Do the poor have any responsibilities?

This is the third in an occasional series of posts that looks at the scriptures from a different point of view. My contention is that many people misunderstand the scriptures in their totality. In a past post, I looked at the Book of Mormon and discussed its view on taxation. In a followup, I looked at some examples of misunderstandings in the New Testament. I’d now like to look at some examples in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Do the poor have any responsibilities in the Doctrine and Covenants?

I think all Latter-day Saints can agree that the “rich” definitely have responsibilities. The D&C and all LDS scriptures make it clear that those who have more money (the rich) should give to the poor. Often. Abundantly. Repeatedly. Voluntarily. With good cheer. From the perspective of modern-day Latter-day Saints, my personal take is that you pay your tithing, you pay a generous fast offering, you serve in your calling and you take extra steps to help the poor (those who have less), such as volunteering in soup kitchen, homeless shelters, the bishop’s storehouse, etc. You and I are probably not doing enough to help the poor, so our responsibilities are clear.

But what about the poor?

Well, D&C 56 offers some insights:

16. Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment and of indignation: the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved.
17. Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!
18. But blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs.

So, it appears that the poor do have a responsibility. It is to follow the 8th and 10th commandments, ie, not to steal and not to covet the property of other people. In addition, the poor have a responsibility to labor for their own support.

But there is another very important responsibility: not to take other people’s “goods,” ie property.

What’s up with that?

To understand this completely, it is important to return to the atmosphere of the late 18th century and early 19th century. The founders struggled a great deal with the proper role of government. Clearly, some minimal funds were necessary to help government function, but raising these funds involved taking money from some against their will. Such steps clearly contradicted the founders’ sense of the proper purpose of government, which is to protect private property and to defend the country from aggressors foreign and internal. This protection of private property is written everywhere in the Constitution, but most especially in the Bill of Rights. How can you justify the 3rd, 4th and 5th amendments unless there is an inherent property right? If property is owned by the community or the crown, then quartering troops temporarily makes perfect sense, but if it is privately owned then laws like the 3rd amendment against quartering troops are necessary. If property is owned by the public at large, then the police should be able to search “community property,” but if property is privately owned, then protection against a search (4th amendment) is expected. The 5th amendment clearly says property cannot be taken without due process and that private property cannot be taken for public use without just compensation.

This understanding that government’s proper role is to protect private property is reinforced by D&C 134:2, which says that “no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will assure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.”

The founders were also clearly worried about a pure democracy where 51 percent of the people could decide to take property from the other 49 percent. This is why they set up a republican system, which checks and balances (the Senate, states’ rights, the courts) intended to prevent tyranny of the majority.

In such a system, what is the responsibility of the poor (ie, those who have less than others)? It is to work and save and to avoid coveting and taking the property of those who have more.

We have clearly seen that the responsibility of the rich is to give voluntarily to the less fortunate, both in terms of money and in terms of time. Thought exercise: if everybody in the United States voluntarily gave 10 percent of his or her gross income to charity, would the modern welfare state be necessary? My guess is no, and there would be “no poor among us,” but we are unlikely to be able to test the theory during this dispensation of time.

The idea that the poor have responsibilities will be foreign to many readers because they have accepted the lie of the modern welfare state, which is that property rights (clearly laid out in the Constitution and the D&C) are to be circumscribed for one beneficial cause or another. We can probably agree that most of the people who want to transfer wealth from one person to another are well-intentioned, but I would argue they have lost sight of the proper role of government in a republic.

The modern welfare state has shown us there will always be some new cause for an entitlement. Social Security is a great example. In its conception, it paid for itself through a modest contribution by workers and their employers and was only dedicated to retirement. Now, the contribution is much larger (12.4 percent of your pay check) and the benefits go for disability as well. People are living longer, but citizens “want theirs” and oppose attempts to bring the retirement age for benefits in line with modern life expectancy. There is such a thing as private disability insurance, but in our attempt to “do good” we are ignoring basic principles obvious to previous generations.

On and on it goes to a $14 trillion debt. It all starts when we forget that all men and women have responsibilities, which is one of the principal messages of the Gospel.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

128 thoughts on “Do the poor have any responsibilities?

  1. Who’s saying the poor do not have responsibilities? It’s like the author thinks the welfare reform of the 1990s never happened. And anyone who says that the poor just need to “work and save and to avoid coveting and taking the property of those who have more” must not know many poor people and the overwhelming costs of rent, healthcare, and stagnating wages that suffocate them.

    Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that physical theft and a vote in republic government for a politician in favor of a safety net are actually the same thing (they’re not, but whatever). Which would be the worse evil: for the rich to let people physically starve or die of health problems, or for the poor to insist on some form of welfare state?

  2. Dgl, were you in favor of the 1996 welfare reform, and would you today favor policies pushing responsibilities back on the poor, such as limiting unemployment benefits or lowering social security benefits?

    Your second graph is a straw man: if we were discussing just food assistance, the opposition to the welfare state would be much smaller. Obviously, the govt today does much than that, all in the name of “compassion.”

  3. I like this analysis, Geoff. The welfare principles of working toward self-reliance are, in my view, sorely lacking in our culture of the welfare state.

    I think there is a gross underestimating of the value of real, old-fashioned work for one’s character development and strength.

    I’m also mulling on the private property facet of your thoughts.

  4. Interesting post, Geoff. Read and enjoyed, but can’t think of a comment at the moment. :)

  5. Dgl,

    You say "Which would be the worse evil: for the rich to let people physically starve or die of health problems, or for the poor to insist on some form of welfare state?"

    Comparative evil isn’t exactly a winning argument. Your relative wickedness construction tries to say between bad and worse, the bad is good. But that is not true. Both are wicked.

    The D&C describes those who stole the first 115 pages of the book of Mormon manuscript as justifying changing the text with the idea that "it is no sin to lie that they may catch a man in a lie, that they may destroy him."

    You can’t fight the devil by using the devil’s own tools.

    We could turn it around and ask which is preferable, an inflexible monolithic system in which decisions are made far away by bureaucrats that inevitablly results in the death of people who do not receive care quickly enough because of the unresponsiveness of the unwieldy, distant, faceless system, or a decentralized, chaotic system that can be far more responsive because of individual initiative and lack of beurocratic roadblocks?

    People are going to die in both systems. If we are going to lay the blame on the rich who won’t give in the libertarian state, does that mean we have to assign collective blame in the welfare state?

    My brother is in medical school. In rotations and residency they are required to work 36 hour shifts. He tells me most students graduate with a burden if guilt because they know that someone under their care died because of a mistake they made because of insufficient rest. And yet he also says that there are things that he is not sure a doctor can learn except through these kinds of long hours.

    Is it acceptable to let these people die so that our doctors can get the level of education they need to save others?

    If you are truly concerned about death, then this would be a much more immediate, and direct injustice that you could dedicate your energy toward.

  6. I believe it is incumbent upon every person who is poor to refuse to accept money that has been forcibly taken from others. Someone who forcibly takes money from others to ease their own poverty and discomfort commits a sin just as evil as those who refuse to give.

    That said, I think that we too often blame the poor for their predicament. They aren’t poor because they aren’t working hard enough. I believe that is a fiction used to justify the rich in being complacent in their benevolence.

  7. I could not disagree with you more, but I am impressed that you are trying to articulate a conservative Mormon political theology. While the realization of such a vision would be my worst nightmare, I think you approach this in a rather thoughtful manner.

  8. Geoff,

    Personally, I’m pretty standard conservative on this point. I would like to see the welfare state minimized by making people accountable and therefore off of welfare a quickly as is possible. But I am a pragamtist when it comes to the existence of a welfare state — you have to have one or you become unstable as a society, so I see that as the moral justification for it.

    That being said, I really like your point here: that the rich have moral responsibilities as do the poor. I like how you are going about this. Keep it up.

  9. THoughtful post Geoff. Thank you. You have given me much to think about. I love this scripture:

    “18. But blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs.”

    I have known many, who are poor, who have this spirit. Often they understand the stress of want, and are willing to impart what little they have, with others who are even less fortunate. I also understand the burden of the rich. The government used to take 50% of our gross earnings. Working so hard to only bring home half is a sore burden indeed. The rich are the ones who employ the poor. Our economy would be more robust with plenty of work to go around if taxes were lighter.

    I do not understand the Social Security benefits issues, I understand part of the problem is many who have not paid into the system receiving benefits. Social Security benefits should not be reduced by those who have paid into the system. SS is not welfare, it was forcefully paid by the the honest worker and they ( as a retiree) or their descendants deserve what little they get ( I speak from experience). .

  10. Joanna, re: Social Security. The main issue is that it has been expanded beyond its original mission. To answer Bruce’s #10 and to discuss Social Security, if we maintained Social Security as it was originally implemented, and if we had a small welfare state that took care of peoples’ basic needs on a temporary basis, people like myself would spend a lot less time worrying about the issue. Government has expanded to the extent that it is involved in every aspect of our lives. In addition, we have created an entitlement society where those in need feel like they are entitled to take money from others so they don’t lose out on freebies (which of course are not free — somebody has to pay for them). Such a result is as far from the Founders’ vision as you could possibly get and indeed causes many in society to forget their responsibilities.

  11. ” you have to have one or you become unstable as a society, so I see that as the moral justification for it.”

    Bruce, that is very similar to Aristotle’s argument for public provisions for the poor.

  12. What is responsibility and why is saying someone has a responsibility being interpreted that people being repressed by them? Why is saying that every individual, every citizen, has a responsibility to the community and the nation where they live? On the anniversary of President Kennedy’s inauguration speech offering the poignant phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” we still see people who seem to want the government to be the new god and savior of the people.

    I consider another word for responsibility as “Stewardship.” We have been given different levels of stewardship. Geoff B. is simply articulating that individuals blessed with less of the possessions of this world are to not sit back and demand the possessions of others. There is a moral reason, even a doctrine supported reason, that certain welfare programs espoused by this country are not morally congruent to the laws of the gospel.

    DGL and Chris Henrichsen, you take a statement against government welfare to mean that must mean the person is against all charitable efforts and leaving poor people in a ditch. The false assumption here being that government is not the only way to provide assistance to those in need – in fact it is one of the most inefficient and repressive. The last I checked, the Doctrine and Covenants was true scripture. This scripture seems pretty clear. People at all positions in society have responsibilities, no one is off the hook. All accountable people have responsibilities. So what, why is that such a negative?

