Help out Harry Reid

October 15, 2007 | 112 comments
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When Harry Reid spoke at BYU last week, he brought up a topic he was uniquely suited to address. To paraphrase, how can you be a Mormon and a Democrat? Reid’s response was, well, deeply predictable in the outset but wildly unpredictable after that. If someone asks you about the intersection of your religious beliefs and your political ones, there is only one politically correct way for that causality to flow. Harry responded that he was “a Democrat because [he was] a Mormon”. What followed was then a longish discussion of just how cool FDR was, what great programs he started, and how Harry Reid grew up in a completely non-religious home that practically worshiped FDR. Only later did he manage to make a passing reference to King Benjamin (in itself a deeply troubling text for a statist, given that speech’s exceptional reliance on the sanctifying nature of free will offerings.)

Now I realize that many Mormons loved FDR, so perhaps Harry’s argument was based on some sort of transitivity (Mormons loved FDR, I loved FDR, my love for FDR was because of my as yet undiscovered Mormon-ness). But surely he could do better than that.

So lend Harry a helping hand; find examples in the scriptures or Church history where the government or king has mandated some level of income redistribution, preferably on pain of imprisonment. I pick that topic because it is a fun one and because it was one of Reid’s focal points in discussing FDR.

It would be better if the actor was not also the head of the religion, as this confuses the issue as to the capacity they were acting under when they spoke. For example, if Alma the Younger decreed required aid to the poor as the Chief Judge, that would be a great example. If he called upon the people to help the poor after leaving that office, then that would not be an example, as there was no state compulsion.

So here’s one I know of, although it is not the greatest. After tons of men die in battles, Limhi orders men to care for the widows and their children. It has the requisite characteristics, but occurs in the direst of straits when the purpose is to stop starvation. Not really a full on poverty stopper, but perhaps a a good start for WIC or Medicaid (or certainly some Veteran’s benefits).

Here’s one that doesn’t work. Alma Senior sets up a welfare program but then the next verse explicitly notes that offerings were given of their own free will.

Perhaps I am too narrow in what I am asking for, so please feel free to point out what you think the relevant kind of scriptures would be to highlight differences between political philosophies of appropriate income redistribution. Take as given that all Mormons, regardless of politics, agree we have a personal responsibility to help the poor. Those few that don’t have their own problems to work out.

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112 Responses to Help out Harry Reid

  1. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 11:42 am

    This ought to be a fun topic. I predict lots of equivocating.

  2. Matt W. on October 15, 2007 at 11:56 am

    How about Joseph and Pharaoh calling for a laying up of welfare to store for a future seven years of famine…

  3. Naismith on October 15, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Although the details of mandatoriness are not given, 4 Nephi 1:3 says,

    “And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift…” and describes a society where wealth is shared.

    As a Mormon Democrat, that has been my inspiration for supporting social programs.

  4. John Mansfield on October 15, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10) There you go: divinely mandated production inefficiencies for the benefit of the poor.

  5. Mark B. on October 15, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Should we only look for programs of income redistribution to the poor, or should we also look for programs of income redistribution to the rich or the middle class?

    But, back to your question: I would suggest that we begin in the Sermon on the Mount:

    Matthew 5:40-41

    40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.
    41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

    If we become the kinds of people that Jesus was asking us to become, the taxing and spending policies of the government no longer are forced income redistribution, but become free will offerings.

    We could then move on to D&C 104:18

    Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

    Interesting, that the imparting to the poor is to be done according to the “law of [the Lord's] gospel”, but the consequences of non-payment are substantially more severe than those imposed under the Internal Revenue Code.

    We can therefore conclude that the gifts to the poor according to the law of the gospel are no more free will offerings than the payments we make to the IRS–even before we take account of the change in heart Christ commanded in Matthew 5.

  6. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Didn’t King Noah do some kind of redistribution program? Granted, the poor weren’t actual beneficiaries and they may not have been ostensible beneficiaries either.

    John M., that does sound like “production inefficiencies”. But given the deficiencies in ancient command-and-control and distribution systems, and the weakness of the ancient cash economy, that may have actually been the most economically efficient way of redistributing goods. Also, it appears to be an example of workfare!

  7. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Great comments!

    2 is an excellent example of a government mandated program. Of course, that centralization of power did not really pan out in the end, but it seems clearly the sort of passage one could use.

    3 is a great verse, but it does not do anything to address the difference between voluntary and not, and since we all believe in giving it certainly does not point one in any obvious way one direction or the other.

    4 is from God, not government, the difference seems obvious :). And hey, John, there is no reason to believe this was a reduction in efficiency, is there? It looks more like redistribution to the poor in a way that requires them to work. That could well be efficiency _enhancing_.

  8. Matt Evans on October 15, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    As you know, I like this topic. It’s “What’s the Matter with Utah” (and Kansas, for that matter). The book “Who Really Cares?”, written by a professor at Syracuse’s Maxwell school, analyzes charitable giving and finds that conservatives give more time and money to charity than liberals, even when controlling for income and omitting contributions to religious organizations. Conservatives also donate more blood, even after controlling for other variables like health, education and income. The author finds a strong inverse relationship between the amount of good a person does and their view on whether government should force people to give to the poor. People who give the least are the most adamant that government force people to give. We should probably have a post to discuss the book in detail — the evidence that government redistribution depresses all kinds of personal generosity is convincing.

    It’s like Nobel laureate Al Gore’s giving only $353 of his $197,729 income to charity and explaining he has given in years “when the resources were there”. Pity the poor guy trying to survive on $197,729. (The example provided of his giving when the “resources were there” was to endow a college chair in the Gore name with the profits from his book Earth In the Balance that he’d promised to charity.)

    “And Gore’s defenders also argue that despite the vice president’s salary, he has two daughters enrolled at Harvard University and a son in a private secondary school. ” This is priceless — worth at least a few dollars for the laughter Gore and his defenders have provided me. How could Gore give to others when the costs of being an elitist WASP were so high?

  9. Dan on October 15, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    find examples in the scriptures or Church history where the government or king has mandated some level of income redistribution, preferably on pain of imprisonment.

    How about on pain of death?

  10. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Senator Reid would be better, don’t you think? Or Reid or Mr. Reid or Brother Reid or something. I mean, ‘Harry’? Really.

    One thing I have in common with Sen. Reid is that our family’s attitude towards FDR taught us our politics. My grandma (who was so poor in the Depression that for years the womenfolk lived by jumping from one abandoned homestead to another to garden and raise a few stray cattle while her father left to wander the region looking for work) regularly used to tell me about this black-hearted villain named FDR who tried to pauperize the country by tempting regular folks to abandon their principles and go on the dole.

  11. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Mark– Mathew 5 seems somewhat promising. I think it does make a nice case for how one can view crowdout favorably. But it surely does not tell Christians to sue other Christians for their coat! In fact, the person who compels you to go two miles is obviously the oppressor, whom we should love despite their oppression.

    On the other hand I agree that in a Zion community one could have government run redistribution as a free will offering. Once everyone is willing to give and focused on Zion, it probably does not matter who runs the program.

