you think there are external, imposed limits on what a God “owns.” When God gave Elijah and the later Nephi carte blanche to call down disasters and things, their authority was absolute, they could act at whim. But God didn’t care, because he knew their character and knew they wouldn’t exercise it that way. The limits were internal and voluntary. So I don’t see why ownership is such a bad thing. I would prefer to use that word because I believe it captures a richer, more intimate relationship with the things owned than vague talk of stewardship or responsiblity does.

  93. anonymous rich guy on August 24, 2006 at 10:46 am

    Unfortunately, some of my comments have been interpreted as belittling scholarship or suggesting that those who choose to become academics are morally inferior. That is not what I believe, and I did not mean to suggest that. Both Ed Johnson and Adam Greenwood above have summarized well my major arguments.

    Let me relate a personal story to make a point. A few years ago I sold a business. I had more money than I had ever dreamed of. I was now faced with the stark realization that I no longer had to work for money. This created a moral dilemma for me. How should I now spend my time since I had no financial constraints. My first inclination was that I should create a charitable foundation and spend my time doing good. Or I could go on a mission. Or go to work for a humanitarian aid organization. My business partners wanted me to keep doing what we had been doing. Initially I considered it wrong to do that for the sole purpose of making more money when I already had more than I needed. But then another thought occurred to me. If I was serious about doing good in the world, I could do much more good by continuing to work for filthy lucre and then I could use that money to do even more good. So here I sit in my office. My work is no longer very fulfilling. It has actually become boring. But I am doing this because I think I should because I am doing more good here than I would be doing working at the homeless shelter.

    Everybody faces similar decisions in their lives. There are some frequent bloggers here who have chosen to pursue academic careers instead of being wall street lawyers. When one decides to become an academic one forecloses other options. Myabe the German scholar could have been a physician, an investment banker, or successful real estate developer. When people forego lucrative careers for less lucrative careers because they find the less lucrative careers more fulfilling, they are giving up money which they could used to save the lives of starving children in exchange for personal fulfillment. That sounds harsh and critical. It is not meant to be. But those who think they are morally superior than others because “money doesn’t mean anything� to them should think again. It may not mean anything to them, but it does mean something to somebody else, and they could have used it for that somebody else if they did not need it. They simply choose not to.

  94. anonymous rich guy on August 24, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    Russell: It is not clear to me how you think the wealthy grind the faces of the poor. I think that description is quite apt in some economic systems where the poor simply have no chance to break the cycle of poverty and are being exploited by the wealthy who control the levers of political and economic power. I have in mind a feudal system, communism, or other countries where corruption is rampant. In those societies, the privileged few control the power and the wealth and grind the faces of the poor. I can’t imagine how that expression can justifiably be applied to Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, or even to most of the less honourable wealthy in our society. I do agree that it is a sin to have the time, talent and resources to alleviate the suffering of others, and then to fail to do so. But I have trouble distinguishing between the failure of the wealthy person to do as much good as she can with her resources and the failure of an academic to do as much good as he can. Why is the wealthy person grinding the faces of the poor when the academic is not? Especially if the academic is living off the tax dollars paid by those who earn less than he does. (Insert smiley face here–I meant that as a joke.)

  95. Jonathan Green on August 24, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    Adam, I think you labor under a distorted view of how much free time most academics have. My experience so far has involved long enough hours that I don’t see any inherent danger of laziness (unlike other inherent moral dangers that do exist). Although how I structure my time is largely at my discretion, I’m still accountable to my employer for what I do with that time. If I don’t schedule enough of it for work-related stuff I can start looking for a new career with more structured time commitments. How much time is ‘enough’ seems to me about the same as for many other people in professional careers. I have no problem admitting the moral perils of my profession, but the idea that it’s all a bunch of leisure time is just nuts. If you want to treat me as guilty of intellectual pride until proven otherwise, I won’t object. But wallowing in time like the extremely wealthy wallow in money? No.

    I wasn’t arguing with AnonRichGuy in my previous comment, by the way, but, shoot, if you want me to…

    AnonRichGuy, thanks for your clarification back in ’69. I understand the point you were making and wasn’t offended. About your recent comment, though, I won’t agree that the only righteous choice is to become as rich as one possibly can; I’m suspicious of anything that corresponds exactly to what the World urges us to do with our lives. I agree that the question of how much wealth to acquire is a moral question, however, and I have no doubt that your decision is the right one for you. But I think you’re overstating people’s ability to choose to become rich. Most people make very roughly informed choices based on their talents and inclinations and on partial information about their career options, usually choosing only the next step and not the final destination. For some the choice leads to great economic reward and for some it doesn’t. Most college students think they’ll be millionaires by the time they’re 30. That few actually do has more to do with things that happen in the meantime rather than their initial career choice. I know people who got business degrees with their eyes only on the bottom line, and who then ended up working for one struggling company after another. Getting so loaded with wealth that you can help many people is a great thing, but not exactly something you can plan your life around. Often the careers with the best prospects of amassing great wealth are those that require the kind of time away from one’s family that didn’t seem justifiable to me. (Yeah, yeah, I know what I just told Adam, I really am working, but I’m not putting in 80-hour weeks in order to make partner, either.) Pretty much all you can reasonably hope for is a more or less stable job that feeds your family. If you end up with more, it’s probably best regarded as a blessing, not as a righteous choice that others are to be scolded for not making.