  13. Chris,

    I didn’t know that. (Not a big philosphy fan, I’m afraid.) Guess Aristotle was an okay guy after all. :)

  14. I Believe that one of your arguments would be met by some of my less eloquesnt former students with the expression “Man, you have been smokin’ too much ganja.” The more literate would have pointed out that you are basing a position on ideal rich people and by extension wealthy corporations (run by rich people) that would would live up to biblical admonitions to give willingly to the poor. The real world is made up of some people like that, but there are far too many who do not fit that model. I give you Bernie Madoff, Enron, Recision, Off shore secret bank accounts, selfish athiests or agnostics, conspicuous consumption, keeping up withe Joneses, Utah scam artists, non tithe paying church members, Ayn Rand followers, Garrett Hardinites (The Case Against Helping the Poor), worshipers of Gordon Gekko and the like.

    I am afraid this is not baseball. Two good arguments out of three is not a fantastic success. Few can diagree that, first, the Constitution in great part was designed to protect property and, second, the poor do have responsibilities. The idea that personal charity is workable in our society to meet our needs just does not cut it. It is not in the nature of man, or at least enough men, to be that altruistic.

  15. Stan, depends on your definition of “needs.” We could probably agree that “needs” do not include a government-backed mortgage giving a huge incentive to the working poor to buy a McMansion, which is what the government gave us just a few years ago.

  16. “That said, I think that we too often blame the poor for their predicament. They aren’t poor because they aren’t working hard enough. I believe that is a fiction used to justify the rich in being complacent in their benevolence.”

    I agree with this.

  17. Bruce, I have known a great many poor people since my youth until today. Many would have considered me poor when i was young. Each one has his or her own reason for his or her poverty. Grand generalizations do not apply. There are many poor who simply don’t want to work, and there are many who work 100 hours a week. What we want to avoid is a system that disincentives work, which unfortunately we have adopted by expanding the welfare state.

  18. “The idea that personal charity is workable in our society to meet our needs just does not cut it. It is not in the nature of man, or at least enough men, to be that altruistic.”

    Whoops! You’ve let the cat out of the bag, Stan. 

    This is the same argument that is always made by monarchs and nobles, and totalitarian dictators, and slavemasters. They say that common people are too ignorant, or too animalistic, or too brutishly common, too immoral and naturally depraved for liberty and to be trusted to govern themselves.

    Liberty is messy and inconsistent, because it relies on the whims and good will of fickle, naturally wicked individuals. Liberty permits people to act against their own best interests. Having to convince them to act morally and take care of the poor of their own free will and choice is too much work, takes too much time, and has inconsistent results. 

    Liberty is unworkable. So give power to a few, enlightened, superior elites who are somehow inexplicably immune to the general depravity, so that they can bring the whole system under control, force at least a superficial virtue on men, and bring about consistent good for everyone. If consistency and workable results are what you are after, then slaves really are the only way to go! 

    “Make us your slaves, but feed us” because “freedom and bread for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them!”

    Slaveowners, kings, and tyrants always justify themselves by declaring that it’s for the good of the inferior slaves, who would languish in barbarism otherwise, and for the good of an orderly, workable society.

    This is where the sentiment you expressed leads.

    No thank you! I prefer the inconsistency and mess of Liberty tempered by individual prudence and virtue to the consistency and order of slavery for the collective good.

  19. The church handbook has a section which gives priesthood leaders guidelines on how to properly care for the poor. For at least the past 30 years that section has said that bishops are to help and advise church welfare recipients on how to get public assistance as well.

    In light of that fact, I cannot see any possible way that you can continue with the claim that receiving public assistance is no different from taking somebody else’s property and tantamount to theft. If that were true, the church could credibly be accused of aiding and abetting a felony. Are you prepared to take that step?

  20. “That said, I think that we too often blame the poor for their predicament. They aren’t poor because they aren’t working hard enough. I believe that is a fiction used to justify the rich in being complacent in their benevolence.”

    Ah, but herein lies a perfect example of that place of tension where truth is found. Is the responsibility all on the rich or on the poor? Neither and both. Christ calls to us all, regardless of our financial status.

    I also think His counsel about not judging others is really important in all of this. Just as King Benjamin reminds us not to turn the poor man away because we claim to know he has brought it on himself, I think it’s impossible to fully know a ‘rich’ person’s heart — and/or what Christ would demand each person to put on the altar. There is more to His work than just what is or isn’t in our bank accounts or on our physical assets lists.

    Mark Brown, to whom are you referring your comment?

  21. J.Max I am not sure if your rhetoric is more libertarian or objectivist, but it is quite impressive in its verbosity. The problem is that it does not really deal with many of the problems that we have in the United States today. I’ll use medical care as a case in point.
    We do not live in Sharon Angle’s world where we merely have to take a chicken down and trade it for a doctors visit. Medical care is much more costly. In Michigan one study put the lifetime average males cost at $320,00 and females at $360,000. Two thirds of that cost coming after the age of 40 and One half of it after the age of 60. And that fgure does not reflect the large unexpected cost an individual might incur: kidney transplant (200,000), kidney dialysis ($10,000-$30,000 per year), coronary heart bypass (32,000 plus).

    By your logic, you would want to leave us to use private insurance companies and end government programs like medicare. If that does happen, I hope you have an employer that has medical insurance or you can afford it on your own (assuming a company will take you.). Please remember insurance companies want to make money. They do not want to insure sick people. Where possible they practice recision (stopping insurance for current policy holders that get ill), red line, age discrimate, not sell to those with previous conditions and deny costly treatments. If you are part of the
    40% of Americans that do not have insurance, good luck.

    Frankly all your pontificating about slavery and dictatorship had a hollow ring to me. Several people who had Kidney transplants that I knew died because they could no longer afford anti-rejection medication (government help for such pills ends three years after a transplant). Those lives resonate a lot more to me than a libertarian purity.

    In addition because of programs such as medicare I don’t see jack booted brown shirts marching in the streets: slave auctions in the town square: school children forced to sing the Horst Wessel song before class and trench coated geheime staatspolizei enforcing a “nacht und nebel decree” by rounding up innocent libertarians for a quick train trip to the Dachau of Utah, Sugar House Prison.

    Now that last run on sentence (and reductio ad absurdum argument) is way over the top. Look at some of your rationale and see how they compare. Your language may work well in a Paulista gathering, but not in others who you might want to convinceof the soundness of your positions. Though I do not agree with them, I think you have some good arguments. Unfortunately they lose power in your verbal overkill.

  22. The government used to take 50% of our gross earnings.

    Copies of your tax return or it didn’t happen. The only places that I am aware of where the effective tax rate tops 50% are Denmark, Belgium and Sweden (on USD 300,000 of income). The effective tax rate in the US for that kind of income is about 36%.

    Mark Brown, to whom are you referring your comment?

    Perhaps the OP who links the modern welfare state with violations of the 8th and 10th commandments, or maybe Jeff T. who claims that “it is incumbent upon every person who is poor to refuse to accept money that has been forcibly taken from others.”

  23. Well, Stan, we do have jack-booted elitists telling us for the first time in history that we must buy health insurance or face a fine. Such a claim — that the Constitution allows the government to force people to buy a product and can punish economic inactivity — is unprecedented and a dangerous step that could lead to the government telling us we must do all kinds of things to protect our health in the name of the public good. You seem oblivious of the freedom-impeding precedent of busy-bodies worming themselves into our personal lives. We were put on this Earth with free agency, which means there is some Godly benefit in being allowed to make our own mistakes and learn from them. The nanny state central planners are like Lucifer telling us that salvation lies in all of us being forced to become vegans and drive Smart cars.

    Mark Brown, I have been in a bishopric, and been involved in helping many dozens of people with assistance. In no case was any of them advised to take public assistance. They were advised to ask friends and family for help, and they were then given temporary money out of fast offerings. I agree that the Church has moved from decrying public assistance during the 1930s — when the Saints were told during nearly every conference to avoid the evils of the dole — to allowing people to make their own choices on public assistance now. It seems to me the Church is being pragmatic and trying to avoid being judgmental given the growth of the welfare state and the myriad of ways that governments have insinuating themselves into our lives. Can you point me to a conference talk in which Saints are encouraged to take public assistance instead of being self-reliant?

  24. Peter LLC, $300k in income gets you a 35 percent federal rate. Oregon, California, NY have state rates near 10 percent (in Oregon’s case, it is 11 percent). City taxes in NYC and elsewhere bring you to 50 percent.

  25. Geoff,

    If a man lost his job and asked for church assistance, wouldn’t you ask him if he had signed up for unemployment compensation? If he or a member of his family later developed a medical condition which would result in tens of thousand of dollars of uncovered hospital bills (no job, no insurance), would you advise him how to get Medicaid?

    These are practical questions which come up all the time. If we really believe that public assistance is “laying hold upon another man’s goods” and a violation of the constitution, and that we are morally obligated to refuse to take money that has been taken from others (as one of our commenters had declared), then the handbook is wrong.

    I agree that everyone has responsibilities. We are all responsible to work as hard as we can and be as wise as we can with what property comes into our hands. Given that we all have different abilities and capacities, it stands to reason that some of us will do very well and some of us will struggle mightily and still not be able to provide for ourselves without some help from outside. Illness, disability, mental health, physical health and many other conditions often beyond control of the individual play a role. In those cases I see no problem with public assistance.

  26. Geoff B.,

    I think I’ve said this before, but I’m involved in ward council discussions on a fairly regular basis where we discuss helping ward members get assistance from the government if they need it. Yes, we also help with fast offering contributions if needed, but frankly the ward, and the church as a whole, doesn’t get enough fast offering money to replace government help.

    I realize your situation when you were in a bishopric was different. I’m not sure if that’s because of location (we have slums within our ward boundaries) or because things have changed since you were in a bishopric.

    Remember, also, that a lot of poor people who do not work have physical and mental disabilities that make them very difficult to employee. Yes, many of them probably should be working, but for many it’s not really an option.

  27. As Mark mentioned, the new Handbook 1 states that “Members may choose to use resources in the community, including government resources, to help meet their basic needs” (5.2.5).

    Conservatives like Geoff and myself would not want to read into such a statement that the church supports a bloated welfare state. Indeed, the handbook advises caution on this matter. However, when commenters come along and intimate that accepting government welfare is akin to theft, they have not only utterly lost the plot, but they are accusing the church itself of encouraging stealing. All in the name of Mormon conservatism. Very strange!

  28. “Can you point me to a conference talk in which Saints are encouraged to take public assistance instead of being self-reliant?”

    It’s not a conference talk, but I read this in the Book of Mormon this morning.

    Geoff,
    I think that you are tilting at a straw man, here. I don’t think that anybody wants to keep freeloaders on the welfare rolls. They are there to help people who, for whatever reason, are in a bad way. Welfare is always meant to be temporary.

    The real question is whether we want to err on the side of letting in a few freeloaders in order make sure that we help all the needy or if we ought to worry about missing some needy in order to get the freeloaders out. I tend to be on the side of helping needy first, even if there is some waste.