  12. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Dan, good show on punishment!

    But you lose points for it being a voluntarily entered religious covenant, as opposed to a government imposed one. I mean, as Mark points out, we know failing to give means you will go to hell, but that is not the question. After all, a gift grudgingly given won’t save you from that fate.

  13. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    Frank, it’s worth pointing out that number 2, the only government-mandated involuntary welfare program from the scriptures that has yet been mentioned, was a temporary program to deal with a temporary crisis. Mark B’s number five involves voluntary giving. Unfortunately, these days temporary welfare programs becomes permanent bureaucracies. The best way to help the poor is through private, nongovernmental voluntary charitable giving that involves some kind of workfare.

  14. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    By the way, Dan, how do you feel about capital punishment?

  15. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    conservatives give more time and money to charity than liberals, even when controlling for income and omitting contributions to religious organizations. They also donate more blood, even after controlling for other variables. The author finds a very strong inverse relationship between the amount of good a person does and their view on whether government should force people to give to the poor. People who give the least are the most adamant that government force people to give. We should probably have a post to discuss the book in detail — the evidence that government redistribution depresses all kinds of personal generosity is convincing.

    No, Matt E., this is evidence that liberals are welfare-enhancing because they make conservatives feel guilty about being indifferent to the poor. So conservatives defensively do a lot of good. Yay, liberals!

    Seriously, though, you should do that post. I’d like to see it.

  16. Jacob M on October 15, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Also, Dan, God killed him, not a govmint worker.

  17. Mark B. on October 15, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    Geoff

    “My” number 5 was not mine. It was Jesus’s.

    And He teaches us (long before Victor Frankl) how free will can triumph in the face of oppression–so that forced payments become free will offerings.

  18. Matt Evans on October 15, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Please, Mark. The way you’re reading the sermon on the mount you’ve made slavery, oppression (and now the holocaust) into moral goods. There’s got to be a better interpretation. Someone shows love when they turn the other cheek, yes, but that doesn’t mean you should hit your wife and kids to provide them opportunity to Triumph.

  19. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Mark B, you’re right, I give my tithing and my fast offerings and other Church offerings very freely. It is very clear to me that doing so is the right thing to do and required for me to draw closer to the Savior. I pay my taxes only because I have to and very reluctantly. You should see how the taxes I pay in Florida are misused by various levels of government here. Not to mention our federal morass.

  20. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    God’s punishment for sin is not at all good evidence that the temporal law should temporally punish sin.

    Mark B cites D&C 104:8, which promises wrath and hellfire to those who don’t share with the poor.
    Dan cites the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who God slew as punishment for withholding from the United Order.

    The problem is that if God’s willingness to punish certain behavior is evidence that the temporal authorities should punish that behavior, then we totally collapse the distinction between sin and law, between church and state. I think that its a pretty good assumption that God is willing to punish *any* sin in the same sense that he is willing to punish greed and lack of charity. So if his threats of punishment for greed are scriptural mandates for forced redistribution then we also have a scriptural mandate for compulsory baptism, compulsory church attendance, and so on.

    Even if you think that God isn’t willing to punish most sins (why you’d think that I don’t know), then you still have to deal with all the specific passage that threaten wrath and hellfire for specific types of sin. You have to accept that the government should penalize
    “looking on a woman to lust after her”, unbelief, fear, lies of any kind, whoremongery, sorcery (too bad for the Wiccans),
    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/63/17#17 ;
    profaning religious symbols,
    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/search?search=uzzah&do=Search ;
    preaching false doctrines,
    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/2_ne/28/15,21-23#15 ;
    calling your brother a fool,
    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/matt/5/22,29-30#22 ;
    thinking that little children should be baptized,
    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/moro/8/13-14,21#13 ;
    and on and on.

  21. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    The way you’re reading the sermon on the mount you’ve made slavery, oppression (and now the holocaust) into moral goods. There’s got to be a better interpretation. Someone shows love when they turn the other cheek, yes, but that doesn’t mean you should hit your wife and kids to provide them opportunity to Triumph.

    Yep.

    Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
    God forbid.

    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/rom/6

  22. Greg on October 15, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Wow, I guess I should support the Republican proposal to dismantle all welfare programs. When is that up for a vote again?

  23. Dan on October 15, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    Frank,

    By the way, Dan, how do you feel about capital punishment?

    Generally speaking, I feel God can execute whomever He feels necessary, as he is the Judge. We, men, corrupt and imperfect as we are, should not do so, or if we do, it must be on a very very limited basis. The problem is that there is too much emotion running through our systems for us to think clearly enough about doling out impartial justice on the accused. We also tend to make many mistakes. I would rather the guilty go free than the innocent punished.

  24. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    Dan, that’s a great answer– and of course relies crucially on the distinction between when God does something and when governments do it. Hence the passage is not a good example of statist welfare. I promise I was not looking to threadjack, just hoping your answer would help me point out the distinction between the divine and the government.

    Greg, less snark, more scriptures!

  25. Dan on October 15, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Frank,

    Your post here is definitely a great post, and one I’ve thought about, particularly in regards to Enoch’s Zion. I really wonder just how compulsory or how voluntary Enoch’s Zion really was, especially in light of both the Ananias incident, and of Moses’ laws, which tended to be quite strict to those involved.

  26. Bookslinger on October 15, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Didn’t Capt Moroni threaten to take provisions by force if the government didn’t supply his army?

    Gleaning = workfare. Good observation.

  27. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    I think its hard to reconcile the Ezra Taft Benson/welfare-is-theft view with Limhi, the Mosaic law on gleaming, Joseph and Pharoah, etc., though I’m not sayings its impossible.

  28. J. Stapley on October 15, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Isn’t this sort of like trying to find government leaders (but not religious leaders) in the scriptures that were against abortion, gay marriage, alcohol and tobacco sales to minors (or adults), or anything else for that matter?

  29. Greg on October 15, 2007 at 1:13 pm
  30. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    J.,

    That’s an open question. But clearly the scriptures _do_ talk about income redistribution and without a doubt many Democrats _do_ try to justify their views by appealing to the scriptures. So it is worth knowing what the best cases are. And, as I noted above, feel free to use modern examples from the restored gospel.

    In particular, if you have quotes from the last thirty years of general conference that you think would be compelling I am dying to hear them.

  31. John C. on October 15, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Frank,
    I think that you have too narrowly defined your topic here. How can anything in scripture be defined solely secularly or justified thusly? Even the Egyptian rationing was mandated via revelation. For that matter, the purpose of the scriptures is to demonstrate why God is great, not how God would prefer taxation to be handled. So, effectively, the scriptures are supportive when rulers listen to God’s commands and dismissive when they don’t, whether or not enforced redistribution is involved (I feel a need to point out that the end result of the divinely appointed rationing in Egypt is that the Pharoah came to own all the land and all the people).

    Matt,
    Don’t deny the power of Alma 14 or D&C 122. All things can be turned to our good.

