Liberal Arts

Economics – Law – Philosophy – etc.

How Are You Celebrating?

October 22, 2011 | 21 comments
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No, today isn’t a national holiday. It’s not any particular religious festival. We’re more than a week away from Halloween, a month from Thanksgiving, and a couple months from Christmas. The only reason you have today off (assuming you have today off) is because today is Saturday. And yet . . . On October 22, 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Tax Reform Act of 1986, a bipartisan bill. That law, signed 25 years ago today, was the last fundamental tax reform in which the U.S. has engaged. Among other things, it broadened the tax base, reduced... Read more »

Ecce Theologus

October 21, 2011 | 3 comments
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Joseph Spencer is indispensable. He is the “not-thoughtless” and the “never-glosses-over.” Read more »

Background: Elder Oaks and the Charitable Deduction

October 19, 2011 | 19 comments
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Yesterday, as Marc pointed out, Elder Oaks testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee in favor of the deduction for charitable giving. He argued that the charitable deduction is vital to the nation’s welfare. Why, though, these hearings on the charitable deduction? Is it under attack? In case you haven’t been following the politics of tax and budgeting recently (of course, who hasn’t?), I thought I’d provide a little background to the hearing. The Deduction for Charitable Donations The charitable deduction is an itemized deduction (more on that later). It’s one of the older deductions in the tax... Read more »

Elder Oaks Testifying Before Congress Today

October 18, 2011 | 77 comments
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For those interested, Elder Dallin H. Oaks is testifying right now before the Senate Finance Committee on tax reform, specifically incentives for charitable giving.  He is testifying at the request of Senator Hatch. Read more »

Free Your Pulpit

October 3, 2011 | 12 comments
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Free Your Pulpit

On Sunday, as we luxuriated in General Conference (however we followed it), we missed an annual tradition: Pulpit Freedom Sunday. A quick background on Pulpit Freedom Sunday: on July 2, 1954, Lyndon Johnson proposed that Section 501(c)(3) (the Internal Revenue Code section that exempts, among other things, churches, universities, and the NCAA from tax) be amended to prevent exempt organizations from campaigning on behalf of or against candidates for office.  There’s no legislative history, and, in fact, no record of the voice vote on the amendment. But it passed. Note, though, that the prohibition wasn’t particularly aimed at churches;... Read more »

The Church and Taxes

September 29, 2011 | 25 comments
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The Church and Taxes

The Church cares about taxes. It doesn’t really seem to care about the details of tax policy, of course. I’ve never seen the Church weigh in on the appropriate tax rate, tax base, or even the appropriate type(s) of tax (e.g., an income or consumption tax, a retail sales tax or a VAT, or whatever) a government should impose. But still, it makes explicit and implicit nods that indicate that, ultimately, it cares both about its tax position and that of its members. The Church and (Its) Taxes Like (essentially) every other church in the U.S., the LDS church is... Read more »

Consumerism vs. Stewardship

September 26, 2011 | 79 comments
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The following is a modified excerpt from my presentation at Sunstone this summer. We live, not only in a capitalist, but a consumerist, society. Our society is all about spending, acquiring, cluttering, and replacing, not about maintaining, restoring, renewing, and protecting. It is cheaper to buy new than to repair old.  We live in a disposable country, where everything is trash, if not now, then soon. How did we get here? One of the best explanations I’ve found is in the work of the social theorist Max Weber (1). He examined the correlation between the Protestant religious belief and... Read more »

Circuitous Machinations – On Mormon Theology

September 19, 2011 | 33 comments
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A comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation. —“Rube Goldberg,” Webster’s New World Dictionary Read more »

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. In June, 14.6% of Americans received food stamps. 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... Read more »

Mormonism and Social Justice

September 12, 2011 | 64 comments
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Recently, we’ve seen some distrust of religions that advocate social justice, from sources as diverse as the political punditry and lay Mormons. The criticism is unfounded, of course, and strikes me as ahistorical and anti-Catholic. The term “social justice” comes from 1840, when the Jesuit scholar Luigi Taparelli as he worked through the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. As you look at Jesuit schools’ mission statements, you begin to understand how central social justice is to the Jesuit identity. I teach at a Jesuit law school. Part of our mission is to “prepare graduates who will be ethical advocates for justice and... Read more »

Mission Finances, part 3

September 5, 2011 | 37 comments
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(Note: this is the fourth part of a several-part series. You can read previous installments here, here, and here.) Quick review: prior to November 1990, missionaries and their families paid the actual cost of their missions. Moreover, parents would send money directly to their sons and daughters, with no intermediation from the Church. In May 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Davis v. United States that such payments were not tax-deductible, notwithstanding language in the Internal Revenue Code that contributions made “to or for the use of” the Church would be deductible. In November 1990, the Church announced... Read more »

Binoculars

August 29, 2011 | 9 comments
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You’re given a pair of binoculars. Read more »

Mission Finances, Part 2 [edited 8/26/2011]

August 25, 2011 | 22 comments
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Pop quiz: when you think “Mormons” and “US Supreme Court,” what do you think? (The correct answer is, of course, Reynolds.) For many of us, though, another... Read more »

Grant Hardy’s Subject Problem

August 16, 2011 | 27 comments
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Grant Hardy’s Subject Problem

Criticisms of the Book of Mormon generally fall into one of two categories: objections to its historical claims on the one hand, and on the other critiques of its literary style. The two prongs are often combined in a single attack, for instance in the suggestion that the awkward style of the book reflects the naïve voice of an unlettered youngster. For their part, the book’s defenders also tend to elide the two categories, arguing that passages of inelegant prose are better understood as latent Hebraisms laboring under English syntax. Most of the time, of course, devout readers of... Read more »

What If President Monson Endorsed Mitt Romney?

