Guest post: consecration and free agency — an honest inquiry

This is a guest post by Doug Daley, who describes himself as a  “happily married father of three beautiful daughters. I live in scenic Vermont where I serve in local and stake callings and work as an electrical engineer.”

 By Doug Daley

In a recent discussion posted by Geoff B, it was noted that many smart people have very different views of politics. My limited time here on Millennial Star has also demonstrated to me that many Mormons have vastly different views on politics.

It seems that when it comes to social issues we can all agree that helping people is a good and Christ-like thing. Unfortunately, it tends to get very contentious when methods of carrying out this goal are discussed. I have spent some time thinking about what if any impact the gospel principles should have on my political thoughts. In the course of thinking through this issue I have come up with a question that I can not reconcile but that I suspect many contributors to M* can. As such, Im turning to one and all for help, so please educate me, but be polite. 

We all know that helping the poor and needy is a Christ-like attribute and we are commanded to become like Christ. Similarly we all know that the plan of salvation is based on the principle of free agency. Finally, we all know that the law of consecration is the higher law, though not instituted at this time.

So, when I first learned about the law of consecration it seemed a bit like communism to me, it is certainly communalism. As I learned more about how and when it was implemented my view of it expanded. Im certainly no expert on the subject, but I have learned that people were called to consecrate their belongings, in the same way that you are called to teach in primary. This certainly implies that a certain level of spirituality was required for people to commit to this law. This also means that the person is left with a choice to accept the calling or decline, the same as any other church calling. I found this very interesting and key to my understanding of consecration.

 This provided the ideal for me. In an ideal world we would all give of our time, assets, and talents to help improve the condition of our fellow man. I then decided I should look at politics through this lens. I found myself asking if I should be more supportive of social programs to help the poor and needy which are administered by the government.In the end I came down to one irreconcilable problem for me. Government social programs are paid for by taxes. Taxes are certainly in no way voluntary, in fact the IRS takes a very hard line on that issue. There is no way on an individual level to opt out, like you could with consecration.

It’s true that I exercise my free agency through electing my local representative (House or Senate); but that does not seem to justify the results. I vote to sustain my church leaders as well, yet we are told we must seek testimony on all guidance that comes from them. Perhaps I misunderstand church doctrine on this point, but I believe we are required to do this both to ensure our obedience to correct principles and to safeguard against being lead astray by incorrect principles. In the end we are responsible for our own actions and choices, not others. When it comes to good intentions and honesty I’ll take my church leadership over political leadership any day. It is hard to feel you exercised your agency in an honest way when you look at the corruption and scandal in Washington.

So, here’s the crux of my conundrum. How do we justify removing free agency from people (tax payers) to provide social programs for other people?

This question is not meant to be rude or offensive. I am truly trying to understand other people’s perspectives. It is often difficult to step outside of our own preconceived notions and view the world through another’s eyes. So I’m asking anyone and everyone to comment. I hope I will be able to understand a different perspective as a result of this. I also hope to better understand the people hold this perspective.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  THIS SUBJECT HAS GENERATED A LOT OF CONTROVERSY ON M* AND ELSEWHERE IN THE PAST.  IF YOUR COMMENT IS NOT RESPECTFUL OF DOUG OR OTHER COMMENTERS, IT WILL BE DELETED IMMEDIATELY.  PEOPLE HAVE A WIDE DIVERGENCE OF OPINION ON THIS ISSUE, AND IT GOES TO THE HEART OF HOW MANY LATTER-DAY SAINTS APPROACH GOVERNMENT AND CURRENT POLITICS.  IF YOU CANNOT ABIDE BY THESE RULES, PLEASE GO READ SOMETHING ELSE.  NOBODY IS FORCING YOU TO READ THIS BLOG.  THANKS FOR UNDERSTANDING.

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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.

68 thoughts on “Guest post: consecration and free agency — an honest inquiry

  1. Doug, let me start off by saying that your approach on this issue, while honest philosophically, is not consistent in terms of everyday realistic practice. The problem with seeing all taxation as theft is that if you really believe this, then you need to practice what you preach. What I mean by this is the first time you pay any income taxes, any property taxes, any license registration fees for your car, any sales taxes, you are agreeing to allow somebody to rob you. So, if you follow that philosophy through, you could never agree to pay any taxation at all because somebody is robbing you. So, instead of seeing taxation as theft, you need to see it as the price you pay to live in a society. Taxation means you get roads, police protection and an armed forces that protects you from bad guys. These are all good things, and as a society 99 percent of people agree that it is a good thing to allow the government to provide basic services such as these. More in the next comment.

  2. Having said that, I would like to propose that Mormons (IMHO) divide into three broad groups as to how they look at government and taxation.

    Group 1 — probably the largest group among Mormons. Conservative Republicans/libertarians/tea party people. These people agree that some level of taxation and government is necessary, but they say our current level is much too large and that the government needs to stop becoming the solution for every problem that is proposed. In general, these people believe that while we should personally give our time to the poor and the needy, the government does a pretty bad job of helping the indigent. These people generally oppose govt-run welfare because it fosters dependency, which is the exact opposite of the self-sufficiency that prophets preach. In addition, these people tend to think that government solutions “crowd out” private charity, and in fact make it less likely that people will personally get involved in charity work. These people generally recognize that Zion will involve a communalistic society where goods are shared in common as you describe above, but they believe that free-market capitalism is the most humane and effective system until that day arrives.

    Group 2 — liberal Republicans, moderate to liberal Dems. Harry Reid probably falls in this group. These people often cite the scriptures’ many, many, many warnings that we must help the poor to justify governmental action to comfort the afflicted. It is a generalization, but I tend to think that when Group 2 people see a homeless person, they say the government should help them somehow, whereas group 1 people tend to rely on private charity. People in this group think it is a scandal that we are the only Western nation without a nationwide govt-run health care solution, whereas Group 1 people rely primarily on the free market to resolve health care issues. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of the people in the Bloggernacle fall into this group.

    Group 3 — this group believes capitalism is evil, hurts the poor and the less fortunate, and that we should move to a socialist/communalist society as quickly as possible. Like group 2 people, they rely on the many scriptures that entreat us to help the needy, but they also are outraged by the inequality inherent in capitalist societies. They will often point to the very clear “pride cycle” in the Book of Mormon, which shows that riches lead to pride and apostasy. There are some very, very important Mormon intellectuals who fall into this group, from Bushman to Nibley to many, many commenters in the Bloggernacle.

    I have way, way over-generalized, but I wanted to try to get the discussion started the best way I knew how.

  3. “Finally, we all know that the law of consecration is the higher law, though not instituted at this time.”

    This is a big misconception among LDS. The law of consecration was NOT the United Order. The United Order was an economic means of carrying out the law of consecration. Those that have been through the temple know that we convenant to live this law now, not at any later time – it was never removed from the earth.

    Within this law, we are required to give of all our time, talents, etc. to the building up of the Kingdom of God on earth, and the establishment of Zion. The law of consecration, however, does not dictate an economic means to bring this about. This is left up to us and our own judgment using our God-given moral agency.

    Taxes are nothing new, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.” (Luke 20:25) I tend to agree with Geoff; we allow ourselves to be taxed as a price to live in a free society. Although there are several government programs that I adamantly disagree with, I nonetheless “choose” to pay taxes, whereas you always have the option to not pay.

  4. Jeremy, good point on the law of consecration — it’s still in effect. People who have gone through the temple will be judged based at least in part on how well they do in building up Zion on the Earth.

  5. I am definitely a group one LDS person. WHen Mike was alive, we were at such a high tax bracket that we paid 50% of his salary toward Social Security and taxes. He always resented SS and believed that we would see none of it in the future. I was pleasantly surprised at how efficient and well run the program has been (so far) as a new recipient.

  6. How do we justify removing free agency from people (tax payers) to provide social programs for other people?

    A couple of things come to mind. Firstly, it is next to impossible to separate “tax payers” from “other people” since over the course of most people’s lives, they will spend time in both categories, sometimes moving in and out multiple times in the course of growing up, receiving an education, working, getting sick, winning the lottery, starting a business, losing everything in a natural disaster, becoming disabled, growing old and so on. Since nearly all of us are going to be both at some point in our lives, it seems unnecessarily divisive to act as if one has lifetime membership in either group.