  32. Matt Evans on October 15, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    J. Stapley, there are many scriptural references to civil authority punishing affirmative sins (killing, theft, adultery, lying, etc.) but few where they punish sins of omission (charity, prayer, church attendance, etc.). As I’ve read the scriptures with a political eye, I’ve become convinced that this is the way the prophets view civil punishment. Using civil law to threatening those who do something bad (murder, theft, adultery, lying, child abuse) does not unacceptably diminish the religious value of doing good, but threatening someone for their failure to do something good (charity, fast offerings tithing, prayer, church attendance) severely undermines its religious value.

  33. John C. on October 15, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    One other thing,
    I don’t see taxes as inherently more coercive than the voluntary contributions we make to the church. Failure to pay taxes results in either jail time or association with bunker-living nutzos. Failure to pay tithing results in potential time in hell. I suppose that it is arguable as to which is worse.

  34. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    John,

    “How can anything in scripture be defined solely secularly or justified thusly?”

    I’m not looking for secular _justification_. I am looking for divine justification for certain _secular_ activities.

    “So, effectively, the scriptures are supportive when rulers listen to God’s commands and dismissive when they don’t, whether or not enforced redistribution is involved”

    And it is worth noting what constitutes God’s commands. For example, clearly the Book of Mormon goes out of its way to point out the dangers of despotism (kings), so it is not as if politics never shows up. Ezra Taft Benson specifically talked about how the Book of Mormon could inform us about economics, among other things.

    That said, if you think the scriptures have nothing to say about income redistribution, fair enough. That’s a data point worth noting the next time somebody wants to claim that the scriptures support statist income redistribution.

    “I feel a need to point out that the end result of the divinely appointed rationing in Egypt is that the Pharoah came to own all the land and all the people”

    Certainly a relevant fact! Whether that result was what God wanted or the result of Apostasy is, I think, an open question.

  35. John C. on October 15, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    “As I’ve read the scriptures with a political eye, I’ve become convinced that this is the way the prophets view civil punishment. Using civil law to threatening those who do something bad (murder, theft, adultery, lying, child abuse) does not unacceptably diminish the religious value of doing good, but threatening someone for their failure to do something good (charity, fast offerings tithing, prayer, church attendance) severely undermines its religious value.”

    So, J. S. Mill is the greatest prophet of his generation?

  36. Matt Evans on October 15, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    #31 — John, just because all things can be turned to our good, it does not follow that everything is therefore good. It is wrong to compel a man to walk a mile because of their race. Jesus taught us how to respond to evil, he wasn’t denying the evil.

  37. Mark B. on October 15, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    You’ve completely misunderstood me, Matt. I said nothing at all about taxation, income redistribution, slavery, war, the plague or anything else from the “oppressor’s” point of view. Jesus’s words do not justify the acts of the oppressor, and I wasn’t attempting to either. But in the gospel the way to escape oppression is not to revolt, but to change our attitude so that the thing which the oppressors would take from us by force becomes instead our gift to them.

    Now if I could just figure out how to apply this to the way you have taken my words from me and changed them into something I never intended them to mean . . .

  38. Sam B. on October 15, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    I’m with John C. on this: the scriptures are not a text on good government; even the best BoM government (or at least what we know of it) doesn’t translate into our republican system of government. (I mean, how many examples do we have of taxation in the scriptures? and how much do we know about them? Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be taxed by what was probably a head tax, but we don’t know that from scripture. And there’s not the remotest suggestion of whether the tax was used for redistributive purposes or to set up an army or, for that matter, whether the creation of an army was somehow redistributive. And whe know that a heavy tax of one-fifth was placed on a group in the BoM, but we have no idea 1/5 of what.) At best we can pull out goals the government should pursue, based on systems we find in scripture; I think it’s hard (and misplaced) to say we should govern according to systems put in place in scripture.

    So when Sen. Reid says he’s a Democrat because he’s Mormon, he’s looking at certain values in scripture. When Bush opposes gay marriage because he’s Christian, he’s looking at other values. Both sides, like J. said, use scripture as their (at least stated) motivation. But scripture doesn’t tell us how to do what we do.

    Which is to say, Frank, that, though it’s an interesting question, it’s way too narrow. Redistribution is probably a more-recent phenomenon than premodern scripture writers would have dealt with; likewise is economic analysis of governmental programs.

  39. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    John (33)

    “I don’t see taxes as inherently more coercive than the voluntary contributions we make to the church.”

    Do you, then, view the entire gospel and all the commandments as essentially coercive? Mosiah 18 suggests that contributions were made of their own free will, even after stating that he commanded them. What do you think that means?

    Mark B, Give him your coat.

  40. Sam B. on October 15, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    And Matt (32),
    Whether nonpayment of tax is a crime of omission or commission is largely irrelevant: many laws compel us to do something, and we’re punished for not doing it. Having just registered my car in a new state, I’m accutely aware that, had I not registered it, I would be breaking the law and be civilly fined for it (significantly civilly fined, probably), as if I did not get a drivers license and drove (is that omission or comission). If you wanted, you could define shoplifting as omitting to pay. Etc. I don’t see where in law there is a substantive difference between omission and commission.

  41. John C. on October 15, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    “I’m not looking for secular _justification_. I am looking for divine justification for certain _secular_ activities.”
    Frank, I freely admit that I am often slow. In the Pentateuch, God makes a point of giving special attention to the widow and the fatherless, traditionally considered to be the poor and powerless in OT terms. See here for a simple list of relevant passages. However, in most of those passages, the statement is simply that God cares for these people and seeks their welfare. Clearly, that cannot be construed as a direct command to serve the poor, but it doesn’t make it seem likely that God believes that we should be indifferent to them either. Your argument seems to be that it is well and good for individuals to help the poor, but that governments, who are ideally better capable of gathering resources, should stay out of it. This, to me, doesn’t make so much sense, but I may be misinterpreting. Again, I think you have your parameters too narrowly defined.

    “Whether that result was what God wanted or the result of Apostasy is, I think, an open question.”
    Well, Joseph did it. So, there is your data point.

  42. Matt Evans on October 15, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    #33, that is an argument that Utah should criminalize the failure to pay tithing. I don’t think they should, and doubt you do, either.

    #35, libertarians in the tradition of J. S. Mill do not support laws criminalizing pornography, adultery, or abortion, though those are affirmative sins in Mormonism.

    #37, Sorry I have misunderstood your words. I still do not understand your point of view. You write that the gospel tells people being oppressed (i.e., slaves and holocaust victims) not to revolt but to accept the evil and change their attitude. I disagree with an interpretation of the scriptures that suggests the Jews were prohibited from revolting against the Nazis trying to kill them and their children.

  43. J. Stapley on October 15, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Matt (#32), that is a fine argument. However, it seems to me that it doesn’t particularly address the point I was making, it simply changes the framework of the debate.

  44. Matt Evans on October 15, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Sam B., there is no law that you must register your car. The state requires only that you register your car if you want to drive it on the state’s roads. More importantly, I do not believe that arrangement undermines any religious objective, the way that laws forcing people to pay fast offerings do.