July 19, 2011 | 37 comments
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What If President Monson Endorsed Mitt Romney?

In his talk at the close of the April 2008 General Conference, President Monson talked about the blessing we had received, both as members of the Church and, specifically, over the course of the conference. He ended his talk with counsel: parents are to love and cherish their children, youth are to keep the commandments, those who can attend the temple should, and we should all be aware of each other’s needs. But what if, in closing his remarks, President Monson had said, “My dear brothers and sisters, I feel strongly that Mitt Romney is the best person to... Read more »

The Tax Exemption and the Church’s Political Leanings

July 18, 2011 | 28 comments
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In light of the Church’s recent policy statement banning some Church authorities from endorsing candidates, and the speculation that the Church’s political neutrality derives from its desire to stay tax-exempt, I thought I’d present a brief primer on the tax exemption. The Revenue Act of 1894 probably represents the birth of the modern federal income tax. An inauspicious birth, to be sure–it was struck down as unconstitutional in 1895–but the birth, nonetheless. True, it was enacted 19 years before the 16th Amendment permitted direct taxation (whatever that is), but it set the stage for the income tax to come.... Read more »

The Parable of the Talented Endowment Tax

July 14, 2011 | 51 comments
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Governments impose taxes in order to raise revenue that, in turn, funds government function and services. In designing a tax system, tax theorists generally try to create provisions that will raise revenue without significantly altering taxpayers’ economic choices. That is, ideally, taxpayers will act in approximately the same way as they would have in a world without tax. But we can’t hit the ideal. The income tax alters people’s actions, because it alters the price calculus. One way is in our work-leisure decisions. Assume with me that I earn $10 an hour. That said, I enjoy not working, too–my... Read more »

Summer 2011 Syllabus

July 8, 2011 | 31 comments
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Part of my job as a law professor is to model to students what a transactional attorney does. As part of that, I include in my syllabus a list of things media that they ought to consume in order to understand the world a business lawyer functions in. The list is not exhaustive, by any means, nor should they necessarily read or listen to all of it, but it provides a slice of intelligent commentary on the world I’m teaching them how to enter. If you were preparing people to do what you do, what resources would you recommend?... Read more »

Times & Seasons Welcomes Sam Brunson

July 6, 2011 | 4 comments
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Times & Seasons is excited to introduce Sam Brunson as our latest guest blogger.  Sam grew up in the suburbs of San Diego and served a Brazilian mission what seems like a millennium ago.  He went to BYU as an undergrad and found that a freshman saxophone performance major made his eventual English major look like a practical choice.   After toying with teaching critical theory or becoming an author, he did what all good English majors do and chose law school.  At Columbia, he met his wife, got a degree, and got a job as a tax associate... Read more »

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Breathing

May 17, 2011 | 5 comments
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One last post about Jim Faulconer’s Faith, Philosophy, Scripture (Maxwell Institute, 2010). The final chapter is entitled “Breathing” and is a meditation on Romans 8. Read more »

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Reading Zion

May 10, 2011 | 9 comments
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Zion is the world ajar. Zion is the world set on a double hinge. God gives a push, the door goes swinging, and the world opens wide. Read more »

Rivers of Living Water

April 26, 2011 | 8 comments
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It’s Easter and I, like Mary, have a hard time seeing what’s right in front of me. Read more »

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: True Believer

March 15, 2011 | 9 comments
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Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: True Believer

It’s unlikely that I believe the right things about God, Jesus, the gospel, or the Church. It’s even less likely that I could express my beliefs in a coherent and justifiable way. I used to think that, because my ideas were clever, I was at least closer to being right than most. This I took as a consolation. But cleverness isn’t much to live on. God, I think, has been working to pry this cleverness from my cold, dead hands. I have felt God more than once pushing me to echo Meister Eckhart’s deeply orthodox prayer: “I pray to God to... Read more »

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Secular Mormons

February 25, 2011 | 25 comments
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Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Secular Mormons

The irony of religious fundamentalism is that it is a profoundly modern and profoundly secular phenomenon. This is perhaps especially true of the scriptural literalism that often accompanies it. The result is that many of the most conservative Mormons are, in point of fact, also the most secular. Few Mormons are more secular than Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie. Why is fundamentalism so profoundly secular? Because it cedes the field of truth wholly and without contestation to secular models of truth – and then tries to combat, contest, and outdo the secularists at their own game. Is... Read more »