  96. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2006 at 1:13 pm

    Jonathan Green,

    Who is this ‘Adam’ that has been arguing that academics have lots of free time? I would have lots of free time if I were an academic, and I had tenure, but that’s because I’m a lazy son of a gun. Lots of people aren’t. Truthfully I had never given any thought to the free time that academics have until you just brought it up.

    Also, sorry to be laying on the criticism here, but I think you’re misreading Mr. Rich Guy again. He’s not saying that wealth-seeking is the only righteous choice. He’s saying that most of us who are less well-off are less well-off because we have deliberately traded wealth for other things, like time with family, that don’t seem calculated to help the poor and the less fortunate. The righteousness of our choices is not solely based on how much the help the poor and the less fortunate.

  97. Mark Butler on August 24, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    I think I gave a reasonable description of the way many wealthy people directly or indirectly (via the corporate veil) grind upon the faces of the poor in the last thread.

    In summary: usury, imbalanced contractual terms (especially fine print), the abuse of monopoly power, bait and switch (however theoretically up front about it), the doctrine of strategic exploitation, a hard line about contractual enforcement no matter the circumstances and situation of the other, the cult of ownership and property, excessive legalism, material kingdom building, the common law obligation of corporations to be amoral, the corporate veil that effectively insulates shareholders from any any moral or even legal responsibility for this type of behavior, winner take all attitudes, the disappearance of the doctrine of the fair price, and so on – indeed practically anything that is inconsistent with the golden rule.

    Now as to Microsoft specifically, I believe I could make a compelling case that Bill Gates (via Microsoft) is morally responsible for far more suffering and wasted effort in material, hard dollar terms in curing the problems in his products and working around all sorts of strategic defects and incompatibilities, the strategic destruction of competitors and so on, than the net total worth of Microsoft stock.

  98. anonymous rich guy on August 24, 2006 at 1:56 pm

    Jonathan: I certainly hope that you don’t believe that the only righteous choice is to become as rich as one possibly can. I don’t believe that either. However, I think that it is true that each time we decide that we would rather pursue activities that sacrifice riches for something else, we diminish our ability to contribute financially to the poor in favour of something else. It does not follow that we should always decide to maximize wealth, but I think it is worth remembering that we do in fact sacrifice the interests of the poor each time we decide to something that does not maximize our ability to help the poor. When the rich guy buys a Ferrari instead of a Civic and donating the balance to charity, he demonstrates by his actions that he values the Ferrari more than the lives of the poor he could have improved. When the middle class family goes to Disneyland instead of camping and donating the difference to charity, they are doing the same thing. When the bright young student or lawyer chooses teaching instead of Wall Street, he is doing the same thing. And when the church invests in malls and expensive church buildings with gyms, or funds ward parties and dances, it is doing the same thing. Each of those decisions sacrifices the interests of starving people for something else.

    These decisions are complicated. Helping the poor is important, but it is not the only important thing. As stewards of our time, talents and resources, we have to allocate them properly. All decisions involve a trade off of some kind, and it is difficult to know what is best. We can do that better if we make explicit the implicit trade offs in each decision we make. Having the resources to help and then not helping is a sin. Is there a moral distinction between that decision and the decision not to acquire those resources in the first place in favor of the more satisfying “life of the mind”, all else being equal? It is not clear to me that there is.

  99. Doc on August 24, 2006 at 1:59 pm

    ARG,
    “we do in fact sacrifice the interests of the poor each time we decide to something that does not maximize our ability to help the poor.”

    I am sorry but this smacks of self justification. I have a hard time believing people accumulate wealth simply to maximize their ability to help the poor.

  100. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    You don’t get it, Doc. You and I and Mr. Rich Guy are all pretty sure that most people don’t accumulate wealth to help the poor. We should also pretty sure that most people who give up higher paying jobs to have more time are not doing it to help the poor either. Odds are they want the time for family, exercise, hobbies, enjoying life, and so forth.

  101. anonymous rich guy on August 24, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    Doc: What Adam said.

    I am not sure where the self justification comes in. I am not trying to justify anything at all. If anything, I am trying to do the opposite. I am trying to force myself and others to think more clearly about what it means to be good stewards. I am not very good at that.

    I do think that a few people accumulate wealth in order to maximize their ability to help the poor. Not many, but I know a few who do. But that is not the point.

  102. Ed Johnson on August 24, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    Mark Butler, many of those inethical practices you mention are bad, but I don’t think you should assume that those are the sources of most wealth. In a market system, most wealth comes from creating things that people value, from luck, and from deferring gratification (i.e. saving and investing).

  103. Kaimi Wenger on August 24, 2006 at 3:13 pm

    Ed (85),

    You write:

    “Even if he gives absolutely nothing to the poor, it is not clear to me that he has contributed less to his fellow man than the scholar. And if the rich guy gives, say, a mere 20% of his money to good causes and spends the remaining 80% on fancy cars and suits, one could argue that he has contributed much more. ”

    This statement makes sense on an intuitive level — the rich would do a lot of good by just giving 20%. But doesn’t the Savior explicitly repudiate the idea that the rich are allowed to give less, because they have more?