    You also tend to treat this question as if privatization is inherently better. I’m skeptical of this position (as you know). I certainly don’t think that concern over private property rights is particularly scriptural (in fact, the whole point of things like tithing and fast offerings is to make us less attached to our physical property, not more). Certainly the Lord commands us to not steal (which welfare isn’t doing anyway), but I’m not sure that equates to “private property rights are of paramount concern in the grand eternal scheme.”

    In any case, I am forever amazed at the libertarian ideal of being constantly willing to give so long as nobody ever asks.

  29. Geoff, you will note I was referring to “effective” tax rates.

    I pay taxes in a Western European welfare state where the marginal income tax is 50% for income above USD 80,000 and social security taxes run 18% and yet it is still impossible to achieve an effective tax rate of over 50%, partially because SS taxes are capped, similar to how FICA disappears in a puff of smoke once your income exceeds 100k or so, and also because the income tax is progressive.

  30. John C said: “The real question is whether we want to err on the side of letting in a few freeloaders in order make sure that we help all the needy or if we ought to worry about missing some needy in order to get the freeloaders out.”

    I once was watching a UVU show which discussed this. He made claims about statistics of how many people stay on welfare after X many number of years.

    The numbers he quoted fell precipitously each year. Very few indeed were on welfare for more than five years. (Which was the largest number he had on his slide.)

    This reassured me somewhat, though I haven’t yet tried to confirm that the numbers weren’t ‘rigged.’ But if we get a very small handful of people on welfare for a very long time, but most come off in a year or two, then the system might be working better than I feared. I don’t mind welfare if it saves people in a transition and keeps a more stable society. I find life welfare repugnant unless for some sort of disability. (But then it’s not welfare, right? Wish I knew more about this.)

    Does anyone have any *actual* numbers for discussion?

  31. “Very few indeed were on welfare for more than five years. (Which was the largest number he had on his slide.) ”

    That is because cash assistance welfare was limited to 5 years by the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.

  32. I find life welfare repugnant unless for some sort of disability.

    Bruce, please note that in the original post Geoff listed disability payments as one way he thinks Social Security has gone off track:

    “Now, the contribution is much larger (12.4 percent of your pay check) and the benefits go for disability as well.”

    So for the purposes of this discussion, I’m afraid we have to think of public assistance to disabled people as morally wrong.

  33. Numbers can be tough sometimes. Just because the numbers said that they were off before the five years, does that mean that they never went back on? What is considered welfare? Most don’t consider Medicaid to be welfare, some do. Seeing as the government is so far into subsidizing so many things today, one could argue that even the very food we eat, being subsidized by the government, makes us all on welfare to a certain extent. So, what are we defining as welfare for the sake of discussion?

  34. even the very food we eat

    As well as the water we drink (unless you have your own well, I suppose).

  35. Good gravy! If we want to define welfare as “just the kinds of government assistance with which I personally disagree (the others are, of course, a-okay)” then I’m on board with that.

  36. Peter, those who would give up their liberty for water deserve neither liberty nor water.

  37. I don’t have much time to argue this today, and much of it is a tangent from the point of the original post anyway. So I will comment in reply to @Stan Beale #24 and then retire from the conversation and let him have the last word if he wants to respond.

    1. I am not a libertarian, an objectivist, a Paulista or a Randian, a Skousenite, or a Beck fan. I tend to agree with the political philosophy of Harry Jaffa (http://amzn.to/eftqD8) and the folks at the Claremont Institute (http://www.claremont.org). You’re not going to get much traction by harping on my assumed Paulista libertarianism.

    2. Irony: criticizing the “verbosity” and “verbal overkill” of a 281 word comment with a 459 word comment. Jeff T’s succinctity didn’t seem to win you over either. Perhaps you didn’t mean “verbosity”?

    3. Everyone has a distinct style of expressing themselves. You find my style overwrought and irksome, so it is ineffective at convincing you. But I don’t need to convince you. An effective debater knows that the goal is not to convince the opponent but the audience. This is a public discussion. If my rhetoric can resonate with three out of four lurkers or future readers who happen upon this discusson later, then I win. I know my audience and I write for them as much or more than for you.

    4. I clearly said “This is where the sentiment you expressed leads,” so attempting a “reducto ad absurdum” by looking around for brownshirts, slave auctions, and concentration camps falls flat (even if it is fun).

    5. You write as though the cost statistics you cite are static and so the only solution is to find a way to pay them using public funding. But the cost of medical care is partially driven by the way the current system divorces medical consumer decision making from cost. Bereaved of financial context, medical consumption decisions cannot be rational. Cost is also driven by the artificial marriage of coverage to employment, which is the result of national legislation. It is additionally driven by national controls to prohibit competition across state lines. And finally, it is also driven by misuse: Insurance is to “insure” against the unexpected. We shouldn’t be paying for routine medical needs with insurance. We don’t pay for our gasoline using our automobile insurance. The prices for plastic and lasik surgeries have continually improved in quality while decreasing in price. That’s because they are not covered by insurance and are therefore subject to market forces and rational, contextual decision making. The current system is broken and needs change. But not the change you are advocating.

    6. I am not fan of insurance companies. I have seen their immorality first hand with a direct impact on my family in ways that most other people have not. ObamaCare actually forces everyone to buy insurance from these private companies or face a penalty.

    7. I truly am sorry for the people you have lost because of the inequities of the current system. As your sad experiences have shown, medical care, supplies, and personelle are limited resources. Rationing is inevitable regardless of what system we use and people will die because of rationing. As I said in my first comment, we also allow people to die for the sake of the educational experience of our doctors. It seems that that injustice should weigh as much as the deaths that occur because of medical cost, and it is far more immediately actionable.

  38. Bravo J. Max!!! Well said. My favorite was “We don’t pay for our gasoline using our automobile insurance.” Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Speaks to the heart of the system problems on so many levels. (Yes I agree there are problems too – just no the right solutions, yet.)

    The false assumption by so many is that government is the source solution for all problems – the first line of defense if you will. Why? Why do people WANT or PUSH for it to be that way. Its like people pushing to have all their food cooked in an easy bake oven. Will it do the job… sure, eventually. But there are far more efficient solutions. Let’s try those first.

  39. Peter #25- Yes it was 1/2. I heard him say it over and over again. Just in case you argue Mike did not know what he was talking about, I beg to differ. Mike was a Tax VP for a large hospital company. He was an expert on mergers and acquisitions and partnership taxation. He was also on KPMG’s task force to interpret and implement Sarsbanes and Oxley law. He was including all the local, state, sales, and national tax and social security. We were in the tax bracket the government takes the biggest bite from.

  40. “The current system is broken and needs change. But not the change you are advocating.”

    I like HSAs. They are tough, though. But I am convinced they’d fix the medical system, but only if lots of people moved to them at once.

  41. Yes it was 1/2. I heard him say it over and over again.

    Was he talking marginal or effective tax rates? Because the lowest income tax bracket where I come from is higher than the top marginal rate in the US (36.5 % vs. 35%) and I still couldn’t pay an effective tax rate of 50% even if I tried. I would be interested in how someone in the US manages to do so. If he’s just talking about the marginal rate on each dollar beyond $373,650, I can see how you might get close.

    He was also on KPMG’s task force…

    That’s interesting, because the numbers I cited above came from the 2008 KPMG “Individual Income Tax Rate Survey,” which also includes social security taxes. I just looked up the 2010 report and according to it the effective tax rate on US income of $300,000 has declined to 31.6%. If there was ever an occasion to pop the cork on a bottle of Martinelli’s sparking cider around these parts, surely this would be one of them!

  42. “I like HSAs.”

    I don’t. I don’t like having to prove that I’m spending my money for approved purposes—the medical account for approved medical expenses, the education account for approved education expenses, the retirement account for approved retirement expenses. I don’t like the penalties for estimating wrong how much I need in each of the accounts. I prefer money that can be used for any purpose I choose.

  43. Peter, there is more tax than just income tax. Property tax, sales tax, special excises on gasoline, phone calls, etc. Perhaps adding all those up accounts for half of some’s gross income.

  44. All in all, I don’t care for this piece because it has too much of the scapegoating that I criticized before. Laying our nation’s $14 trillion debt on the heads of the poor who aren’t pulling their weight is too much. If there’s a point to be made, then the temptation to connect it with everything under the sun must be resisted, but wasn’t.

  45. If there was ever an occasion to pop the cork on a bottle of Martinelli’s sparking cider around these parts, surely this would be one of them!

    Scandalous comments, I tell you! Are we to become bibbers of sparkling cider? ;-)

  46. Peter #45- Mike was the CPA, not I, short of a very good psychic, I do not have the means to ask him exactly what were the parameters. I believe he was referring to all the taxes on all areas of our life i.e. #47 John Mansfield. Mike was on the KPMG task force for Sarbanes and Oxley and not for the above mentioned survey. I also cannot comment if taxes have fell 31%, as I am no longer in that tax bracket.

    Government waste is found in all the areas of influence.

  47. In response to Mark Brown’s “The church handbook has a section which gives priesthood leaders guidelines on how to properly care for the poor. For at least the past 30 years that section has said that bishops are to help and advise church welfare recipients on how to get public assistance as well.”

    I’m not familiar with any passage in any of the last three versions of the handbook that admonishes leaders to “help and advise church welfare recipients on how to get public assistance”

    The current version of the handbook says exactly this on the subject:

    “Members MAY CHOOSE to use resources in the community, including government resources, to help meet their basic needs. The bishop and members of the ward council should become familiar with these non-Church resources. Such resources may include:

    1. Hospitals, physicians, or other sources of medical care.
    2. Job training and placement services.
    3. Help for people with disabilities.
    4. Professional counselors or social workers.
    5. Addiction treatment services.

    Even when members receive assistance from non-Church sources, the bishop helps them avoid becoming dependent on these sources.” (Handbook 1, section 5.2.5, emphasis added by me)

    I read this to mean that leaders should be familiar with what public sources of aid exist, and help members to not become dependent on them if the member chooses to use such sources. I see nothing that encourages leaders to recommend these sources nor does this feel like an endorsement of such sources in any way.

    It also seems interesting to me that the five examples of public aid cited in the handbook do not include direct financial aid nor the direct dispersement of physical goods, but rather focuses on service, training, and counseling that could help a person become self-reliant. Of course, these are only examples, but I can’t imagine that they were not chosen deliberately.

    Ultimately, it seems as though government forms of welfare are intentionally downplayed in the handbook, so using it as evidence of church endorsement of government welfare programs makes for a pretty weak argument.

  48. In any case, I am forever amazed at the libertarian ideal of being constantly willing to give so long as nobody ever asks.

