Guest Post: The Floods of Material Things

The following is a guest post submitted by Dr. Warner Woodworth, Social Entrepreneur & Professor, Marriott School, BYU.

By Dr. Warner Woodworth

We are engulfed in a sea of money and conspicuous consumption. This was a shocking realization for me a few days ago when I ventured out to buy my wonderful wife, Kaye, a Christmas gift. We usually give our money and time to the needy during the holidays, which always makes for a spiritual season for our family. Many times, we spend the days doing humanitarian work around the globe.

But I decided to actually go to the University Mall in Orem and purchase a small gift this year, knowing it could be a pleasant surprise. To avoid the temptations of materialism and shopping frenzies, I took a vow each of the past few years to stay away from such places, dens of iniquity and greed that I often refer to in my campus courses as “Palaces of Babylon.”

But I thought after so many years I was now strong enough so that I could withstand the environment of materialism, and that a nice Christmas gift would show my love.

Entering the mall, I was blown away by the remodeled stores and halls of the place. It was so much larger, so elegant, so commercialized, that I literally felt sick. Oh, the crowds were fun to observe (for about 5 minutes), and someone was playing live holiday music on a piano at one intersection of the stores. But as I went down the corridors, I grew ever more nauseated at the crass commercialism, the huge ads declaring that a new sweater or coat was the essence of Christmas, that blaring high tech toys would give me more speed in life, as well as meaning.

After a few minutes, I ran from the hustle and bustle of Babylon back to campus to start writing this post. (And, yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I did purchase a set of earrings as I left the mall!)

Let me summarize a few symptoms of materialism and extravagant living in our society today.

– There are some 50,000 shopping malls in the U.S.
– Much of what we buy is frivolous spending, not what we need.
– We are spending more on our pets and chocolate than on helping many of our poorest families.
– While family size goes down, square footage of our homes grows ever larger.
– Competition between the haves and the have-nots continues to rise. It is manifest between management and unions, between races, between nations, and between social classes. Instead of a United States or even a United Zion, we are increasingly fractured.
– The average CEO pay in the Standard & Poor’s 500 today is $14.8 million a year.
– Among large firms, the typical top executive gets over 600 times the salaries of the lowest fulltime workers.
– Merrill Lynch’s top executive, for instance, is picking up over $200 million as he is forced out of office for poor performance and huge market losses. During his ruthless tenure he laid off 24,000 employees at the firm.
– Henry Kravis of Barbarians at the Gate fame, earned $450 million last year, or $51,000 an hour. This is more than the average American makes in a year.
– Average pay for the top two dozen hedge fund managers in 2006 was $363 million each, which totaled $14 billion, more than the GDP of Uruguay or Jordan.
– It’s estimated that 2007’s average fund manager will receive over $600,000 just in bonuses.
– To not be outdone by individuals, corporate greed is escalating too. For instance, Exxon Mobile is currently raking in $100 million in profit every single day. The firm’s CEO has been so successful in 2007, he is to receive 20 million in bonus money and a whopping 25 percent pay increase for 2008. Not to be outdone, his firm’s other top execs will share in a bonus pool of $214 million more!
– Product ads engulf our media and our schools: “Coke adds life! “Just do it!”
– My students all wear corporate logos, apparently not just to be cool, but to increase their self-worth.
– Apparently the car we drive expresses who we really are.
– It’s no longer “Toys R Us,” but “Things R Us,” as well!
– Juliet Schurz in her book, Born to Buy, estimates the typical American purchases 48 personal clothing items a year.
– Millions of us declare bankruptcy each year, driven to despair by our spending and our conspicuous consumption habits.
– A emerging literature is growing on the addictive behaviors of consumer shopping and the new malady, Affluenza.

Prophetic Socio-Economic Teachings

The gospel answer for the above problems suggests we use our money to do good, avoid debt, and build a better world. The plea from President Lorenzo Snow below was pronounced as the Saints began a new century on January 1, 1900. It’s a call to action, especially for those with skills, education, and capital to use their resources to empower the world’s poor. LDS entrepreneur and benefactor Jesse Knight was known to carry this proclamation in his coat pocket everywhere he went. He showed it to his business associates and encouraged them to join the cause. They started enterprises to build family self-reliance throughout the Western U.S., and even up into Canada.

They heeded the Prophet’s call for “the banishment of poverty,” the “uplifting of the masses,” “for the union of capital and labor.” These leaders would be shocked at our world today where CEOs make 453 times the compensation of their regular fulltime employees. “Men and women of wealth, use your riches to give employment to the laborer!….Unlock your vaults, unloose your purses, and embark in enterprises that will give work to the unemployed, and relieve the wretchedness (of the poor).”

Like prophets and apostles down through the ages, President Snow sought to rip off “the yoke from the necks of the people….and plan for union instead of conquest…for the health, wealth, enlightenment and happiness of all tribes and nations.” Thankfully today a small group of inspired individuals are rediscovering calls to action like this, as well as the “Proclamation on the Economy” put forth by Brigham Young and the Brethren back in 1875. At that point they criticized the concentration “of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals….” This was judged to be “one of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time….” Such socio-economic injustices were viewed as a dangerous, even “monstrous power” that divided the “class already rich, and the painful destitution and want among the poor….”

Currently, in our time, a growing number LDS executives, wealthy families and entrepreneurs are turning from ever-increasing self indulgence and family conspicuous consumption to start NGOs, to launch microcredit strategies, to create family nonprofit foundations, and to build social enterprises and/or for-profit businesses to “succor the weak, lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5: Isaiah 35:3).

They are initiating their own efforts and strategies per D&C 58: 26-29 in which Latter-day Saints are told to not wait, but to become “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will….For the power is in them wherein they are agents unto themselves.” Such individuals understand what President Hinckley means when he declares: “We must take care of the poor….But we must be careful not to institutionalize that care (through the church)….I think there is a tendency among us to say, ‘Oh, the church will take care of that. I pay my fast offering. Let the church take care of that.’ We need as individuals to reach down and extend a helping hand…to give of that with which the Lord has so generously blessed us.”

