Desert and a Just Society

September 18, 2011 | 99 comments
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The 2010 poverty level in the U.S., we learned on Tuesday, is the highest it has been since 1993. In 2010, about one in six Americans lived below the poverty line.[fn1] In June, 14.6% of Americans received food stamps.[fn2] To some extent, the high poverty rate is probably related to the high unemployment rate, which was 9.1% in August.

I throw out all of these numbers to suggest that, as a society, we have a problem. That problem needs to be fixed. And we, as Mormons, undoubtedly have something that we can bring to the discussion of how to fix it. As I think about how we can fix poverty, though, I’m hugely influenced by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill’s book Creating an Opportunity Society.[fn3]

Haskins and Sawhill point out that Americans care about desert.[fn4] That is, as Americans, we want those who have the ability to work for a living. And I’m interested in this idea of desert. Because I’m not convinced that we have a religious dispensation to withhold assistance from those don’t somehow “deserve” our help.[fn5]

Still, as a practical matter, irrespective of whether we have religious dispensation or not, we care about desert. And no social program that is blind to to recipients’ refusal to work is going to go anywhere. As a pragmatist, then, I have to confront desert. But, as we consider how to provide aid to those to whom we have the political will to aid, I want to keep two things in mind:

(1) Notwithstanding our cultural faith in Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches is not the norm in America. You are much more likely to end up in roughly the same economic condition as the family you were born into. 42 percent of the children of families in the bottom quintile of income themselves end up in the bottom quintile of income as adults, twice the percentage that would be expected to end up there by chance.[fn7] And only 6 percent of Americans move from the bottom quintile to the top quintile.[fn8]

So Americans’ socioeconomic movement is limited. And this limited mobility between socioeconomic classes suggests that some portion of our economic success or failure is a result of the situation in which we were born, not of anything for which we were responsible. This is not to deny our ability or need to work, but, while some portion of my relatively comfortable financial situation can be attributed to my hard work, some portion is also attributable to the fact that I was born into a middle-class family. Likewise, while some portion of an indigent’s lack of financial success may be attributable to her not working, some portion is also attributable to the bad luck of not being born in a middle-class family. So while looking at a person’s desert has significant emotional and political resonance, we need to recognize that luck and society play their roles, too.

(2) Still, though I think it’s hard to argue with my conclusions in (1), I don’t think that’s going to seep into the public consciousness any time soon. Which is one reason why, if we want to create a truly just society, there is value in focusing on those to whom we can’t assign any blame for their situation. And here, I basically mean children. Because children can’t be held responsible for their poverty—that is, because they didn’t have the ability to opt out of being born in poverty—providing them with some sort of help should be uncontroversial, even to the most desert-focused person.[fn9]

So this could go in one of several directions. If you believe my story that, as Mormons, we’re not given religious dispensation to only help the deserving poor, maybe the question is, how do we expand Americans’ view of who is the deserving poor (again, assuming that the political importance of desert isn’t going to go away)? If you don’t buy my story, then maybe the question is, how do we make sure that those who need and deserve our help get that help? Either way, there’s always the question of how much help to give. What, for example, does it mean that, among the people of Enoch, there were no poor among them? Assuming it doesn’t preclude all income inequality,[fn10] we need to determine how much inequality we can leave. Etc.

[fn1] Note that the poverty line, for these purposes, is $22,314 for a family of four, or $11,139 for an individual.

[fn2] If you go to the Wall Street Journal link, I recommend clicking on the interactive map. The variation between the percentage of people in a state receiving food stamps is interesting. I haven’t looked carefully, but in my quick glance, Wyoming has the lowest proportion of food stamp recipients, with 6%, while Mississippi has the most, with 21%.

[fn3] I’m not going to review their book, although I will refer to it and concepts it embraces. I highly recommend it to anybody who wants to think through how we can solve poverty. The two authors have different views—my impression is that one is politically liberal and the other, conservative—but they work to lay out a concrete way that the country could work to reduce poverty without being ideological about it. Because—and this is an important point—neither liberals nor conservatives like poverty, as far as I can tell, and both are interested in solving the problem. Their policy prescriptions may differ, but both seem to want a society that is more just.

[fn4] Note that, in this case, “desert” takes one “s.” Why not two? This Snopes article discusses it. (Did you know, by the way, that Snopes also tackled language myths and mistakes? Me either.)

[fn5] For example, take a look at the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Or maybe King Benjamin explaining that we are to give to the beggar, whether or not she brought her poverty on herself, in the same way God gives to us, lest we be condemned. But contrast that with the Lord’s statement that the idle shall not eat the bread of the worker (although, to be fair, this is the Lord commanding those who enter into the law of consecration not to be idle; it’s not the Lord excusing His people from being charitable. Still, I’ll concede that there may be some wiggle room).

[fn7] That is, if we had complete socioeconomic mobility, with no constraints based on our family of origin, a person who grew up in the bottom 20% of income should have an equal likelihood of ending up in any quintile; only 20% would end up in the bottom quintile of income.

[fn8] These numbers all come from Opportunity Society p. 63.

[fn9] Yes, I know I said my next post in this series would probably deal with New York’s recent sex ed law. But this really belongs first. So probably next time I’m addressing social justice issues, I’ll deal with sex ed. If you’re really disappointed that something came between that post and sex ed, you can pretend this post never happened.

[fn10] I assume it doesn’t eliminate all income inequality—it appears to me that, even under at least one formulation of the United Order, people received according to their needs, which may have been different between individuals and families.

99 Responses to Desert and a Just Society

  1. Jason Hardy on September 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    I think one thing that needs to be focused on is the quality rather than the quantity of programs aimed at ending poverty. A lot of times we talk just about dollar amounts, when the dollar amounts are not the whole story. These programs don’t always go about the job in the best way–sometimes they provide resources to those who already have them, in the hopes that they will be used in ways that will eventually benefit those without resources. Other times they provide resources directly to individuals and hope they will use them well, regardless of their current financial literacy, job preparedness, child-care situation, etc.

    One thing that the church’s welfare program does that I think is one of its strengths is the individual attention recipients (ideally) get. They get a review of how their money is currently being used, they get to talk about their ideas for moving to self-sufficiency, and they can get help in designing a plan for themselves. Not that this always works perfectly–some, probably many, wards don’t have the capacity to dedicate everything that such a program needs to succeed, and there is also the occasional appearance of the “you’re poor because you messed up so let me take over your life for you and tell you how to live it right” mindset that does not exactly engage individuals in a quest for self-sufficiency. But the ideals of individual attention and individual plans are good.

    I would say the goals of a welfare program that really wants to be successful is to provide the individual attention people need. There are lots of programs out there providing financial literacy, job training, etc. Maybe not enough, but a lot. If people could get individual attention to access the resources that could help get them what they need, I think that would be an improvement.

    So, to sum up: Provide the resources people need to become more self-sufficient and the individual guidance they need to use them correctly. That’s not the whole battle, but it’s a step toward helping people gain the opportunities they might not have otherwise had, which I believe increases justice.

  2. Jax on September 18, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    I throw out all of these numbers to suggest that, as a society, we have a problem. That problem needs to be fixed. And we, as Mormons, undoubtedly have something that we can bring to the discussion of how to fix it.

    I think everyone will agree that we have a problem, but I’m not sure that we, as Mormons, have anything to add. Our scriptures sure have a lot to add to the discussion, but since we have pretty uniformly rejected them, I don’t think we have any reason being invited to the discussion at all.

    So this could go in one of several directions. If you believe my story that, as Mormons, we’re not given religious dispensation to only help the deserving poor, maybe the question is, how do we expand Americans’ view of who is the deserving poor

    The deserving poor argument is one of those areas where our scriptures are VERY clear – anyone who is poor is deserving. See King Benjamin about this in Mosiah 4:17-19. But bring it up in SS or EQ meetings and all I hear about is how all they will do is buy alcohol and drugs and it is much better to put the money into some system (church/gov’t/charity)rather than directly to the person who could use it. IMO, most LDS people have very little interest in meeting the needs of the poor. The acquisition of money is paramount, but they mentally twist themselves into a pretzel to ignore Jacob’s advice that they only reason to seek after wealth is for the purpose of meeting those needs of the poor around them.