    Secondly, as a society, we are all in this together. We would probably all agree that it is not fair for some to consume more than their fair share of available resources or bear less than their fair share of its costs. Given the option, most of us would do both and free ride. For some kinds of resources, private goods, the market protects against over-consumption and sees to it that someone pays for the costs of production. But not all goods are excludable, and some goods benefit everyone (though not necessarily equally) whether or not they are paying for them. For these trickier categories of goods, most societies have determined that government (coercion) is the answer to the free rider problem.

    I’d just as soon keep every cent that I earn for myself, but even I recognize that such selfishness is not sustainable, it only works if enough other people are bearing the costs of an organized society and not over-consuming any of its resources. Without a police force or national defense, I’d have to pay for private protection and even then probably not be able to move about freely or easily own property. Without an education system, I’d have to educate my workers myself. Without regulation of natural resources, we’d have nothing left to eat (see the Easter Islands). And so on.

    Obviously, the devil is in the details, but the overall coercive, top-down structure is probably about the only way it is going to work in a large, modern society.

  7. Doug D, as I was running this morning, I got an idea of how you may want to approach this issue. First of all, recognize that SOME taxes are necessary if you want to be in a society. Then, write down some of the things that government provides (or should provide) that you personally believe in (and don’t believe in). For example, roads, police, the military, perhaps Social Security, unemployment insurance, national parks and local parks, etc. And then you need to think to yourself: should government provide more health care or try to provide more environmental controls? And as an added bonus, think about whether the private sector could do some of these things more efficiently. As the president himself pointed out, Fedex is more efficient than the US Postal Service. Maybe we need to abolish the postal service and replace it with private companies. Maybe many of the public roads could be replaced with private roads, etc. Could be an interesting intellectual exercise.

  8. @Geoff B.
    I don’t fall neatly into any of your three groups, though I would likely have to choose number 1 if forced. The aspect that seems to have not been addressed is the idea that a government should only derive its authority (to tax or do anything) by the consent of the governed. Taxation should only be legitimate (and not theft) if those being taxed have an opportunity to participate in the process in some reasonable way. Our progenitors consented to the government which preceded the one we now have, and we do have input, even if that input is apathy and/or a feeling of helplessness.

    If you get down to brass tacks, the problem I have with communism is that it has nothing to do with the consent of the governed. I have read enough of the history of the USSR and Red China to be assured that those systems were imposed by a minority upon the populations of those countries through the systematic use of terror, and failing that the end of a bayonet. Communism’s proponents in this country would have us believe that some utopia was either achieved or attempted through the willful consent of the masses. This is a lie, and is contradicted by all the best evidence.

    The Kingdom of God is much different. There is no dictatorship there. You have the option to live in accordance with certain principals and precepts, or you have the option to get out. No one will, or ever has been, forced to accept and abide by these things. Will there be some sort of communal economy? Yes. Will anyone take anything from me? No. Will I give it willingly? Of course. Therein lies the difference.

  9. I had never thought about taxes taking away agency, I’m glad you brought it up. I personally think that income tax is unconstitutional anyway (I don’t care about the 16 amendment).
    There is a certain class of people out there that need help from the gov., or else they would just get looked over. The gov. should be able to do homeless shelters, disaster relief, and education programs TO GET PEOPLE BACK ON THIER FEET, not live off The Dole, but their needs to be a little more agency out there. I am a human being and should be given the option of not paying SS and just making my own retirement plan. I don’t need the feds doing it for me. Feel free to take some of my money for the handicapped, widows, and fatherless though.

  10. Geoff: I’m not sure I fit into any of the three groups either.

    Btw, Doug, I thought your post was thoughtful and honest. I think it is important to seek for understanding before seeking to be understood.

  11. It’s odd to conflate free agency with government policy, as though people who lived in the USSR lacked free agency. Does anyone suppose the Roman government was “representative” at the time of Christ? Would we say Christ and his disciples lacked free agency in any way?

    Another odd aspect of Geoff’s group 1 (and I suspect it’s not really the majority LDS position when global LDS populations are included) is that the rich benefit far more from the system than the poor. Few if any of the “rich” would have achieved their status without the “welfare” of a financial and judicial system that facilitates their achievements. It’s not difficult to make the case that the wealthy are far more dependent on government than are the poor. I’d be interested in any major economic sector that does not depend on government. Some might argue that the rich “pay” for all the government they receive, but since they “earned” their wealth by relying on government in the first place, even that is a difficult argument to make.

    It seems to me that Alma 1 explains this pretty well; i.e., that those who desire to live the law of consecration simply live it, regardless of the government system they live under. Even if we live in a country that already provides universal health care, resolves disputes without abusive (and lucrative) litigation, and basically has no poor among us (such as New Zealand), we still have opportunities to help the less fortunate within the Gospel context. The same goes if we live in a highly unequal society such as the U.S.

  12. Jonathan N, you make many points I don’t agree with, but I’d like to point out that I have spent a lot of time with Church members in Latin America, and, in general, they are group 1 people. So I maintain that it is the majority position in the Church. I would agree with you it probably is not the majority position in Europe, however.

  13. I suppose it’s difficult to accurately extrapolate from personal experience, but it was partly my association with members from Latin America that led me to think they weren’t group 1 people! :)

    I’m curious what you disagree with. Do you think we can’t exercise free agency or live the law of consecration unless we’re in an American-style country? And which time period of American history do you consider most conducive to free agency? Pre- or post-FDR? Pre- or post-LBJ? Do you think the level of income inequality (which approached–if not exceeded–1920s levels under George W.) somehow correlates with the scope of one’s free agency?

    Do you think people in group 1 really believe government programs “crowd out” private charity? That’s such as simple position to refute that the only way it could persist is through willful ignorance. Do they really believe these government programs were created to address a non-existent problem?

    Many attitudes toward government “welfare” for the poor (distinguished from corporate welfare and welfare for the rich) are archaic; i.e., they don’t take into account the changes Clinton made in federal programs. The Church itself now encourages members to use government benefits now on the premise that we’ve paid for them through taxes. To the extent that a program gives people something “for nothing,” few among any of groups 1-3 support it, however. I think the Church welfare program is about as good as it gets, and it has been admired by politicians from all parties, both domestically and internationally. It’s wonderful that unemployed people are getting work through Church projects, yet much of the work is “make-work” in nature; i.e., they intentionally don’t automate processes just to give people things to do. IOW, it’s not economically efficient–yet this is precisely the complaint group 1 people have about government programs.

  14. Jonathan N, my categories are far from perfect. I’m open to changing them or scrapping them if they don’t work. I’ve been traveling, living in and working in Latin America for 23 years. I would say that most Latins are extremely distrustful of government because of a long history of abusive governments in most Latin countries. They are also unusually entrepeneurial. I’ll give you one example: in Brazil, about half the population works in the informal (black market) economy. Two main reasons for this: 1)huge regulations and taxes are very onerous for “legal” businesses and 2)people hate being told what to do and just want govt to leave them alone so they can run their small businesses selling stuff or making stuff. So when you actually talk to them about their attitudes towards government, they generally fit in the group 1 category. This is certainly reflective of Church members, who usually come from all kinds of class levels but more often than not are struggling middle class people. I’ll answer your other questions when I have more time. They are good questions, but I just don’t have time in between Church meetings right now to take them on. Thanks for some good points and good questions.

  15. Sorry I haven’t posted sooner. It was a busy weekend. All the kids and mom are sleeping so I have time now.

    @Geoff #1 – I have very little to no issue with federal taxes that are used to pay for constitutionally mandated functions of the federal government. So, the portions of my income taxes that go to defense, roads, courts, interstate commerce regulation, etc; I have no issue with. Perhaps I should have been clearer in my post regarding this. Not all taxes are theft, but ones that got for unconstitutional (or not constitutionally mandated) things in my opinion are.