  104. anonymous rich guy on August 24, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    Kaimi: I think that the rich can do more good without being moral. If Bill Gates donated only $1,000,000 to the poor he could argue that he helped more poor people than the vast majority of the world’s population. But that is not the same as being more moral. To self-indulgently squander billions while giving away $1 million is not moral, but it may still accomplish more good than most people ever accomplish.

  105. Mark Butler on August 24, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    Ed J. (#102), At least by a celestial standard, I have gradually come to the conclusion that the corruption goes much deeper than that. The argument to establish that conclusion depends more on spiritual principles and ideals, particularly relating to the doctrine of grace and the Atonement. In particular I don’t think the idea that anyone can be a net creditor to society to any inordinate degree is at all credible from a spiritual perspective. The idea that society owes you more than you owe society (no matter how you acquired your “chits”) seems to me like an inversion of the doctrine of grace.

  106. Ed Johnson on August 24, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    Kaimi, I’m not saying that the rich are “allowed” to give less, merely that they may have already given more than others.

    Jesus told people to leave everything behind, even their families, to follow him. It’s true that the rich guy isn’t doing that, but neither is the scholar, and neither are any of us. If that’s the standard, we all fail, so we have no cause to look down on the rich guy.

  107. bbell on August 24, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    Couple of quick comments:

    This is a complicated topic. Only Jesus can really know what is inside the poor or the rich mans heart. “the Lord looketh upon the heart”

    Also who is rich and who is poor? By historical standards all of our commentators are rich.

    I personally believe that our current financial condition plays deeply into how we react to topics like this.

    “Grinding the face of the poor” This is an obscure OT passage. In the bloggernacle it gets far more “play” then it does in GC, the Ensign, and our leaders writings and talks. I believe that this is because the bloggernacle is more left leaning then the average member or the leadership and this obscure scripture plays to the lefties bias. I do believe that you CAN grind the face of the poor but if this is your only sin your doing pretty well since its not in the “original 10″ the TR interview etc.

    Hey I am just grateful for the prosperous farmer Martin Harris……

  108. Clark on August 24, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Ed (#106) well said and something I always wondered about while reading Nibley’s lamentations regarding the poor. I wonder how he’d have felt giving up access to all the books he read. There are hard choices in all this and I think what’s more at issue is our attachment to material things rather than having them.

  109. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2006 at 4:31 pm

    ” I do believe that you CAN grind the face of the poor but if this is your only sin your doing pretty well since its not in the “original 10″ the TR interview etc.”

    Lets not be hasty. There are other scriptures that say the same thing in other words, like Isaiah talking about those who take property from the widow and so on. If I were grinding the face of the poor, I would be in even worse shape spiritually than I already am.

    Also, consider that much of what constitutes grinding the face of the poor already comes into the temple recommend interview–are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men?

  110. Jonathan Green on August 24, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    Adam, let me refresh your memory:
    Back in #88, which you typed early this morning, you summarized ARG’s comments as follows: “…if being wealthy makes one presumptively wicked (because one has resources that aren’t given to the poor) then being an academic should also be presumptively wicked, because one has resources (time) that in no way benefit the poor…”
    That is, you, Adam Greenwood, your self as it existed at 8:09 AM this morning, proposed an analogy between the excess wealth of the rich and the excess time of the academic. Millionaire:wealth :: academic:time, so to speak.
    My response what that this excess time does not exist for academics any more than it does for anyone else holding a full-time job.
    Then shortly after lunchtime you asked, “Who is this ‘Adam’ that has been arguing that academics have lots of free time?”
    Answer: YOU, because otherwise your analogy doesn’t make a lick of sense.

  111. bbell on August 24, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    Adam,

    Define “grind the face of the poor” with a GA statement.

    To me it seems that you would openly flaunt your extreme wealth and be nasty towards poorer people in the process. Sounds more like pride than anything else. Pride has many ways of manifesting itself.

    I am not sure that honest in your dealings is what Is 3 is talking about

  112. anonymous rich guy on August 24, 2006 at 5:35 pm

    Suppose you manage to escape from a refugee camp in Sudan as a 16 year old. You come to America, but you must leave behind your orphaned younger brothers and sisters. You are very bright, and soon earn a scholarship to university. You decide to study history, hoping to get a Phd and eventually teach. Your advisor says: “you realize that it will take years of study to achieve your goal, and when you do your income will be modest.

    “Yes, but I love history. We can learn a lot from history you know. And I am pretty good at it. I think I will love it.�

    “I understand, but you have the talent to do lots of things. You could be a neurosurgeon. You could make it as an M&A lawyer on Wall Street. You even look good in a suit, you could make it as an investment banker on Wall Street. You could do lots of things that are more remunerative than studying and teaching history. All these occupations will allow you to earn a pile of money which you could use to get your starving brothers and sisters out of that camp.�

    “Yes, I understand, all that, but money doesn’t mean anything to me. I prefer the life of an intellectual. I can do what I love, make enough for my modest needs, and have time for my family. I know I could do all those other things, but I don’t like those activities nearly as much as I like history.�

    “I know money doesn’t mean much to you, and your needs are modest. We are talking about your starving brothers and sisters here. It sure would mean a lot to them. You have it within your ability to help them. How can you be so self indulgent as to choose a career that will not allow you to help them just because you find it more fulfilling?�

    How is that person different from any other person who chooses not to maximize his or her income for the sake of a lifestyle that is more personally fulfilling?