  3. Jeremy on September 18, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Compare the situation in the United States to that of other developed countries.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/17/social-immobility-climbin_n_501788.html

    (Full report here: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/2/7/45002641.pdf)

    In short: a poor person in Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany and Spain has a much greater change than a poor person in America to move to a higher income bracket than the one his parents were in.

  4. James Olsen on September 18, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Sam – Great post. However, it would go a long way toward helping your readers decide whether they “buy your story” of no religious dispensation for ignoring the undeserving poor if you actually gave us a story. What you’ve given us is a claim. And it’s the story that I think is at the heart of our religious schizophrenia – a condition that gets horribly exacerbated as folks read their scriptures and listen to General Conference from their vantage within today’s very polarized political landscape. Not that what you’re doing here is a bad strategy – just ignore the split and demand – whatever your position about desert – that you actually think seriously about how and how much to help. But just as I agree with you that this post was needed before you jump into the other issues you want to address, I think that putting forth a theologically coherent and compelling picture on desert is a necessary precursor to your goal of exploring what Mormonism qua Mormonism has to contribute to the dialogue on social justice.

  5. Mike M. on September 18, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    Sam, My comment is tangential to your main point about desert but does address your view of the current state of inequality. Consumption inequality is a better measure than income inequality of economic circumstances, and consumption based measures of poverty reveal a strong overall decline in poverty rates in the last couple decades. This recent Freakonomics reviews various poverty measures.

    http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/09/14/whats-the-best-way-to-measure-poverty-income-or-consumption/

  6. Dan on September 18, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    just society = social justice. :)

  7. Dan on September 18, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    Sam,

    “No poor among them” probably implied a society where a man doesn’t die of a tooth infection because he has no money to pay for a regular dentist visit. But that’s just my opinion.

  8. Dan on September 18, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Mike,

    Consumption inequality is a better measure than income inequality of economic circumstances, and consumption based measures of poverty reveal a strong overall decline in poverty rates in the last couple decades.

    Which shows the success of such programs as food stamps, unemployment benefits and medicare. You’re essentially proving that those programs work as they are supposed to, to lift people OUT of poverty and into at least a minimum standard of living in this country.

  9. Cameron N on September 18, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    @ Dan (7)

    That is a tragedy. I wonder to if he asked anyone for help? If he did not ask, how could he have a chance at receiving?

    I think the problem there was a lack of wisdom. He chose pain meds over the antibiotic. He also could have probably pawned his jewelry to pay for them. I think this is an educational/cultural problem as much as a financial one, although I’m sure he was in a tough spot financially. I have been too for the last few years until last week when I received my first salaried paycheck.

    In my view, the breakdown of family and neighborly ties is probably more the culprit here than another official social program, and that is the greater tragedy. This man has probably rarely spoken to his neighbors, and likely came from a broken family and has loose ties if any with parents and siblings, let alone extended family or old friends.

    The situation with ‘no poor among them’ only existed because of the internal covenant and bond with God, families, and neighbors that each member of that society had. This change happens within, and when absent cannot be adequately compensated for in any other way. In a society as diverse, divided, addicted, seclusive, and ‘acted upon’ as ours is today, it is a wonder that these tragedies don’t happen more often.

  10. Dan on September 18, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Cameron,

    we’ll never know if he asked anyone for help. We can’t judge his personal situation because likely only those close to him know it. He is not the only example of people dying in this country of preventable health problems. We’re ranked last among developed countries. We could save 100,000 lives if we had a system similar to France.

  11. Sonny on September 19, 2011 at 12:10 am

    Jax,

    “The deserving poor argument is one of those areas where our scriptures are VERY clear – anyone who is poor is deserving. See King Benjamin about this in Mosiah 4:17-19. But bring it up in SS or EQ meetings and all I hear about is how all they will do is buy alcohol and drugs and it is much better to put the money into some system (church/gov’t/charity)rather than directly to the person who could use it.”

    Wow Jax, I find myself in agreement with you for once, and your comments match my observations at times as well. I think some unfortunately pull out their mental lists of who they will not help and why WAY before they even consider the plight of the individual, what they are going through, or what they may have gone through–physically or emotionally. I feel somewhat qualified to say that because I look back on my life even as close as five years ago and see I unfortunately was that type of member that would come up with too many reasons not to help. That is not to say I don’t use discretion in providing direct or indirect assistance, but now my discretion is how I can best help, given the circumstances (theirs and mine).

  12. Jax on September 19, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Thanks Sonny. That was probably quite a surprise for you. I think most of the T&S crowd thinks of me as a hard-core capitalist/rightwinger. Not true, but I do see how people interpret me that way, and once they do it is hard to get them to accept any of my comments no matter what I say. You probably won’t be the only one with that reaction.

    I would think we don’t agree on the use of gov’t programs though to make a ‘just society’. We absolutely have to do a better job of taking care of each other but I don’t think the best way to do that is through the gov’t. It’s about as good as we have right now, but IMO we aren’t doing our duty for caring for the poor by paying our taxes. Cameron’s take on family and neighborly ties is where we need to improve – no one should be waiting for a beauracrat to tell them to help someboyd. We should have stepped in long before it reaches that point.

  13. Tim on September 19, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Cameron and Jax,

    I realize that a lot of Americans don’t have experience with slums. But a lot of Americans live in poverty-ridden areas, and they don’t have family or neighborly ties that can assist them when they need help. A lot of people live in areas that are poor but don’t quite qualify as slums, and also don’t have those ties. We’ve become a country that too often segregates itself financially (as well as politically and sometimes racially). The poor aren’t just the people in our neighborhoods. What then? How does these people without wealthier ties get help?

  14. chris on September 19, 2011 at 9:40 am

    I believe the words of the prophets when they say our poverty is the consequence, not the cause of our social problems.

    That is, if you can change hearts, the problems with poverty will take care of themselves to to speak.

  15. Sam Brunson on September 19, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Thanks all for some great comments. A couple responses I have:

    Jason, I like the idea of individual attention, and I think educational programs can provide that. Still, with 1 in 6 Americans in poverty, it’s hard to create an administrable program (or programs) that can provide the attention everybody needs; it’s probably worth looking at second-best solutions, too.

    Jax, I’m not actually surprised that you are also concerned about poverty. Like I said, I think people across the political spectrum are concerned; our preferred solutions may differ, but it’s hard to think that poverty is a good indicator of a just society.

    Mike M., I take their point that income inequality is an imperfect measure of the wealth gap, as well as of poverty. But, frankly, so is consumption poverty. People have been papering over real problems with poverty by taking out (increasingly expensive) loans. That works well when lenders are lending and asset values are rising, but it also creates bubbles, and has real repercussions when, ultimately, the lender calls the debt. Also, while there is a finite amount of money that the wealthy can spend (limiting, to some extent, the size of the consumption gap), I don’t see where the consumption index measures the intangible values of, e.g., knowing that you’re covered in an emergency, knowing that you can buy what you want when you want, etc. Also, does it measure lifetime consumption, or just annual consumption? assets passed on to children and desired charitable groups, or just spent on consumables? Income-producing assets? For those and other reasons, I’m not convinced that consumption is a better measure of poverty than income—both have strengths and weaknesses.

  16. Sam Brunson on September 19, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Cameron N, it is a tragedy. And I’m not talking about access to medical care (at least not yet), but I’m not convinced that they guy show any lack of wisdom. Most people don’t think that tooth infection = death; they think tooth infection = lost tooth, at the worst. FWIW, a couple years ago, I had a problem with my eye. I thought, initially, that it was an infection but, when it didn’t go away, I went to my doctor (which, frankly, I wouldn’t have spent the money to do without insurance, because, though painful, I though I knew what it was). Long story short, my doctor thought it was pink eye, had written a prescription, but I said one last thing, and he sent me to a specialist. And it was way more serious—and potentially blinding—than pink eye. But I likely wouldn’t have gone to the doctor, or at least I would have delayed it further, if I had to pay out-of-pocket. And I could probably have afforded to pay out-of-pocket. Which is to say, I’m empathetic.