    @ Jeremy – you are correct that in the temple we consecrate our time, talents, and resources to building up the kingdom of God. Perhaps I was a little loose in my use of the term, but when I hear other LDS members discuss consecration they generally mean a communal society where you donate all you have the church and receive what you need back. I’m still getting used to the folks on M* and the different meanings certain words seem to have. I’ll try to be clearer in my usage in the future. You do pose an interesting question about whether or not a communal system is required to live the law of consecration to it’s fullest. Perhaps this generally gets conflated with the building of Zion (in the 1800s Missouri sense).

    @Jonathan N – yes, I do believe that the government system you live in certainly effects your ability to use your agency. Does it mean that you don’t have free agency anymore? No. Does it mean that your agency is limited? Yes. I’ll take a quick historic example everyone loves to beat on. In the 1930s and 1940s in German it was against the law to help or hide a Jewish person. While you still had your agency to choose to help, I submit your ability to exercise that agency was hindered by your need to do it secretly. After all, if you’re imprisoned yourself you won’t be able to help at all.

    I appreciate all of the comments. It has made me think more about the issue though, and perhaps I have not explained my question as clearly as I should have, because I didn’t understand it as well as I should have myself. Perhaps it comes down to how one views government. I believe the federal government should be bound by the tenth amendment:

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    I realize this cuts many long standing government agencies, but I would like to point out that it merely pushes that responsibility back on the states or the people. I see taxes that go to fund unconstitutional federal programs as robbery. I do not have the option to pay my taxes for constitutional programs and withhold my taxes from unconstitutional programs. I either pay the whole bill, or I go to jail. As such, perhaps I should have phrased the question in these terms:

    How do we justify using taxes taken from the citizens to pay for federal programs not mandated by the constitutional regardless of how beneficial they are to the society as a whole?

    I have often asked the question in debates about whether a program is constitutional or not. This often gets bypassed by the question of whether it is a moral imperative or important program. It is almost like there is an implicit assumption that the federal government is the only thing that can handle these issues. (I can’t speak for the M* audience on this one.)

    So, a second follow-up question, which may answer my previous ones.

    If a federal law or a program addresses an issue outside the powers granted to the federal government in the Constitution, but is morally good should it be implemented by the federal government? Or should it be left to the states to handle independently?

    I suppose if constitutionality takes a back seat to morally good programs then perhaps I could see the reason for backing all these federal programs. Though the fraud and waste that goes with large programs I also find offensive, some of this has been helped by the Clinton administration and republican congress in the past.

  16. Interesting three groupings and on a macro level they are not a bad description, imo. What I am left to wonder is what in the world they have to do with the gospel or our ability to live the gospel? Politically, I’m a group 1 person, but I don’t think God cares one wit what the tax rate is or how big or small the government is. If he can get a temple built in Communist East Germany, he can work around allegedly immoral tax rates or large government in the US. While I worry about the extra taxes that will probably be piled on me and my family by the liberal Ds, I fail to see how the looming tax increases will make my ability to worship as a Mormon any more difficult. Is there a net worth calculation that goes into my ability to honor my covenants or serve my fellow man? That is, if I fall below some level of net worth, or worse, below the poverty line because of silly Democrat policies, am I excused from fully participating in the Church or honoring my covenants? Or, an even sillier question, are the liberal Ds who raise my taxes somehow accountable to God for raising taxes, especially any LDS legislator that votes to raise taxes.(It must be noted the recklessness of the Repubs, while they were in power, almost guaranteed higher future taxes anyway; the Dems are only seizing the opportunity to increase the future tax burden. After all, birds have to fly, fish gotta swim and Dems gotta raise taxes.) I come back to where’s the gospel angle to all of this talk of taxes and the proper role and size of government? The Church is established and works in socialist, communist and free countries.

    What makes us in the United States so special we feel we can invoke God’s name when our government begins to creep or even run to the left?

    (Not to go off on a threadjack, but I bet there are lot of group 1 married Mormons who are/were welfare cheats as grad students.)

    If the law consecration means the Church, or rather my fellow church brethren and sisters, would pick up the tuition tab for my four kids at whatever college they get into, where do I sign up? Now that kind of fringe benefit would open up a lot of middle class doors to the gospel!

  17. @rbc – the purpose of the thread was for a sorta group 1 person to try to understand group 2 people who believe in the gospel due to my lack of ability to see their viewpoint. This has nothing to do with whether they live worthy of the gospel, and has everything to do with my inability to see things from a perspective that different than my own. That said, I try to broaden my horizons whenever possible, and hence the thread.

  18. (Since this is in moderation at the moment, I decided to edit the spelling):

    I appreciate the question Doug. As a group 3 person, though Geoff’s description is quite loaded, I am probably the person to address your question. However, this is not the place where I would feel comfortable doing so.

    For a somewhat indirect answer to your question check out this post I wrote about a year ago:

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2008/10/why-the-redistribution-of-wealth/

  19. Doug D, I would agree with Chris H that my description of the group 3 position is probably not perfect. I highly encourage you to go to Chris H’s thread and then read through all the comments. Just about every position — from libertarian to socialist — is represented there, so it may help you with this exercise.

  20. Chris H. – you were one of the people I was truly hoping would respond. Thank you for referring me to your post. It was an interesting read, though I would like an opportunity to discuss some of the assertions and assumptions made in the post. It does broaden my view a bit. I did find it enlightening that you dismissed those who consider redistribution of wealth as being unconstitutional as not in favor of a republic but in favor of an oligarchy. This certain adds evidence to the my assertion that it is perhaps my view of the constitution that differs so markedly from the people I’m trying to understand.

    Is there a place or format you would feel comfortable discussing this?

  21. Jonathan N:

    “Do you think people in group 1 really believe government programs “crowd out” private charity? That’s such as simple position to refute that the only way it could persist is through willful ignorance. Do they really believe these government programs were created to address a non-existent problem?”

    What I meant by this is that people generally tend to be less charitable if they think they “gave at the office,” meaning they paid higher taxes so they don’t need to go down and help the poor. This is the primary reason, I believe, for the well-documented fact that politically conservative people generally are more charitable personally than politically liberal people. I don’t think liberals are bad people — I think they feel they have already given through their support for higher taxes, and therefore don’t need to go to the homeless shelter. So, in my opinion, higher taxes discourage personal charity. Here are some citations you may find interesting, including a much-reader column by liberal NY Times commentator Nicholas Kristof:

    http://awhite72.newsvine.com/_news/2009/06/07/2905022-conservatives-care-more-for-american-needy-than-liberals?groupId=3182

  22. @Geoff B.

    > As the president himself pointed out, Fedex is more efficient than the US Postal Service.

    I’d just like to correct this factual error. The President used FedEx as a flawed example of the public and private sector working in healthy competition. FedEx is efficient and reliable in the niche market of 1 to 3 day deliveries. The Post office is efficient in sending a piece of paper across the country for less than 50 cents through its massive economies of scale. You couldn’t mail anything through FedEx for less than $7.00, and the Post Office’s Priority mail service is famously unreliable. Both are efficient at certain tasks and inefficient at others.

    If you’re going to bring efficiency, and not just pure morals into the equation, you have to consider economies of scale. We have certain aspects of our public yet privately-owned infrastructure, such as our rail and cellular networks, that are fragmented and inefficient. Yet others, such as ISPs, benefit from redundancy and competition. If we’re looking at the above issues through a purely economic lens, pragmatacism rules. Let capitalism reign and foster competition through regulation and anti-trust measures for some industries, and let government manage the ones that have continually failed us.

    I personally feel that as long as there is not a leader pronouncing otherwise, this is the correct approach. The question then becomes (and I am now rephrasing your original question), not which organization should handle certain tasks, but which is more efficient at handling the task of redistributing wealth?

    It’s pretty clear to me that pure capitalism is not very efficient at redistributing wealth and taking care of the poor and homeless, otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing any on our streets. On the flip side of the coin, a measure of efficiency will always be lost when redistributing through an organization where people are paid, be it private or public. Thus not all donated funds will be redistributed. This begs the question: Is a little bit of waste acceptable if it keeps people off the streets? If so, can we regulate and monitor this waste and try to keep it to a minimum?