    So long as nobody puts a gun to my head. That’s what taxation is. There’s a difference between “Would you please contribute?” and “Contribute, or rot in jail.” One is ‘asking’ while the other is coercion, which is a form violence against others.

    For the record, I am pretty much a libertarian. I don’t believe in coercion. If you wish to do violence against me, no matter how altruistic your goals, you are an enemy.

    The soaring costs of health care are the result of insurance companies positioning themselves between the doctors and the consumers, disguising the true cost of health care (which is much lower). Recent legislation promising to remediate this problem requires everybody to purchase insurance, which will only exacerbate the problem. The problem will be solved as insurance companies dismantle themselves and begin to solely cover catastrophic needs. Only then will doctors and consumers negotiate an honest and fair price.

  49. How about “contribute or you can’t be a member of our organization anymore”?

    If you threaten my life, liberty, or property as a punishment for non-compliance, then that is coercion. Simply being ejected from a private organization (e.g., the church) for non-compliance doesn’t threaten my life, liberty, or property, and therefore is not coercion. However, if I own land or property that is not portable, being ejected from the United States of America for non-compliance is, indeed, coercion, as such would result in the loss of property.

  50. But if you don’t contribute to the USofA, doesn’t the USofA have a right to do something about that? You are gaining the benefits of membership, but not helping with the cost. Seems downright unfair…

  51. Access to money that has been forcibly taken from others should not be a benefit of residence of the USofA. Are you saying that I should be forced to feed the poor as a condition of residence here?

  52. No. I’m saying that you should be forced to contribute for the general upkeep and welfare of the nation state if you would like to continue to be a member of it. If the majority believes that this includes helping the poor and such behavior is constitutionally allowable (both of which appear to be the case today and for the foreseeable future), then your contribution will go towards that (in addition to the thousands and thousands of other things that it goes toward). If you don’t like it, that’s fine. But don’t call taxes theft; they are closer to dues.

  53. John,

    For what it is worth, I think of it as dues.

    But I do think of it as dues taken at gun point. But since I don’t buy into Ayn Rand’s ideas of making all taxes voluntary, I guess I’m in favor of taking those dues at gun point, at least in some measure.

    To me I take it as a given that governments have a right to tax citizens. That ‘right’ rises from the fact that I honestly can’t think of an alternative to taxes. (Tarrifs are just taxes in disguise. So I’m counting those as taxes.)

    But it’s precisely because those dues were taken at gun point that I consider concern over their use in a welfare state to be a completely legitimate debate. (And one that needs to be forever on going.)

    What I want to debate is how to best use those funds and what is best for society as a whole. I *do* buy into the convervative ideals of avoiding being on the dole and managing it in such a way that people are incentivized to get off of it. And I have no doubt that our bloated government is largely the cause of our current financial woes. (Not that Wall Street had nothing to do with it.)

  54. “I’m saying that you should be forced to contribute for the general upkeep and welfare of the nation state if you would like to continue to be a member of it…If you don’t like it, that’s fine. But don’t call taxes theft; they are closer to dues.”

    We’ve discussed this before, and I agree with you to an extent. As I have said in the past, I do support a minimal safety net at the most local levels.

    But just because some services, such as fire departments and public libraries can be a proper use of tax money on a local level, doesn’t mean that there are no limits to what taxes can be used for and that they can be used at all levels of government.

    All citizens of a town can walk into the city library and borrow a book, even if they can easily afford to buy the book themselves. But re-distributive “services” are always available exclusively to one group of citizens at the forced expense of another, excluded group.

    Perhaps it would be better expressed in terms similar to those the church has used in relation to abortion. Whether or not abortion is “murder” it is sufficiently “like unto murder” to be wrong. Whether or not using taxes to force people to take care of the poor is actually “theft” it is sufficiently “like unto theft” to be wrong.

    As I pointed out in the previous discussion on this, there is an essential difference between a local city fire department that puts out fires when they occur, and a national fire department that tries to make it impossible for fires to occur in the first place. The latter cannot be done without violating essential rights and the moral principles of subsidiarity.

    A local city run food bank is essentially different from a national program to eliminate poverty itself in the same way.

  55. J Max,
    As I said before, I don’t think that it is proper to think of rich and poor as mutually exclusive groups or static groups. The idea behind welfare is that poverty, while persistent, can and should be a temporary state for any individual. I’m all for focusing on programs that do a better job of making poverty than others, but arguing that it is theft simply isn’t helpful. Frankly, if it is theft to take money to help the poor financially, it is equally theft to take money to supply the army (perhaps more so). Pick and choosing the cause that your theft goes to doesn’t make it morally superior. Of course, I don’t even consider taxation like unto theft in any current American context, so that argument is somewhat empty coming from me.

  56. Wow, I left the internet to go have a real life for a few hours, and an intelligent conversation broke out! What a concept.

    Let me try to address a few points that come to mind:

    1)Mark Brown, I think Jeff B’s #51 basically trumps your concerns on the Church supporting theft in the form of public assistance. Please read it carefully to know why. The Church supports people using resources that may be available, including govt resources as a last resort, but also pushes self-sufficiency. My take is that the Church realizes that government resources can encourage dependency (which is why welfare reform was necessary in the 1990s and continues to be necessary today).

    2)I have yet to see anybody who disagrees with my take on this issue actually address the content of D&C 56. We are seeing many of the big government vs. small govt arguments re-hashed without actually discussing the example in the post.

    3)Having said that, it is encouraging to see so many “big government” people reading my post and commenting. I tend to be a “glass half full” kind of guy, and I see a lot of movement on the issue of out-of-control government from people on the left. We have seen that even Dems like Cuomo in NY and Brown in Cal. are lookiing at ways to cut the size of government. Meanwhile, we are seeing Obama triangulate on this issue, and don’t be surprised if he becomes a budget hawk (of sorts) in 2011. This is also reflected in the Bloggernacle, where many on the left are recognizing that the party is over in terms of govt spending. Too bad it didn’t happen years ago, but better late than never.

    4)Respecting property rights in the Constitution means you recognize that, like Bill Clinton when discussing abortion, taxation should be “safe, legal and rare.” If you have an understanding that taking money from one and giving to another is necessary in limited circumstances, at the very least to support a military and the police, you treat the public’s money with tremendous respect and avoid taxation as much as possible. This is why we didn’t have an income tax until 1913, and why it took a Constitutional amendment to bring us an income tax. The first 120 years of the republic showed us the way: taxation involves taking other peoples’ money, and we should be extremely careful how and when we do it. This means that in today’s welfare state we need to recognize that there is a need for termporary, limited assistance, but that serious reform is necessary to the vast majority of our government programs. This is completely consistent with constitutional principles and the Church’s position.

    5)Ronan, you give us all a great example of empathy by appealing to our similarities (we are both conservatives) rather than our differences (Brit conservative vs. libertarian conservative). Good on you for this.

    If I have missed something somebody wants me to address, please bring it to my attention.

  57. Geoff,
    I don’t think anybody disputes what that scripture says. They dispute whether it is applicable to welfare. I tend to think it isn’t.

  58. I am not sure if the first 120 years of the American experiment could be used as a positive example for anything.

    Who on the bloggernacle left has become anti-government spending? Ronan and Nate Oman do not count.

  59. John C.,

    I don’t see how it is possible that the scripture cited by Geoff B. can be separated from the principle of welfare as taught by the doctrine of the church. In every piece of instruction to church leaders on the use of welfare that I am familiar with, there are three repeated themes:

    1. Christ has required us to be loving and charitable to all around us. This means doing whatever we can to help the poor and the afflicted however we can.
    2. Individuals should be taught to do ALL THEY CAN for themselves before seeking help from others. When they do need help, they should seek it first from family.
    3. Leaders should be extremely cautious as they help individuals so as to not encourage those individuals to become dependent on any form of welfare.

    The first theme should be obvious when teaching the principles of welfare, yet the second and third themes are found almost as often. Why would that be?

    The sins covered in vs. 17 of D&C 56 are the exact reasons for themes 2 and 3. Those are the attitudes that are easy to adopt when you are in the position of receiving welfare assistance. Of course, that is not to say that every person (or even the majority of persons) who accept welfare assistance are guilty of those sins, but they are part of the ‘natural man’ and it is that natural man’s way to have those thoughts and feelings when in the position to receive welfare assistance.

    I believe it is clear that abuse of welfare programs is an easy sin to commit, and that the thoughts and feelings described in vs. 17 are the principle cause of such abuse. For this reason, welfare assistance in the church is given with extreme caution, ‘as the spirit directs’.

    Based on the number of people I know personally (all of whom I would consider ‘good people’) who I have heard brag about their ability to game various government welfare programs, I would say we need to employ this scripture and others like it a lot more often when talking about charity and welfare.

    I could now launch into a long monologue about how well this supports Geoff B.’s arguments against government mandated charity, but I think that association is clear, so I’ll leave it at that.

  60. “I am not sure if the first 120 years of the American experiment could be used as a positive example for anything.”

    So much for remembering the captivity of our fathers.

  61. Jeff B.,
    I apologize if I’ve given you the impression that I think that welfare is about keeping the little guy down or making them dependent on the government. As I’ve said 14 times (or so) on this thread, I think welfare should (ideally) be temporary to help people back on their feet (or keep them alive when times are really bad).

    “17. Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!”

    I think going on welfare breaks most people’s hearts (because they do want to provide for their own). I think the humiliation of welfare makes most people’s spirits contrite (although I don’t think it should be made artificially humiliating; it is humiliating enough on its own). I don’t think of welfare or taxation as theft so the next clause doesn’t apply. I’ve already said that I would like to not see freeloaders or fraudsters on the roles. Therefore, I don’t think that the verse applies to the current welfare system in America.

  62. John C.,

    I’ve been thinking about why we see things so differently. I wonder if it maybe it has something more to do with differing views about how taxes are levied in addition to how the taxes are spent (which has been the focus of our disagreement).

    I think it would be relatively easy for me to change my mind to your “paying dues” point of view and support for helping the poor on a wider scale if the tax money was being raised solely through indirect sales taxes levied on transactions irrespective of the circumstances of buyer or seller (perhaps weighted more heavily on luxury items, and exempting essentials), instead of direct income taxes that are adjusted to the individual characteristics of the taxpayer (that is part of what make it feel like theft).

    When I pay dues to the puppetry guild, I pay the same amount irrespective of my circumstances.

    Additionally, with indirect sales taxes, I have at least some level of control over my taxation, because I can go on a voluntary fast to withhold a portion of my money from a government with which I disagree.

    With an indirect sales tax, I could voluntarily fast, limit my consumption, in order to withhold money from going to support ObamaCare.  You could do likewise to withhold money from foreign wars.

    This feels right to me. It also makes the government afraid of the people withholding money instead of the people afraid of the government taking their money.