  17. Alan Jackson on September 19, 2011 at 10:08 am

    58% of children in the bottom 20% moving out of it and 6% of Americans moving from the bottom all the way to the top seems like a giant amount of socioeconomic movement to me.

    What do you think would be a good amount? Since the definition is relative, obviously there will always be a bottom. Are you looking for 100% (or close to it) turnover every generation?

  18. Sam Brunson on September 19, 2011 at 10:13 am

    James, my story is summarized in fn5. That said, I don’t think there is a coherent story I can draw. There are at least three threads I’m aware of in Mormon thought on the idea of poverty: (1) there’s the King Benjamin idea that none of us are deserving, so we have no right to judge others on desert; (2) there’s the United Order idea that the idle will not eat the worker’s bread (which at least relates to Mormon’s idea that the righteous will prosper financially); and (3) there’s the idea, not so scriptural, but definitely modern-prophet and cultural) that we need to be (and we need to help our neighbor to be) self-sufficient.

    I can tell you a story to make the three work together (specifically, (2) and (3) are direct to us internally—that is, we need to not be idle and need to become self-sufficient, but that doesn’t relieve us of our duty to help our neighbor), but that story remains incoherent and not completely helpful, at least at the margins (who is our neighbor? can we prefer our own family/community/nation? how much is enough?).

    And the thing is, I don’t want to, and don’t think we can, get rid of the incoherence. Our religion is a messy thing, full of chances for us to make correct and incorrect decisions, and filled with chances for us to be charitable or uncharitable, and for us to figure out what constitutes a Zion society and work toward that. We’ve got scriptures that contradict each other, unless you use the weirdest possible machinations and careful (mis-)readings. We’ve got prophets who disagree with other prophets, unchangible doctrines that, it turns out, are actually just policies, etc.[fn1]

    And if we can’t get our doctrine out of the world of the messy, we’re not going to get our social justice debate cleaner. So, as valuable as the project you suggest is, I’m not convinced that it can be done.[fn2]


    [fn1] I want to emphasize that I’m a big fan of this messiness; it’s a feature, not a bug, of our religion.

    [fn2] Or, in the alternative, I’m not convinced that I’m willing to do the work it would require. At least not for a blog post. So ultimately, the answer may be less the impossibility and more my laziness/having to work for a living.

  19. Alan Jackson on September 19, 2011 at 10:13 am

    One more comment concerning giving money to the poor vs programs (they’ll just buy booze with it).

    I think giving money to programs completely solves that problem. In our ward, our Bishop has specifically counselled members not to give money to other members that ask for it, but to refer them to him for welfare needs. In that case, I turn down people that ask for it at that moment, but I can give money to the welfare program knowing that it will managed managed as well as it possible.

    There are certainly many in our area less well off than others, but through the church welfare program, no one (that is willing to ask for help) is going without food or no where to live.

  20. Bryan on September 19, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Jax and Sonny,

    My experience has been a little different in the church. I too have heard the “Don’t give money to drunks” argument but I’ve more often heard quotes from scriptures and general authorities saying that what they do with our charity is their problem, not ours. Our problem is to be charitable.

    That being said, I think that there wouldn’t be much change in the situation of the country if everyone was suddenly “charitable” and gave money to the homeless person on the corner. I do it often and I’m not saying we shouldn’t, but if you believe that giving someone $10 is going to lift them out of poverty then I think you need a lesson in reality.

    So what can we do? I personally think the church has a good model going on that attempts to help people and then help them help themselves. Becoming more neighborly and then more involved in our neighbors lives would help this a lot too. Then we could be a more permanent help.

  21. Sam Brunson on September 19, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Alan (17),
    The point isn’t that there is no mobility—there certainly is some degree of mobility. But if our socioeconomic situation were purely merit-based, roughly 80% would leave the bottom quintile, with about 20% ending up in each quintile. Which means that the situation we’re born into (something that is entirely out of our hands) has a disproportionate impact on our future earnings. Which means that, even if we are concerned with desert, we need to recognize that the poor are not poor just because they’ve made bad choices.

  22. ji on September 19, 2011 at 10:22 am

    In discussions of this sort, it seems to me far better to use the pronoun “I” rather than “we” — “I” should be kind to my poor neighbor; “I” should pay my neighbor’s dentist bill; I should <fill in the blank>. When “we” is used, it suggests compulsion or dominion, or at least the privilege of pointing the finger at someone else who doesn’t do his or her “duty” as “we” expect him or her to do.

    Then, when I am doing all I can to live a Christ-like life, others (one at a time) will see my light and will seek to do better themselves.

    As I see it, this is the Gospel way.

  23. Bryan on September 19, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Ji,

    I believe you probably have a point. I think I will try to do that.

  24. Mike M. on September 19, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Dan (8): If you increase the consumption of the poorest, then some of them will be raised out of consumption poverty, but this is more a result of how consumption poverty is defined rather than evidence about the moral rightness of food stamps and other programs, which I think was the spirit of the post. There are various ways to reduce consumption poverty, and some of those methods may be more ethical than others.

    Sam (15): I didn’t say consumption poverty was a perfect measure, only that it was better than income poverty. But you can include health coverage as part of consumption, as was done in some of the measures on the link I gave. That is clearly better than income measures. Also, some of the criticisms you gave also apply to income inequality, such as not capturing lifetime measures.

  25. Alan Jackson on September 19, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Sam (21),

    I don’t buy that at all. Even if our system were completely merit based, the people at the bottom are going to be less well trained and capable (not intelligence, just knowledge) than those at the top, so you aren’t going to see 80% moving out.

    People at the top with access to private schools, tutors, and the know how of what you need to know and be able to do to perform skilled jobs is going to give them an advantage. When you add in the home life support that is common in the bottom 20%, they are at a huge disadvantage.

    It is certainly not fair, but I think it could account for the 20% gap between current and the theoretical distribution.

  26. Chris H. on September 19, 2011 at 10:50 am

    ji,

    Have you ever read the scriptures? The prophets and apostle regularly refer to the body of Christ. The idea of community (community of saints, community of believers) as the means of addressing social problem as well as spiritual salvation. To reject “we” is to reject Zion.

    Sam,

    It has begun. :)

  27. Bryan on September 19, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Chris,

    I think Ji’s point was that using “we” distributes personal culpability across a large group of people and also has a finger pointing effect.

    The gospel has never been about pointing fingers and changing Zion. It is about changing yourself to be better and if everyone does that then Zion will improve as a consequence.

  28. ji on September 19, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Chris H. (no. 26) — There is no need to be unkind. As I understand, the world is ripening in iniquity, and will continue to do so. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not intended to change that. Rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is intended to save souls, one person and one family at a time, and to provide a refuge for the faithful in difficult times. I see Mormonism and Christianity as a tool to save souls, not to change governmental policy. (However, I admit that saving souls, one at a time, might have some impact on governmental policy in those places where the faithful live.) I see Mormonism as helping me to seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness. I recognize a duty to be kind to the poor, especially the faithful poor. I also recognize “ye have the poor always with you” and mankind, even with thoughts of Mormonism as the cure for poverty, will never erase or even substantially erase poverty.

  29. Sam Brunson on September 19, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Alan,

    People at the top with access to private schools, tutors, and the know how of what you need to know and be able to do to perform skilled jobs is going to give them an advantage.

    Exactly. But none of these advantages are merit-based; the poor children who don’t have access to private schools, tutors, and knowledge don’t lack those things because they’re lazy or not willing to try—they lack them by the accident of being born into a family in the bottom quintile. So if you argue that aid should go to the deserving poor (an argument you haven’t made), you need to acknowledge that neither our wealth nor our poverty is completely correlated to what we deserve.