Such individuals understand the great C. S. Lewis’ teachings about how much to give to charity: “I’m afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare….If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenses exclude them.” In other words, as I always say, give until it really hurts. Only then will you experience what Joseph Smith meant about the law and “spirit of sacrificing all things.”

As the gap between rich and poor spirals out of control across the globe, we need to begin to understand what Brigham Young preached in his vision for a new world: “The time must come when this cooperative system…will be carried out by the whole people, and it will be said, ‘Here are the saints.’ Will there be any rich and poor then? No.”

His successor, John Taylor, put it more bluntly to the CEOs and investors of his day: “Talk about financiering! Financier for the poor, for the working man who requires labor and is willing to do it, and act in the interest of the community for the welfare of Zion, and the building up of the kingdom of God upon the earth. This is your calling,” he bellowed. “It is not to build up yourselves….Do not let us have anybody crying for bread, or suffering, for want of employment. Let us furnish employment for all.”

And President Ezra Taft Benson brings it up to our generation by asserting that “All we are doing now is but a prelude to the establishment of the united order, and living the law of consecration.” In Hugh Nibley’s view, there is absolutely nothing keeping us from practicing stewardship and consecration in our personal lives today. Brigham Young taught the same idea in his era, as well.

So as you consider the new year of 2008, please take time to read and reread Lorenzo Snow’s proclamation. See if you might be able to expand your own vision and feel the inspiration to launch something truly great, beyond yourself, something that will bless the lives of countless families who suffer so much and have so little. Maybe you can’t help countless families. But you can lift at least just one. If so, together we can change the world, one family at a time.

Lorenzo Snow’s Proclamation of 1900

Greetings to the World
President Lorenzo Snow

A new century dawns upon the world today. The hundred years just completed were the most momentous in the history of man upon this planet. It would be impossible in a hundred days to make even a brief summary of the notable events, the marvelous developments, the grand achievements and the beneficial inventions and discoveries, which mark the progress of the ten decades now left behind in the ceaseless march of humanity. The very mention of the Nineteenth Century suggests advancement, improvement, liberty and light. Happy are we to have lived amidst its wonders and shared in the riches of its treasures of intelligence.

The lessons of the past century should have prepared us for the duties and glories of the opening era. It ought to be the age of peace, of greater progress, of the universal adoption of the golden rule. The barbarism of the past should be buried. War with its horrors should be a memory. The aim of nations should be fraternity and mutual greatness. The welfare of humanity should be studied instead of the enrichment of a race or the extension of an empire. Awake, ye monarchs of the earth and rulers among nations, and gaze upon the scene on which the early rays of the rising Millennial day gild the morn of the Twentieth Century! The power is in your hands to pave the way for the coming King of Kings, whose dominion will be over all the earth. Disband your armies; turn your weapons of strife into implements of industry; take the yoke from the necks of the people, arbitrate your disputes; meet in royal congress, and plan for union instead of conquest, for the banishment of poverty, for the uplifting of the masses, and for the health, wealth, enlightenment and happiness of all tribes and peoples and nations. Then shall the Twentieth Century be to you the glory of your lives and the luster of your crowns, and posterity shall sing your praises, while the Eternal One shall place you on high among the mighty.

Ye toiling millions who, in the sweat of your faces, earn your daily bread, look up and greet the power from above which shall lift you from bondage! The day of your redemption draweth nigh. Cease to waste your wages in that which helps to keep you in want. Regard not wealth as your enemy and your employers as your oppressors. Seek for the union of capital and labor. Be provident when in prosperity. Do not become a prey to designing men who seek to stir up strife for their own selfish ends. Strive for your rights by lawful means, and desist from violence and destruction. Anarchism and lawlessness are your deadly foes. Dissipation and vice are chains that bind you to slavery. Freedom is coming for you, its light approaches as the century dawns.

Men and women of wealth, use your riches to give employment to the laborer! Take the idle from the crowded centers of population and place them on the untilled areas that await the hand of industry. Unlock your vaults, unloose your purses, and embark in enterprises that will give work to the unemployed, and relieve the wretchedness that leads to the vice and crime which curse your great cities, and that poison the moral atmosphere around you. Make others happy, and you will be happy yourselves.

In the eighty-seventh year of my age on earth, I feel full of earnest desire for the benefit of humanity. I wish all a Happy New Year. I hope and look for grand events to occur in the Twentieth Century. At its auspicious dawn, I lift my hands and invoke the blessings of heaven upon the inhabitants of the earth. May the sunshine from above smile upon you. May the treasures of the ground and the fruits of the soil be brought forth freely for your good. May the light of truth chase darkness from your soul. May righteousness increase and iniquity diminish as the years of the century roll on. May justice triumph and corruption be stamped out. And may virtue and chastity and honor prevail, until evil shall be overcome and the earth shall be cleansed from wickedness. Let these sentiments as the voice of “Mormons” in the mountains of Utah, go forth to the whole world, and let all people know that our wish and our mission are for the blessing and salvation of the entire human race. May the Twentieth Century prove the happiest as it will be the grandest of all the ages of time, and may God be glorified in the victory that is coming over sin and sorrow and misery and death. Peace be unto you all!”


We can change the world by changing ourselves. These words above consist of President Snow’s call to action for the saints over a century ago. May we each determine ways to heed his words today. They have never been refuted or rejected by his successors. May each Millennial Star reader be blessed to see your true potential for radical change. It takes focus and intention to do so. But first, it requires being cognizant. President Spencer W. Kimball used to remark that he didn’t worry about LDS members being unwilling to serve those who suffer. His main concern was that they were just not aware. So first, you must see the poverty in the world. I argue that it must actually stare you in the face! You, in turn, must stare right back until you feel guilty, suffer from empathy, and begin to actually grieve for that impoverished family. You must almost touch the sunken eyes of that oppressed mother, the extended belly of a starving child. Only then can you really connect. At this point, you can begin to do more than just write out a check. Indeed, instead of simply feeling sad and switching the TV channel, you will become empowered to act.