  113. Veritas on August 24, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    This is getting rediculous.

  114. anonymous rich guy on August 24, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    Maybe so Veritas. My question is an honest one though, and it is a genuine question and not a statement. As stated above, I don’t really believe that we have a moral obligation to maximize our income. On the other hand, we all have real brothers and sisters in desperate need of our help. How do we rationalize not doing everything in our power to help the destitute, including pursuing a career path that we would otherwise not choose because it will allow us to help? Humor me and give me your thoughts. I always really enjoy your thoughts.

  115. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2006 at 6:16 pm

    “Answer: YOU, because otherwise your analogy doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

    Not so fast, mein herr. It doesn’t matter for the analogy whether academics have leisure time or not. What matters is that academics spend their time doing something they (presumably) enjoy instead of helping the poor. There you go.

  116. A self-castigating rich guy on August 24, 2006 at 7:19 pm

    I’ve been lurking and listening. I think that ARG has made some good points about the amount of good that one can do with the wealth that one accumulates and regarding the other things we have stewarship of that we waste away.

    However, it is something that I feel so deeply the responsibility I have with the wealth given and I am always checking myself to see what I am using money to do. For example, friends in a third world county that I still maintain contact with have asked me on multiple occasions for financial help in different situations, always with the caveat “if it’s not too much of a problem.” I think about the money I spend on a mountain bike or landscaping my yard, having a new car (when the not-so-old one still works fine) etc. and realize that I spend a lot of money on things I don’t need and could give it to assist others less fortunate.

    What I have been hearing from many is an attempt to rationalize our culture of consumption instead of being self-critical. Fingers have been pointed at academics (and a list could go on and on). However, the only thing that matters to the Lord for me is “what am I doing?” Until we are willing to take a hard look at ourselves, and not at others, will we be a Zion people.

  117. Mark Butler on August 24, 2006 at 7:35 pm

    I do not see how comparisons help the matter here. The sin of one person cannot justify the sin of another. We could have a separate post about the moral obligations of academics and perhaps more so other people with too much time on their hands, but no amount of inaction by the idle is going to justify the inordinately wealthly in not administering his stewardship appropriately.

  118. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    Mark Butler, you are the smartest obtuse person I know. Mr. Rich Guy’s argument is doing one of two things. Either the comparison is showing that rich folk are in much the same situation as academics and others who have traded income for leisure or job satisfaction, and that since we don’t think those people are sinners we shouldn’t think the rich presumptively are either. Or else its refuting the argument that there is something peculiarly sinful about wealth.

    You may not agree with the argument, but that’s what it is. Not your #116.

  119. Mark Butler on August 24, 2006 at 8:06 pm

    I confess to having not followed the dispute in great detail, but I think the comparision is invidious nonetheless. We are all sinners – the question is what can and should we do about it? Public opinion is inconsequential.

  120. Mark Butler on August 24, 2006 at 8:10 pm

    Likewise, far better than trying to establish the proposition that Margaret Young’s daughter was right, perhaps a better topic would be the stewardship and moral responsibility of those blessed with various types of wealth. In other words, I am not objecting to the logic of the argument, I am complaining about its utility. If that is obtuse, count me in.

  121. S. P. Bailey on August 24, 2006 at 8:12 pm

    Yes, Mark. That’s why presumptions that single certain groups out as particularly wicked (i.e., above and beyond the universal “we are sinners”) are pointless. As I commented above (it seems like sometime last week) the emphasis should be reflecting one’s own righteousness, not proposing dubious models for the evaluation of others’.

  122. Gina on August 24, 2006 at 8:22 pm

    #112 Here’s a possible answer to that question. In a very real way, the conditions that create the people in the refugee camp in Sudan are encouraged, if not explicitly made possible, by the persuit of riches and power. If you have a million dollars and spend them to buy a few people’s freedom and education and some basic health care, the camp will still exist, although those people are unquestionably blessed and better. But the very act of being really rich, I believe, contributes to the sort of power-hungry, inhumane, war-torn world we find ourselves in, even if personally you live a very moral life.

    If instead you seek to live your life in a modest, generous, consecrated way, honestly seeking to serve God and not mammon – if it is a life in academics, so be it – perhaps the small light that example gives to the world offers hope to others that there is more than money and Jesus really knew whereof he spoke. You might never have the resources to buy some opportunities for Sudanese refugees, but you might have the hope that in a small way you changed the world nevertheless.

  123. Jim F. on August 24, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    I’m an academic, and I believe that ARG has a point: I could make more money and give it to the poor, but I choose not to do so. That doesn’t seem so different than a person who pursues a job and makes more money than needed for a modest living and doesn’t give all of his excess to charity.

    It is also a fact, as some earlier commenter said, that since I’m a middle-class American, I’m filthy rich by comparison to very many people. I don’t live in a huge house, though I live in a nice one. But I could live in a smaller home, I could have spent less on its furnishings, and I could forego spending the money I spend on my hobby, cooking. Whatever amount of my income I am presently giving to charity, I could give more without very much difficulty.

    It is finally true that I rarely feel much guilt about either of those facts. I often I feel that I should do more than I do (though usually what I feel I should do requires my time rather than my money), but that isn’t the same as feeling guilty about being a professor or about my income.