  30. Sam Brunson on September 19, 2011 at 11:09 am

    And Chris, you warned me. :) (Although frankly, the comments have been pretty good so far.)

  31. Bryan on September 19, 2011 at 11:20 am

    So what can I do? Give to the homeless on the corner? Give fast offerings (Or more)? Does voting for health care and higher taxes make me more charitable? (Try to read that last sentence with as little snark as possible. I would like it to be taken seriously, not as an attack.)

    Is the only way to create a just society to make more government programs to help the poor?

  32. Jax on September 19, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Bryan,

    My experience has been a little different in the church. I too have heard the “Don’t give money to drunks” argument but I’ve more often heard quotes from scriptures and general authorities saying that what they do with our charity is their problem, not ours. Our problem is to be charitable.

    I hear the same thing FROM the scriptures and GA’s, I just don’t hear it from local members.

    Sam,

    There is a problem with upward mobility problems from the bottom economic rungs, but from and LDS scripture based point of view the problem is that there are ecomonic rungs at all. The Lord says in the D&C that HIS way of raising up the poor is to pull down the rich. Equality is the only acceptable status. We could lift everyone out of poverty, but if some still live on a “higher” level of luxury then we still fail in the gospel.

    Chris,

    “To reject ‘we’ is to reject Zion” is absolutely correct and I couldn’t agree more. But to compel people to be a part of ‘we’ rejects zion as well. I don’t think the problem will ever be solved on a national or even state level(though it could be), because of the politics – people on the right often reject “we” while people on the left want to compel it. IMO only a community could do it, but the only community who has covenanted to do it has refused to do so.

  33. Bryan on September 19, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Jax,

    I meant to convey that those quotes (or not even direct quotes but teachings) came from local members in Sunday School, Priesthood lessons, and Seminary lessons. So where I came from at least the “they will spend it on booze argument” existed but it was usually as a “A lot people people say this, but it is wrong…” teaching.

  34. Chris H. on September 19, 2011 at 11:51 am

    ji,

    I am not being unkind, just direct. Feel free to read your hyper-individualism into the Gospel. However, I see no scriptural basis for such a view, though I am open to others having different interpretations (they are just ahistorical).

  35. Chris H. on September 19, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I am a socialist. I do not think that programs for the poor are a means of achieving justice, they are just a safety net in the absence of justice. In many ways they undermine the cause of justice. However, without real democracy and any sort of commitment to justice, I feel a need to defend these programs because they are all we have. I would prefer to see us reform our democracy and to empower unions and communities. I do not see that happening anytime soon.

  36. Alison Moore Smith on September 19, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Sonny #11:

    I think some unfortunately pull out their mental lists of who they will not help and why WAY before they even consider the plight of the individual, what they are going through, or what they may have gone through–physically or emotionally.

    I’m unsure what you mean by this statement. How do you decide who you will and won’t help before considering that they need help? Aren’t all the things you list — their plight, what they are going through, what they have gone through — all things that simply point to judging their deserts?

    When I read the tragic link about Kyle Willis’ death, some of the same things come up. Who would I assist with charitable dental care? An otherwise healthy, 24-year-old, with lots of gold jewelry and a famous uncle or the kids my husband’s cousin serves every year in Costa Rica? (For me, the answer has been the latter.)

    Similarly, if any of us knew Willis would DIE from a tooth-ache, perhaps we would have diverted some of our humanitarian donations to him. But apparently, Willis didn’t know this himself.

    Resources are limited. It’s simply a fact. We DO have to determine where our time and money go — and where they won’t. (Opportunity cost, again.) Even the church withholds help from those it deems “underserving.” I have some examples that I’ll post later.

  37. ji on September 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Chris H. (no. 34) — I perceived as unkind your suggestion that I have never read the scriptures and rejecting Zion, and your characterization of my thoughts as hyper-individualism. But if not unkind, they are certainly untrue. When I read and re-read my no. 22 and 28, I see a reasonable sharing of thoughts that are well-founded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (my opinion, to be true, but an honest opinion), with a hope that they might be welcome in this “place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.”

  38. Chris H. on September 19, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Sigh.

  39. Alison Moore Smith on September 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Three examples:

    (1) RS presidents usually do the “family-needs visits” for welfare assistance. Part of this includes assessing the work capabilities of family members, developing self-reliance plans, teaching income management, and other skills. In other words, the expectation is not just “you are poor, here is what you need” it’s “you are poor, here is what you can do, here is what you need.”

    The approach simply is much more along the lines of “you do what you can for yourself, we will do the rest.” Which is kind of in line with the atonement. Do you best, but Christ will make up the rest.

    (2) When I served as RS president, there was a family in our ward that only associated with the ward in regards to getting food, rent, babysitting, and dinners. This was in a ward where *every single family* lived below the poverty level, but almost none received ward assistance of any kind. After some months, the bishop stopped providing assistance. (Even though they were still poor.)

    (3) I have a brother (if you happen to know my brother David, it’s not him!) who left home at 16 and went back to live with his birth father (most of us are adopted). He dropped out of high school. He got a job, decided “it was too early to get there” by 10:00 am and lost the job. He married a woman, had a kid, and then divorced her “because now we get two welfare checks instead of one.”

    The cycle of marrying (or not), having kids, deserting the kids, getting jobs, losing jobs because he didn’t show up, spending all his money on alcohol and cigarettes, getting arrested for disorderly conduct or DUI, etc., has continued for 33 years.

    Once, when we were in college, we got a middle of the night call. He wanted Sam and our dad to come to the hospital to give his (3rd) wife a blessing. She was in a coma. From overdosing on darvon. Because she caught him in bed with her niece.

    For the first ten years or so, my brother scammed the church. He would move to a new neighborhood, show up at church as a poor, lonely soul looking for redemption, sign up for welfare, and then drop out of site while getting food and rent. This would last for a few months, until the bishop would drop the assistance. Then he’d move to another apartment in another ward.

    About 20 years ago he told me that “the church put me on the black list.” He said that he was on a list that was disseminated (at least around the Utah valley area) to bishops so that he couldn’t get any more church welfare.

    Trust me, the guy is stinking poor. Yet again and again, he was deemed undeserving of church welfare assistance.

    But, very sincerely, if any of you feel this is unjust and that he should get assistance, I will pass on any contributions in full to him.

  40. Jax on September 19, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Alison,

    Great examples. This is why the gov’t will never create a “just” society. It’s not just our gov’t, no gov’t ever will. It could be done in a community though where those who don’t do what they can for themselves are just escorted out of the community. Gov’t can’t really do that. Your brother’s bishops did just that, gave him a chance and then cut him off when he was an obvious flake.

    To the question of what we as LDS people can contribute, the answer is that we have the blueprint for a society where there IS NO POOR. Not that we take care of the poor, but that there are none. Until we determine to follow that blueprint to the fullness, not just in name or little by little, but all together and all at once, until then we will continue to run into problems of deserving vs undeserving poor, everyone will continue to be both right and wrong at the same time, and we will continue to be guilty of the blood and sins of our generation.

  41. Chris H. on September 19, 2011 at 5:34 pm
  42. me on September 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Jax, I don’t see how Alison’s examples have anything do with government. Please fill me in. It is the whole ‘two welfare checks’ – it seems as though it wasn’t enough for this guy and he scammed the church members. Not sure how you are blaming the government for this one.

  43. Jax on September 19, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    I wasn’t blaming the gov’t at all. But many of the other posts talk about it and it is a commonly purposed solution to the types of problems the poor have, and so I pointed out that her examples ALSO show why gov’t can’t solve the problem either. I should have made it more clear that that was what I was doing.

  44. Sam Brunson on September 19, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Thanks, Chris.

    Jax, I haven’t brought government into this yet. I will—there are problems that even libertarians agree that we need government to solve—but I’m not there yet.

