Social Sciences and Economics

The Approaching Zion Project: How to Get Rich

July 9, 2013 | 9 comments
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Donald-Trump-How-To-Get-Rich

So here we are, a day early (or, um, six days late, if that's the way you want to look at it). Since we're here, let's take a look at Nibley's next approach toward Zion: Read more »

The Approaching Zion Project: How Firm a Foundation! What Makes It So

June 26, 2013 | 11 comments
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Rome-St.-Peters-Basilica-In-Morning-Moon-over-church

Interestingly enough, this chapter seems to be less focused on Zion and more focused on the Church more broadly. Still, Zion sneaks in, even discussing the Church. As always, a couple things I found interesting: Read more »

The Approaching Zion Project: Deny Not the Gifts of God

June 19, 2013 | 32 comments
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stones

This chapter (understandably) overlaps significantly with the previous chapter, Gifts. These are, after all, discourses he delivered at various times, to various audiences, with common themes. I'm reading them separately, though, and different things hit me at different readings. So, like always, I won't discuss everything Nibley focuses on (and I'll try to not spend too much time on things I've discussed previously). With that out of the way, on to the chapter. Read more »

The Approaching Zion Project: Gifts

June 5, 2013 | 19 comments
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gifts

For the third (and, I hope, final) time, I read this chapter on an airplane, taking notes as I read it. And there are just a couple quick things I want to highlight and discuss, and one sentence that really troubled me. Read more »

The Approaching Zion Project: Zeal Without Knowledge

May 29, 2013 | 17 comments
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Approaching Zion

For the second time, I read this chapter in an airport and on an airplane returning home. With that as my full preface, let's jump into this chapter: Read more »

The Approaching Zion Project: What is Zion? A Distant View

May 15, 2013 | 98 comments
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Movie-PerilsOfPauline-RRTracks-01

Another confession: I had a really hard time with this chapter. And it's not just because I read it sitting in an airport waiting for a plane that was delayed for an hour and a half. Rather, it's because of the way Nibley speaks of the wealthy. Certain of his descriptions feel, to me, so laughably one-dimensional---so moustache-twirling, tying-the-heroine-to-the-tracks---that I find myself fighting both his prose and my instincts to not just dismiss his entire piece out of hand. Read more »

The Approaching Zion Project: Our Glory or Our Condemnation

May 8, 2013 | 21 comments
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Garden_of_Eden,_Eden,_TX_IMG_1834

Now that I've read my first chapter of Approaching Zion, a couple more caveats before we get started. First, I'm not going to bother summarizing what Nibley said. Instead, I'm going to try to engage it, responding to ideas that engaged me, whether I agree or disagree. Second, I'm not going to try to engage with the full text; in Chapter 1, there were two things that really spoke to me, and one more that I'm going to mention and defer until a later installment. Feel free, in the comments, to engage with what I've engaged with, what I've... Read more »

The Approaching Zion Project: Prologue

May 1, 2013 | 53 comments
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Approaching Zion

I have a confession to make: I've never read Hugh Nibley's Approaching Zion. I'm serious. I mean, I bought it years ago, probably before my oldest daughter was born. I've lugged it through at least six or seven moves. And it's sitting on my bookshelf, taking up valuable real estate. But, though I've nibbled here and there, I've never even read a complete chapter. It seems an odd oversight, frankly: in Approaching Zion, Nibley describes what constitutes a Zion society, and what we need to do to establish such a Zion society; I'm deeply interested in how society and the... Read more »

An April 15th Post

April 15, 2013 | 8 comments
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Reed Smoot

Happy tax day! In honor of today, a Mormon/tax story: Read more »

Facebook Memes and the Property Tax

November 27, 2012 | 39 comments
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Facebook Memes and the Property Tax

There is, I've been told, a Facebook meme going around, juxtaposing a decaying house and the San Diego temple to support the argument that churches should not be exempt from taxation. And, like Facebook memes everywhere, this one is dumb. Dumb primarily because it is a tautology that doesn't say anything. Because of course a tax-exempt organization does not pay taxes that a non-exempt individual pays. That's pretty much the definition of tax exemption. Of course, saying that a Facebook meme is dumb and tautological makes for a pretty short and boring post. Far more interesting, imho, is to take seriously... Read more »