    Nevertheless, I don’t feel that I should feel guilty about those things, though I don’t have an ethical theory that explains my feeling. In other words, I don’t feel guilty, but I recognize that it is possible that I should.

    Am I wrong not to feel guilty? If so, what should I do? Take another job? Sell all that I have and give it to the poor, perhaps? I doubt that we could universalize such a rule. If I’m not wrong, why not (and what should I do)?

    It seems to me that one way to put the problem that ARG has raised.

  124. Adam Greenwood on August 24, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    Don’t worry, Mark Butler, I’m counting you in.

    Miss Gina, that’s so much fairy dust. Your modest nice person humbly minding their own business here in the US will have zero effect on Sudanese horrors. Zilch.

  125. Jonathan Green on August 25, 2006 at 7:49 am

    Adam, you’re calling someone else smart and obtuse? Are you worried that Mark Butler is going to challenge you for the title, or something?

    If you’re only maintaining that academics are pursuing an occupation they find rewarding, then the same criticism applies equally to all other careers that don’t promise massive wealth, and this whole academic side-discussion is purely a distraction. Job satisfaction among academics is about the same as it is for other careers, so you might as well be haranguing mechanics and computer programmers for not pursuing more lucrative careers instead of something they enjoy.

    Or maybe the argument is that academics are such intelligent, talented, diligent, and charming individuals that they would certainly achieve great wealth in another profession. (Or that they are such calculating, cold-hearted, back-stabbing connivers that they would undoubtedly rise to the top of the corporate ladder–take your pick.) If the argument is that academics are choosing to earn less money than their talents would otherwise allow in a way that satisfied mechanics and computer programmers do not…well, see below.

  126. Mark IV on August 25, 2006 at 7:52 am

    I simply cannot let this thread die out without taking a few whacks at the academic pinata. Unlike ARG, I will make no attempt to be fair and evenhanded.

    Somewhere about a hundred comments ago, somebody returned a bill of indictment against rich businessmen that included, among other things, 1)unfair pricing, 2)monopolistic practices, 3)bait and switch advertising, and 4)the dehumanizing practice of seeing people as units of production.

    Within a twenty mile radius of my home there are 7 institutions of higher learning. The undergraduate tuition ranges between $5,000 and $22,000 per annum. They are all OK schools, nothing great, and a bachelor’s degree from one of them is indistinguishable from a bachelor’s degree from another. If this isn’t unfair pricing, I don’t know what is. The most unscrupulous car dealer in the world can only dream of selling a car at a price 4 times greater than the dealership down the road.

    What are we to think of a enterprise that enrolls impressionable 18 year old students on the promise of a bright future, strings them along for four years, then kicks them to the curb with a B.A. in liberal arts, no prospects for a job, and $100,000 in student debt? Bait and switch, anyone?

    I have family members who are climbing the corporate ladder and others who are members of the professoriat. Whenever the conversation turns to office politics, the academicians have the more hair-raising stories, no question. The backstabbing, blackballing, infighting, and sabotaging of careers that goes on routinely in the academic world is nasty and viscious, notwithstanding its pettiness. And the extent to which one must abase oneself in order to curry favor with selection and tenure committees is truly dehumanizing. You might as well check your dignity and self respect at the door.

    The university tenure system is the world’s most perfect monopoly. It makes Enron’s feeble efforts in this direction look pathetic. When it comes to creating barriers to entry into markets, university faculties could give lessons to OPEC.

    I think I have successfully demonstrated that people who are practicing academicians have followed the example of Faust and made a bargain with the devil. They have made their peace with a corrupt enterprise and are therefore morally deficient. Sister Young would be well advised to teach her children to avoid people with initials after their names, just as she teaches them not to take candy from strangers.

  127. Jonathan Green on August 25, 2006 at 8:02 am

    ARG, the question you ask is, roughly, isn’t pursuing a career with a modest income as morally dubious as squandering great wealth on frivolous consumption instead of helping the poor?
    I agree that the prospect of acquiring wealth is one of the factors in the complicated moral implications of choosing a career.
    I agree that opting for the big money can be the correct choice for some people.
    But I disagree, however, that choosing a less gilded career is the same as choosing to sacrifices the interests of the poor and needy.

    First, I’d reiterate my comments from #95; choosing to get a JD with the idea of working for a major Wall Street firm is not the same thing as actually having a bundle of cash drop into your lap that you can use for whatever noble cause you prefer. Lawyers in top firms face the additional expenses of dressing and behaving like a lawyer in a top firm, not to mention law school debt. Ending up with a pile of cash requires time and luck and the cooperation of many factors not necessarily in one’s own control. If you have wealth, you have the full moral burden of how you dispose of it, but the choice of a career, where wealth is only a hypothetical outcome and not necessarily even a likely one, simply doesn’t give one the same kind of moral responsibility.

    Second, you’ve got to be talking about a great deal of wealth for the numbers to add up. Something you mentioned in your first comment was the choice between continuing to work and serving a mission. The costs per month for a missionary couple seem to run $1000-$2000 per month, so it would cost me, say, $18,000 per year to serve a mission with my wife. In order to do the church a greater benefit than simply serving a mission myself, I’d need to support two missionary couples for $36,000 per year. Assuming a rate of charitable giving of 10%, which is 5-10 times the national average, I’d need an income of $360,000 per year in order to do the church more good than simply serving a mission on my own time. It’s really great that some people are in a position to do that, but those people are well into the top 1% of income earners. There’s no way to know at the beginning of any career if one will end up there or not; it’s an unlikely hypothetical that simply can’t have much bearing on the moral calculus of choosing a career.