  45. roberto on September 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    The idle shall not eat the bread of the worker really speaks to the idle rich taking from the worker. The truely poor generally are very busy trying to stay fed and finding shelter while they look for work.

  46. Jax on September 19, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Sorry Sam.

  47. Sam Brunson on September 19, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Not a problem, Jax. You’re certainly welcome to expand the discussion in the direction you find interesting. I’m just not there yet.

  48. Brad on September 19, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Even if full equality of opportunity were created whereby all started in the same place and could be rewarded based on their hard work, there would be some who had a natural knack for some trades and others who set off on the wrong foot and fell behind others in their sector of work. There may be those worked hard, but it was not enough, and the market would not require their services, unless done much better. Therefore it would seem necessary to provide stopgap measures (with strings attached of course) for those that were behind to buy them time to reorient themselves.

    Statistically there would be a segment of the population who may become disoriented and frustrated and cease work for a period of time. Some may become almost completely useless in society. Nonetheless they would still be here with us and their poverty would still affect us. Without work they may grow frustrated and involve themselves in criminal activity, or if politically conscious, extremist political/social violence, etc. By giving them jobs, even if they are jobs in which they don’t contribute much to the vitality of the market, it may occupy their time, give them a means of living, give them some income to help grow the overall consumer base in the market (which is why minimum wage is a good idea), and keep them busy (even if unproductive).

    Simply ignoring the unproductive poor who may not at all deserve whatever help or assistance they may get from private charities or the government does not make them go away.

  49. Dan on September 19, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    Bryan,

    Is the only way to create a just society to make more government programs to help the poor?

    yes.

  50. Dan on September 19, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Alison,

    #36,

    Similarly, if any of us knew Willis would DIE from a tooth-ache, perhaps we would have diverted some of our humanitarian donations to him. But apparently, Willis didn’t know this himself.

    His dentist would have known, if only he was covered…

  51. Bryan in VA on September 20, 2011 at 12:34 am

    If I were laying on my death bed I would never want my neighbor’s goods forcibly extracted from him or her to assist me in my time of need. I would be extremely grateful to anyone who were to assist me voluntarily. If the Heavens can bring about Their purposes relying on free agency alone, we Earthlings ought to be able to do the same. Just societies don’t rely on threats of jail time to assist the less fortunate.

  52. Alison Moore Smith on September 20, 2011 at 1:56 am

    Dan, according to your own link, Willis got antibiotic and pain killer prescriptions FROM A DOCTOR. Apparently he DID see a doctor and apparently the doctor did not know the infection would kill him. As much as you’d like it to, the story doesn’t seem to make the point you hope.

    Who’s to say that money spent to provide free dental care to a guy with at least some obvious resources — to save a life no one knew was at risk — is more important than using the same money to provide vaccines to 100 kids? Or any number of other humanitarian causes with known and/or very predictable risks? (My answer is that the person who earns the money is who is to say.)

    But I’d love to see the defense of the idea that a supposedly “just society” requires that no one ever die of a “preventable” cause.

  53. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 7:00 am

    Alison,

    He got antibiotic from a doctor, not a dentist. I highly doubt the doctor actually knew that this guy had an infection of his wisdom tooth and that that infection would go on to his brain. In any case, the point is still valid, because if Mr. Willis had been covered, he would not have had to make a choice between whether or not to pay for the more expensive antibiotics or the less expensive pain medication.

    But I’d love to see the defense of the idea that a supposedly “just society” requires that no one ever die of a “preventable” cause.

    I just gave it to you. A just society provides services to everyone within that society so that no one dies of a preventable cause. It’s not that hard, Alison. It works quite well. Every other developed country on the planet has it.

    Who’s to say that money spent to provide free dental care to a guy with at least some obvious resources — to save a life no one knew was at risk — is more important than using the same money to provide vaccines to 100 kids?

    We’re clearly a rich enough society that we don’t have to make that kind of choice. If we can start wars of choices without even paying for them, but placing them on credit cards for our children to pay off, clearly we have the money. We’re the richest freaking country on the planet! And countries making far less than we do have figured out a way to make this choice unnecessary.

  54. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 7:02 am

    Bryan,

    If I were laying on my death bed I would never want my neighbor’s goods forcibly extracted from him or her to assist me in my time of need.

    I know this isn’t kind, but this is about the dumbest line of thought I have ever heard anyone speak.

  55. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 7:03 am

    Bryan,

    If the Heavens can bring about Their purposes relying on free agency alone, we Earthlings ought to be able to do the same. Just societies don’t rely on threats of jail time to assist the less fortunate.

    Check out the strange tale of Ananias and Sapphira and get back to me about free agency…

  56. Bryan in VA on September 20, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Dan

    Regarding my desire to not force my neighbor to assist me in my time of need, I’ll go with Patrick Henry (Give me liberty or give me death!) Also, the Savior atoned for us voluntarily.

    Regarding Ananias and Sapphira, they apparently promised to obey a commandment similar to the law of consecration and did not and received the divine compensation for their actions. There was no divine intervention forcing them to do something against their will.

  57. Jax on September 20, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Dan,

    Ananias and Sapphira used their free agency to break their covenants and lie to the Lord. Not really a good example to refute Bryan with is it?

    I just gave it to you. A just society provides services to everyone within that society so that no one dies of a preventable cause. It’s not that hard, Alison. It works quite well. Every other developed country on the planet has it.

    Do we need to go find all the examples of people who die of preventable causes in those countries? You don’t really think there aren’t any do you?

    And you think the only way to make a just society is for gov’t to create programs? Maybe you have a different set of scriptures than I do, because I can’t find ANY examples of that at all. And the only examples of just societies I have found that weren’t in the scriptures had almost nothing resembling a “gov’t program” – they are/were just did it on their own because they are good human beings.

  58. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Jax,

    if they are good human beings, then they would create a society that provided for the poor, because government involvement does not change whether one is a good human being or not. I look back at history, of how the poor survived in this country before social security, before medicare, before any of these programs you guys deride. And frankly, being poor in this country sucked. Thank GOD for Social Security. Now our seniors don’t die early. Thank GOD for Medicare. Now poor children and poor seniors don’t die of preventable illnesses. It’s too bad we can’t extend Medicare to everyone. After all, Medicare is single-payer health care system. It works well for seniors. Ask them. Do they want it gone from their lives?

    As for Ananias and Sapphira, are you suggesting that the moment they covenanted with the Lord, they gave up their free will? That if they chose to leave, or not adhere to that covenant, they lost their lives? Wow…

  59. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Bryan,

    Regarding my desire to not force my neighbor to assist me in my time of need, I’ll go with Patrick Henry (Give me liberty or give me death!) Also, the Savior atoned for us voluntarily.

    You make a mockery of those who actually suffered under totalitarian states. You have no idea what it is to demand for liberty. And you, sir, are not a slave, nor forced to do anything you don’t like. You are free to leave the country, and God will not strike you down, taking your life, if you don’t like it, as He apparently did with Ananias and Sapphira. Feel free to leave. No one will stop you. Go create Galt’s Gulch somewhere. I’m sure there are people quite willing to take your place in the food chain.

  60. Brad on September 20, 2011 at 9:16 am

    Dan (#58),

    Bear in mind that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid don’t just help those who could not afford retirement or health care otherwise, they help the market. These programs help relieve the middle class of the burden of paying for ailing parents’ retirement and health care, thus freeing up their income to be able to pay for other goods and services. These programs help keep aggregate demand more or less stable, which is what the market needs to avoids the vicious cycle of booms and busts.

  61. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 9:36 am

    good point Brad.

  62. Raymond Takashi Swenson on September 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

    The discussion seems focused on the goal of alleviating poverty, but the truth is almost no one is opposed to that goal. The real debate is instrumental, on what is the best way to relieve poverty. As Alison pointed out, many people in poverty are there because of a series of personal choices. Speaking of children born into poverty, the vast majority are due to unmarried girls and women choosing (in this age of unrestricted burth control) to have babies, as a means to get government aid that will make them independent of their own mothers.