  63. J Max,
    I’m not opposed to the notion of switching to sales tax from income tax per se (although I’d like it to be in a way that impacts the poor less than the rich, as you have suggested). I’m not really down with a flat tax, for instance, because I believe that it has a heavier impact on poor than rich.

    I’ve also been thinking that, over the course of this discussion, it might be easier for all involved to imagine that their portion of the tax burden goes to the programs they support. My portion can go to some efficient poverty relief program (if such exist) and some libertarians portion can go to the elements of the army that are purely engaged in defense and so forth. Completely fictitious, of course, but it might make people less likely to throw theft into the mix.

    I should add that the reason that I believe that the rich should bear a heavier tax burden than the poor is because the rich are economically in a position to take better advantage of the advantages available for membership in America (or in any organization, really). I do believe that providing something closer to equality of opportunity (something that is in the country’s long term interest) can be done by some wealth redistribution, without sacrificing opportunity for the rich and with granting more opportunity for the poor. Pell grants, etc. are a means to this end.

    Now the sales tax you mention would presumably target the rich more than the poor (increase on luxuries, essentials tax free). So I’m okay with that in theory. Of course, the debate over what is essential or luxury would last decades…

  64. I should also note that I also like the idea of the government being more beholden to the people in theory. I’m not sure that I would like the results in practice. It makes me wonder if we’d have a government that was more like Hollywood in execution (and it makes me wonder if we already do).

  65. “I’ve also been thinking that, over the course of this discussion, it might be easier for all involved to imagine that their portion of the tax burden goes to the programs they support. My portion can go to some efficient poverty relief program (if such exist) and some libertarians portion can go to the elements of the army that are purely engaged in defense and so forth. Completely fictitious, of course, but it might make people less likely to throw theft into the mix.”

    Oh oh! Let’s do one of those things where you get to check a box when you vote saying which party you are in. You can check the “my taxes are for the military” box or the “my taxes are for subsidies to create unfair competition over seas” box. etc.

    :P

  66. “With an indirect sales tax, I could voluntarily fast, limit my consumption, in order to withhold money from going to support ObamaCare”

    I voted for Alan Keyes!

    Gee… here is my voting record:

    Primary: Alan Keyes
    General Election: Bush
    Next General Election: Bush
    Next General Election: Obama

    And you know what, I don’t regret any of those votes. I guess I’m an eclectic voter.

    (For those that don’t know, Alan Keyes pushed on a federal sales tax and abolishing the income tax very hard using the very argument J Max just used. You could decide if you wanted to pay taxes or not, albeit indirectly.)

    “…an intelligent conversation broke out!”

    Kill it! Kill it quick! This is my brother Daryl and this is my other brother…

  67. Jeff B. and John C. @ 65 and 67 Interesting comments and approaches. At the risk of beating a long dead horse in the bloggernacle, I am curious how you see the amazing phonemenon of Mormon grad students who intentionally have children they cannot afford; a spouse who will not work outside of the home; and, routinely use or even rely on various government welfare programs to finance or support their family planning. I assume most, it not all, of them believe their reliance on welfare is temporary and is used to prop up their lifestyles until graduation and, presumably, gainful employment. As far as I undertand things most of the kids born to these parents were planned and intended. The parents made a conscious decision(s) to incur responsibilities they could not afford sans government assistance, at least for a period of time.

    While I strongly disagree with those who abuse the welfare system in this manner, I’m not sure I would call their actions a “sin.” Selfish and reckless, absolutely, but I’m uncomfortable labeling their irresponsible behaviour a sin.

  68. John C.,

    I think that either I must be missing your point, or you must be missing mine. I don’t think that I’ve implied anything along the lines of your first paragraph in #67. Let me restate the point I tried to make in #65:

    I think the reason that the church’s welfare programs spend so much effort emphasizing the importance of self-reliance, even while providing needed assistance, is that it is too easy to become addicted to welfare. It is part of the natural man to take the easy road and rely on others to provide for you.

    I agree that there are many who feel embarrassed when they need to rely on charity for a time, but there are also many who, embarrassed or not, choose to accept charity whether or not they need it. My point is not that church or government welfare programs are ‘about keeping the little guy down or making them dependent’ as you state in your #67, but that there are so many who choose to give in to the temptation to take welfare, even when they do not need it. They choose to become dependent.

    When these individuals fall to this temptation, they are committing the sins outlined in vs. 17, in that their “hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, [and their] eyes are full of greediness, and [they] will not labor with [their] own hands”

    This is why the church spends so much effort teaching leaders how to help individuals avoid these temptations. If the Lord is so worried about individuals falling to the temptation to use church welfare inappropriately, even with the personal one-on-one interaction of local church leaders and the personal nature of using the fast-offering donations of friends and neighbors, how much more worried must he be about the possibility to abuse the programs of large, detached, impersonal, government organizations, where the only interaction a person may have is filling out an online form and submitting a tax return?

  69. rb,

    To answer you briefly, whether these folks are sinning or not is between them and the Lord. I agree with you that this behavior is selfish and reckless. This is a topic my wife and I have discussed many times to some length.

    My thoughts on this subject are the reason that I worked full time (40 hrs +) every semester I was in grad school. It wasn’t easy, but I paid for everything myself, and my wife and I agree that this was one of the best decisions we made and we have been greatly blessed for staying self-reliant, even during a time of great need.

  70. Jeff B.,
    Let’s just say that I am not particularly interested in providing welfare for those who choose to become dependent (although determining if someone chose or not strikes me as an awful task). I’m much more interested in providing welfare to those people who are actually dependent (do to disaster, terrible economic downturn, disability, or something else). I’d rather err on the side of including some choosers in order to make sure we get all those who didn’t choose, than vice versa.

  71. rb,

    With regards to married college students on welfare, we need to be very careful. Your examples involve people having children they cannot afford. Would you also include attending a university where the tuition is subsidized by the taxpayers of the state? A student can get an education which costs tens of thousands of dollars per year at a state university, yet pay only a few thousand dollars of that himself. Compare him to the married students with children. Their food stamps and WIC benefits amount to only pennies compared to the guy at State U. So who is really on welfare?

  72. Additionally, with indirect sales taxes, I have at least some level of control over my taxation, because I can go on a voluntary fast to withhold a portion of my money from a government with which I disagree.

    Technically the same is true of income taxes. You are free to donate as much of your income to charity as you want, and then not pay taxes on that money.

    “hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, [and their] eyes are full of greediness, and [they] will not labor with [their] own hands”

    So, here’s my issue with this discussion: what about the rights of people to reasonable compensation for their labor? Today we’re seeing a larger and larger disparity between wealthy and poor that’s driven largely by an increasing chunk of income going to the top, leaving less for those at the bottom. You all seem to treat the responsibility of the rich primarily as a responsibility for alms-giving, but I think more important that they compensate their employees fairly–even generously–in exchange for their labor. That most definitely includes the manual labor that today isn’t typically compensated sufficiently to live on, especially not comfortably.

    I think that lack of compensation for a full day of work is a far greater disincentive to working than welfare. If you can’t make ends meet for your family while working a 40 hour work week, what incentive is there to keep working? To bring it back to the quote above, I’d say the lack of fair compensation for manual laborers in today’s economy is a far better example of “laying hold upon another man’s goods.” It’s work that’s every bit as essential to our economy, yet the people who do those jobs are treated as dispensable.

  73. Kristine N, the second part of this comment is counter-historical. People are paid so much in terms of purchasing power today in the Western world compared to past generations that using this as a standard shows us how spoiled we have gotten. Yes, there are some jobs that are clearly underpaid. I am thinking specifically of teaching assistants and low-level professors at universities, and if you want to get into education as a field, you should do some due diligence and realize there is a large supply of people with PhDs and master degrees and relatively small demand.

    In Brazil, people get by on $500 per month and consider themselves quite well paid. They can buy cars, a computer, a TV and a cell phone on these kinds of salaries. How do they do it? Well, families crowd into a small apartment and pool their money.

    Can people make it on minimum wage with a small family? Yes, you can, if you are willing to find a way to pool your money, have roommates, forgo certain things. This is how I personally lived well into my 30s. I made just above minimum wage, was married, had one child and lived in a small apartment. I had a car and a TV (no cell phones in those days). If you compare your purchasing power to people 80 years ago, you are doing pretty well even on minimum wage. The reality is that we have become very spoiled and feel we are entitled to way too many things. This is what causes us to covet, break the 10th commandment and think about laying our hands on other men’s goods (we should get a portion of their wealth).

  74. Let me get this straight–you think it’s perfectly acceptable for people to be paid so little they have no choice but to live in crowded slums–slums that are typically crime-ridden and dangerous–because their purchasing power is greater today than it was 80 years ago? Do you think it’s moral for an employer to pay their employees so poorly? What if they’re at the same time taking home millions of dollars a year? Do you think employers have a financial responsibility to their employees at all? Or are a-moral market forces the only things that should drive salaries?

  75. Mark Brown, it’s not even just state universities. Private schools send their lobbyists to the legislature with graphs showing what a great contribution to the community they are and get a cut of the tax pie too. So do businesses. Working for some corporation that finagled special considerations from the government is being a party to theft. Which I’m fine with recognizing if we can quit scapegoating the poor as the root of all that ails us.

  76. That is exactly right, John. I’ve been trying to make the point as inoffensively as possible. Over their lifetimes, it is very likely that a middle-class household with a stay at home mother will receive mmore in benefits from the government than they will pay. Which makes it kind mind-boggling that we are having this conversation about those greedy, covetous poor people who won’t keep their hands off our property and are ruining our lives because they aren’t fulfilling thier responsibilities to us.

    I also want to dispute the claim that the founders never envisioned anything like a welfare state. The following paragraph is from The Great Law of the Province of Pennsylvania, enacted in 1682.

    “That if any person shall fall into decay and poverty, and be unable to maintain themselves and children, with their honest endeavors, or shall die and leave poor orphans, that upon complaint to the Justices of the peace of the county, the said justices, finding the complaint to be true, shall make provision for them that then care shall be taken for their comfortable subsistence.”

    In colonial America we had laws providing public assistance for the comfortable subsistence of poor people, not only orphans, but the working poor. When was the last time you heard anybody in the current political climate express any concern about the comfort of poor people? The idea that public assistance is akin to theft is a recent innovation, and a bad one at that.

  77. Mark Brown @ 79 I don’t understand your comparison. When I go skiing in Killinton, VT in a couple of weeks should I be considered a free loader b/c I will drive on local roads paid for or subsidized by VT taxpayers, of which I am not one. My weekend tax contributions to the state of VT will not come close to covering all of the state infrastructure I will benefit from and enjoy while briefly there. Am I freeloader? Perhaps. Plus your comparison overlooks the attendant responsibilities that come with children versus the average college student.