    Third, you’re assuming that skill sets are easily transferable, that a world-class historian could just as easily be a world-class investment banker. I’m not sure that’s true. I think I’m fairly good at what I do, but I would not be a good doctor. I wouldn’t do the world any good as an unmotivated lawyer or a disillusioned investment banker. I don’t think a frustrated and mediocre sales executive is going to pull in the kind of money that will make a difference to impoverished people anywhere.

    Fourth, in the example of the Sudanese scholarship student, you’re looking only at the economic contributions of single individuals for solutions to major problems. Alleviating humanitarian disasters requires individual donations, but it also requires leaders to mobilize ethnic communities, lobbyists to seek funding from governments and NGO’s, and effective communicators to show the general public what’s at stake. All those sources of humanitarian relief can provide many times what a single person could donate over the course of a career, and there’s no reason a historian’s training couldn’t prepare him to take an active role in seeking it.

    So, no, I think the chances are quite low that I would add to the overall happiness of the world by switching careers, or that I would now be serving society more productively if I had pursued a different career. Since there’s always a chance that a career change will become much more than a thought experiment for me, though, check back in five years and we’ll see if I’ve changed my mind.

  128. Chris Grant on August 25, 2006 at 9:34 am

    Mark IV wrote: “They are all OK schools, nothing great, and a bachelor’s degree from one of them is indistinguishable from a bachelor’s degree from another.

    Please provide evidence that they are indistinguishable. Are the course offerings at each school exactly the same? Same student-teacher ratio? Same student mentoring programs? Instructors with the same level of knowledge? If this is too much work, identify the 7 schools, and I’ll see if I can distinguish them for you.

    If this isn’t unfair pricing, I don’t know what is. The most unscrupulous car dealer in the world can only dream of selling a car at a price 4 times greater than the dealership down the road.

    Are any these institutions public ones? Few car dealers have government-subsidized competitors.

    Sister Young would be well advised to teach her children to avoid people with initials after their names

    Like their father? Actually, Bruce is bright enough to know that it’s gauche to list those initials. If you see a book written by “John Doe, Ph.D.”, more likely than not it’s written by a crackpot.

  129. Adam Greenwood on August 25, 2006 at 10:08 am

    “If you’re only maintaining that academics are pursuing an occupation they find rewarding, then the same criticism applies equally to all other careers that don’t promise massive wealth, and this whole academic side-discussion is purely a distraction.”

    Not a distraction at all if, as you appear to agree, academia is representative of a class of other occupations. You don’t like it, because it cuts closer to home than other examples do, but I think that was ARG’s point. An academic–Russell Fox–posted on the evils of wealth. A wealthy man–Mr. Rich Guy–pointed out that the same criticisms could apply to academics. You reacted badly, proving his point that we’re a lot more willing to see other people’s choices as evil and excuse our own.

    Your defense of your continued researches into medieval German literature as preparing you to “mobilize ethnic communities, “lobby[] to seek funding from governments and NGO’s,” and “effective[ly] communicat[e] to show the general public what’s at stake” is laughable. Academic pursuits are valuable because knowledge is valuable for its own sake, not because they help the poor or less fortunate. Your pursuits are the luxury of a well-off society.

  130. Gina on August 25, 2006 at 11:02 am

    #124 Adam,
    I would disagree. I believe that the tastes, habits, and lusts of American consumers have serious, profound effects on many people around the world. Of course, living an oblivious, uncaring, self-satisfied life is not what I had in mind when I described my hypothetical person.

    I will also admit that, as a stay-at-home mother of very young children who has sacrificed my earning power and, at least for the forseeable future any real time to devote to a cause, I am perhaps overly optomistic and hopeful that small, quiet choices I make in my life do make some small difference in the world.

  131. anonymous rich guy on August 25, 2006 at 11:15 am

    Maybe I will try to summarize a few key points I have been trying to make, in my own weak way.

    1. I am not trying to be critical of academics. Really, I am not. I have used them as an example because there a bunch of them hanging around here. My arguments, if they have any merit at all, apply to absolutely everybody.

    2. I believe that we all have an obligation to dedicate our time, talents and resources to good causes. It is wrong to squander them selfishly.

    3. Our choices as to how we spend our time and employ our talents involve trade offs. These decisions are not always morally neutral. I think we fail to recognize that fact sometimes. I am trying to provoke some introspection. Dedicating one’s intellectual talent and time to philosophy, German literature, law, music, art, blogging, scrap booking or gardening is talent and time that could have been spent doing other things. One of these other things is helping the poor. It is not the only thing.

    4. Renouncing a life of materialistic pursuit in favor of a life dedicated to intellectual or other non-materialistic pursuits implies a decision not to acquire the resources necessary to help the destitute. I think that those who think there is some special virtue in their decision not to acquire financial resources should think again. In so doing, they are limiting their ability to help the destitute. This is not intended as a defense of materialism or of the rich who do not use their resources to help the destitute. But I think it is an undeniable fact which should be considered by those who are proud of the fact that money does not mean anything to them.