You will be able to dig down deep and respond to your unique personal identity, tools, and being, what Abraham Maslow describes as “self-actualization.” This comes from finding what I teach my BYU students to explore, their “informal calling in life.” Not one’s career that they will eventually retire from, or a church assignment from which they are ultimately released. This is something more. Maslow describes it as the “mission one chooses to love and sacrifice to.” Catholic theologians have long referred to it as one’s “vocation as a Christian” in the world. In so doing, you begin to act, rather than just be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14). You discover your own capacity for solving social problems and generating transformational impacts that improve the quality of life around the globe. As Gandhi puts it, you then begin to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” In short, you become a social entrepreneur.

May God bless you and your family during this move into a new year of 2008. And through your acts of consecration, may He bless the world’s have-nots as well.

45 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Floods of Material Things

  1. Prof. Woodworth, we are honored at M* that you took time to write this very well-written and thought-provoking post. I have to say I agree with some of your points and heartily disagree with others.

    Let’s start with the points of agreement. The BoM clearly warns us over and over again about the evils of excessive concern for material things. The cycle takes place again and again: humility should be our goal and excessive concern for materialism does not bring humility but instead very often leads to pride and concern for corporate logos, fast cars, etc, etc.

    It is also true that all of us can do more to help the poor and the widows and to uplift the downtrodden, visit the sick and in general follow the advice of the many, many prophets who have warned that this should be our focus.

    Here are some areas of disagreement:

    1)I don’t think it’s a bad thing that CEOs make so much money. It is a reflection of the marketplace, and most people who spend their times worrying about CEO pay are really just expressing jealousy and envy, which are sins in themselves (I’m not saying you are doing this — I’m reflecting on the societal trends, not you specifically). I have worked closely with several CEOs of large multi-billion dollar companies. They have unique skills that have allowed them to get to the place where they are in life. Most of the people reading this post (including myself) don’t have anywhere near the skill of the average CEO, just as most of the people reading this post cannot average 30 points a game in the NBA or throw 50 touchdown passes a year in the NFL. Unique skills can and should be rewarded in a just society. And at the end of the day, what can be done about CEO pay? Any attempt to decrease and/or control it is by the government certain to be unfair and arbitrary. Some CEOs are horrible people, greedy and materialistic (I have worked with some), others donate 30 percent of their salaries to charity (much more than I do). Who is to choose who gets a pay cut? You?

  2. 2)The incredible choices we have today are a reflection of the beauty of our economy. I personally hate to go shopping and avoid it like the plague (just ask my wife). But I love the fact that there are so many choices for consumer goods. Let me give you one example. Just two weeks ago I flew from Miami to Denver for Christmas to visit the in-laws. I packed an entire bag with winter clothes. I forgot that bag. Very frustrating. The next day I went to Wal-Mart to buy the basics. How much do you think I spent on an entire two-week wardrobe of winter clothes? Less than $100 for snow pants, snow boots, jeans, several layers of sweaters, etc. Less than $100 for 10 items! It was incredible. I expected to pay three times as much.

    So, why was I able to pay so little for an entire potentially expensive wardrobe? Because of our wonderful global capitalist system, which has as its base greed and materialism. People want stuff, so people manufacture it. Greedy Wal-Mart is all about buying the cheapest stuff, which means it beats up suppliers to lower prices. The end result is a beautiful thing: consumers get more stuff at lower prices.

    You can’t go around blaming this system. It has bad results (greedy people and materialism) but it also has dozens of good, positive results: people are employed who might not have jobs otherwise, costs are lowered and people who might not otherwise be able to buy stuff can buy it because of the low cost.

    The global capitalist system you seem to decry in your post is just like the internet and the telephone or any other modern-day tool. It can be used for good or for evil, but the system itself is there and will always be there in some form. It depends on how you use the system. You can’t say the internet is evil — the Church is using the internet to communicate and spread the Gospel. But some people use the internet for horrible things (g-mbling, p-rnography, etc). In the same way, the global capitalist system has some bad results (greed, excessive wealth, materialism) but also has many, many good results (jobs, trade, low-cost goods that can be used by the poor).

    So, where you see a mall as Babylon, I see it instead as a wonderful marketplace that brings jobs and low-cost goods and many other wonderful things to us all. People are responsible for their choices, and if they use the marketplace for evil, they will suffer the consequences. But if they use the marketplace for good, more good can come of it.

  3. Re-reading Lorenzo Snow’s prophetic proclamation, I see some key passages:

    Ye toiling millions who, in the sweat of your faces, earn your daily bread, look up and greet the power from above which shall lift you from bondage! The day of your redemption draweth nigh. Cease to waste your wages in that which helps to keep you in want. Regard not wealth as your enemy and your employers as your oppressors. Seek for the union of capital and labor. Be provident when in prosperity. Do not become a prey to designing men who seek to stir up strife for their own selfish ends. Strive for your rights by lawful means, and desist from violence and destruction. Anarchism and lawlessness are your deadly foes. Dissipation and vice are chains that bind you to slavery. Freedom is coming for you, its light approaches as the century dawns.

    Men and women of wealth, use your riches to give employment to the laborer! Take the idle from the crowded centers of population and place them on the untilled areas that await the hand of industry. Unlock your vaults, unloose your purses, and embark in enterprises that will give work to the unemployed, and relieve the wretchedness that leads to the vice and crime which curse your great cities, and that poison the moral atmosphere around you. Make others happy, and you will be happy yourselves.

    Wealth is not the enemy, and employers are not the oppressors. CEOs are not evil — some are good, some are bad. Some do incredible things by employing millions of people and creating new jobs. Some embezzle money from the company and make investors suffer. They are just like other human beings. President Snow rightly warned about “designing men” who try to stir up strife between workers and their employers. He rightly recognized the incredible power of the economy to bring people out of poverty and give them jobs. This all happens because of the capitalist system, which is a marvelous, wondrous thing.