    At any rate, I completely agree with your sentiment @ 85. To suggest public assistance is theft overstates things a bit, imo. And, it is probably impossible to find an American who is not benefitted by government largesse, er I mean theft, in one way or another. I love the national and state parks where I find lots of subsidized enjoyment on a regular basis. We’re all in this together. We would probaby be remiss not to thank our Chinese brothers and sisters who make our current standard of living and redistribution-I mean theft- possible. May God continue to bless them and their willingness to lend the American government/taxpayer lots of money. Being on public assistance from the Chinese doesn’t make us-U.S.-guilty of theft, does it? I only kid.

  78. Mark Brown, you need to read some Locke, Jefferson, Madison, etc.

    You also need to read the following about former congressman Davey Crockett, who learned the hard way that the Constitution does not have any provisions for taking from some and giving to others in the name of compassion:

    http://www.thenewamerican.com/index.php/opinion/chip-wood/3333-davy-crockett-and-the-us-constitution

    Kristine N, the answer to all your questions is “yes.” Because the alternative is worse. Government providing housing for people means housing that becomes slums (as any visit to government housing in any large city will show.) Minimum wages hurt the poor most of all — these are the people who lose their jobs when employers are forced to raise wages beyond what the market will bear. It is market economies that have raised the standard of living so that you and all of the people reading this have enough money to worry prinicipally about eating too much, rather than spending 14 hours a day in the fields raising crops. I know this type of language is very foreign to you, but I’m glad you’re willing to be exposed to different viewpoints. That’s a good thing.

  79. “any visit to government housing in any large city will show.”

    Privatization doesn’t necessarily fix that (but we’re overgeneralizing here, so I’ll say privatization doesn’t fix that).

    “It is market economies that have raised the standard of living so that you and all of the people reading this have enough money to worry prinicipally about eating too much, rather than spending 14 hours a day in the fields raising crops.”

    Actually, it was a mostly regulated market that did this in the US and a heavily regulated one that did it in Western Europe. Laissaz-faire economies don’t exist on a large scale and never have.

    Also, as a woman, I doubt being condescended to is foreign to Kristine. But I’m sure she appreciates you modeling the behavior.

  80. “Let me get this straight–you think it’s perfectly acceptable for people to be paid so little they have no choice but to live in crowded slums–slums that are typically crime-ridden and dangerous–because their purchasing power is greater today than it was 80 years ago?”

    Hmmm….

    “It is market economies that have raised the standard of living so that you and all of the people reading this have enough money to worry prinicipally about eating too much, rather than spending 14 hours a day in the fields raising crops. I know this type of language is very foreign to you, but I’m glad you’re willing to be exposed to different viewpoints. That’s a good thing.”

    Hmm….

    “Also, as a woman, I doubt being condescended to is foreign to Kristine. But I’m sure she appreciates you modeling the behavior.”

    Hmmm….

    Actually, you all sounded a bit condescending to my ears in these bits. (Though in general, I think you’ve all done marvelously well.) So maybe sexism had nothing to do with it. Maybe it was more like ‘political-spectrum-ism’ or something like that. (That must be the belief that people on the other political side of the line must needs be stupider than those on your side of the line.)

    Besides, I’ve talked with Kristine in the past. She needs no man to defend her.

  81. Teachings of Brigham Young (o:

    “Suppose that in this community there are ten beggars who beg from door to door for something to eat, and that nine of them are imposters who beg to escape work, and with an evil heart practice imposition upon the generous and sympathetic, and that only one of the ten who visit your
    doors is worthy of your bounty; which is best, to give food to the ten, to make sure of helping the truly needy one, or to repulse the ten because you do not know which is the worthy one? You will all say, administer charitable gifts to the ten, rather than turn away the only truly worthy and truly needy person among them. If you do this, it will make no difference in your blessings, whether you administer to worthy or unworthy persons, inasmuch as you give alms with a single eye to assist the truly needy
    (DBY, 274)”

  82. Keith, the important point is that the giving is voluntary.

    John C, I am offended by your comment #88. I am trying to set the right tone of being welcoming (unlike other blogs). If that came off wrong, it must be that your default position is to assume that people are being condescending rather than welcoming. Go re-read the following as welcoming rather than condescending: “I know this type of language is very foreign to you, but I’m glad you’re willing to be exposed to different viewpoints. That’s a good thing.” Have some charity, dude.

  83. Geoff, I’m guessing you think I’ve “never been exposed to this sort of language before” because I’m not bowled over by the superiority of the argument. I’m not sure why you’d think that though, since I belong to the same church you do. I actually get to hear rants against welfare and taxes all the time, frequently couched in gospel terms.

    And I reject those arguments. I reject the idea that taxation is evil or theft. I gladly pay my taxes, recognizing them as dues that support a society I am privileged to be a part of. I enjoy my solidly middle-class lifestyle, but I don’t kid myself about why I get to live in a heated house with running water and electricity, and the internet to keep me entertained while my child sleeps. I recognize that without the larger society around me, I probably would be working as an underprivileged laborer–assuming I’d survived childhood without government funded clean water and government mandated vaccination programs. I see the government–in particular the infrastructure that’s grown in the last half-century–as a major driver of our economic success as a nation. I don’t for an instant think private enterprise could, or would do what the government has done in terms of investing in roads, waterworks, and people. Long-term investments with no short-term payout are very difficult to justify in a private market, which means things like educating people for 13 or more years just don’t happen unless you have some other actor, like a government. I fundamentally reject the premise that government is bad. Can you have too much government? Certainly, and there are places I think the government is too big, but I don’t think welfare is one of those areas.

    I don’t see welfare as theft. I think it was Bruce who asked about statistics of people staying on welfare. This isn’t the best one out there–I know I’ve seen another site that at least tells you what decade the statistics are from, but I’m not going to spend the time looking. According to this, more than half of those who go on welfare are off within two years. Another almost 27% stay on 2-5 years, and about 20% are on welfare for more than 5 years. That website doesn’t break it down by gender, and in fact seems to imply everyone on welfare (or maybe everyone they’re talking about anyway) is a mother of at lest one child, and is typically single. I have a hard time calling assistance that keeps kids from growing up homeless, “theft.” It usually isn’t the fault of the child that the mother either made a bad decision or found herself in a bad situation. If a woman is on welfare with kids, it’s probably because the jobs she’s qualified for don’t pay enough for her to pay for rent, child care, and other necessities.

    Which brings me back to my original point. People at the bottom don’t get paid very well. Their labor has value, just like everyone else’s, and that labor adds value to whatever company they work for. Ideally, (and I would hope you can agree with me on this) the amount you are compensated for your labor is a reflection of the value your labor adds to the company employing you. From that perspective, it makes sense for the people at the top to make more than the people at the bottom, agreed? The problem I see is that in many companies in today’s market those at the top are overcompensated with relation to the value they bring to the company. Since there’s a limited pool of money to split among salaries, overcompensating one group, or one individual, requires someone else’s labor to be undercompensated. Over the last decade, increasing profits have flowed almost exclusively to people at the very top of the income spectrum in spite of all workers becoming more efficient. Personally, I think that’s much closer to stealing than taking welfare for a few years while you get your feet back under you.

  84. Kristine N, I would say that the value you get paid is simply a reflection of the marketplace. I have worked in low-paying jobs and I have worked in high-paying jobs. I was on the board of a medium sized company about a decade ago. I can tell you that the president of that company had skills that were special. I saw him work on a day-to-day basis, and he had to make decisions involving hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of people every day. It is hard, stressful work, and if you make an incorrect decision, the company suffers, the stock suffers, and you can be fired in a day. I could not have run that company, and even as one person on the board, it was very difficult to know how to make correct decisions.

    I will make a provocative statement that you will certainly disagree with but is nevertheless true: Steve Jobs should make $50 billion a year (he makes much less than that and takes a $1 per year salary at Apple and lives off of his stock options). He has unique skills, unlike anybody else’s. Apple declined as a company when Jobs left the first time. The ipod, Iphone, Ipad and the new Apple laptops were all developed under Jobs’ leadership. The value of Apple’s shares declines every time a new rumor about Jobs’ bad health comes out. I would not begrudge him his $50 billion a year because I know I could not do the job.

    Professional sports players makes millions a year because they have unique skills — the same applies to many leaders of large companies.

    I will turn this back on you: isn’t it coveting to care what somebody else makes? Shouldn’t you just mind your own business, do your job and be happy with how you are compensated? And if you are not compensated fairly, the beauty of a free market is that you can leave and go do something else.

    As I said, many academics are compensated very poorly. Again, this reflects supply and demand. Too many people love being in school (for good reason) and therefore there are too many PhDs on the market for the marketplace to absorb. I was aware of this back in the early 1980s when I went to college, and I’m sure most people who get degrees are aware of it.

    The alternative is much worse: a government intervening to prevent some from making too much money is a government by mob rule, a coveting government that tramples under personal liberty. I will fight against it (nonviolently) all of the days I have breath.

  85. Kristine N, one last thing. Let me address one comment you made. I am hopeful (perhaps naively) that my experience in the business world will help you see how untrue this is in dynamic enterprises:

    “Since there’s a limited pool of money to split among salaries, overcompensating one group, or one individual, requires someone else’s labor to be undercompensated.”

    Actually, this is exactly how it does NOT work in the most dynamic sectors of the economy (although it probably does work this way in government and at universities).

    I work for an internet company. When sales are good, we hire more people and we give everybody raises. The people who are most important to the growth of the company (engineers and salespeople and good project managers) are given the biggest raises. If their raises are not good enough, they leave. The best salespeople and engineers make as much or more than the president of the company. Yes, you read that correctly: the best salespeople and engineers make as much or more than the president. Why? It is a reflection of their value in the marketplace.

    What about the secretaries and the receptionist? Well, when times are good, they get raises too. Do they make as much as the best salespeople? No, they don’t because they do not bring the same amount of value. A good salespeople can double the sales of the company in a year, a good receptionist cannot (although we have promoted a fair number of secretaries to other jobs over the years).

    There is an interesting phenomenon going on right now in Silicon Valley. Just a year ago, Google was the best company to work for. Now, Facebook is taking all of Google’s best talent. Why? This is how the market works — Facebook is the new, hot place to work, and they offer higher salaries and more valuable stock. Again, you could not pay Mark Zuckerberg enough in salary to compensate him for how he is changing peoples’ lives, both among his employees and elsewhere.

    But the key lesson I hope I can convince you of is this: the more dynamic the market, the more it is growing, the less static it is, and the more likely employees are to have the freedom of getting raises and to leave if they don’t. If you are as concerned about salaries as you say you are, you should be the most enthusiastic capitalist out there, because it is competition and growth that bring higher salaries.