Entirely Privately

September 6, 2012 | 41 comments
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When I lived in New York, I could have told you what virtually all of my friends paid in rent. It was a fairly common topic of conversation, and the conversation was one of two types: the can-you-believe-I-pay-$2,000-for-this-dump, or can-you-believe-I-only-pay-$3,500-for-this-apartment. I didn’t really think much of it; I didn’t put much stock in financial privacy. And it wasn’t just the amount I paid in rent—as an attorney at a big firm in New York, if you wanted to know how much I made, you basically just needed to know the year I graduated from law school, the firm I... Read more »

Charitable Profit

July 12, 2012 | 44 comments
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About six months ago, I got an email asking (a) if I knew anything about low-profit limited liability companies (“L3Cs”) and private foundations, and (b) if I’d be willing to be a guest lecturer in a class, explaining what they were and how they function. I did know something (though at the time not much) about them, so I said I’d do it, then spent several weeks immersing myself in the theory and practice behind L3Cs. It turns out that Loyola’s business school offers an elective class in Social Entrepreneurship. The point of the class, from what I can gather,... Read more »

Taxing Churches: A Response

June 21, 2012 | 27 comments
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Oh no—somebody on the Internet is wrong while I’m on vacation! But duty calls. Recently, Ryan Cragun, a sociology professor, along with students Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega, argued that the government subsidizes religion by about $71 billion a year. He thinks this is wrong, and that religions should pay their fair share. I have no problem with his making this argument—tax exemption costs the government significant revenue (though his $71 billion is based on really, really poor assumptions—more on that later), and should be examined carefully and critically. But Prof. Cragun’s analysis is not the careful and critical... Read more »

The Implied Statistical Report 2011

April 11, 2012 | 30 comments
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The Implied Statistical Report 2011

Over the past few years I’ve put together an analysis of the cumulative information in the Church’s statistical reports. Three years ago I posted The Implied Statistical Report, 2008, and last year I titled my analysis The Implied Statistical Report, 2010. Over this time I’ve tried to improve my methods and the data available, collecting data from a few different sources. This year I’ve again looked at the data and discovered something unexpected: The Church’s real growth is actually faster in the U.S. and Canada than it is in the rest of the world. Read more »

Taxing the United Order

February 28, 2012 | 24 comments
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Taxing the United Order

The United Order appears (for now, at least) to be a relic of the 19th century; since them, the mainstream Mormon church hasn't attempted to institute any large-scale communal economic structure based on Acts 2. And, frankly, I don't have any reason to think that it will in the 21st century; the Law of Consecration seems to be something different than economic communalism (though economic communalism fits within the Law of Consecration). Read more »

Sex-Ed and Social Justice*

January 10, 2012 | 30 comments
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***WARNING: This post mentions sex. I use the word a lot in this post. If that makes you uncomfortable, this may not be the post for you.*** Over the summer, the Bloomberg administration announced that, for the first time in two decades, public school students in New York would be required to take sex-ed. The curriculum the administration recommended---HealthSmart (middle school and high school) and Reducing the Risk---include, among other things, lessons on abstinence and birth control. Read more »

Interest Never Sleeps

December 9, 2011 | 18 comments
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Hypothetical: Alex and Pat both want a Kindle Fire. Alex goes to the local brick-and-mortar Amazon store, pays $200 cash, and takes a Kindle Fire home. Pat goes to the bank, gets a loan for $200, goes to the local brick-and-mortar Amazon store, pays the $200, and takes a Kindle Fire home. Who made the better decision? *** In the Church, we’re suspicious of debt. Sure, we get a pass on student loans, a modest house, a first car, but, as a general rule, our leaders discourage incurring consumer debt, and celebrate those who have escaped debt’s clutches. Having... Read more »

Politics and Members of the Church

November 11, 2011 | 19 comments
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The Catholic church, that is. Read more »

Utah Women in the Labor Market

November 4, 2011 | 41 comments
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The Atlantic Cities, currently one of my favorite sites, has, over the last several days, run a series looking into the best states for working women (both generally and in the "creative class"). What leaped out at me: Utah's a pretty bad place to be a working woman. Read more »

Mormons and Muslims

October 24, 2011 | 62 comments
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Mormons and Muslims

I had a university professor who lived in Iran and ran a television program dedicated to classical Persian music prior to the Islamic revolution. He spent a lot of time during the seventies crossing sketchy borders into various ‘Stans. One of his tools for successful border crossing (not to mention survival) was a pamphlet he wrote himself, highlighting similarities between Mormons and Muslims; things like a founding prophet, directly revealed scripture, fasting, and polygamy. I was intrigued by his comparisons, and this class was one of the many things that prompted me to study Arabic and learn more about Islam.... 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 »

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 »