    Thirty years ago, billions of people in Asia and Latin America were under the yoke of government-controlled economies that kept them enchained in poverty and despair. Once these government controls began to be lifted in China, India, Brazil, Chile and elsewhere, suddenly people saw opportunity for growth and advancement. The end result of this capitalist revolution has been hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty and despair.

    Our emphasis should be on eliminating poverty by celebrating reforms that actually work. Decrying corporate greed does nothing but “stir up strife,” exactly what Pres. Snow warned against. Corporations are made up of people — some of them bad, some of them good. But at the end of the day, it is corporations that bring people jobs and opportunity and end despair.

  4. All of my comments above do not overcome the fact that Prof. Woodworth is quite right to emphasize our personal responsibility to serve the poor, give of ourselves and our money. I do not believe in Hugh Nibley’s theory of complete consecration — modern-day prophets have not asked for that. I give 10 percent of my gross income and pay a generous fast offering. I give occasionally for missionary funds or other specific funds on a Church level or a local stake or ward level. I probably give 12-13 percent of my gross income, and I believe that is the right amount for me and my family at this time. Giving more than that would not be right for my family. Giving less would not feel right either.

    I take my callings seriously and try to give service to those around me. Obviously I could do more. Much more. But I also have a responsibility to my family and to my employer. Would it be right for me to spend every night helping the homeless to the extent where I never see my wife and four kids? Obviously not. So, the point is that all of us have to balance our activities the best we can. Should we be spending less time watching TV and professional sports and more time doing the Lord’s work? Certainly. In that regard, I salute Prof. Woodworth’s many good points in this post.

  5. Thanks for the reminders about materialism, and our obligations to the poor, Warner.

    Because the purpose of most buying in the developed world is to enhance social standing, undermining that effect is critical. This has probably happened among environmentalists regarding travel: international travel has always enhanced social standing, but now that environmentalists are concerned about the carbon costs of flying, international travel presumably enhances social standing among environmentalists less than it used to, because foreign travel shows a lack of commitment to the cause, and commitment to the cause is another source of social standing.

    If Mormons recognized that many purchases and economic decisions hurt the church’s cause, then materialism would command less social benefit and there’d be less of it. What would best bring this about is clearer language from the church that material consumption does actually harm the church’s cause, but the brethren seem reluctant to speak about this directly. The result is that very few Mormons would think a person’s decision to live in a huge house or buy an expensive car demonstrates a lack of commitment to the church and it’s cause of Zion.

    Incidentally, I don’t even know what you mean when you decry “corporate greed” in your complaint about Exxon profits or CEO salaries. Do you truly believe its immoral for Merrill Lynch employees to negotiate for the best salaries they can get? I assume you think the Exxon owners (shareholders) would have smaller profits if they distributed the companies resources among the companies suppliers and employees more “fairly”, but if so, I’d be interested knowing what that means. What is the “fair” theory of value? What is the “fair” way to determine the price of a painting?

    It seems to me that the market is the only fair pricing mechanism, and that any moral faults of the market price are actually faults of the inputs only. Market prices are immoral only when people love (i.e., create market demand for) “substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.” When people bellyache about baseball players signing $250 million contracts, they moral target of their complaint is the people who will pay so much (whether they pay through tickets or their agreement to watch commercials) to see the best baseballers. The only moral issue I see is how people _use_ their salary.

  6. “I do not believe in Hugh Nibley’s theory of complete consecration — modern-day prophets have not asked for that.”

    Geoff, you may have seen me point this out before, but because the second commandment remains in force — we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves — modern-day prophets frequently ask us to give as though we lived in the united order. The law of consecration and united order was simply a *system* for giving, the reason for giving then and now was the first and second commandments. You and I, good that we try to do, are only 3% compliant with the second commandment. We fail the second commandment when we are more concerned about our own happiness and well being than our neighbor’s, and that’s something we all do.

    (I think Nibley would have been more effective had he not tried to argue the modern relevance of the law of consecration, and instead simply shown the demands of the second commandment.)

  7. Dr. Woodworth,
    I visited your website long ago and was intrigued about the program to help Latinos in Provo. I am very interested to know how it worked and would love to try to implement something like that where I live.
    Great post, BTW.

  8. I’ve thought about the idea of America’s addiction to consumerism and I believe that could ultimately be the downfall of our society. China has taken over a lot of our society quietly, for instance, our mortgage lender, Citibank, is now owned by China, in some way I don’t understand.

    It’s very hard, though, as you get older, not to accumulate tons of “stuff.” I carry out bags and boxes of stuff and it seems to multiply exponentially.

    One of my resolutions is to get rid of this stuff. To ask, “do I need this?” I actually completely decluttered my kitchen. Now on to my ridiculously cluttered office.

    This is all very good food for thought, thank you for sharing it.

  9. As B.Y.U. was set up – in Brigham Young’s own words – to contend against “the false political economy which contends against cooperation and the United Order” it seems to me that Prof. Woodworth is at least one of the faculty that still takes that commission seriously.

    The Professor’s words also remind me of a statement Brigham Young, the First Presidency, and all the Twelve made in 1875:

    D&C 49:20 But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.

    Isn’t it a good thing we know better than this in our day?

  10. I agree with Geoff: high corporate salaries do not automatically translate into injustice.

    I try to give what I can, when I can. I feel very underqualified when it comes to saying that other people’s actions are immoral, particularly given the limits of my own knowledge and experience. I should do better and be more generous, and that’s about all I’ll say when it comes to stuff like this.

  11. Interestingly Brigham Young lived rather well as did the bankers, hotel owners and businessmen and so forth in SLC. However if you were a new immigrant with few connections and got sent down to Moab or St. George to live as a farmer you were going to live in near poverty.

    I think the inequality of wealth during the peak of the united order in Utah was as bad if not arguably worse than today.