    I think I remember that somewhere around 35% of Medicare costs go to administration. The cost isn’t confined to the administrators of the program. It’s also all the discharge planners, case managers, admissions coordinators, and other administrative staff that review, accept, and deny each case. I like to imagine how efficient my nursing home would be if I knew I could just accept every patient without reviewing their case. I would then be out of a job.

  23. Sorry about all the comments. This is a thought-provoking thread and the right time to be discussing these issues.

    Doug D: You’re debating multiple variables at a time. Group 1 vs Group 2, constitutional vs unconstitutional. I understand the constitutionality of the issue is important to you, but for the sake of argument, you need to eliminate a variable and make an assumption about a hypothetical reality: Either assume welfare has been made constitutional so that you can focus just on the ethics of wealth redistribution, or accept the reality that Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constitution, which reads:

    “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”

    essentially legalizes tax & spend welfare.

    It’s one matter to argue that welfare is unconstitutional (dubiously, in my opinion). But to answer your question honestly, you need to base it on moral/ethical/spiritual/social values only and not hang it on a technicality.

  24. Ryan,

    Here is what the president said:

    http://www.breitbart.tv/obama-its-the-post-office-thats-always-having-problems/

    Obama’s point was that private and public companies can compete side by side, but his point also was that Fedex is healthy while the USPS is not (“it’s the postal service that’s always having problems.”)

    The USPS does not deliver letters because of economies of scale. It delivers letter because it has a monopoly, enforced by government. Fedex is not ALLOWED to deliver your letter the same way the post office does. And yet we continue to subsidize the USPS unnecessarily.

    The obvious solution would be to privatize the postal service, ie to let private companies take over its operations. It would then become more efficient, lower costs and provide better service (anybody catch that the USPS wants to end Saturday deliveries to cut costs?).

    http://www.ntu.org/main/press_issuebriefs.php?PressID=198&org_name=NTU

  25. Geoff, the Post Office’s mandate is to be budget-neutral. Don’t lose money or turn a profit. For most of their history, they have done just this. In recent history, they only began losing money when the cost of paper skyrocketed and catalog mailers couldn’t afford to mail the massive quantities they were able to up until around 2006. With the same high-volume infrastructure in place but smaller demand, they have been losing money and trying to downsize. For example, my local SCF here in Oxnard receives about 1,000 less mailings a day compared to a year ago (a typical bulk mailing will contain anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 pieces). With such reduced demand, any private corporation would be in the same situation.

    However, the Post Office’s low price IS derived through its economies of scale, where the marginal cost to deliver one additional piece of mail is almost infinitesimally small. I’d love for FedEx to be able to deliver to my mailbox, but even if they legally could, there’s still no way they could profitably do it at $0.42.

    Pragmatism dictates that the Post Office not be immediately disbanded as you suggest, but that its competitors have an equal opportunity to deliver bills to the mailbox and compete on equal grounds. As it stands now, by the very definition of efficiency, the USPS wins. It can deliver at a lower cost, period. If at some point a stamp costs around $7.00, or FedEx can deliver a letter for $0.50, then is the time to question its existence. Even then, I would want several competitors in the market before we close its doors, not a duopoly of FedEx and UPS that could easily price-fix and hold the market hostage. Sure, the market would eventually resolve itself, but in the meantime we’d have to wait a year for that third competitor to come in, and for a year, we’d pay through the nose. There is talk of not delivering mail one day a week. Still though, the Post Office could raise prices to remain solvent, keep delivering 6 days a week, and still cost less than FedEx or UPS. Why shoot ourselves in the foot? Again, pragmatism.

    Ideologies are the crux of the problem. If both liberals and conservatives could remove their predefined notions about who does what more efficiently, and what a government should and shouldn’t do, and just look at the facts of where we are now, what the costs are, and what are the relative costs to do what we want to do, we could talk reasonably about whether it makes more economic sense to have private institutions handle welfare in a localized and perhaps more personal and meaningful manner, or a broad, evenly-regulated redistribution of wealth. What about a combination of both? This is the paradigm shift that everyone in Group 1, 2, and 3 needs to make. Unless a prophet is decreeing that something be handled a particular way, why even bother with political ideologies when they only serve as economic blinders?

    Again, pragmatism.

  26. @Ryan – I’m not trying to debate anything here. I’m attempting to understand a point of view wholly different from my own. My posts have been an attempt to walk across the proverbial aisle to see things from the point of view of someone who is in favor of the federal government redistributing wealth.

    I think it would be disingenuous of me to attempt to debate this issue. I see things my way, but I recognize that others don’t. I’m not attempting to change other people’s minds here, I’m trying understand them. In another time and another thread I would certainly debate strongly for my perspective (which includes that the US Constitution does not provide for wealth re-distribution as a federal power).

  27. Ryan, obviously there would have to be a transition period to privatize the post office. This has been done in govt-run industries around the world. Twenty years ago almost all of the phone companies (which had monopolies) were run by and owned by governments. In Brazil, it took you three YEARS to get a phone line installed, and it often didn’t even happen then unless you paid a bribe to a local official. Now, you can get a phone line installed in three days or you can buy a mobile phone and get running in 10 minutes. The privatization took place over several years. Brazilians marvel at the improvement — prices are down and service is way, way up.

    We need to think out of the box. If the USPS were privatized, it would cost more to delivery to rural areas (like where I live). Maybe a letter would cost 75 cents rather than 44 cents. But in big cities, it might only cost 25 cents for a letter to be sent. (It’s worth pointing out that I send probably one-fifth as many letters as I used to just three years ago because I pay all my bills on-line. So, the cost of a letter going up in some areas and down in others will be increasingly less important over time). But perhaps a box would only cost $3 to send, and an overnight letter might cost $4 instead of $8. Overall, I guarantee costs would go down and consumers would be happier.

    This is not ideology — this is pragmatism. Why do we settle for mediocre service at high costs when we could have excellent service at lower costs?

  28. @Chris – I posted in reply to your Kennedy post. Thanks for being willing to explore this with me.

  29. Okay Doug, fair enough, you’re not debating, you want another viewpoint.

    “So, here’s the crux of my conundrum. How do we justify removing free agency from people (tax payers) to provide social programs for other people?”

    Let’s remove the word “free” because as we all know, agency isn’t free. It had both a price, and every action has consequences attached.

    My first point would be that the gospel has never been all about complete, unhindered, everything-goes agency. If that were the case, Captain Moroni wouldn’t have executed the King-Men, and the prophet wouldn’t have asked us to vote in favor of Prop 8. So we already accept that commandments are put in place to “limit” agency on earth (We’re not really limiting agency, which I’ll explain shortly). The question then becomes, what limits are necessary? With the ancient Israelites, they needed a massive amount of commandments to keep them on the path. Conversely, how many laws do you think the city of Enoch had? The Lord imposed whatever he felt necessary to generate the maximum amount of righteousness. Given a certain set of individuals, there is an optimal amount of commandments that will encourage the best behavior — for some more, for some less — and I belive the Lord knows exactly what this point should be, and bases his current rule set on this perfect knowledge.

    I think the viewpoint you’re trying to understand is that since our world and country is becoming more and more wicked, this would necessitate more and more “push” to do what’s right. There is no removal of agency. If someone doesn’t want to pay taxes, they don’t have to pay taxes. They still have agency, but they must pay the consequences now (go to jail) instead of later (lower kingdom of glory). Isn’t that all free-for-all agency is, anyway? Delayed consequences? The Lord has just sped up the consequences to imposing commandments, and people have become more motivated.

    It’s clear that the standard in the Book of Mormon was set when there was “no poor among them.” Pragmatism dictates that if the current system is failing (private individuals donating to charities), then try something else. Since I still see homeless people on my way to work every morning, and the gospel justification that I just explained above exists to allow the creation of wealth redistribution system without truly hindering agency, I claim that it is our moral imperative to give it a shot.

  30. Geoff, I think I already addressed your points. My argument is that we let them compete fairly and evenly by allowing them access to mailboxes and the ability to deliver all types of mail, and let true competition decide who stands. As long as the USPS is budget-agnostic, what’s the harm in letting continue to operate, as long as the private companies can compete equally and fairly? I’m sure there will be all types of pricing strategies, but forcing a transition is unnecessary when the same goals can be accomplished through less compulsive and potentially disruptive means.