    5. Some have suggested that the wealthy generally get that way by ignoring or even grinding the faces of the poor. While I do not believe that, I would suggest that one can only become a brilliant academic, athlete, musician, artist etc. by ignoring the needs of the poor. This is because one must dedicate one’s time and talents to pursuing those other goals in order to achieve greatness, and that means not dedicating that time and talent to the poor. The decision to work in a career that provides only a modest standard of living implies a decision not to acquire resources that could help destitute people. That does not make the decision wrong. These decisions are always more complicated than that. However, I think I am correct to point out that this ONE of the implications of that decision, and it is worthy of some consideration. (Of course, as Jonathan points out, not everybody has the ability to earn more money. That is a fair point. My point applies only to those who could have chosen otherwise.)

    6. I don’t think any of us really treat the poor as our brothers and sisters. If your brother or sister was trapped in a refugee camp in destitute circumstances, you would put down that book, or instrument, or golf club or cook book and do everything in your power to help. That might even involve taking a second or a different job if that would enable you to help. But somehow we think differently about our spirit brothers and sisters who are in precisely those circumstances. The wealthy are surely to be faulted for this sad state of affairs. But maybe all of us need to examine ourselves and our choices and realize that we have all chosen lives that are inconsistent with our moral duties.

    7. I think Russell made some fair points about the wealthy. But I think those points apply to just about everybody I know.

    I think Jim F.’s summary described the issue well. We don’t feel guilty about some things, but it is not clear to me how do distinguish some of the things from things we do feel guilty about. Are we all the victims of massive self deception, with great insights into what is wrong with everybody else and less insight into ourselves?

  132. anonymous rich guy on August 25, 2006 at 11:48 am

    Jonathan: Your last comment raises some good points and deserves a more specific response, which I will try to give you later today. I am rather busy this morning–a lot of faces to grind. (grin)

  133. Jonathan Green on August 25, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    Adam, I’m sorry, but you’ve stopped making sense, and you completely misread my last comments. We’ll try this again some other time.

  134. Adam Greenwood on August 25, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Apology accepted.

  135. anonymous rich guy on August 25, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    Jonathan:

    “But I disagree, however, that choosing a less gilded career is the same as choosing to sacrifices the interests of the poor and needy.�

    I agree with you that it is not the same, because there are a variety of factors that go into making decisions about careers. However, when one chooses a less well paying career for the reason that one prefers intellectual pursuits, than one is sacrificing income that could be used to help the poor for those pursuits. Whether that decision is moral is another question, because other factors must be considered before making that determination. It may be that, all things considered, it is better to make the trade off. However, this is one relevant consideration that should go into the analysis.

    I don’t see this as being any different from decisions about how to spend money. When the church decides to spend money on ward parties, conference centers and malls, it is using money that could be spent to help the poor and is thereby sacrificing the interests of the poor for something else. It is possible that this decision can still be justified (although I am skeptical about some of those spending decisions), but it is important to recognize the opportunity cost of our decisions, whether those decisions have to do with how we spend our money, or how spend our time.

    “Assuming a rate of charitable giving of 10%, which is 5-10 times the national average, I’d need an income of $360,000 per year in order to do the church more good than simply serving a mission on my own time.”

    I am not sure about your math. Why assume a charitable giving rate of 10%? If you became a lawyer and earned $360,000 per year, you could donate every after tax dollar in excess of your current income and still keep your current standard of living.

    “you’re assuming that skill sets are easily transferable, that a world-class historian could just as easily be a world-class investment banker.”

    I am assuming that for the sake of illustration, but I recognize that is not always true. Some people are good at doing the things that make a lot of money, and some are not. My argument does not rely on the assumption you mention. All I am really assuming is that some people (whether they be academics, artists, or 9-5 office workers) choose their own leisure or personal interests over making more money which could, if they so chose, be used to help the destitute.

    Gina: I believe that your small decisions (and mine) do make a difference. However, I don’t think that the mere existence of wealthy people causes the evils you justifiably decry.

  136. Russell Arben Fox on August 25, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    Some parting comments as the week ends:

    1) I frankly think it’s fine for academics to be raked over the coals. Perhaps unlike Jonathan, who has nonetheless valiantly made some good points, I really do happen to believe that our chosen profession is more often than not a fairly elitist and parasitic enterprise. I think I can defend myself against the worst of those charges, but I willing accept that I begin with some strikes already against me. If I’m going to exercise judgment, I might as well accept it in return.

    2) The more I think about it, the more I realize that making clear some of the presumptions lurking behind much of my original (and subsequently moderated) statement would require an exploration of some pretty basic social and economic beliefs that go way beyond the topic of this thread. So ARG and I are just going to have to agree to disagree. Suffice to that there is an entirely defensible and quite common economic view that sees possessing, selling, buying, consuming, or creating wealth as taking place within a field of action wherein all people are potential possessers, sellers, buyers, consumers, or creators, and so morally all that really matters is one’s motivation for possessing, selling, buying, consuming or creating, not the fact that one does it at all or how much one does it. Then there is the view that original the field is basically screwed up somehow, and so all of the above does matter in a moral sense, whatever one’s motivation. I am of the second view.

    3) Gina, I think you’re right about everything.