  12. Matt, I disagree with your #6. For a commandment to have some effect, there must be some practical way to comply with it and there must be some possible sanction and/or consequence for not complying with it. So, if I don’t keep the word of wisdom, I can still in theory go to church but I can’t get a temple recommend (if I am honest during the temple recommend interview). If I don’t keep chaste, I risk excommunication and/or disfellowship. Even some of the commandments we are given in the temple, some of which are less specific, involve practical compliance and a possible sanction. If, for example, the prophet were to announce tomorrow that consecrating my time and talents to the Church involved my handing my house over to the bishop to distribute to others, I would do it. But I have never been asked to do such a thing.

    So, I can only surmise that today the commandment I need to keep is to be “a full tithe payer.” Yes, I need to love my neighbor as myself, and I try mightily to do this, but this is not a specific commandment involving practical actions today by me and my family regarding consecration. I agree that at some future time there is a possibility I may have to show this love through a greater amount of material consecration but today I have not been asked to do this.

    So, I disagree that I am only 3 percent compliant with the second commandment today. In terms of what I am asked to do by those in authority today, I personally am 100 percent compliant.

    Now in terms of loving my neighbor the way I should, I would agree that I am probably 3 percent compliant. But we return to the same point: to keep a commandment, there needs to be a practical way of complying. I have complied 100 percent of what is asked of me.

  13. And at the end of the day, what can be done about CEO pay?…Who is to choose who gets a pay cut?

    Shareholders. As it stands, compensation is approved by boards of directors, who are in the pockets of management. Barely a month ago, the SEC approved a plan to allow companies to summarily reject candidates for the board suggested by shareholders.

    All shareholders can do is vote against the approved slate of candidates. Sounds an awful lot like a Soviet election to me. How does this promote accountability? How does it reflect market forces?

  14. I advocate even more spending on chocolate, as long as it is good chocolate. I’m sure that at least one other person here agrees.

  15. “But we return to the same point: to keep a commandment, there needs to be a practical way of complying.”

    Geoff, there are many commandments we’re incapable of keeping, but that doesn’t mean they’re not commandments. We need Christ’s grace precisely because we _cannot_ be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect. No one loves God with all their heart, might, mind and strength, no one loves with the pure love of Christ, no one forgives as Christ forgives, etc.

    You and I, like everyone else I’m aware of, care more about ourselves than we do about others. Christ, on the other hand, cares about me as much (more?) as he does himself. Hence his suffering the infinite atonement.

    Even though Christ can save us despite our weaknesses, we’re still commanded to overcome them. One of our weaknesses is our inability to give of ourselves and love — toward God and neighbor — as we’re commanded.


    It sounds like you and I might agree that one of the key reasons the early saints failed to build Zion was Brigham Young himself. I’m confident Zion will never be built but by example. Given that 4 Nephi says they had all things in common, it’s unlikely Nephi slept in a Lion House mansion.

  16. Matt, what is a commandment we are incapable of keeping? I was of the opinion that there are no commandments we are accountable for that we are incapable of keeping. We need Christ’s grace because as fallible people we don’t do what we could do.

    Am I missing something?

    I think though the issue isn’t our ability to keep conscatration so much as figuring out what it is we ought do.

  17. BTW – I do agree with the original post’s topic. I think we do tend to consume too much and share too little. We may be unable to point to exactly what we ought be doing. But I think it easy to tell what we should be doing more of. But still, when rubber meets the road it can be hard. What counts as having too much stuff? How much are too much clothing? Too expensive? It’s hard to say. But perhaps like trying to improve the environment rather than worrying about the ideal case we ought just look at what we can do better and do that.

  18. Many warnings about materialism are on-target, and others are a few hundred years out-of-date, as Geoff’s Colorado Wal-Mart wardrobe demonstrates. When our productive capacity has so outstripped that of our distant ancestors, warning that someone today has too much stuff is like worrying a millenium ago that someone had too big a pile of dirt.

  19. I feel the same way. Back before we were materialists we were all very poor and very happy (except for the kings and rulers). But materialism came along and pulled us a way from subsistence farming and into indutrial production. It ripped apart our communitarian cultures and turned us into individualists. Individualism caused us to quit sacrificing humans. Since the community was no longer more important than the individual.

    Of course along with all of this came increased longevity and increased population, increased knowledge of science, decrease in superstition etc. In a certain sort of way it also brought an increase in faith but that is waning.

    But let’s do away with materialism. Let’s close University mall, let’s close the factories and shops that supply it and let’s return to our farms and hovels and let’s return to tribalism.

  20. The discussion about the practicalities of trying to live consecration today remind me of an article from Sunstone written by Orson Scott Card: Consecration: A Law We Can Live With –

    I personally don’t see Nibley’s idea as just idealistic gas, but as increasingly practical in an America where most of the poor are getting poorer, and many of the rich are getting worried.

  21. Clark, the extent of our accountability is not coterminous with the extent of our commandment (or what is right). We’ve been commanded, and it is right ,that we be perfect, like our Father in Heaven is perfect. Yet none of us is capable of being perfect like that. We’re only accountable to Christ for what we can do, and his atonement makes up the difference at judgment.

    And for the purposes of this discussion, each of us _can_ be less self-centered, and more concerned about others, than we are now.

  22. To finish that last thought: because each of us _can_ be less self-centered, and more concerned about others, we shouldn’t let the fact that Christ’s example of concern for others is infinitely higher than our own keep us down, or keep us from working to overcome our selfishness.

  23. Matt, I agree with your #23 and #24. However, returning to the above post, which extols Hugh Nibley’s view that Saints are required to practice consecration today, I must again say I completely reject that. There is nothing wrong with calling on us to overcome our personal selfishness and trying to become more perfect. We all could give more and be less selfish. Our model is the Master, who spent His entire life doing good for others.

    But prophets today are specifically NOT calling for complete consecration. If they were, we would all be living in huts and spending all of our time with the poor like Mother Teresa (presumably married instead of unmarried). Prophets would be telling us to return to the farms and to avoid high-tech jobs. We definitely could not be lawyers or telecom sales executives.