  31. Privatized or not, the future of physical mail delivery is a long list of price increases. I will be surprised if twenty years from now a first class letter doesn’t cost four times what it costs now, after adjusting for inflation. Christmas cards, checks, personal letters, contracts, that is about it.

  32. Ok, agreed. Let’s end the USPS’s monopoly on delivering first class mail and see what happens. My prediction: the death of the USPS, which is a very, very good thing.

    Your #31 raises some very interesting issues. Do you really think that the City of Enoch had a lot of laws? I believe the exact opposite — that it had virtually no laws, but that the people were so good that they didn’t NEED laws. If you think about the Pentateuch, Moses had to spell everything out. The people were wicked and needed the laws to know how to behave. But, as the Savior said, if you concentrate on loving God with all your heart, mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself, you don’t need any other laws. This is why I really look forward to the Millennium — because we will live as the people of Enoch and have virtually no laws because we automatically do the right thing all the time.

  33. I agree, the City of Enoch probably had no laws as they would have been unnecessary, which was my point. I wrote:

    “With the ancient Israelites, they needed a massive amount of commandments to keep them on the path. Conversely, how many laws do you think the city of Enoch had?”

    By “conversely,” I meant “On the other hand.”

    So the amount of commandments given to a people is roughly inversely related to their overall righteousness. And that is my point, is that just because there are more commandments, that doesn’t mean there is less agency, just more wicked people who aren’t, say, giving to the poor and needy.

  34. @Geoff B.

    Where did the Savior say you don’t need any laws other than the two most important? He actually said, on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt 22:40). Section 88 defines the various kingdoms by the laws that govern them. We’re preserved and perfected and sanctified by being governed by laws.

    In fact, the scriptures indicate that a lawless society is a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory. D&C 88:24.

    In light of this, I don’t know why we should aspire to have no laws. However, if you meant to say you look forward to a Zion society because everyone there is perfectly governed by laws (observes them), then I’d agree with you. Maybe that’s what you meant by saying people will automatically do the right thing all the time. Although that sounds like you’re advocating determinism…

    :)

    I also question don’t agree that there is always a right vs wrong choice. Certainly in the arts there are many choices that are not between right and wrong but instead reflect artistic judgment about how to express a concept or emotion. There are innumerable similar choices made in interpersonal relationships, how to spend one’s time, etc. So I don’t envision a Zion society in which choices are automatic in any sense of the word.

  35. @Geoff B.

    On the Post Office, the elimination of the Post Office, without an equivalent government mandate on the price of mail, would mean that someone living in rural Idaho or Nebraska would have to pay $50 to get a piece of mail picked up or delivered. Equal access to the mail system was considered such an essential element for a democratic republic that it was one of the enumerated powers granted to Congress in the Constitution, on a par with coining money, establishing a patent system, and declaring war and raising armies. None of these activities are “profitable” or even break even at the government level, but that wasn’t the point.

  36. @Geoff B.

    I agree with you that people probably do feel less of a need to contribute to charity when government programs are providing a safety net–but isn’t that the point? The government programs are reducing the need for charity. Surely, when we consider the total contributions to the poor through government and through private efforts, we’ve never had a time in our history when more people were contributing more of their income to the poor than we are today. When private contributions decline, as they have in the last year or so, government helps make up the difference.

    The article you cited relies on income tax data to determine charitable contributions. The IRS includes contributions to churches as well as contributions to pure charities such as the Red Cross. Contributions to religions don’t entirely, or even mostly, go to the poor. They are used for the salaries of ministers, constructing buildings, publishing literature, etc. One of the references cited in your article says this: The single biggest predictor of someone’s altruism, Willett says, is religion. It increasingly correlates with conservative political affiliations because, as Brooks’ book says, “the percentage of self-described Democrats who say they have ‘no religion’ has more than quadrupled since the early 1970s.” America is largely divided between religious givers and secular nongivers, and the former are disproportionately conservative. One demonstration that religion is a strong determinant of charitable behavior is that the least charitable cohort is a relatively small one — secular conservatives. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/03/conservatives_more_liberal_giv.html

    So I would argue that rather than crowd out private charity, government relief programs have reduced the need for private charity, while also greatly expanding the total effort (public and private) of helping the poor and disadvantaged.

  37. Jonathan N, regarding your #38, it’s interesting you would say that because that exactly the reason the people used to oppose privatizing telephone companies throughout the world. People would just cherry-pick and only provide service to the easiest and most lucrative areas (large cities). Well, that’s an easy one to solve: you privatize the post office and require rural service to continue as today to whoever wins the concession. That it exactly how it was done in telephone privatization, and believe you me, there are literally billions of customers worldwide who are very happy customers right now. Private companies would flock to win such a concession because if you do a mixture of big city delivery and rural and suburban delivery, overall you could deliver the mail at a much lower cost than the USPS.

  38. Jonathan N, regarding your #39, I will agree with you that religiosity is a prime indicator of personal charity. But I continue to maintain that much of the government activity that separates the giver from the receiver prevents people from the one-on-one nature of charity that is so important to improving people and following Jesus’ many injunctions to help the poor. Jesus did not give to the Romans or the Pharisees so they could distribute to the poor — he had personal one-on-one interaction, and that is the model we should build up.

    This does not mean by any stretch that I oppose all government welfare activities. I think Social Security and food stamps — to name two examples — are probably good things that should be handled by the federal government. But I maintain that a huge number of govt work currently handled by federal authorities should instead be handled by private charity.

  39. Okay, Ryan. I’m gonna have to put back on the debate hat.

    Agency isn’t free, we fought a war in heaven for it. The term “free agency” is generally used though.

    I’m not advocating zero laws. In fact, I believe I have stated several times I’m a big fan of the Constitution. I am in no way an anarchist. I’m fine with criminal codes that make murder, rape, and theft illegal.

    “It’s clear that the standard in the Book of Mormon was set when there was “no poor among them.” ”

    Huh? Run that by me again? Would you care to define poor? I suspect the definition of poor in Nephite times and the definition of poor today are significantly different.

  40. @Geoff B.

    The phone companies aren’t a good analogy because the original telephone infrastructure would never have been extended to rural areas but for the monopoly granted to AT&T. Once the infrastructure was in place, the marginal cost of providing service was insignificant and hence competition made sense. By contrast, the postal service has relatively little infrastructure. Postal delivery is almost all variable cost. It wouldn’t make sense to have multiple companies competing to deliver a letter to Aunt Ginny in remote Nebraska. And if instead you propose replacing a single government post office with a “private” company that has to deal with all the constraints currently imposed on the post office, how could it be any more efficient?
    Most of the billions of people in the world who are happy customers are using cell phones, not land lines. I can’t remember the last time I used a landline in China, India, or the Middle-East–everyone uses cell phones. Again, the marginal cost of adding another cell phone is insignificant, so competition makes sense.

  41. The “free” in free agency is free as in freedom, not free as in no cost. David O. McKay used the term “free agency” quite often, so you are in good company Doug. So to say “Let’s remove the word “free” because as we all know, agency isn’t free. It had both a price, and every action has consequences attached.” is the result of a poor understanding of the English language.

  42. Jonathan N, if that were true, then Fedex and UPS wouldn’t exist. That is exactly what lots of other entrepreneurs said when they looked at the USPS and said, “we can’t compete against them.” But in reality, somebody came along and created a business model (overnight delivery) that people didn’t even know they wanted until they had it.

    Look, I guarantee you that the USPS has enough waste and high salaries that a private company like Fedex could do it much cheaper and much better. AND it would continue to deliver mail to Aunt Ginny in remote Nebraska. There’s an easy way to find out: provide guidelines for a concession that insists on rural delivery (as well as the more lucrative urban delivery) and see if there are any takers. Would you support that?

  43. @Geoff B.