    I should add that I agree the distinction between affirmative and negative sins can sometimes be blurry, but I believe it is a helpful way to analyze the issue and describes well what is seen in the scriptures.

  45. Mark B. on October 15, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    And you too, Adam, have missed the Mark.

    I wasn’t proposing that God’s punishment of sin was justification for the government’s punishing the same or similar transgressions. I was simply suggesting that the free will offerings that we make to the poor (think Fast Offerings) may not be all that free, when we consider the punishment that God has promised to those who fail to make those offerings. I mean, Hell–five years in Danbury don’t look so bad in comparison.

    To make myself clear: nothing I say is intended as a defense of any government policy. It is instead intended to set forth a gospel-based personal (not political) reaction to that policy.

    All you anti-guvmint types should adjust the sensitivity of your knee-jerkers

  46. wilt on October 15, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Matt. 25: 31-40.

    Strikes me as setting social justice standards within a community or state.

    wilt

  47. Bookslinger on October 15, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Adam, my understanding is that Joseph and Pharoah _took_ (ie, taxed, not bought) from the people the grain that they put into storage, and then _sold_ it back to the people. The people essentially had to buy back what the government took. But of course, I can allow for the possibility that it was sold for only the cost of storage and administrative overhead. :-)

    Barry Goldwater wrote a book that had at least a chapter on this very concept, called “Conscience of a Conservative.” At Amazon here, here, and here, .

    (He also repudiated his views in his dotage shortly before his death.)

  48. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    But in the gospel the way to escape oppression is not to revolt, but to change our attitude so that the thing which the oppressors would take from us by force becomes instead our gift to them.

    (1) What if, say, one lived in a Republic with free elections? If you think some kinds of behaviors are oppressive, is it “revolt” to vote against them at the polls?

    (2) Also, I’m not sure Jesus’ counsel was meant collectively or as a guide to politics. Jesus told parables about particular men embracing their oppressors but did he advise nations, polities, and citizenries to submit to oppression?

    (3) Even if Jesus was counseling the Jews to turn their collective oppression at the hand of the Romans into good by freely giving what the Romans extorted, it does not follow that submission to opression is the right action when there is a reasonable chance of resistance, which the Jews did not have.

  49. John C. on October 15, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    “Do you, then, view the entire gospel and all the commandments as essentially coercive? Mosiah 18 suggests that contributions were made of their own free will, even after stating that he commanded them. What do you think that means?”

    “that is an argument that Utah should criminalize the failure to pay tithing. I don’t think they should, and doubt you do, either.”

    Frank and Matt,
    If the reason you obey a commandment or a law is fear of the potential consequences of noncompliance, then yes, by definition, all commandments are coercive. I don’t know of any other way to read that, aside from dramatically shifting your definition of coercion.

    Also, I would assume that good Mormons would, like good Patriots, obey the rules because it is what an organization that they trust and believe in asks them to do.

  50. Bookslinger on October 15, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Er, Goldwater did not speak to the concept of 7 years of plenty/famine. But on the idea of government enforced charity/brother-keeping. His bottom line: it hurts both the giver and the receiver. Which I think Johnson’s “Great Society” programs and the congressional largess of the 70′s demonstrated quite well.

  51. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    Mark B.,

    When Frank M. asks for scriptural justifications for government-run distribution programs, the fault may be yours if people assume that the scriptures you cite in response are meant as justifications for government-run distribution programs. Or, of course, the fact that folks think your answer to the question is meant to answer the question may be indicative of anti-government knee-jerks.

  52. Mark B. on October 15, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    Matt (42)

    Perhaps we should stick to the words of the Sermon on the Mount, rather than bringing in the Nazis.

    Although, as to resisting evil, I seem to recall that the passage I quoted began with something about that. That gets us far beyond tax and income redistribution policies, and I’m not inclined to jack this thread in that direction, but you can find some relevant texts in Alma 24 and D&C 98.

  53. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    Sam B,

    Your #38 misses the point because redistribution has always happened ever since the first government was ever formed. Cain lusted after Abel’s flocks and killed him, beginning a pattern that tyrants have used every since to justify taking from others. Kings and emperors have always done the same thing — stolen from others to enrich themselves. Why do you think King Benjamin had to point out he had done the opposite — labored with his own hands and not enriched himself?

    If Jesus had intended that the government redistribute to the poor, he would have discussed paying more taxes to the Romans and/or Herod in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, he discusses purely private giving. The Romans and/or Herod would have used the extra funds to oppress the poor and others and enrich the few, a pattern of government abuse that continues today.

    Personally, I love the idea of the law of consecration. I have no problem with the idea of a future prophet advising me to give my goods to a bishop who would be charged with redistributing in a just way. But I have a big problem with secular governments doing the same thing in the environment of 2007 because the people who usually benefit are not usually the people who need it most.

  54. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Perhaps we should stick to the words of the Sermon on the Mount, rather than bringing in the Nazis.

    I think the Sermon on the Mount should be applied to life. Its cool as a self-contained text but kinda pointless.

  55. cadams on October 15, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    The end result is we need modern revelation and a modern prophet to help get us through this crap.

  56. Mark B. on October 15, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    I didn’t realize that the tax policies of the Nazis were the point of Frank’s post. I’ll have to read it again, more carefully this time.

  57. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Wilt, regarding your #46, that is a wonderful scripture and I have no doubt that people who pay their taxes with the idea that somehow they are helping the poor will be able to say they tried to help. I wonder if they would have learned more about the eternities by actually going in person to visit the sick and feeding the hungry rather than writing out a check to the IRS.

  58. John C. on October 15, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    “If Jesus had intended that the government redistribute to the poor, he would have discussed paying more taxes to the Romans and/or Herod in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, he discusses purely private giving. The Romans and/or Herod would have used the extra funds to oppress the poor and others and enrich the few, a pattern of government abuse that continues today.”

    Geoff,
    Is the notion that the Romans and Herod, Cain and Noah, didn’t appear to have any intention of redistribution being used to benefit the poor at all relevant? Of course, Christ mentioned private and ecclesiastical alms giving. What government run alternatives were available to him?

  59. John C. on October 15, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    “I wonder if they would have learned more about the eternities by actually going in person to visit the sick and feeding the hungry rather than writing out a check to the IRS.”
    Is this not an equally likely criticism for the presumably large number of members who just write a fast offering check?

  60. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    John C, I don’t disagree with your #59. I feel there is a need for personal contact as well as check-writing. Your #58 is interesting. I don’t think we know enough about all of the government programs available to people in the 30s AD. Did the Pharisees and/or Sadduccees have some kind of welfare system? Probably. Think of all that money that was given at the temple. Herod probably had some kind of system in which he pretended to help the poor. We know the Romans had all kinds of welfare systems in Rome. Yet, interestingly, Jesus did not ask people to give directly to any government.

    It seems very clear to me that the Gospel calls for personalized, directed giving.