    Then there is the fact that government measures of poverty specifically exclude government aid such as Medicaid, AFDC, food stamps, school lunch, etc. Additionally there is income that is off the books, either through barter or cash transactions, or frankly criminal activity. The fact that poverty is a condition that is temporary in nature fir many people is reflected in the fact that there are many people in official poverty who also own houses, cars, and other substantial material goods.

    One of the most significant things that would raise oeople out of poverty would be to wait to have sex until they are married, and then stay married to care for their children. As much as poverty tugs on our heart strings, rewarding self-impoverishing behavior means that we will get more of it. We cannot assume that because our goal is positive that any means we choose are good. It seems clear that government aid to the poor has tended to increase and institutionalize poverty.

    The hard questions are about How we aid the poor without making poverty worse. And I don’t see this discussion as addressing those hard questions.

  63. Jax on September 20, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Dan,

    In a just society people don’t take care of the poor, THERE ARE NO POOR. There aren’t socioeconomic levels or any need for gov’t programs. If one has food then they all do. If one has tools, equipment, medicine, then they all do. If they run out of something then they all do without. Nobody stores things for themselves and watches others do without and says it is their fault for not working hard enough. They all work hard and do what is expected to help. Even the old or disabled can be expected to teach the children of their history and tell them cultural stories, rather than isolating them in retirement homes because they lost their physical strength, they are valued for their experience and knowledge. The only capitalism takes place when someone doesn’t work, is booted for being useless, and then they discover how inadequate they are to fend for themselves.

    I don’t think either of us want to kill the elderly or make poor people suffer, since they are mostly that way for reason beyond their control. But advocating for gov’t fixes (welfare, medicaid, etc.) is only masking the problem of what our societal values are and what we work toward. Rather than just put on a bandaid, I’d much rather fix the problem.

    I should point out that my family is benefitting from some of those programs since I’m on VA disability, the wife and 2 kids are on WIC, and all the kids are on medicare/medicaid insurance. But I don’t stand to lose anything if those programs stop. I have no doubt that things would get worse before they got better, but that I would be able and willing to help my neighbors and they would be willing and able to help me. We would develop into a just society on a local level, and some of my close neighbors and I already are. Nobody pay me for my work, but I work my tail off taking care of my milk cow and her calf, our chickens, our garden, our home and yard. My neighbors (2 families) get all their milk for free. They provide us with eggs (our chickens are young and don’t lay yet) and with physical help. One of those families is retired and he is the most useful among us to teach us how to garden, small engine repair, weld, hunt, and to lend me tools that I can’t afford. We’re small scale, but we take care of each other despite no gov’t mandates.

  64. Jax on September 20, 2011 at 11:38 am

    We cannot assume that because our goal is positive that any means we choose are good.

    Perfect

  65. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Raymond,

    It seems clear that government aid to the poor has tended to increase and institutionalize poverty.

    It hasn’t.

  66. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Jax,

    In a just society people don’t take care of the poor, THERE ARE NO POOR.

    well said. Because of social programs paid for by just people with just hearts, there are no longer any poor people in a just society. We obviously don’t have that, particularly when we reduce funding for programs aimed at taking care of our poor.

    But advocating for gov’t fixes (welfare, medicaid, etc.) is only masking the problem of what our societal values are and what we work toward. Rather than just put on a bandaid, I’d much rather fix the problem.

    We’re capable of doing both. It’s not an either or. We can put the band aid on while at the same time treat the core problem. Why must we choose either/or? It’s not like we don’t have the resources. The most powerful, the richest country in the world. When other countries with far fewer resources than we have do it, what’s our excuse? Oh yeah…we don’t want to tax the rich, because otherwise they won’t buy those yachts.

    We’re small scale, but we take care of each other despite no gov’t mandates.

    Good for you.

  67. Sam Brunson on September 20, 2011 at 11:56 am

    RTS,
    Two things: first, Dan (65) is right. Among other things, Social Security has done a lot to reduce the poverty level of the elderly, and the EITC has helped the working poor. Government programs, however, are on tap in future installments.

    Second, the hard questions of how to alleviate poverty and otherwise create a just society also come later; right now, I’m setting a foundation. Note that I will specifically address the sex/marriage thing, among other issues.

  68. brian larsen on September 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Raymond said:

    “Alison pointed out, many people in poverty are there because of a series of personal choices. Speaking of children born into poverty, the vast majority are due to unmarried girls and women choosing (in this age of unrestricted burth control) to have babies, as a means to get government aid that will make them independent of their own mothers.”

    So, you have some source that lists the motivations of these women in having babies as a means to get government aid in “the vast majority of cases?” I highly doubt it. But would love to see it.

    You also wrote: ” It seems clear that government aid to the poor has tended to increase and institutionalize poverty.” Any sources? It’s not clear at all to me. Show me an impoverished nation where the impoverished suffer less because the citizens haven’t decided to spend some of the taxes on helping them out. To me, you have a highly suspect claim.

    I would love to generally agree that people don’t want others in poverty. But I do think it the debate address concerns that are more than “instrumental.” Some people really just don’t care because they aren’t asked to do anything about it. Some people care, but fail to do anything because a system doesn’t ask them to.

    Just because some people abuse a system doesn’t mean we should throw it out. I’ll all for reform, but so many people seem to take such absolutist stands on the issue that real progress fails to happen.

  69. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    When Jesus said this:

    Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

    From Matthew 19:21, what exactly did Jesus mean? Is that not a band aid? How does selling all that the rich man had, and giving it to the poor help the poor out of his poor life? Does it change, in any way, the life of that poor person? Do you think the poor person, now holding a bunch of cash some rich guy just gave him, will have the same idea of what to do with that money as some well educated banker? Didn’t Jesus just advocate giving to the poor whether or not the poor use those moneys poorly? Did it matter to Jesus whether or not the poor person would then go out and buy booze with that money? Jesus never clarified that. Jesus also didn’t say, “sell all that thou hast, but don’t give it to a government program, because government programs are of Satan.” The key is that the poor are given aid, no matter their situation, and no matter what they do with it. King Benjamin says essentially the same.

    16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

    Note there that King Benjamin also does not add the qualifier, “succor those that stand in need of your succor, except through governmental programs, because governmental programs are of Satan!” He says, “ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.” We’re failing at that. Badly.

  70. Jax on September 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    We’re capable of doing both. It’s not an either or. We can put the band aid on while at the same time treat the core problem. Why must we choose either/or? It’s not like we don’t have the resources.

    Really? I didn’t know we had the resources to make people care about other people. I didn’t know that there WAS a resource that did that.

    The core problem is that we “do love money, and your fine substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?” Mormon 8:37,39

    And what does a prophet call us because of it? Pollutions and hypocrites who have cankered ourselves. And who are “we”? LDS church members – “why have ye polluted the church of God?” (verse 38)

    If you know of a resource that will cure that problem, then please share. Because miracles, covenants, promises, blessings, pleadings, threats, expulsions, and murder haven’t been able to do it. I don’t think the problem is lack of resources.

  71. Sam Brunson on September 20, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Jax,

    I didn’t know we had the resources to make people care about other people.

    I don’t have time right now to go into detail, but there are certainly ways we can incentivize people to care about others (including, among other things, policies/practices that encourage people to meet people out of their social circle—among other things, urban design can help bring people together. The deductibility of charitable donations encourages others to act charitably, which potentially can lead them to being charitable, as well as making charitable organizations such as churches that explicitly encourage charitable behavior larger and more viable. We can discourage uncharitable behavior, both through law and social norms. Etc.

    Both society and law are full of incentives; presumably at least some of these incentives work to change behavior.

  72. Jax on September 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    there are certainly ways we can incentivize people to care about others

    Does it solve the ‘core’ problem if we’ve had to pay/incentivize people to care about each other? It might help in outcome, but not is cause. It hides the problem with a bandaid, it doesn’t solve it.