    I don’t disagree that government–or even private charities (including the LDS church)–separate the giver from the receiver. I don’t know who receives the fast offerings I pay, just as I don’t know who receives the medicare payments withheld from my paychecks. I disagree that Jesus helped every poor person himself. He delegated responsibility for helping the poor to the apostles and the larger church organization. Otherwise, why would people give alms? They should have been helping the poor individually instead of giving alms to the apostles or the priests. E.g., Luke 11:41, 12: 33; Acts 5: 1-5.

    Even government programs are administered on an individual basis where feasible. Social workers work one-on-one, for example.

    So I don’t disagree with you about the fundamental Christian practice of one-on-one charity where appropriate and effective, but if we were to eliminate government assistance (and, presumably, all non-face-to-face private charity assistance), the resulting inefficiencies would resurrect the problems these programs were developed to address in the first place. I don’t think there’s a single government program that has squeezed out my ability to take a meal to someone or loan someone some money or give someone a ride somewhere, etc. I’m glad we have specialists (in both the church and the government) who can assess needs and allocate resources, because if it was all up to me on a face-to-face basis, there is simply not enough time to address all the problems.

    So I’d be interested in what government programs would be better handled by private charity. In every case I’m aware of, the government programs were created to address problems that weren’t being handled by private charity.

  44. I agree there’s a place for both government programs and private charity, but I think the real dilemma is figuring out the optimal proportion of government vs. private giving. I think most everyone here agrees that too much confiscation means people are less inclined to give(be charitable), which can have eternal ramifications for the Christian believer. JonathanN has made the observation that government programs tends to relieve the private giver of his obligation (“the need for private charity”). However, it is unclear to me if he is advocating for more government and less private charity. As opposed to an approach analyzing specific programs, I would be interested in what people think is the optimal proportion. I think it’s a question of degree, not one of absolutes.

  45. Hmm, that’s a tough question. It would depend on the society and the scope of the problem at stake. We could look at this on a neighborhood, community, county, state, national, or international basis. At every level, there would be appropriate government and private relief efforts. The answer to the question about optimal proportion also bdepends on defining what we mean by government programs, as well as how we look at government itself.

    I don’t consider government “welfare” programs in a vacuum. We could say that the public school system is part of the welfare program because it is intended to help make individuals more productive. In this sense, this government program reduces the need for private charity because it helps individuals become more self-reliant. Does anyone in this discussion disagree with that objective? Government job-training programs offer similar benefits to society, as does government subsidy of public universities.

    Public schools also provide meals for kids who otherwise would go hungry or be malnourished. Is this going too far? I don’t think so. And yet, while I think our public schools are successful, there are others who consider them to be an unconstitutional usurpation of parental rights.

    I’m in favor of better education, job training, and food security. I think these are best handled by government. At least in the U.S. and most western democracies, the government is essentially people getting together to solve problems more effectively than they could do on their own. I have a hard time seeing how this is inimical to the exercise of free agency.

    At the same time, there will always be gaps in government programs. Private charity is ideally suited to respond to these needs. But in my view, the main function of private charity is to address needs that government cannot, such as friendship, fellowship, and a sense of community and participation in a greater cause than any one individual can accomplish.

  46. I’m in favor of all those things you mention; they are all good.

    All my kids attend public school, but I have a hard time justifying their enrollment when I see that by paying a little bit more, I can put them in a private school where scholastic achievement is much higher. Whether the public school system is successful or not is probably a matter of opinion. Also, I struggle with the proposition that public education constitutes charity as we are defining (and refining) it in this thread. I view an educated public as a worthy goal of an ordered society, but I think calling it welfare is a stretch. I think it opens the door to every other conceivable “good” in the world. Under such rubric, one could argue everything is charity.

    I’m curious to know if you would lump “national security/military spending” in with education, job training, and food security. After all, don’t all of your other ideals depend on public/national safety? I think the term charity should be narrowly construed for the sake of this discussion; otherwise, it becomes rather unworkable and perpetuates the “I gave at the office” mentality. As I understand it, the purpose of LDS church welfare is to provide the minimum relief necessary to sustain life. I realize there are many other worthwhile programs in the LDS church such as the Perpetual Education Fund, but I am not comfortable construing them all as “charity.”

  47. Defining terms is the difficulty of these discussions. The post started with this question: “So, here’s the crux of my conundrum. How do we justify removing free agency from people (tax payers) to provide social programs for other people?”

    I suggested the premise of “removing free agency” was a false one because our free agency is independent of any government system. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” and all that.

    But the discussion migrated to Geoff’s assertion that most Mormons think “the government does a pretty bad job of helping the indigent [and] generally oppose govt-run welfare because it fosters dependency.” I hope he’s wrong about how most Mormons think, since I disagree with both of these propositions and I don’t think such a position is defensible. To be specific, public education is one example. Clearly it helps the indigent (the students fed at school, employees it hires, etc.) and it also meets the needs of the disabled. I also think other government programs “open the door” to other good. After the welfare reforms in the 1990s, there are few programs that foster dependency, but beyond that, I think it’s a mistake to focus only on the poor when so many of our wealthy citizens are also dependent on government programs (student loans, mortgage guarantees, government contracts, government employment, farm subsidies, tax preferences, and many others.) Actually, I think there are few, if any, American families who aren’t dependent on government in one way or another, and I’m not referring to national security.

    I agree that it would be useful to define charity narrowly, but usually what that means is finding a definition to prove one’s preconceptions. Someone who opposes the SCHIP program (health insurance for poor kids) would include that in his/her definition of charity. Or maybe someone opposes AFDC, or prenatal care for the poor, or the school breakfast program, or any other specific program.

    So in my view, I hope Geoff was wrong about “the largest group among Mormons” because I think people who see politics this way are highly selective about their criticism, seeing the mote in others but not the beam in themselves. I think we should be glad to live in a society in which our tax money goes to relieve these serious problems. Everyone agrees there could be improvements and more efficiency, and we ought to be working in that direction, but to point the finger at the poor and say we’re deprived of free agency because a tiny fraction of our taxes goes to help them, while on the other side we’re benefiting far more from other government programs and systems, doesn’t strike me as a reflection of Doug’s original point that “we all agree that helping people is a good and Christ-like thing.”

  48. Wow, it is amazing how far afield a thread can wander.

    A simple definition of charity, distilled from what people are saying, might be any program or benefit that is not distributed to all people.

    So, national defense spending is not charity. We all benefit from not being invaded by a foreign power. The public school system is not charity, we all benefit from the public school system in the sense that we all attended it for 13 years. (K-12) Those who go to private schools do so at the their own choosing and cost.

    In this sense of the word charity, programs that feed the poor and cloth the naked would be charitable. After all, if you have food and clothing you don’t qualify for needing them and therefore can not receive them under such programs.

    One interesting, and in my opinion somewhat disturbing thing, about many of these posts is that people assert that government should be doing many of these charitable functions since it is best qualified for it; but no one has discussed whether this mysterious agent, government, is federal, state, or local. Constitutionally the federal government has a very specific charter and the states / people get the remainder of the responsibilities. (10th amendment)

    No one has attempted to demonstrate that taxes are not inherently coercive. Someone suggested that we have the agency to not pay our taxes, which is true, but that means prison time. We also have our agency to kill some one, it doesn’t mean I’m willing to accept the consequences of the action.

    Given that taxes are coercive, and that the federal government has a specific charter, is the federal government the place to administer Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare, or even education? Does the federal government have a clear constitutionally enumerated power to be providing these services? Or is this better left up to the states to determine for themselves if they wish to provide these services, to what extent, and how to pay for them?

    I would argue that if the states supplied these functions then people could vote with their feet by moving to another state if they felt their current state did not do enough to help the poor, or saddled taxes payers too much. I realize that I have the agency to leave the country if I disagree with our tax and welfare policies sufficiently, but I happen to believe that this is a promised land and has the best system of government on the planet, even if it has its share of flaws.

  49. @ Jonathan

    “By contrast, the postal service has relatively little infrastructure.”

    Seriously? Not sure where you live, but here in VT every little burg (and we have plenty of them) has a post office. These buildings would certainly constitute significant infrastructure. In addition, having lived in one of these little burgs in the past, I can assure you that Aunt Ginny isn’t get the mail delivered to her door if she lives here. She has a post office box at what one these post offices, and she has to stop by and get her mail there.