  86. Geoff, you wrote a post a while back in which you decried the marijuana stores in Colorado and called for the government to place more and tighter restrictions on them.

    Can you explain to me why it is a good thing for the government to interfere in the free market of this legal product (cannabis) for the good of the citizenry? We regulate alcohol (another legal substance) on the grounds that the public good warrants substantial government intervention. I assume you agree with that regulation.

    Can you explain to me why coveting the property of liquor store owners and marijuana dispensaries is a good thing? We are taking money out of their pockets, just like stealing. Why not just let the invisible hand of the market take care of it?

  87. p.s., if I’m misremembering the point of your previous post, please ignore that comment.

  88. Mark, our search engine is not very good, so it would take me a long time to find that post again, but I think you are misremembering a bit. My main points were that going the medical MJ route is cynical, because you can get the same benefits from legal marijuana pills than from medical MJ. I also was struck with how my little town has turned into Potterville because there is a medical MJ post on every street corner.

    I have done some re-thinking on the drug issue lately. I am still not ready to come out for legalization, but it seems to me there are more bad things that come from prohibition of marijuana than good things. I am beginning to think that having a medical MJ shop on every corner is not much different than having a liquor store on every corner. As a libertarian-leaning person, I guess I am coming to the opinion that we should just let people learn from their own mistakes (while we continue to take our kids to church and teach them the correct principles and hope and pray that they will make good choices).

    So, to sum up, I would probably not write that post today. I am seeing the contradictions you mention, and they are causing me to think deeply and differently about the issue.

  89. Geoff,

    I don’t know what your problem is. I can always find things in my past posts.

    Oh wait! That might be because I actually have a manageable number of posts to sort through. You have like 20 quadrillion or something. Dude!

  90. Geoff,
    Your ability to only see the positives in capitalism and never see the negatives astounds me. Dynamic marketplace also means a place where you can lose your job any minute.

  91. Mark Brown.

    Locke: “The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property.”

    Jefferson: “The policy of the American government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits.”

    Jefferson: “To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father’s has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association—the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”

    Madison: “Such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

    Madison: “What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

    John C, not true. A dynamic marketplace means people with the greatest skills have the greatest job security, where they are free agents who can ask for and receive higher salaries, or, even better, start their own companies and find new horizons. It is the basis of human freedom.

  92. Geoff,
    That is the basis for social darwinism (if you don’t have a job, its because you deserve not having a job). Also, you seem to think capital grows on trees.

  93. Geoff, we can cherry pick dueling quotations until the cows come home. The simple fact of the matter is that both Jefferson and Hamilton thought taxing people to build a hospital for indigents was just fine. Look at this letter from Jefferson to Madison, especially the last paragraph:

    http://www.klamathbucketbrigade.org/KBB_JeffersonLettertoMadisonOnProperty112105.htm

    We clearly see that Jefferson:

    1. speaks approvingly of the legislature directly appropriating land from the wealthy to give to the poor. I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable, but the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property

    2. advocates something like a progressive, graduated tax.

    3. thinks that when there is excess capacity in the presence of poverty that private property rights have been extended too far.

    In addition, I don’t think you appreciate how the definition of property is so fluid. Think of the tens of thousands of pages of law where we attempt to define and enforce trademark and patent rights. I saw recently where Microsoft expects to be in litigation for the next several years in a dispute over intellectual property rights. We rely on our government to define what property is, and that definition is always being negotiated. Even relatively simple things like ownership of real estate is not cut and dried. Just about everybody is subject to zoning laws — I bet if the zoning regulations in your town were ambiguous and somebody wanted to locate his pig farm next door to you, you would still try to find a way to have the government restrict him. A citizen can have clear title to his property, yet the state has authority to demand an easement for things like public utilities or roads, or even to declare the power of eminent domain and sieze the property outright, against his will. I personally know some people whose land is now underneath I-15. It doesn’t make sense, at least to me, to rely on our government to define what private property is while simultaneously insisting that our government has no business meddling in private property.

  94. Mark Brown, the Constitution specifically deals with the issue of takings. As a society we had come up with a pretty good compromise until Kelo, which showed that Madison was correct that we are not governed by angels but instead by people who think they always know better as long as it involves somebody else’s property (exactly what the Founders warned us of).

    Zoning is a local issue and involve freedom of choice. If you don’t like the zoning in your community you can move to another one nearby. Your chances of changing zoning are also much greater than changing other policy you don’t like on a federal issue.

    There is a tremendous amount of literature by libertarian thinkers on the proper role of government. Many of these books touch on the issues you address with Jefferson and Madison and Adams, who spent a huge amount of time struggling with the issue of providing for basic governance while also at the same time respecting property rights. But at least they cared about property rights, unlike our current generation, which blithely discusses taking peoples’ property left and right in the name of “fairness.”

    John C, this quotation from Robert Heinlein is for you:

    “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

    This is known as “bad luck.”

    Guys, this is way afield from the original point of the post. If your goal is to change my mind on this issue, ain’t gonna happen. If your goal is to lecture inferior intellects and show your superiority, well, that is not a game I am interested in because one thing I have learned in life is that those who think they are superior usually aren’t in the matters that are important. If your goal is to have the last word, go for it. I’ll let you have the last word.

  95. “But at least they cared about property rights, unlike our current generation”

    I don’t think that’s really a fair assessment of any major players in the debate. Just because some policy proposals are being discussed without demonstrative displays of sackcloth and ashes for those whose taxes will go up, doesn’t mean it is any more “blithe” a discussion than when Jefferson matter of factly and quite unreservedly suggested subdividing the land and instituting a geometrically increasing progressive income tax system. Public debates are necessarily short attention span affairs. People have to get to the point. Not including a bunch of caveats and regret about negative impacts etc etc does not imply an unacceptably “blithe” attitude. That just seems like a needless attack on the people on the other side of the argument.

  96. So much for the oft touted, but clearly one-way, Big Tent or Mosaic Mormonism. It’s up to Geoff, but I hope he leaves the comment, but perhaps he should close the comments.

  97. I’m really not interested in the tit-for-tat insult fest that some people feel is necessary to have with people who disagree with them.

    Brad, if you would like any of your comments to appear here, then you’re simply going to have to learn how to make them less hostile and more focused on the issues at hand. I understand that your desire is to defend people you feel have been slighted. Good on you for your loyalty. But sometimes the best thing you can do is calm down, take your time and simply find a way to be nice with people you disagree with. I hope you take that tack in the future.

    I wrote the comment on superiority in a hurry on my way to church. It certainly did not come out the way I intended. I could go into a long explanation of what I meant, but we are at 110 comments now, but let me just say my intent was not to offend, so sorry if I did.

    I’ll leave some time for last comments, and then I’ll close this thread in a few hours, because as I said above, we are far afield from the original point of the post.

  98. Today I am reminded of this quotation from President Hinckley:

    “Why do any of us have to be so mean and unkind to others? Why can’t all of us reach out in friendship to everyone about us? Why is there so much bitterness and animosity? It is not a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    I hope we can maintain this kind of spirit even though the subject is contentious. Again, I apologize if I offended anyone.

  99. Geoff, I appreciate that you left the comments open long enough for me to respond.

    It bothers me that you suggest that I am motivated by a desire to lecture you. You made claims, I produced evidence which I think refutes those claims. No big deal, this is what blogging is. But in this thread alone you sarcastically accused me not once but twice of trying to lecturing inferior intellects. You’ve implied, not once but twice, that I need to improve my reading comprehension skills. So under those circumstances, for you to say this:

    If your goal is to lecture inferior intellects and show your superiority, well, that is not a game I am interested in

    it is kind of stunning. From my perspective, that is ALL you are interested in. You apparently expect people to just accept your claims, and then when somebody presents evidence which contradicts you, you just dismiss it without even engaging it.

    As your co-blogger John Mansfield has pointed out, there are some serious problems with this post. I don’t expect to change your mind, but I do want some comments on the record so that sometime in the future when somebody is googling around, they will not be left with the mistaken idea that Mormons think state assistance to the poor is just like stealing, or that we have a moral obligation to refuse to take social security.

  100. “I don’t like the penalties for estimating wrong how much I need in each of the accounts”

    John,

    I think you are confusing FSAs and HSAs. HSAs you get to keep the money from year to year and collect it (if you can.)

    Of course they are still problematic from the ‘free use of money’ standpoint.

  101. Mark, has it ever occurred to you that I and indeed *many* Mormon bloggers might be embarrassed with many things that are published on other blogs run by other Mormons? But a very wise man named Kaimi wrote something five years ago that really sunk in. He said that I don’t have the authority to judge other people and their personal righteousness. I am not their bishop or stake president.

    So, in a world where two people with different ideologies see each other as embarrassing (thus the need to put your comments “on the record”) I have another suggestion: live and let live. If there is something so horrendous that somebody dares to write on a blog, just leave a comment (therefore putting yourself on the record) and move on. I guarantee there will be a lot less contention in your life that way and you will still have the same effect.

  102. Huh?

    just leave a comment (therefore putting yourself on record) and move on

    Geoff, this is precisely what I did when you accused me of lecturing and not reading carefully.

    This isn’t a matter of ideology. You were mistaken on the facts. It is incorrect to assert that the church teaches that when poor people accept assistance from the state they are engaged in stealing.

  103. Mark Brown, I will quote you the scripture again:

    “56:17. Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!”

    Interpret that as you will. I stand by what I have written.

  104. Geoff, you have far more faith in the market than I do.

    I will turn this back on you: isn’t it coveting to care what somebody else makes? Shouldn’t you just mind your own business, do your job and be happy with how you are compensated? And if you are not compensated fairly, the beauty of a free market is that you can leave and go do something else.

    Isn’t that a bit of a double bind? If you’re just supposed to happily accept whatever you’re given, how you do know when you’re not compensated fairly? I’m sure Lilly Ledbetter would have some choice thoughts on this particular suggestion.

    As I said, many academics are compensated very poorly. Again, this reflects supply and demand. Too many people love being in school (for good reason) and therefore there are too many PhDs on the market for the marketplace to absorb. I was aware of this back in the early 1980s when I went to college, and I’m sure most people who get degrees are aware of it.

    Academics typically aren’t looking for high-paying jobs as much as intellectual freedom. Which just goes to show money doesn’t motivate everyone.

    The alternative is much worse: a government intervening to prevent some from making too much money is a government by mob rule, a coveting government that tramples under personal liberty. I will fight against it (nonviolently) all of the days I have breath.

    I’m pretty sure there are other options between a laissez faire approach and what you describe.

    But the key lesson I hope I can convince you of is this: the more dynamic the market, the more it is growing, the less static it is, and the more likely employees are to have the freedom of getting raises and to leave if they don’t. If you are as concerned about salaries as you say you are, you should be the most enthusiastic capitalist out there, because it is competition and growth that bring higher salaries.