  61. Bob on October 15, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Weak, weak! Sorry my right wing friends..you are not going to win that Christianity is about take-take..not give-give. Your often sighed standards as to who get what and why are your own. The “justifications for government-run distribution programs” is there is not enough “free giving”.
    (Mean Post to follow)

    ustifications for government-run distribution programs” is people are not freely giving enough themselves.

  62. Bob on October 15, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    #61: my cat stepped on my keyboard.

  63. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    I didn’t realize that the tax policies of the Nazis were the point of Frank’s post. I’ll have to read it again, more carefully this time.

    I recommend re-reading the comments too.

    Bob, profit by Mark B.’s example.

  64. DavidH on October 15, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    One of the greatest, and in my view, most successful forms of government redistribution of assets is public education. For example, in a state where the government spends $8-10,000 per year to educate a student, a single earner Mormon family with, say 8 children, six of whom are in school, receive from the state education services worth on the order of $40,000 to $50,000. If the single earner for the family makes somewhere around the median wage, the value of the education received would far exceed the taxes paid. (A separate question, for another day, is whether the family should tithe on the excess of the value of the education services received over the taxes paid.)

    I do not know any conservative, religious (even LDS) or other who advocates ending redistribution of assets/income to provide education. I know many such conservatives who favor giving families “choice” on how to spend the money for education (in that case, the family identified above might receive a voucher for $40 or $50,000 to send the children to schools of the parents’ choice).

    But none who think that families with less means should not rely exclusively on their own means and private charity to provide education to their children.

    I am not sure why conservatives do not oppose such income/asset redistribution, given that the scriptures nowhere endorse taxation to redistribution assets/income to provide education.

  65. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    Sam,

    I think Noah taxed half the people’s income. Also, Limhi and Alma Senior clearly do discuss redistribution. Also, as I said to John, it is certainly worth noting if you think the scriptures cannot justify (or de-justify) statist income redistribution. Ezra Taft Benson said the Book of Mormon could teach us about modern economic, political, and social issues– so isn’t it reasonable to look?

    John,

    Joseph collected the grain, that doesn’t mean he wanted the Pharaoh to keep all the power fifty years later.

    “Your argument seems to be that it is well and good for individuals to help the poor, but that governments, who are ideally better capable of gathering resources, should stay out of it.”

    I haven’t made an argument, I’m asking for scriptures to buttress Harry Reid’s preferred solutions. Angels are even more capable, but there are good reasons why God does not rely on that as a welfare mechanism. Do those reasons (which perhaps relate to free will and agency) tell us anything interesting? I don’t know, but it is worth thinking about.

    “Is this not an equally likely criticism for the presumably large number of members who just write a fast offering check?”

    yes. Of course that does not invalidate the criticism.

    “Also, I would assume that good Mormons would, like good Patriots, obey the rules because it is what an organization that they trust and believe in asks them to do. ”

    We all pay our taxes, the interesting question is if we should, as voters and hence, _the government_, force people to give.

    “If the reason you obey a commandment or a law is fear of the potential consequences of noncompliance, then yes, by definition, all commandments are coercive.”

    Do you consider this to be the reason people do obey commandments? If so, do you think that will be enough to get them to heaven? Do you think that is a better or worse reason than giving because someone threatens to lock you up?

    It seems to me that coercion from God does not automatically justify coercion by me any more than God killing someone automatically justifies me killing someone. That is why I am interested in examples of God authorizing or condoning coercion on the part of the state for the purposes of welfare payments. If you do not see any difference between the state as an actor and God, well that is a problem you should correct post haste.

  66. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    David,

    That is a fun topic, but if you’ll forgive me, I fear that education has so many ins and outs that it deserves its own post. As a brief summary, I would say that you are treating the education as a gift to the parents, as opposed to a forced credit coop whereby students then pay for their education with education taxes spread out over the rest of their lives.

    Which is still a very interesting topic.

  67. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    Thanks for the scripture cites, DavidH. They were helpful.

    Anyway, if you can find one example in this thread of a conservative who thinks we must oppose redistribution for education, or any other kind of redistribution, on the grounds that the scriptures don’t explicitly endorse it, I’ll eat my hat.

  68. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    DavidH, there are a huge amount of conservatives who home-school their children or send them to religious private schools precisely to address the issue you bring up in #64. Having said that, as a conservative, I’m not interested in ending public education, and that is one of the few things that government does for which I am happy to pay taxes.

    But that’s not really the point of Frank M’s post, it seems to me. Harry Reid says he is a Democrat (in the FDR, big government mode) because he’s a Mormon. Frank has called for scriptures or conference talks that support the view that the government should mandatorily redistribute income without expecting something in return (ie workfare). So far, by my count, we have one example, Joseph and Pharaoh, and that was a temporary measure in which at least some people had to BUY back the grain that was stored.

  69. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    Geoff B., what about Limhi? Its a dire situation, true, but it looks a lot like compelled redistribution to me.

  70. John C. on October 15, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Frank, I tried to respond to the bulk of your comments with the good patriot comment. We should give to the guvmint because we believe in it, much as why we should obey the Lord. I am not saying that we should replace civil government with a certain interpretation of the scriptures but, of course, I am saying that you aren’t going to find what you are looking for in the scriptures which I think you knew going in.

    “Joseph collected the grain, that doesn’t mean he wanted the Pharaoh to keep all the power fifty years later.”
    I read Joseph as being the actor here. I find it hard to find alternative readings viable. See here

  71. John C. on October 15, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    “Frank has called for scriptures or conference talks that support the view that the government should mandatorily redistribute income without expecting something in return (ie workfare).”
    Is that really what Frank is asking? Because that seems an awful lot like a strawman.

  72. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    Adam, OK two examples. Again, temporary and specific.

  73. Mark IV on October 15, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    Frank,

    I was disappointed in Se. Reid’s formulation as well. The line of reasoning that says I belong to party X because I am compassionate would be smug and stupid, even if it were true. But since it isn’t true, it is just stupid. A freshman who makes such an argument in an essay should be grateful to get a D-, because it is more than he deserves.

    Church leaders have told us to pay taxes, and have pointedly denounced tax protesters. Since it is safe to assume that they know that government redistributes income with the revenue it collects, can’t their counsel be understood as an implicit endorsement of forced redistribution?

  74. John C. on October 15, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    “Ezra Taft Benson said the Book of Mormon could teach us about modern economic, political, and social issues– so isn’t it reasonable to look?”
    One last thing for today,
    If I recall correctly, the model regarding the re-education of the Lamanites in the period leading up to the coming of Christ was to keep them in prison until they agreed with whatever the government at the time wanted them to agree to. Of course, that society soon fell apart, so that may not be the model we are looking for.

  75. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    John,

    “We should give to the guvmint because we believe in it”

    This is an argument for paying taxes. It is not an argument for voting to have the government collect more money. The discussion is about one’s political philosophy as to what the proper role of government actually is. Just because I believe in the government does not mean I should vote it more money every time somebody proposes a way for the government to spend money.