    Oddly enough, I suspect that UPS delivers to Aunt Ginny right now if you want to send her a box. Delivering a letter to her would be in incremental cost given that they have a truck route with her house on it already. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think UPS has service blackout areas.

    UPS would also have the option of implementing a business model similar to the rural post office model here in Vermont using their UPS stores (though they might have to build a few additional ones).

    I’m not clear that you can make a solid case to say that UPS and FedEx would not be able to cut it in the letter delivery market. I personally would like to see them have a shot. Keep the post office alive, but allow UPS and FedEx to deliver letters, they legally can’t now. If there is no money to be made there or they can’t compete with the Post Office’s prices, they will stay out of the market. If there is an opportunity for them to make a profit they will jump in with both feet and we will benefit from the competition.

  50. Your definition of charity makes my point about how our definitions reflect our preconceptions. Your definition, I presume, would include free meals for kids in public schools, based on need. It would include providing tutors and interpreters for kids in school who need these services. There are many people (a growing number) who feel that since they did not have kids, they shouldn’t have to pay taxes to support education for others’ kids. Some feel that a family should only receive free education for two kids, and then have to pay for additional kids.

    The problem with arguing about whether the Constitution allows the federal government to provide welfare programs is that this issue has been extensively litigated over the years, ending with a series of Supreme Court opinions. The answer is, yes, the programs are constitutional. Whether they are the best way to address the problems is a separate issue that will probably be debated forever.

  51. Of course laws are coercive. Commandments are just as coercive. There’s consequences attached to both. The only difference between them is that breaking a commandment is a sin (law is God’s) and breaking a law is a transgression (law is man’s). The entire gospel is built around God’s will, his desire for us to do his will, commandments, carrots & sticks, and yes, even coercion.

    You keep on bringing up constitutionality as if that’s valid to this discussion. I wholeheartedly agree with you that hanging 85% of the federal government off the interstate commerce clause is a stretch. But you didn’t ask the question about US constitutionality, you asked if laws limit agency, and this question is valid across the world, regardless of a specific country’s structure. You are hindering a valid question by placing unnecessary emphasis on what is, for all intents and purposes, a technicality. If you really want to consider the issue for what it is, then you will have to get over this and pretend you live in Canada, UK, France, Sweden, Norway… the list goes on.

    Doug, I feel that I made a strong argument in #31 and #51. Why not address specific points in one of those two?

  52. Hmm, My #51 is actually not mine, that comment isn’t appearing for some reason. Guess I will have to repaste it in here.

    @Chris H.

    I don’t see how my statement on “free agency” merits a personal attack on my ability to read and write the English language. This is not the place for that.

    An apostle told us in the June Ensign that the term free agency is incorrect. Here is the article:

    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=aed5ceb47f381210VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

    For me, the landmark talk on agency will always be Elder Oak’s. Even then, he acknowledged that the terminology was generally confusing as was presently used: http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=7014

    And finally, the term “free agency” isn’t found once anywhere in the scriptures. Only agency and moral agency is found. I’m glad President McKay used the terminology that was accepted and understood tot he general membership at the time, and I’m also glad that we’ve progressed to the point that we as a church are returning to the scriptural terminology.

    @Doug: I was referring to 4 Ne 1:3, the time period that describes the most righteous people in the Book of Mormon.

    If it is our goal to become as righteous as those people, then it is our goal to have no classes, no rich, and no poor. Right now, our country is failing miserably in that goal, and look, we’re relying primarily on private charity.

    Sure, he hasn’t “commanded” us to remove all poor from among us. So we’re set, right? We don’t have to sacrifice right now. We can just pay our 10% and be crowned in glory, right? Well let’s think about about the difference between a commandment, and the Lord’s will in general. Is there a difference? If the prophet says, “Every worthy young man should server a mission,” then the Lord clearly wants this to happen. Does he have to say “Thou shalt server a mission” for it to be considered a commandment? Removing the tone in which the desire is related to us, it is, at its core, the Lord’s will. The Lord’s will is the Lord’s will is the Lord’s will. I don’t care if it’s Brother Joseph pounding the pulpit or my Bishop asking me kindly, in either case, it is the Lord’s will, and we should take both just as seriously.

    It is not meet for the Lord to command in all things. We know the standard. We know where we’re supposed to be. And we know that we as a people are not there. Both Jonathan and I have clearly explained how agency is not limited in any way by a government tax. We have answered the original question and given you the point of view you desire. Isn’t it “disingenuous…to attempt to debate this issue” any further?

  53. Hmm, My #51 is actually not mine, that comment isn’t appearing for some reason. Guess I will have to repaste it in here.

    @Chris H.

    I don’t see how my statement on “free agency” merits a personal attack on my ability to read and write the English language. This is not the place for that.

    An apostle told us in the June Ensign that the term free agency is incorrect. Here is the article:

    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=aed5ceb47f381210VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

    For me, the landmark talk on agency will always be Elder Oak’s 1987 address. Even then, he acknowledged that the terminology was generally confusing as was presently used.

    And finally, the term “free agency” isn’t found once anywhere in the scriptures. Only agency and moral agency is found. I’m glad President McKay used the terminology that was accepted and understood tot he general membership at the time, and I’m also glad that we’ve progressed to the point that we as a church are returning to the scriptural terminology.

    @Doug: I was referring to 4 Ne 1:3, the time period that describes the most righteous people in the Book of Mormon.

    If it is our goal to become as righteous as those people, then it is our goal to have no classes, no rich, and no poor. Right now, our country is failing miserably in that goal, and look, we’re relying primarily on private charity.

    Sure, he hasn’t “commanded” us to remove all poor from among us. So we’re set, right? We don’t have to sacrifice right now. We can just pay our 10% and be crowned in glory, right? Well let’s think about about the difference between a commandment, and the Lord’s will in general. Is there a difference? If the prophet says, “Every worthy young man should server a mission,” then the Lord clearly wants this to happen. Does he have to say “Thou shalt server a mission” for it to be considered a commandment? Removing the tone in which the desire is related to us, it is, at its core, the Lord’s will. The Lord’s will is the Lord’s will is the Lord’s will. I don’t care if it’s Brother Joseph pounding the pulpit or my Bishop asking me kindly, in either case, it is the Lord’s will, and we should take both just as seriously.

    It is not meet for the Lord to command in all things. We know the standard. We know where we’re supposed to be. And we know that we as a people are not there. Both Jonathan and I have clearly explained how agency is not limited in any way by a government tax. We have answered the original question and given you the point of view you desire. Isn’t it “disingenuous…to attempt to debate this issue” any further?

  54. Ryan,

    I actually like the term moral agency better than free agency. However, that does not change the fact that they refer to the exact same thing. But again, that is my philosophical analysis of the terms themselves and not how they are used in LDS ideology. Anyways, you repeated the cliche that it is not free agency because it not free. Said cliche is mind numbing no matter who says it and it has nothing to do with how people actually use the term “free agency.” I do apologize for the attack being so harsh, but it was aimed at the cliche and not at you. I appreciate the larger argument you are trying to make. keep up the good work.

  55. @ Ryan

    “Both Jonathan and I have clearly explained how agency is not limited in any way by a government tax. We have answered the original question and given you the point of view you desire. Isn’t it “disingenuous…to attempt to debate this issue” any further?”

    Perhaps I’m just too dense to get your explanation.

    Having reviewed your lengthy comments, am I to understand that you support legislating the morally correct behavior? (That is what I’m taking away from reading them, correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Also, if I understand your definition of agency it is impossible for agency to be removed or infringed by the government because you always have the choice of refusing to do what the government tells you and go to jail.

    If those two points are correct, then I guess I can see how someone might be able to support just about any morally good law regardless of its impacts on the population.

    I could make countless arguments against this position, but I suspect that you would bat them aside as “irrelevant” or some other dismissive adjective.

    “You keep on bringing up constitutionality as if that’s valid to this discussion.”

    In regard to this statement, please go read my initial post. You will see that I made several references to the US system of government. Given that I framed my question with the US government as background the constitutionality of something is completely valid.