    That’s great for those privileged few who are employed in dynamic, growing industries, but what about those who are in stagnant, but necessary industries–jobs like janitors or grocery clerks? Do you think unions are acceptable for those industries that are less dynamic and where people have less power to demand raises by moving?

  105. Kristine N, thanks for taking the time to respond. I hope you will take my response as somebody who has worked in the private sector for about 35 years now and has some experience.

    I have worked for union companies and non-union companies. In my experience, unions do very little to actually help employees long-term. They drive up costs and in many cases drive businesses into bankruptcy. In addition, union leaders at the places I have worked are usually not really interested in the employees’ best long-term interests but instead staying in power to get the perks of being a union leader. So, I’m not big on unions.

    In contrast, I have worked at non-union companies that treat their employees fairly because their employees are valuable commodities. I have worked at probably six different places like this over the years. I have worked at one company that treated its employees like crap. There is no other way to describe it. I left very quickly.

    The solution for people in lower-paying jobs is to either A)go to night school and learn new skills B)accept what they are paid and complain about it C)show their bosses how indispensable they are and try to have a good attitude and get promoted D)organize a union E)go find another job. If I were offering advice to somebody in a “dead-end job” I would suggest A or C or E if the job becomes unbearable. I know a fair amount of people who started out at minimum wage at McDonalds. They worked hard and became asst. managers. Then manager. Then regional manager. Then they moved to another retail management job. They are now making six-figure salaries. A dead end job is only a dead end job for the people who want to make it a dead end job. Do your job, show up for work, get paid, try to get promoted, try to get ahead. Come up with your own idea, start your own business.

    Sitting around complaining about how unfair the system is guarantees that the dead-end job will remain a dead-end job. This is not what I am saying you are doing, just to be clear, but this is simply the reality of this marketplace or any other.

  106. 1. Can tithing properly be considered charity? I know that it currently is but is it really? It does not go to help the poor, does it? Isn’t it primarily used for maintaining church property? (Fast offerings are used to provide assistance to the poor — is Tithing?) So in the sense that people are voluntarily giving it to a religious organization, it is called a charitable contribution. But can it properly be considered in the calculus as given in the original post of voluntary contributions that are meant to assist the poor? We Mormons who pay our full tithing can boast really high charitable contributions, but are we really actually helping the poor as directed by scripture by virtue of paying tithing? Would we not have to contribute large donations to actual charities that are in the business of providing real-time and immediate (and consistent, reliable) assistance to the poor to be able to fulfil the scriptural injunctions to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, provide for the sick and afflicted, etc.?

    2. Can tithing properly be considered a voluntary donation? Those who pay tithing in the United States and many other countries (but this will focus on the United States because this whole argument about state assistance is only relevant in the United States since in other developed countries that have mature social safety nets this is just considered part of the infrastructure and benefits all, rich and poor, especially considering the understanding that those who are currently rich might lose it all and need the assistance themselves, so it benefits all) receive tax deductions or credits relating to their donations.

    Accepting tax deductions or credits seems more or less the same as accepting direct assistance from the government. Doesn’t the acceptance of tax deductions call at least somewhat into question whether someone is paying tithing voluntarily? I sense there is an argument out there that by providing the tax deductions, the government is forcing people to give to charity.

    3. There is a lot of talk about force and coercion and that even taxes enacted in a constitutional republic such as ours are coercive. (This argument undermines democracy as a system and not just specific taxes that one happpens to disagree with — see number 4 below.) The alternative is set forth (in a false dichotomy) that true freedom only exists in the absence of taxation that has legitimately been enacted by democratically elected representatives of the people in our constitutional republic. (By guaranteeing us a republican form of government, our Constitution also guarantees us that we will always live in a democracy.) In this free state, people have to work to provide for themselves. (If I am reading the original post correctly, poor people are to blame for their poverty and if they only worked hard enough they would be rich.) So in this free state (absence of any taxation aimed at maintaining the social infrastructure), people are “forced” to work. So coercion and force are equally at work in the alternative that is being advocated in this post?

    4. All actions of a democratically elected government in either a constitutional republic or a parliamentary democracy are essentially taxation. Any act of a legislature imposes an obligation on the constituency, and this is essentially taxation whether it involves one’s income or not.

  107. Geoff–I’m glad comments haven’t been closed yet.

    You have a very optimistic view of the market, and one that certainly describes the experience of a lot of people today. Historically, though, that’s not how things have worked, and I would say there are still people who don’t experience the market the way you describe. All you have to do is look at how people were treated around the turn of the last century to find situations where business practices were clearly set up to disadvantage workers and where escape from those situations was practically impossible. Think about tenement farming, or manual labor for mines, and the way a lot of businesses set up payment and services in such a way that laborers were guaranteed to be indebted for life.

    In contrast, I have worked at non-union companies that treat their employees fairly because their employees are valuable commodities.

    That’s great, and I’d agree that ideally companies would treat their employees fairly because they see them as valuable. There are a couple of issues within that, though–first off, what is considered fair. I would argue that fairness requires that all employees who are contributing in a manner a company finds valuable enough to employ them to do deserve to be compensated at a level sufficient to live on. Otherwise, the company should admit they don’t really need the job done and should quit providing or requiring the service and concentrate the remaining funds on the employees they do deem valuable enough to pay. Or, they should reevaluate their pay structure and see if how they’re paying people really reflects how much value they bring to the company.

  108. Geoff, as to your conversation with kristine here, you are implying that a return to the days of the robber barons would do us some good. I tend to think that the horrible experience that our country went through in that period makes for the primary case study for why properly regulated free market economies are the right approach. More than anything else, that period in American history shows us that the invisible hand is not a trustworthy principle, grounded as it is in human selfishness. Mormon scripture comes out as clearly against human selfishness as anything in the creedal Christians’ restricted canon:

    For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:7)

    I happen to believe that the combination of the Anglo-American common law with a properly regulated free market working together produce a deep and abiding freedom that enriches people’s lives. However, I think we should be wary of putting too much trust or faith in a system (the free market/invisible hand) that functions on precisely the principle that makes mankind an enemy of God: selfishness or the “natural man”.

  109. John F, regarding your comments here, I am truly at a loss. I say this as sincerely as I can: I cannot think of any rational reason for you to make these comments. Now, before you misunderstand what I am saying, I want you to go read comment #105. What I was trying to say there, and I said it very poorly, is: “what are you guys getting out of this conversation?”

    Follow my reasoning here. Your comments number #119 and #121 are basically the same arguments you have made with me in at least two other posts and in a private e-mail conversation. You write well. I am imagining it took you 20 to 30 minutes to write those comments. This is time you could have spent playing with your kids or billing to clients or talking to your wife. Why would you possibly write these comments again, reiterating arguments you have made in the past? I can only think of the following reasons:

    1)You somehow think the same arguments will convince me when they have not in the past.
    2)You need to put “on the record” the fact that you oppose my arguments.
    3)You are trying to convince some unknown reader who may stumble onto this post.
    4)You are showing support to your fellow bloggers.

    I am really being sincere: all of these reasons are pretty bad reasons to spend 20-30 minutes writing the comment (repeating arguments from the past) if you think it through rationally. Because those 20-30 minutes will become hours and we go over and over again the same terrain we have touched on several times before. Do you really want to spend hours and hours have the same conversation over and over again? It sounds like literal hell to me. So, let’s look at the logical responses to the reasons I have come up with.

    1)You know this will not happen.
    2)This is a fine reason, but there are perhaps a dozen people who will read down this far on this post, and most of them will already be convinced one way or another.
    3)Same as 2).
    4)This is also a fine reason, but is it really worth hours of your time (we all have a limited amount of time on Earth) to do this?

    Help me out. Am I missing something? Is there another reason that I have missed that you would want to spend hours and hours having the same conversation over and over again?

  110. Kristine N, in contrast to John F, this conversation between you and me is actually a new conversation where there is a chance of some mutual understanding. I feel I have experience that may be of some value (you can disagree, that’s OK).

    I have been a person meeting a payroll hiring and firing people and I have been a peon. I can tell you how most managers make their decisions. If a company is growing, and you are in an area that is important to the company, you have to look carefully at what your budget is and you spend time fighting for a larger budget. This is because most really vital employees know they are vital and will want raises or else they will leave. You will need a larger budget to hire new people and to keep the really vital employees. As a hiring manager, you are extremely aware of the fact that it takes six months to a year to train a new employee to do the job of the person who just left. So most really vital employees have a lot of leverage.

    People who are not as vital don’t have as much leverage. Most managers will still try to fight for a small raise for most people, even if they aren’t vital.

    If a company is stagnant or in trouble, most managers will still fight to the death to keep their employees. Bureaucracies do not like to get smaller unless they absolutely have to. In this type of market (stagnant or declining), sometimes people panic and lose sight of who the really valuable employees are. So, yeah, that is the kind of environment where even really valuable people can get canned. You better have contacts and have an exit strategy.

    What is a living wage? Well, as you can imagine, it varies from location to location. 90 percent of employees feel they are not paid enough and can’t get by on what they are paid. You and I both know that a lot of people spend a lot of money on stupid stuff. The vast majority of people with jobs who feel they are underpaid just spent $2000 on a cruise or on a new ATV that they drive three times a year. Are some people truly underpaid? Sure. As I say, academics and journalists, certainly. I was a journalist and left the field because I was making just over minimum wage and the people were extremely negative and cynical.

    I hope that helps.

  111. Geoff,
    It may be that some folks comment on your post becuase they don’t consider you the primary audience for their message. It’s true that often we just wind up saying that you are wrong (really, really wrong), but since you keep being wrong, we’ll just keep pointing it out ;)

  112. Sometimes I might want to. Other times I might not. The implication seemed to be that people who differ with you on views of welfare etc. must not think the “poor” have any “responsibilities,” but I’ve never seen anyone actually make such an argument before so the whole thread as presented by the thread title seemed like a discussion with no one’s position at all.

    Thus, in this instance I quit reading after the first few paragraphs to throw a soft e-elbow instead. :D

  113. Got it. Well, it seems the primary reason to leave comments open at this point is for more people to put it on the record that they think I am really, really wrong. Note to the world: right-thinking people disagree with me. OK, we have that on the record. Have a nice day people. Let’s all spend some time with our families (it’s Monday night after all).

    Note to John F: I really am curious about why you keep on leaving the same comment over and over again. Is it as John C, says, just to leave it “for the record.” That’s cool, you can spend your time however you want to, but it really doesn’t seem to make much sense to me. As I say, there are probably a dozen people reading down this far. Our readership is not that big. E-mail or Facebook message me if there is another reason I have not thought of. Out for now.

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