  73. brian larsen on September 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Jax, God and his prophets use incentives all of the time (and also punishments). But perhaps he does so to only place a bandaid on our behavior – if only to protect others from ourselves. Oh wait that’s what we’re talking about.

    If your response is – yes, but God only does so for people who enter into his covenant willingly, not by force – then you mistake the laws of the universe (His laws) and people’s awareness of them.

    I understand that you don’t like government intervention. Fine. But just because people are messed up and aren’t God doesn’t mean that we can’t/shouldn’t try our best to care for the poor and needy by both his route (church welfare, teaching/encouraging charity) and a man-made route. That’s what we’re trying to explore. We KNOW the system has problems already.

    If your view if that we can’t help the poor other than as individuals or missionary work or some such idea, then this forum of trying to discuss/find alternate solutions will continually frustrate you.

  74. JamesM on September 20, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Speaking to Sam’s comment about urban design (71), it can absolutely facilitate caring, though I wouldn’t characterize it as incentivizing in the way the term is being used.

    Physical settings designed to insulate people from one another will reduce the degree of contact and exposure we might have with others (or the “other”), which in turn limits our ability to understand (and in turn, love and serve) others. I am of the opinion these physical arrangements can actually influence the core dynamic you are talking about, Jax.

  75. Jax on September 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Brian,

    God does use incentives all the time (blessings) and punishments, but not only on those who covenant with him. But that just proves they don’t solve the problems. He gives us incentive to obey, but people still don’t obey. We can give incentives to care about people, but people will still not care about people. Missionary work and the ensuing repentance is the only cure for sin. We CAN help poverty with gov’t programs, but the only way to CURE it is as individuals because of our godly natures. Until everyone in a society has godly natures then the problems will persist. If you can organize a gov’t program that will bestow godly nature upon a person, than please proceed.

    I haven’t said that the gov’t programs don’t help or should cease to exist. I just think we are using our efforts climbing ladders that lean against the wrong walls. I agree with Elder Maxwell when he said that world’s solutions to the world’s problems are like running around with a fire extinguisher in a time of flood. There is recognition of an emergency but not the foggiest clue of how to fix it. That is what the gov’t programs are, acknowledgment of a problem without any idea of how to fix it. Sam asked what we have to offer for that problem. The answer is we have the solution (Zion) but we have refused to follow through. That is part of why we’ll be guilty of the blood and sins of our generation for failing to faithfully fulfill our covenants – because we’ve failed to show the world the example of HOW to solve their problems and eleviate their suffering. It COULD be done, we’re just unwilling to do it.

  76. Bryan on September 20, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    It seems to me like a big rift here is how people view taxes. Those in favor of gov’t programs consider taxes to be giving and charitable donations. Those against it consider taxes to be a taking of money. I think that makes a big difference on how you approach Dan’s #69 post comment:

    From Matthew 19:21, what exactly did Jesus mean? Is that not a band aid? How does selling all that the rich man had, and giving it to the poor help the poor out of his poor life? Does it change, in any way, the life of that poor person? Do you think the poor person, now holding a bunch of cash some rich guy just gave him, will have the same idea of what to do with that money as some well educated banker? Didn’t Jesus just advocate giving to the poor whether or not the poor use those moneys poorly? Did it matter to Jesus whether or not the poor person would then go out and buy booze with that money? Jesus never clarified that. Jesus also didn’t say, “sell all that thou hast, but don’t give it to a government program, because government programs are of Satan.”

    I think that everyone on here considers giving your money to the poor a worthy and just cause. But not everyone thinks that having the gov’t take all your money as well as everyone else’s is a charitable donation.

  77. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Bryan,

    I don’t consider taxation for social services as a charitable donation. I never said it was, and will not accept that line of thinking. I consider it a cost of the society we want to build. The poor will always be among us, and since the private sector sucks at taking care of ALL the poor, someone has to do it. If a rich person does not like that his tax money is going to help some poor person out, he is free to leave the country.

  78. Bryan on September 20, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    My opinion is somewhere in the middle. I think we definitely need gov’t programs and should use them to help the poor. However, I’m an economist. When I see comments like this I have to think that Dan isn’t looking at the whole picture.

    Raymond,

    It seems clear that government aid to the poor has tended to increase and institutionalize poverty.

    Dan,
    It hasn’t.

    Gov’t programs have the ability to shrink the pie for everyone. You can argue that it’s only shrinking the money that would go to the rich. But if you’re not careful it will extend beyond just the rich and start impoverishing more people and the pie just keeps shrinking till everyone is poor and on gov’t programs and suddenly we have the same problems that arrive in a communist gov’t.

    Would you rather have a thriving economy with a relatively small poor class or a large gov’t program that helps the poor in a great depression economy. What if that program causes the depression or prevents the economy from rebounding.

    I’m going to stand on the side of a good number of gov’t programs and I’m on the leaning side of having gov’t health care, but I don’t think that full on gov’t care of everyone is a good idea.

  79. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Jax,

    Missionary work and the ensuing repentance is the only cure for sin.

    Wait…what does sin have to do with being poor?

    Until everyone in a society has godly natures then the problems will persist.

    Are you suggesting a poor person is poor because he’s sinful and evil?

    It COULD be done, we’re just unwilling to do it.

    Amen. but not for your line of thinking.

  80. Bryan Stiles on September 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    I’m switching to my full name to avoid any confusion with any other possible Bryans who might come around.

  81. Bryan Stiles on September 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    I think Jax’s argument is and has been since the beginning for a United Order in the church to help alleviate the poor. It is God’s commandment and if everyone in a society had godly natures and followed the United Order then there would be no poor people. That or everyone would be poor. But there would be no differentiation.

  82. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Bryan,

    When I see comments like this I have to think that Dan isn’t looking at the whole picture.

    You think I’m missing the whole picture? Since the inception of social security, the economy of the United States skyrocketed far beyond anyone else on the planet. What “big picture” am I missing?

    But if you’re not careful it will extend beyond just the rich and start impoverishing more people and the pie just keeps shrinking till everyone is poor and on gov’t programs and suddenly we have the same problems that arrive in a communist gov’t.

    can you show evidence of this?

    Would you rather have a thriving economy with a relatively small poor class or a large gov’t program that helps the poor in a great depression economy.

    Reality is not an either/or scenario.

    What if that program causes the depression or prevents the economy from rebounding.

    It won’t.

    I’m going to stand on the side of a good number of gov’t programs and I’m on the leaning side of having gov’t health care, but I don’t think that full on gov’t care of everyone is a good idea.

    well yeah, clearly the top 1% don’t need it. :P

  83. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    That or everyone would be poor. But there would be no differentiation.

    Or in other words, communism. :P

  84. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Missionary work and the ensuing repentance is the only cure for sin.

    so if I find a poor person in my ward, he’s clearly sinning and should be damned to hell…

  85. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    look at the Dow Jones since the inception of Social Security…wow….clearly Social Security destroyed America’s economy….

  86. brian larsen on September 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Jax,

    I of course understand that I can’t force a godly nature on somehow, I never made such a claim. I have no idea how you are getting to that point at all. We’re talking about alleviating the suffering of those in poverty and trying to pull them out. If you believe only the gospel can do that then you seem content to wait until the millennium or to wait until the United Order is restored and then for only those in the group. I, for one, feel an obligation to try to fix the problem in as many ways as possible. And just because I support different ways doesn’t mean I am against the gospel’s ways. Of course I’m not saying incentives are the only way – but they can help. Again, why throw it out just because it isn’t perfect? You seem to be a very – only god can change the awful state of people and so we can’t do anything about it – kind of guy. I’m more concerned about being anxiously engaged in a good cause kind of way that moves BEYOND my covenants and into the world of “helping others help themselves to help those that are poor.” Incentives are good tool, but by no means the only one. Again, you seem so absolutist.