    @ Jonathan

    I’m not a lawyer, I guess I’ll have to do some digging to see if I can find any of these cases. Given that the Supreme Court has been willing in the past to use international law to buttress their interpretation of the Constitution, I take their decision on a case by case basis.

    Perhaps this is what I get for trying to understand another perspective. It is certainly easier to characterize people who think differently than you as stupid or unrighteous. Perhaps I should fall back on the old stand-bys.

  56. @ Doug

    If my clarification of the definition of agency — that it cannot be limited by a rule or law — is correct, then the entire premise of your question is incorrect. I gave specific examples from both the Book of Mormon and by our current prophet of “legislative morality,” as you call it, that prove this. You claim you have evidence against this but refuse to supply it.

    If you accept that us Californians were commanded by a prophet of God to vote in favor of Prop 8, which we absolutely were, and you also believe that God does not limit our agency here on earth, which of course is contrary to his Plan, then you must agree with me that a law cannot limit agency. Otherwise, you must claim that it is our prophet’s intent to limit agency via Prop 8. If you still don’t understand what agency is, I supplied links to two great talks that can help clarify this for you.

    What I’m trying to point out here is that you are looking at this question through the lens of your political ideology, which no prophet has ever decreed to be inherently or morally correct. Similarly, I wholeheartedly agree that government is not the answer to every question, and I completely agree with the fact that any power not explicitly given to the federal government falls to the states. But no prophet has ever decreed most of Europe’s Social Democratic government to be morally wrong, although Elder Christofferson explicitly stated yesterday that no amount of government regulation will keep people from making bad choices. So it’s clear that any reasonably democratic political ideology is respected by God.

    Yet the fact remains that we as a country are not living up to the standards expected of us as residents of the promised land. You and I both know the country is growing more and more wicked and that it will eventually be destroyed if it continues down this path. And this is why I would choose to vote in favor of the greater good.

    I refuse to associate myself with a political party or ideology. I registered Republican so I could vote for Ron Paul in the primaries, then Obama in the general election, because I made the best choices available to me at the time. Yet no party or ideology are correct — in fact, I would argue that they are all wrong — as they all lack the focus and direction that only the gospel can bring. This is the paradigm shift I spoke of earlier. Forget about liberalism vs conservatism, socialism vs capitalism, and even libertarianism. The gospel doesn’t fit neatly in any of those boxes, but has elements of all of them in it. Look at scriptural history and you will see that the government of the Lord’s people ranges the entire spectrum, depending on the time period and righteousness of the people.

    As long as you prefer to warp the truth to fit your ideology, rather than to see it for what it is, you will never understand my opinion, though you claim to try to. God’s work and glory is to bring eternal life and immortality to man, and the entire point of our life here on earth, and the gospel we have been given, is to maximize this result. That’s it. He just wants to bring the greatest number of people back (worthily and fairly, of course) and does what he needs to make it happen. God’s behaivor defies the philosophies of man. Once you make this paradigm shift, the decision as to who handles which part of charity is just a matter of economics and efficiency. Of course, it must be done legally, so if an amendment must be passed to make it so, then so be it. As you recall from Elder Oaks’ discourse on the Constitution of the United States, it is a living, breathing document and subject to change, via the proper protocols, as time sees fit.

    By the way, I’m not too impressed by your thinly-veiled insult, but I won’t reciprocate.

  57. Whew. I think I’m done here. If my well-documented and scripturally buttressed position isn’t understood by now, I give up.

  58. @Doug D.

    My point about the Supreme Court is simply that these issues have been extensively litigated and decided. Certainly many people disagree with the decisions, many of which were closely decided, but I don’t find much merit in re-thinking all of the Court’s decisions. As for referring to foreign law, apart from reliance on English precedent, this has been a relatively recent, and limited, development. I’m unaware of any reliance on foreign law to sustain the New Deal and related issues.

    Your other point isn’t what I meant. “Also, if I understand your definition of agency it is impossible for agency to be removed or infringed by the government because you always have the choice of refusing to do what the government tells you and go to jail.”

    If you saying the government would require you to do something that violated your morals, such as requiring a doctor to perform an abortion–then you have a point. But that’s far from what you originally asked about; i.e., “coercing” people to pay taxes to help the poor. It turns out that in most cases, the morally correct choice is also the best policy choice, including assistance to the poor. This is a basic characteristic of our laws. For example, it’s immoral to steal, and our laws make that illegal as well. If that’s what you mean by legislating morally correct behavior, I don’t see anything objectionable about it.

  59. @Ryan,

    I think where we disagree is that I don’t see agency as black and white, you have it or you don’t. I see agency as a spectrum. It is rare that a real world decision has only two alternatives. It is when alternatives are limited that agency is impacted. It may not be removed in the sense that you have no choices, but it can be lessened in that your alternatives can be abbreviated.

    For example, if I currently pay $1000 a year in taxes that go for social welfare programs and these programs all stop and the money is now mine to do with as I please, I may use that money for any charitable giving I’d like. So, if I have moral objections to planned parenthood because of abortions I can give to charities that do not support such organizations. Alternatively, I might search for organizations with the highest efficiency of getting my dollars to people in need. An entire spectrum of options is open before me. So long as the government takes taxpayer money to fund social welfare programs I can not directly choose how to spend that money. I would hope we can both agree that this limits my options in using my agency.

    I certainly agree that the population of this country is in general becoming more wicked. That said, we also know from church doctrine that paying our 10% tithing grudgingly is not as righteous as paying our 10% in humility and with gratefulness for our many blessings. I do not see how legislating a morally good thing, like helping your neighbor, will increase the spirituality or goodness of the population. Perhaps this is not what you mean to imply when you say “that is why I choose to vote for the greater good”, but that is what it implies to me. If we wish to increase the morality and spirituality of the populace in general, the best way to do that is to provide opportunities for them to perform moral acts on their own, and provide good examples for them through our own actions. I do not believe paying your taxes and having the government take care of the poor for us does this.

    I apologize if my previous reply was a bit bad tempered, but when you stated that “We have answered the original question and given you the point of view you desire. Isn’t it “disingenuous…to attempt to debate this issue” any further?” It raised my ire some. It tells me that you feel I am debating in bad faith and not trying to understand what you are saying, which is not the case. I should have taken the higher ground or tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, but sadly I am still an imperfect man.

    Interestingly, I voted for Ron Paul.

    @Jonathan

    You are correct that the criminal code is largely morality based. That said, it is also largely driven by one person harming another in some way. For example: theft, murder, assault, etc involve one party directly injuring another. Welfare programs, while they may be morally good, do not directly address one person injuring another. My salary does not injure someone who makes 1/2 my salary, in the same way that I am not injured by someone making 2x what I make.

    I will need to find some time (always difficult) to look in to court challenges to and decisions on New Deal legislation and other welfare issues. I admit to being a bit of a simplist at heart. I’m not trained in law, but I’m not stupid either. I’m of the opinion that someone of average intellect should be able to read and understand laws and the constitution, at least to a first order. When we have huge government programs hanging off of the interstate commerce clause (department of agriculture for example) and a few others, we are in a position where we should pause and consider our actions. If there is truly a case for the federal government to handle a program and there is not a strong constitutional footing for it, the amendment process should be used. After all, if the case is that good it should be easy to get the legislative branch and the states to agree that it is something the found father’s couldn’t anticipate and the constitution should account for.

  60. @Robert,

    In #28 I said that in order to indicate that I did not want this to turn in to an adversarial conversation where I would be trying to convince others to see things my way. I wanted to understand how they saw things, recognizing that my own preconceived notions may need to be shown to me along the way and therefore I may have to explain how I saw things to better understand how others see them.

    However, in his response he used my quote in order to attempt to close the discussion, stating “We have answered the original question and given you the point of view you desire.” Sadly, it wasn’t so apparent to me that my original question was answered, or I would not still have been asking questions.

  61. Thanks to everyone for the posts. I think I understand the other perspective a little bit better now, though it is still far more foreign to me than I was hoping it would be at the end of this thread. I appreciate the time and effort spent by folks in posting.

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