  137. DKL on August 25, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    I agree with anonymous rich guy.

    For the record, I reject everything that the New Testament has to say about the rich and the poor. If any of that it genuine, then Jesus’s true gospel would be much more like the practice of Franciscan monks than the gospel that Joseph Smith restored. The widow may have given 100% when she gave her mite, but 100% of nothing is nothing–it won’t even pay for sacrament bread. The reason Martin Harris was instrumental in bringing forth the restored gospel was because he had a prosperous farm that could be mortgaged to pay for 5,000 Book of Mormons to be printed. Thank heaven Joseph Smith found himself in the company of prosperous people!

    Anyone who spends more than 2 or 3 grand on a car (about the price of an 6 to 8 year old Japanese compact car) is screwing the poor, because every dime they spend in excess of that might have gone to put food in the mouth of some starving infant in a 3rd world country.

    And unless you’re participating from a library, then most of you have screwed over more poor people than you can count by purchasing consumer electronic equipment with enough money to feed hundreds. Plus, you spend more than an average 3rd world yearly wage every month on your internet connections. (It’s really rich to read people on the internet complaining about the evils of filthy lucre!)

    Anyone who buys any food that isn’t on sale, or goes to the store without a carefully selected set of coupons, or who buys higher quality meat than they absolutely have to, or who buys whole milk instead of skim, or who buys tires with a speed rating in excess of 65 MPH, or who uses air conditioning in heat below about 95 degrees, or who carries collision insurance on their car, or who has ever had elective surgery, or whose kids own more than a dozen toys, or who owns a television worth more than $100, or who own a VCR at all, or who has spent a dime on interior house paint or other purely aesthetic home improvements. You’re all pure evil. You’ve spent countless 10s of 1,000s of dollars that might have saved so many lives. And isn’t the worth of just a single life enough to warrant giving up all of these material goods? Much less the millions of lives that might have been saved if people could simply avoid such selfish indulgences.

    Honestly, last time I checked, the pure religion of Christ involved taking care of widows and orphans in their afflictions (cf. Epistle of James) and loving your neighbor as yourself (cf. the 2nd great commandment). If following Jesus or Heavenly Father means sacrificing every modicum of luxury in order to help poor people, then I’ll find some other deity to follow.

  138. comet on August 28, 2006 at 9:42 pm

    #129

    “Academic pursuits are valuable because knowledge is valuable for its own sake, not because they help the poor or less fortunate.”

    I see, the poor and the less fortunate are, in fact, not helped by knowledge that is “valuable for its own sake.” Not much traction here..a toss off, really.

  139. comet on August 28, 2006 at 10:27 pm

    “Dedicating one’s intellectual talent and time to philosophy, German literature, law, music, art, blogging, scrap booking or gardening is talent and time that could have been spent doing other things. One of these other things is helping the poor. It is not the only thing.”

    Why don’t these qualify for “helping the poor”?

  140. Mike W. on August 28, 2006 at 10:47 pm

    DKL,

    Thanks for the great example of deep self-justification; per Plato’s Socrates: we should find “the greatest good in daily converse about virtue, examining myself and others; for a life unscrutinized is unworthy of a man.” If we can’t really take a hard look at ourselves and are just willing to sit back and think about the luxuries as if they are necessities, then we deserve the judgment of Margaret Young’s daughter.

    I have no qualms about earning the money that one is honestly able to earn (as long as it is shared appropriately); however, if we spend it on $70,000 Hummers, own lavish video and stereo systems, blah, blah, blah, we are responsible and accountable for that poor stewardship.

    It’s amazing how easily you dismiss the teaching of the New Testament that you disagree with, yet hold tightly to the things that make you comfortable.

    Lastly, it’s a good thing that Martin Harris was willing to give his farm for the building of the kingdom. He could have made the excuse that he needed the capital to make even more money.

  141. DKL on August 29, 2006 at 12:49 am

    Mike W, how do you know that I’m justifying myself? What do you know about my finances? What basis do you have for claiming that my life is unscrutinized? (Plato’s edict is, by the way, totally idiotic. For one thing, it’s the edict of an idle rich man that only sounds good to us because we enjoy unprecedented levels of idleness and wealth. For another thing, Socratic self-scrutiny is not a commandment, and it is altogether independent of salvation. One can make it to the celestial kingdom without it and one can land in outer darkness with it.)

    As far as dismissing parts the New Testament, I’m just doing what other people do and dropping the pretense about it. Our Bible says, “Thou shalt not suffer that a witch should live.” Are you willing to forthrightly denounce that edict? Or are you going to offer some “nuanced” interpretation in order to make it appear that you’re not cherry-picking the parts of the scripture that work for you?

  142. Mike W. on August 29, 2006 at 1:37 am

    This is why I love DKL!

  143. Mike W. on August 29, 2006 at 2:07 am

    I must disagree with the idea that one can make it to the celestial kingdom without self-scrutiny. Unless one in perfect (you may be) we all need to check ourselves and see what we are doing wrong in order to repent, which at last check was necessary for entrance into the Celestial kingdom.

    And yes, let’s find the most inane scriptural command (killing witches) and run it out in a ludicrous counter-argument to things that are consistent with D&C teachings (that there shall be no poor among them).

    I don’t have any delusions that any of this will matter to you. It seems you are so set in your way of thinking that nothing anyone says has any chance changing that (but aren’t we all).

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