    I am completely prepared to sell everything I have and turn it over to the Church if the prophet asks me to do it. My wife and I have even discussed it, and we would do it very quickly and very happily. I have seen complete miracles take place in my life because I pay a full tithe. I have no doubt that even greater miracles would happen if I were ask to live to law of consecration and I did so. But we have NOT been asked to do this.

    I have been asked to keep out of debt and live within my means. I do this. I have been asked to pay a full tithe and be generous with my fast offerings. I do this. I have been asked to occasionally give for other causes, such as the Perpetual Education Fund and for missionaries. I do this. I have been asked to go to the temple regularly. I do this (but I could do better, and I’m trying). I have been asked to perform my calling to the best of my ability. I try but I could do better. I have been asked to love my neighbor. I do my best, but I could do a lot better.

    You see how this continuum goes from complete compliance (staying out of debt, pay full tithe, give fast offerings and give for other causes occasionally) to partial compliance? That is because the first few things are measurable. Either you pay a full 10 percent of your gross income or you don’t. It is a measurable, clear, understandable goal — in Malachi the Lord asks us to test Him and see if we will get blessings if we do it. And ever since I began paying my tithing, I have gotten those blessings, each year better than the one before.

    Completely consecrating ourselves is not measurable and is not a realistic goal today because we have not been asked to do it. Hugh Nibley spent hours writing and lecturing and discussing this issue and insisting that everybody should live like him, giving away almost all their money. I don’t fault him for deciding to live that way, but it’s worth pointing out that he never achieved his own stated goal of complete consecration either. So even by his own standards he was not compliant.

    I’d rather be compliant with a realistic goal that I am actually asked to do than not compliant with an unrealistic goal that nobody is asking of me. But that’s just me.

  24. We’ve been commanded, and it is right ,that we be perfect, like our Father in Heaven is perfect. Yet none of us is capable of being perfect like that.

    But, Matt, that’s a bit of a cheap cop-out – especially when we have been given the means to be like our Heavenly Father. So I just don’t buy that. Even there it is very debatable whether we could be like our Father. I see no reason we couldn’t in the sense of being like Jesus acted in the flesh. We choose not to but there’s no reason we couldn’t live like Jesus did that I can see. Do you disagree?

    What I was getting at those were more narrow commandments. I’m not aware of any non-vague commandment we couldn’t fulfill. (The problem with ‘be like God’ is that God doesn’t tell us clearly how to be like God – it’s as much an informational issue as it is anything of human potential)

  25. Geoff, while I largely agree with what you say, I think the issue is that those who claim consecration only applies in terms of explicit commands from the Church is wrong. Certainly most of us, were we commanded, would go live in Orderville. (I’d hope we wouldn’t have to since I think that experiment is way too romanticized) Ditto for the dozens of other tests, experiments and implementations over the 19th century. Ditto for tithing and generous fast offerings. Ditto for accepting Church callings.

    But those are all basically things we have to do because the Church demands it.

    Where I think we fail is on the places we aren’t commanded. i.e. charities that aren’t on that tithing slip. Service projects beyond home teaching and church callings. etc. We could all do much better there.

  26. Clark, I don’t think we can be like Christ in the flesh — none of us _can_ love God with all our heart, might, mind and strength. Moral perfection is qualitatively beyond our capacity.

    Geoff, the greatest commandments are very demanding. None of us live up to them, not even the prophets. The closest any of us get to the second commandment is the love we have for our families.

    Now consider what you would do if you learned that Christ was starving in Africa, and you knew where he was. Then remember that Christ is starving in Africa right now (Matthew 25). Then notice your cognative dissonance, and your justifications of how you spend your time and money even though the person you claim to love more than anyone is suffering for want of bread. If you’re like me, you’ll realize that you either don’t believe Matthew 25 or you don’t love Christ like you thought you did.

    (By the way, I don’t see any reason to think that being a lawyer or telephone saleman is inherently incompatible with the second commandment — those professions may be the best way we can serve others. What matters is that we’re working for the benefit of our neighbor.)

  27. But prophets today are specifically NOT calling for complete consecration. If they were, we would all be living in huts and spending all of our time with the poor like Mother Teresa (presumably married instead of unmarried). Prophets would be telling us to return to the farms and to avoid high-tech jobs. We definitely could not be lawyers or telecom sales executives.

    Suggesting that consecration requires that we return to agriculture, that we spend all of our time “with the poor” (whatever that means), that we live in huts, that we avoid occupations other than agriculture is as wrong as suggesting that there is anything moral about the “market” and the high salaries that it generates for some people.

    Consecration requires that we magnify our stewardship, whatever that may be. Now, the church in the 21st century doesn’t delegate stewardships in the way that it attempted to in the 19th century, but that doesn’t stop us from viewing our occupations as stewardship. A businessman who creates employment opportunities, and makes them available for the poor, and gives them opportunities to improve their skills and gain greater responsibility in the company is doing as much, and perhaps more, for the poor than someone passing out alms and leaving the poor dependent on the handouts. And if he can avoid thinking that (1) he deserves the compensation that he’s getting and (2) looking around at others and deciding that he needs to keep up with their compensation, then he may yet be saved.

    Executive compensation in the multi-million dollar/year range is simply pride at work–by then the income is just a number and somebody’s trying to show that his number is bigger than his neighbors. And then they hide behind “the market makes me take all this money.” Simpering fools–and to think that they’ve got so many people suckered in with that claptrap.

  28. Then remember that Christ is starving in Africa right now (Matthew 25). Then notice your cognative dissonance, and your justifications …If you’re like me, you’ll realize that you either don’t believe Matthew 25 or you don’t love Christ like you thought you did.

    What arrogant sounding, high minded statement.