    “I read Joseph as being the actor here. I find it hard to find alternative readings viable. See here”

    I don’t think I explained myself well. Joseph clearly instituted the initial program. I am not so convinced he was responsible for the eventual outcome wherein the children of Egypt were slaves. There probably were intermediate decisions made later that mattered as well. Nor would I consider that slavery a good outcome. Thus perhaps this is an example of how even divinely instituted programs can go very badly astray later on.

  76. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    John C, Frank M can speak for himself, but here’s what he said:

    “So lend Harry a helping hand; find examples in the scriptures or Church history where the government or king has mandated some level of income redistribution, preferably on pain of imprisonment.”

    Then in comment 7, he pointed out that John M’s example was workfare, so I took that as a qualifier.

  77. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Mark– see #75. I think you are confounding taxpayer responsibility with voting responsibility.

    Also, does this mean the Church supports the war in Iraq? Nope. If the government funded abortions (which, I think, it has in some cases) would this mean the Church supported abortion? Nope. I think the Church denouncing tax protesters does not mean the Church endorses government programs as optimal. It means the Church thinks you should, in general, obey the law (even if it thinks the law should be changed).

    John,

    I think I was pretty clear in my post what I was asking for. It cannot be a “straw man” because it is not an argument. An argument would have some sort of “therefore” at the end. I am not in any way appending a “therefore” to anything. This is more like a request for data or evidence. So far the list of proferred scriptures is short but interesting. It is also interesting that very little new evidence has come up in the last 50 comments. Perhaps we’ve lost focus in favor of arguing about the “rules”.

  78. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Geoff, I am not qualifying that it be workfare. I think that still qualifies as redistribution. I was just interested in the characteristics of the passage. The problem with that passage was that it was from God, not the state.

  79. Joseph D. Walch on October 15, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    For the record, I don’t think FDR was that great of a president. The sanctifying effect that WWII had on his presidency is the reason why he is idolized today (and partially rightly so; since he wasn’t all that bad–just not great). If it wasn’t for FDR, there would never have been the depression inside of a depression in 1937-38. His policies led directly to an extension of the depression, which lasted from 1929 to 1940.

    FDR’s presidency lasted from 1933 to 1945, which means he managed the continued downturn of the economy with supreme incompetency. His policies choked off investment and private enterprise. He squeezed capital so much that the NYSE didn’t return to pre-depression levels until the 1950s (which, granted was partly due to WWII). Roosevelt was a demagogue who took capital by the throat and forced the honest people of America to take government pay instead of working for private interests (there were years when the Government controlled and (mis)distributed more than 50% of US GDP–not good).

    #57–it is true that whenever governemnt acts, it competes with private actions. The reason why there is a Perpetual Education Fund, Humanitarian Aid, the Red Cross, people like Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon giving billions of dollars to charity, etc. is because the government DOES NOT take “from everybody according to his ability,” giving “only acording to one’s need.” When there is no personal surplus or prosperity, there is no room to make meaningful contributions to society or serve one another.

    I remember some people over at NPR complaining about all the private humanitarian efforts during Katrina because it somehow competed with government humanitarian efforts to rebuild the city; as if it was better to have shady ‘government contractors’ doing the rebuilding than having people like Catholic Charities take some of the onus off of the shoulders of the government.

  80. Mark IV on October 15, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    Frank, yup, right after I pressed enter I thought of those two examples that you cited and recognized the weakness of my argument. Duh. That’s the peril inherent in fast moving blogversations.

  81. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Mark,

    If you want I could edit your comment to be from Mark III instead.

  82. Mark IV on October 15, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    OK, how about an example from Brigham Young? Although he was the religious leader, he was also the secular leader.

    In the revelation in the D&C, he says says that the companies of pioneers should bear an equal portion in caring for the widows and orphans, and for the families of those who had gone into the battalion, lest the cries of the fatherless ascend to the ears of the Lord as a witness against the people. There is no punishment mentioned, but the fact that he said equal portion is evidence that there was some mandated amount, and not just whatever you wanted to freely give.

    Yes, I realize it is something of a reach, but it’s the best I can do, given the scope of your question.

  83. Mark B. on October 15, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    “Roosevelt was a demagogue who took capital by the throat and forced the honest people of America to take government pay instead of working for private interests”

    Roosevelt may well have been a demagogue and he might have taken capital by the throat–I’m not going to argue those points.

    I would be interested to know, though, how those folks in the day of 25% unemployment felt about being forced to work for the government rather than working (or not, apparently) for private interests.

  84. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Frank M.,
    leaving the gleanings was something God commanded but wouldn’t it also be something society enforced? I’m a little unclear on all the ins and outs of the Mosaic laws, but voluntary compliance didn’t seem to be a big feature. Of course there wasn’t much of a functioning state so maybe voluntary compliance was all that actually happened.

  85. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    And with one statement to each side, thus closes the FDR portion of our discussion.

  86. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    “leaving the gleanings was something God commanded but wouldn’t it also be something society enforced?”

    That’s a great question. I don’t know.

    Mark, I think that example is not really so great given the obvious role of Brigham as the prophet acting as the prophet.

  87. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    I think Mark IV’s #82 is interesting, especially as how it potentially pertains to consecration in Utah in the 1800s. Russell should be here to defend that POV.

    It’s a stretch applying BY’s view of civil government in mostly LDS Utah to modern-day realities in the United States, however.

  88. Joseph D. Walch on October 15, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    Here’s an interesting observation. Sickness, and poverty will always be with us until we become a Zion-like people, and no amount of government or church welfare is going to change that. The purpose of private (Church) welfare and service is not to help other’s per-se, but to help us as Latter-day Saints change ourselves into better people.

    I say that NOT from the perspective of a selfless or selfish person (i.e. I am not arguing for or against the inherent self-interested nature of man), but from the (eternal) perspective of our purpose here on this fallen earth.

  89. Mark IV on October 15, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    Also, when the members of the batallion drew their first pay at Ft. Leavenworth, BY dispatched Porter Rockwell to collect the money and bring back to Winter Quarters. It is interesting to speculate about what would have happened it one of them had wanted to hold onto his pay. I imagine Rockwell was pretty intimidating. I think I’d rather take my chances with the IRS than cross him.

  90. kevinf on October 15, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    I’m not sure I can find any new scriptural examples, but I am going to propose an alternative view until I get some time tonight to look at this.

    Here is my thought process: Voluntary charitable giving works fine when we all are acting appropriately, or in other words living up to our covenants and commandments. That is obviously the model we are shooting for here. History, however, shows us that it has had difficulty outside of Enoch’s domain, and the period after the Savior’s appearance in 3rd Nephi.

    The BoM is replete with chastisement for the Nephites for neglecting the poor as the prosperity price cycle turned. The ideal does not always work, because not all the people are righteous. Fast offerings, work training, LDS Social Services, and the service work done by YM/YW groups, RS, and home/visiting teachers don’t seem to have eliminated the problem currently either, although they are all great stopgap measures, and in some cases, completely successful. The few righteous may not always, however, through voluntary charitable means, meet the needs of the poor. Certainly, the presence of both the poor, and the working poor that are targeted by the current SCHIP legislation that the President vetoed, are indications that the charitable both within and without the church, are not meeting the needs of all. No threadjack here about SCHIP, it is just a current example of where these competing ideals have come to head.