    You remind me of the Republican problem: their party will always be seen as against the poor – not because they don’t care, but because they never really offer anything to replace the current system. You can’t feed a man on freedom and the market.

  87. brian larsen on September 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Jax,

    I of course understand that I can’t force a godly nature on someone, I never made such a claim. I have no idea how you are getting to that point at all. We’re talking about alleviating the suffering of those in poverty and trying to pull them out. If you believe only the gospel can do that then you seem content to wait until the millennium or to wait until the United Order is restored and then for only those in the group. I, for one, feel an obligation to try to fix the problem in as many ways as possible. And just because I support different ways doesn’t mean I am against the gospel’s ways. Of course I’m not saying incentives are the only way – but they can help. Again, why throw it out just because it isn’t perfect? You seem to be a very – only god can change the awful state of people and so we can’t do anything about it – kind of guy. I’m more concerned about being anxiously engaged in a good cause kind of way that moves BEYOND my covenants and into the world of “helping others help themselves to help those that are poor.” Incentives are good tool, but by no means the only one. Again, you seem so absolutist.

    You remind me of the Republican problem: their party will always be seen as against the poor – not because they don’t care, but because they never really offer anything to replace the current system. You can’t feed a man on freedom and the market.

  88. Jax on September 20, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Hey everyone,

    I didn’t bring the missionary work into this conversation, so please stop quoting me and asking why it is in here. I didn’t equate being poor with being sinful. The missionary work entry came from Brian Larsen

    If your view if that we can’t help the poor other than as individuals or missionary work or some such idea, then this forum of trying to discuss/find alternate solutions will continually frustrate you.

    All I was saying is that missionary work is required for one function (curing sin) and individuals are required for another (ending poverty).

    I made no connection and hold no belief that people are poor because they have sinned, this is a VERY bad belief that I see in the church often and I spoke harshly against it earlier in this post when I said that what I most often hear from people in SS or EQ meetings is NOT to give to poor people because they will use it for drugs or alcohol (forms of sin). I don’t equate poverty with sin (I’m way below the poverty level) nor do I equate it with laziness or lack of work ethic (I know I break a sweat every day).

    Bryan Stiles has my argument correct. Sam asked what LDS people have to offer and I stated that I think we have nothing to offer. Our scriptures have alot to offer though in the form of a perfect blueprint in the United Order/Zion, but we’ve rejected those and continue to live after the manner of the world/Babylon. We each work after our own goals and to gain our own wealth (See D&C 1:16) and try to cover our faults by throwing bandaids over the problems we COULD solve (like poverty) if we weren’t addicted to money and luxury. I think I said that just a few posts ago.

    I think gov’t programs will fail to solve the problem. But I think private churches and charities will fail as well, its nothing ‘personal’ against gov’t programs, I’ve already admitted to using them. It’s just that all they do is mask the symptoms of the disease, rather than cure it. The disease is still there.

  89. Jax on September 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Brian Larsen,

    I do believe the gospel is the only way to solve the problem, but I’m not content to wait until the millenium. I don’t think you are against the gospel plan. I’m not a ” only god can change the awful state of people and so we can’t do anything about it ” kind of guy…. I think most of my posts state that I know the COULD eliminate poverty, but we, as an LDS community, have chosen not to. The blueprint is there, we’ve covenanted to follow it, we’ve got examples that it has been done on this planet in its fallen state, yet we reject it and think it will never happen until the millenium. The only reason it might not happen until then is because people have decided that they are willing to wait for it rather than work and sacrifice for it now.

    We’re almost on the same page except that you have a lot more hope in the success of gov’t than I do.

  90. Bryan Stiles on September 20, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Dan,

    Since the inception of social security, the economy of the United States skyrocketed far beyond anyone else on the planet. What “big picture” am I missing?

    Many countries without these programs have skyrocketed too. China, India, Japan. We are not far beyond anyone else on the planet economically speaking. You’re looking at a correlation here, not a causation.

    can you show evidence of this?

    Well yes, and I was trying to allude to the Great Depression and the fact that it’s no longer a 100% accepted fact that the New Deal Programs helped but may have hurt or prolonged.

    See here:
    http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/FDR-s-Policies-Prolonged-Depression-5409.aspx

    In short the policies artificially inflated wages and prices making more people unable to get jobs and less people able to afford goods.

    And here:

    http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=3357

    The high taxes and high wages decreased spending and number of jobs.

    Now I’m going to refute some of these articles a bit. A lot of the problems had a root cause in the fact that the gov’t would not borrow any money. If they had gone into debt like we do today then many of these issues would not have been issues, some would have remained though.

    But my point is that there are also negative effects to be considered. Just because you think you’re helping the poor doesn’t mean you already are. The US has been asked by African companies not to do massive food drops with our excess potatoes or corn because it drives their entire agriculture industry out of business. Once our food is gone they are in a position worse than they were before.

    Reality is not an either/or scenario.

    If one directly and negatively affects the other it is. Sometimes you really can’t eat the cake and have it.

    In all I’m starting to understand and see your position better. There are gov’t programs that can help without hurting. Or at least have a greater positive effect than negative. However, I also think that there are programs that may seem benevolent or seem to help the poor but don’t.

  91. sterileabraham on September 20, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    I have tried and tried and it has been very difficult for me to identify a person in this country who did not deserve to live in a home with clean water, electricity, adequate food and access to healthcare.

    Who exactly are the people that don’t deserve these things? Lazy people? I don’t support the death penalty for rapists, why should I wish it on people who choose daytime television over retail labor?

  92. Bryan Stiles on September 20, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Dan,

    Or in other words, communism. :P

    I think one of the biggest differences between the United Order and Communism is one is forceful the other is voluntary. It makes a really big difference incentives wise. Though I think many problems would still remain unless we attain a certain level of “godliness.”

  93. Bryan Stiles on September 20, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Sterile Abraham #91,

    I have tried and tried and it has been very difficult for me to identify a person in this country who did not deserve to live in a home with clean water, electricity, adequate food and access to healthcare.

    Who exactly are the people that don’t deserve these things? Lazy people? I don’t support the death penalty for rapists, why should I wish it on people who choose daytime television over retail labor?

    Who on here is arguing that there are people don’t deserve these things?

  94. Bryan Stiles on September 20, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Wait, I see you are perhaps responding to Alison’s stories of when welfare has been withheld.

  95. Sam Brunson on September 20, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    I should mention, for those who find government ineffective, it appears to me that the Church institutionally supports the efficacy of government; if not, it wouldn’t include the affirmative part of its political neutrality letter. It seems to me that, if the Church didn’t want us to actively pursue secular goodness, as it were, it wouldn’t encourage us to vote for good people, much less be the good people others could vote for.

  96. Jax on September 20, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Sam,

    As the loudest voice so far in saying the gov’t is ineffective, I should clarify that gov’t doesn’ do nothing. They do help people afford food and shelter and healthcare. They just do it poorly. And in some cases there attempts to help may actually be harmful.

    Private charities and churches are ineffective as well, though maybe slightly less ineffective then gov’t.

    Maybe others will argue to get rid of all those gov’t programs, but I haven’t.

    Bryan Stiles,

    I’ve met them. Consider yourself very blessed if you haven’t!

  97. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    of course a government can be effective. A government is simply a tool. What makes it effective is who runs it. When you have a political party running on a platform of “government=bad”, they’re generally going to not run a government very well, because they have at their core, the belief that a government inherently is ineffective. Of course, when you put such people in power, they’re going to make the government run ineffectively! The government is just a tool. A very powerful one too. Might as well use it for just means.

  98. Dan on September 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Jax,

    They just do it poorly.

    No, they don’t.

  99. Sam Brunson on September 20, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Okay, we’re nearly at 100 comments. The thread’s been pretty good so far so, to bow out on a high note, I’m going to say thanks and close the comments. If you have something insightful and essential to add, please feel free to email me and I’ll see about putting it up. Otherwise, see you all on the next post.

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.