    People, we don’t need to travel the world (read: waste of money) in order to serve the poor. I can promise you there are plenty of poor in your communities. The Lord has given us specific instruction regarding how we should spend our money – tithing, generous fast and other offerings, avoid debt etc…

    My ward is an inner city ward where there are literally many, many dozens of poor families. You could spend all of your paycheck on these families and it would be *wasted* money. They don’t need money – what they need is a better understanding of the gospel so that they can begin to see that getting an honest education is a way to earn more money and the impetus to changing their position in this world.

    A huge stumbling block to the poor in my ward is tithing. For the most part, they don’t pay it or they are only part tithe payers. The poor families who have gained a true testimony of the gospel have become full tithe payers and their lives are being blessed so much that they rarely need external help – or there are plans in place (education) so that in a short time they will no longer require financial assistance.

    Do we really want to help the poor? Then teach them the gospel and help them to develop their own testimonies of the Law of Tithing so that they will be members who pay a full tithe. Eventually, they will pay a fast offering and really see the Lord’s blessings.

    Traveling the world to help the poor smacks of wanting everyone to see your shining star. It is so much easier and more financially wise to help the many poor that surrounds us every day… of course, then people couldn’t tell others that they fly around the world helping the poor.

  29. Geoff:
    One time I invited a member of the church with me to a lunch where I gave the owner, and the busboy several books each. When the member realized I had bought those books on my own (ie, not getting them from the ward mission leader) he pointed out to me that what I was doing was living the law of consecration.

    The “formal” Law of Consecration, as practiced by the United Order, was a hierarchically directed effort. But what you and I can do in the here and now is live the law of consecration on our own, and do so to whatever degree that our hearts and imaginations direct, and what our wallets can afford. It doesn’t have to be a centrally directed effort by doing what the bishop or GA’s direct. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing.

    Living the law of consecration right here and now can consist very simple decision-making events, ie. forego an expensive $50 dinner at a fancy restaurant, and opt for a $15 dinner instead, and offer the difference as a Fast Offering, or P.E. Fund, or a donation to some other worthwhile charity.

    There are literally hundreds of opportunities for charitable consecrations available to every member. Maybe buying a gift subscription to the Ensign for a new convert. Maybe buying an extra Ensign subscription for the ward missionaries or full time elders so they can give fresh copies to investigators. Maybe buying the full time missionaries a CASE of copies of the Book of Mormon every month, so that they can hand them out like candy, instead of being stingy with them, (ie, only giving them out to investigators.)

    Maybe buying some church videos for some elderly widows or retirees in your ward who can’t afford them.

    One can easily find dozens of worthwhile charities on the web. My favorites include Christian Children’s Fund,
    and the International Rescue Committee,

    I remember a couple of well-to-do members of a previous ward I was in spending over $1,000 so one of the youth could get his Eagle in scouting. They had plenty of money left over after tithing and other required/suggested church offerings. However, in some gospel-related things they were apparently very stingy. I saw many opportunities in that ward where small expenditures could have made a very big difference, especially in missionary work.

    There are plenty of opportunities for consecrating time, talents and _especially_ resources, if one is willing to think outside of the box, or outside of the standard donation slip. We have a lot of incorrect assumptions in this church.

  30. Mark B, I had not heard that you were called to the Church official position of Deciding Who Is Saved and What a Fair Salary Is. Wow, congratulations on your new calling!

    I’m glad to hear that as part of this calling you will be getting a 90 percent pay cut (you obviously earn way more than is fair).

    Now, when you are deciding who is saved, please remember those few posts and comments I have made that you agreed with. Then I might just make it. Phew!

    But more seriously, I have no problem with your admonition that businesspeople look around them for ways of doing positive things on the Earth rather than concentrating on accumulating wealth. I have seen enough miserable wealth-accumulators to know it does not bring even a modicum of happiness. Most of these people will learn that lesson on their own eventually. My issue once again is with the Hugh Nibley version of consecration, which if you read his many speeches on the subject does involve giving away your money and going back to the farm (or a university) and, in effect, living in huts.

    Joe, thanks for your common-sense comment #30.

  31. Bookslinger, thanks for your #31. I have no problem with that definition of the law of consecration, and I do many of those things right now. My conscience tells me I am in tune with that definition of the law of consecration and keeping my temple covenants. Once again, my problem is with the Hugh Nibley definition, which was extolled by Dr. Woodworth in the middle of his post.

  32. Joe #30,
    I don’t think Matt Evans was advocating going to Africa in person. I think you quite misread his post and misjudged his intentions.

    There are already plenty of organizations operating there who are doing what you seem to suggest, feed those who currently _can’t_ feed themselves (and would otherwise starve to death), but mainly teach and create conditions where people can feed themselves.

    The International Rescue Committee ( is one such organization that specifically works with refugees and displaced persons, feeding those who can’t feed themselves and would otherwise starve to death. I have contributed money to them in the past.

    Your message #30 also seems to fail to distinguish between poor American non-Mormons, poor Mormons in your ward, and poor Africans. All have quite different circumstances and needs.

    As you know, there are plenty of safety-nets in place in America so that no one needs to starve in this country. It seems to me that it is pretty difficult to fall through the holes, and NOT get food help in the US, with all the food pantries and charities, and various local, state and federal food programs. In fact, it’s so easy, even illegal immigrants who can’t speak English seem to figure out how to get food stamps, WIC vouchers, and etc.

    Then, on top of all that, members of the church have access to free food if they need it. And, even unworthy parents who are members of the church have access to free food from the church, as long as they have minor children living at home. I’ve seen that.

    What you suggest about teaching people the gospel and stressing education is also on target, and that goes a long way to prevent people from being dependent on continuing hand-outs.

    And you also probably know that preaching and teaching doesn’t do much good if the person you’re talking to is literally starving, and is not presently in a circumstance where they can obtain food on their own.

    The church’s philosophy on feeding and charity covers a good spectrum. Feed people who can’t feed themselves, but also teach them and work with them so they can feed themselves.

    We seem to have eliminated people starving to death in the United States. I haven’t read about that happening here recently. If it does happen, it must be very rare, or perhaps intentional.