    If then, the conservatives, as others have argued, are better at giving time and money to charitable work than liberals, how do they justify the ongoing issue of poor whose needs are not being met? It would seem fair, some may say, to thus require the participation of the non-willing, in the same way that we fund schools, national defense, and public infrastructure, if for no other reason than to stick it to the liberals. :)

    Ah, but then, if I am already giving, then have to pay taxes to support additional giving to try and close the gap, then I am still giving more than the rest of them, and that just isn’t fair. Or is it? I am more than willing to give on my own, but don’t conscript my efforts by forcing me to participate. It would seem that the “redistribution” discussed here might be one way that some are looking to try and close that gap, irregardless of the political labels we impose on the argument. Or that compulsory charity violates my personal rights, irregardless of whether I privately give or serve.

    Anybody want to set fire to my straw man here?

  91. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    “Irregardless.” That’s definitely on my list of non-words that should never be used. Sorry, KevinF, you make some interesting points, but I just had to point that out. Like fingernails on the chalkboard, that one. No offense intended. :)

  92. kevinf on October 15, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    In case it isn’t clear from my comment in # 90, I tend to fall on the compulsory side of this in a gentle fashion, to augment my personal efforts, which really are inadequate for the most part. I give what I can, wish I could give more, but probably fail at the time and personal service I could be giving. Church work, family, work, all get in the way of spending more time at this. Feeble excuses, I know. I’m looking for help in how to do it.

  93. Geoff B on October 15, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    But more seriously, from a philosophical standpoint, you have listed one of the reasons that government redistribution is currently in place. As a society, we have decided that private charity is not enough. Many conservatives like myself will admit that some government redistribution is justified from a secular standpoint — national defense, police, education, basic social security are good examples. Libertarians will argue that virtually everything should be privatized, and I agree with them in some cases.

    But again that is not the point. Harry Reid said he is a Democrat in the FDR model because he is a Mormon. He appears to be making the argument that “to be a good Mormon, you must favor non-voluntary government redistribution.” Frank is looking for scriptural justifications for that. I don’t think there are very many. There are certainly pragmatic reasons for some government redistribution, but not very many scriptural ones.

  94. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    KevinF,
    if a society of selfish louts is willing to tax someone other than themselves to take care of the poor, I don’t think they escape condemnation even if the poor are taken care of (I and other conservatives would argue that our redistributive state doesn’t help the poor as much as you’d think).

  95. kevinf on October 15, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    Geoff,

    You said: “He appears to be making the argument that “to be a good Mormon, you must favor non-voluntary government redistribution.””

    I really don’t think that Senator Reid is implying that at all. I think he is saying that to him, his Mormon faith has made him more amenable to redistribution via taxation as one means of helping the poor, in the same way that we “redistribute” income for education and the other items you mention.

    I have a good friend who to me is the epitome of what charity is all about. He runs both a feed-the-homeless program, along with a battered women’s shelter, initially financed by he and his wife. They have since attracted corporate sponsors, and many volunteer efforts both within and without the church to assist them in their work. And he is one of the most conservative people I know. He has a gift for “charity” in the truest sense of the word. There is no end to the good that they have done both through these programs, and much personal effort on their own. He would also claim that his Mormon faith has made him the person that he is.

    I believe that both of them (Senator Reid and my friend) are to be commended for their efforts. I just can’t myself see why we can justify taxation for the public good in education, transportation, public safety, and not consider better hospitals, universal health care, and other social service programs the same sort of benefit to society.

  96. Brad Kramer on October 15, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    The welfare-as-theft trope is a bit over-the-top and simplistic–especially as applies to democratic-republican forms of government. And the fact that Ezra Taft Benson thought about it in these terms isn’t exactly a trump card. Ideology aside, it is theoretically possible for the government to do things efficiently (standardize coinage, build and maintain highways, fight wars, fund non-market-oriented scientific research, defend unpopular speech or religious practices)–even (gasp!) more efficiently than the almighty marketplace. Taxation is only as coercive as the taxed people are unfree to change their government. And people might support the repeal of taxes for any number of reasons–they might disagree in principle with the concept of taxation, they might disagree with the specific ends (social welfare, abortion funding, wealth destratification, public education, corporate welfare, military funding) to which their tax dollars are put, or they might simply think that the government is less efficient than private- or public-sector non governmental agencies at pursuing ends with which they do principally agree. The point is, in a democracy (ideally, at least) the government can’t steal anything from the people. Yes, there are winners and losers (as many an American pacifist who still pays taxes well knows); but we always have the freedom to attempt to utilize democratic power to change the policies, means, and ends pursued by the governments we elect. Bolshevik redistribution is not the same thing as FDR redistribution, and to suggest that they are is to conflate ideology with truth.
    In a country where the people are free to elect whom they choose, support whatever platform and policies they choose, where the government cannot enact policies without recourse to what the public wants, the people can choose to ask the government to enforce environmental protection, banking regulation, social security, foodstamps, public education, national defense, prohibition, anti-drug policy, abortion rights–or choose NOT to do so. But we fought a civil war, among other reasons, over the fact that losers in the democratic process can’t just opt out of the system. I’ll grant the assertions that certain things (national defense, criminal law-enforcement, defining marriage) are the legitimate purview of government while certain other things (wealth redistribution, S&L regulation, taking our guns) are not. But those are only assertions, put forth by some person or persons and challengeable by others. In the end, what is the legitimate business of government is whatever the people, to whom the government is answerable, say it is–not what Brad Kramer or Matt Evans or JS Mill or ET Benson says it is.

  97. kevinf on October 15, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    Adam,

    Your comment # 94 came while I was preparing my post. Not sure if you are implying that I am a selfish lout, or that Senator Reid is a selfish lout, but I will agree with you, all of us are under condemnation if the poor aren’t taken care of.

    Geoff B, I’ll take the rap for “irregardless” although the spell checker doesn’t pick it up. I’m really trying not to use ingratiating or offensive language, just trying to understand the extremely low regard that many social programs are held by some.

    I’m trying to find ways to help me be more charitable as an individual, and can’t discount offhand, the use of taxation to multiply my efforts where I can’t personally reach. It would seem that the crux is the compulsory aspect of it. To float another thought, we know that the church uses tithing and fast offerings to do many charitable works. We are under commandment to contribute, but have our agency to choose not to do so. However, “compulsion” comes into play when we got to get a temple recommend, or are asked to serve in some callings or priesthood offices. If we don’t contribute, we can’t be ordained, go to the temple, receive certain saving ordinances. I don’t like the word compulsion here, but our failure to contribute comes with significant “sanctions”.

  98. Matt Evans on October 15, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    DavidH (way back in #64),

    I look at public education, and services like it, as being categorically different than redistributive welfare because God specifically tells us to care for our neighbor. He does not tell us to teach our neighbor geometry. Because God has imposed a moral obligation on everyone to care for their neighbor, it’s morally suspect to force people to do so. If God had commanded us to teach teenagers geometry, I’d oppose forcing people to provide geometry classes for teenagers because the coercion would undermine the religious value.

    I think people support public education as an investment in the _community_, much like infrastructure, and not because it satisfies one of our religious obligations to help our neighbors. Our religious obligations should not be imposed by force.

  99. Bill on October 15, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    The problem with “irregardless” is not that it is ingratiating or offensive, but that its prefix is redundant.

  100. Bill on October 15, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    “if a society of selfish louts is willing to tax someone other than themselves to take care of the poor”

    what are we talking about here? loopholes in the tax code? the marriage penalty? maybe you’re a renter who resents the mortgage deduction? Or maybe you’re talking about unfair tariffs?

    Frank, the last sentence of you post is a little obscure. Perhaps you could clarify the meaning, including the intended antecedent for “those few.”

  101. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    but I will agree with you, all of us are under condemnation if the poor aren’t taken care of.

    You’re not agreeing with me. My point is that its a mistake to think that God only condemns people for selfishness and indifference to the poor if the poor aren’t taken care of. A society where the poor are taken care of, but only at gunpoint, is not much of a society.

    When we talk about caring for the poor, as with most moral concerns, we’re actually concerned with two different things: (1) the wellbeing of the poor and (2) the charitableness of the well-off. You’re acting as if the wellbeing of the poor was the only consideration, but it isn’t. You have some issues where the moral state of the person doing the act is all important (i.e., baptism) and others where the result is all important (i.e., murder, where we are more concerned with stopping deaths than we are in giving people chances to voluntarily refrain from killing). I see reasonable grounds for disagreeing about where charity to the poor falls along that spectrum.

    However, “compulsion” comes into play when we got to get a temple recommend, or are asked to serve in some callings or priesthood offices. If we don’t contribute, we can’t be ordained, go to the temple, receive certain saving ordinances. I don’t like the word compulsion here, but our failure to contribute comes with significant “sanctions”.

    This has been discussed at length already in this thread. The long and short is that if you believe eternal consequences for sin justifies temporal punishments for the sin, then you end up criminalizing everything from not going to church on Sunday to cussing to believing in infant baptism.

    I just can’t myself see why we can justify taxation for the public good in education, transportation, public safety, and not consider better hospitals, universal health care, and other social service programs the same sort of benefit to society.

    These really aren’t all exactly the same thing. Wow!

  102. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    Like clockwork, we are at 100 comments and content actually related to the post starts to dwindle…

    Bill,

    Those few [Mormons] that don’t [think we have a personal responsibility to help the poor] have their own problems to work out.

  103. Bill on October 15, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    Matt, do you think there is no religious imperative to educate oneself? Sec. 88 and many recent conference talks would disagree. But it is a very strange argument to say that whatever obligations a religion may impose render any government efforts in that or a related sphere illegitimate.

  104. Brad Kramer on October 15, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    Matt,
    Isn’t the positive/negative-law binary a bit lawyerly? It seems to me like a forced distinction. Is the command “have no other gods before me” positive or negative? What about sabbath laws? Are there really no positive commands–moral obligations–to educate children (or must God literally specify geometry before it becomes illegitimate for the state to intercede)? Are you really saying that you would oppose using confiscatory taxes to fund teaching teenagers geometry if God formally prescribed the teaching of geometry to teenagers but would support it if God formally proscribed remaining ignorant of geometry?

  105. Adam Greenwood on October 15, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    what are we talking about here? loopholes in the tax code? the marriage penalty? maybe you’re a renter who resents the mortgage deduction? Or maybe you’re talking about unfair tariffs?

    I’m not talking about anyone in particular. This is a hypothetical. Though in a fallen world I don’t think its controversial that taxes are more popular when they effect someone else.

  106. quandmeme on October 15, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    (a) If I said, “I watch BYU football because I am a Mormon,” wouldn’t mean that their was a scriptural foundation for the entertainment I derived from my tendency to define myself through an embodiment of some aspect of my identity. It is a valid way being entertained.

    (b) Scripture stories where an ancient socio-economic mechanisms pertaining to an agrarian and premodern sociopolitical system was approved do not translate well to a post-industrial hyper-urban world IMO. Many above have resorted immediately to principles like the sermon on the mount. These references do not meet the criteria of the post, but, as a green party wannabe (Nevada gp seems to be dormant), they are my first reaction, too. My spirituality informs the picture of the world as I think it should be; I look at the menu of options for a political philosophy/strategy/mechanism(?) by which to create it. I think Reid’s explanation is perfectly adequate, though I personally find the republicrats too tainted to endorse either unequivocally; bless him for jumping in the fray an trying to sort out the contradictions necessary in our system with action an not just critique (like me).

  107. Bill on October 15, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    Yes, it did sound a bit more like indentured servitude or feudalism than any social contract we observe today

  108. Austin on October 15, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    With the government being in charge of redistributing the wealth, the overhead created to do so, and money lost in the process, how many pennies on the dollar actually make it to the end user? Does anyone know?

  109. kevinf on October 15, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Austin,

    This has already been threadjacked, but I’ll make one last comment to your question in #108. And the answer is, “more than if we do nothing.”.

  110. Austin on October 15, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    Kevin – I am not sure what you mean by that. My problem is government waste. So much money goes in, so little good comes out.

  111. wilt on October 15, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    Geoff B.:

    Apologies for having to reach so far back in comments – but I’ve not been near a computer for much of today.

    You mention in #57 my reference to Matt. 25: 31-40. (from #46) as a wonderful scripture and then suggest a better appreciation of eternal values if they visited the poor rather than pay taxes.

    Freely granted, thanks! In this world though, we do not see the perfect nor even the largely preferable all that often.

    I cannot accomplish all I’d like. In that vein I consciously seek to aid those in need via informed involvement (voter, speaking for and to those around me) in some government programs. The give-and-take of our representative form of government here in the United States permits just that course.

    Scriptural references to government redistribution programs strike me as problematic in and of themselves. The scriptures teach basic principles from which I form the ‘me’ found in an overall community. While God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican I see Him as the quintessential liberal.

    As a political liberal I see moral values inherent in clean air, clean water, a regulated meat-packing industry, public education, care for the poor and a multitude of other areas addressed via government involvement. Government isn’t a complete answer, but it goes further in establishing social justice than other alternatives I’ve encountered.

    I’ll try to append a url here which speaks to the irony I see at times in the public discourse: http://www.hcdems.com/misc/joe_conservative.html
    (A Day in the Life of Joe Conservative)

    wilt

  112. Frank McIntyre on October 15, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Allrighty, then. Thanks for the great comments. Since we’re over 100 and not really talking about the post anymore I’m going to close comments now but feel free to email me if you have some scriptural gem still to post. Besides, it’s time for FHE…