    So I think it quite proper to help those organization already in place in Africa who are working to eliminate starvation. I don’t think Matt or anyone else in this thread was advocating going to africa and dishing out the Atmit or other emergency food in person. There are already people and organizations in place. What those organization need are supplies, food, and money, and _local_ workers (people who already live there and are healthy enough to help others.)

    “Teach them the gospel” is a wonderful solution, but that won’t solve the immediate needs of starving refugees or victims of famine (either natural or man-made) in Africa.

    I served a mission in Ecuador. And there were times when I was in situations where the people needed their temporal needs taken care of before they needed preaching to. “Welfare service missionaries” had a different scope and assignment back then. So even if I had been a welfare missionary instead of a proselyting missionary, it still wouldn’t have addressed the real needs.

    I’m very glad to see that the church has increased its humanitarian services, and started offering some real programs to the world’s poor in the 20 years since then.

  33. Geoff,
    I didn’t see Nibley giving such a definition (farming and living in huts) in the original message. I’ll have to re-read it, but I think Woodworth’s definition is closely in line with your’s and mine, which I’ll restate for clarity:

    I think a way that we can all currently live the law of consecration is to keep it in mind whenever we make decisions about expenditures: if, what, where, and how much to buy something, or invest in something. Such decision-making could taken into account whether it is a need or a want, is it optimum, is it a good investment, what are the alternatives, could the money be better spent elsewhere, will this expenditure/investment be approved of the Lord, is it being a good servant/steward, does this expense/investment further the Kingdom, does it uplift others, etc.

    I live in a stake with a wide socio-economic spectrum. I see the results of poor decision making, and poor education or lack of it. I also see worldly success and materialism. I’ve seen the humble rich, and I’ve seen the arrogant rich, and lots of “fine-twined linen.” I’ve seen classism and discrimination.

    And I must be getting old, because I’ve also seen a lot of those problems in myself.

    Anyway, I think people are talking past each other a lot in this thread.

  34. Thanks, Geoff B, for the serious response to my comment. You will note that I did not speculate on the saved condition of any person, rich, poor or otherwise or even you.

    If you believe that thinking oneself deserving of the compensation one receives is consistent with salvation, perhaps you should read King Benjamin again. And, if you think that looking around at others and comparing your compensation to theirs is consistent with salvation, then perhaps you should read Pres. Benson on pride.

    And, if you can provide any reason to explain executive or other compensation in the multi-million dollar range other than pride (am I making more than that other guy?) or greed, I’m happy to hear it.

    Finally, if your conclusion that consecration is not now expected of us depends on Bro. Nibley’s definition, I’d suggest that you’re arguing with a straw man. I wasn’t aware that his interpretations were authoritative.

  35. I guess I would agree with Bookslinger that we all (including me) appear to be talking past each other on this thread and looking for reasons to get offended. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to not do this, and I have already failed!!!

    Happy New Year’s to one and all!

  36. Geoff, sometimes discussions can get heated and we sometimes respond in ways we wish we hadn’t. Welcome to the human race. 🙂

    I think the important thing to remember is that we have poor among us and we have been commanded to take care of them. We each have differing ideas on how to go about it. I think everyone has brought wonderful ideas to the table and I appreciate the message Dr. Woodworth conveyed in his post. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but it made me think.

  37. Geoff, I think Nibley is 100% right that consecration can be done on our own. We don’t have to wait for a Church program.

    Now in terms of Nibley’s “ideal” which is a little overly Platonic and otherworldly for my tastes I agree. I also think there’s a bit of hypocrisy in it all – but I won’t go into that. (Suffice to say I wonder if Nibley would be decrying materialism had he limited access to that nice Library and had to work outside of academics – Nibley was lucky in that the material things he wanted he had in spades and that he could justify away as not really being material)

    My big concern is that there are poor who’s needs aren’t being met. Here in Utah they have extremely poor programs for children with special needs. (Say Autism) That seems like something you’d think would be better here than in most places. But it ends up being quite bad. One would think all the Libertarian idealists would have set up charities to fulfill the need but they aren’t there.

    My personal feeling is that in Utah, people like to talk about consecration and then take the lack of Church organization to imply that they can do a little bit and leave the problems in place. Any attempt to resolve this on the local or State level gets met with opposition.

    Now we can debate how to meet these needs. However one thing is clear – that those who ought to be meeting them (the Saints) aren’t.

    It’s one thing to be saying we can improve on our own. (Which I agree 100% with) However most of us tend to go out of our ways to make sure the improvement is gradual enough so as to take very little effort and achieve very few results. Meanwhile we are quite intent on getting all the toys to play with we want.

    I’m sure we will be held accountable for this as a people by God.

  38. Clark, on Nibley’s hypocrisy, that is exactly what I thought as I slogged through “Approaching Zion.” The only careers he thinks are righteous are being a farmer and a teacher. Well, isn’t that convenient, because he has one of those careers! Nibley will always be one of my heroes for his apologetic work for the Church and the many incredible insights he offers on the Gospel. But his lack of rational thought on consecration is very, very annoying to me personally (if you hadn’t gathered that by the many comments I’ve made on this thread alone).

  39. Fun comments, people! With the re-launch of BYU classes I only today took a look at your reactions. I appreciate the debate between readers. Several offered great insights, others were hilarious, and a few seemed pretty entrenched in keeping the status quo as it is. Here are a few of my reactions to what different bloggers have said.

    First of all, on the issue of CEO compensation, their pay is generally NOT a reflection of the marketplace. It is largely sheer greed and manipulation, which seems to contradict gospel temporal teachings about the world “lying in sin” because of such inequality (D&C 49:20). I am not advocating government control of compensation, on the other hand. But can CEO pay be controlled? Sure! What it would require is change. Some naively assume that boards of directors determine CEO compensation. But the reality is that most boards are made up of CEO friends in quid pro quo relationships. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” “You put me on your board, and I’ll put you on mine.” “You propose a big raise as one of my board members, and I’ll argue for giving you a raise in your company.” I’ve been on corporate boards I have served on from California to the East Coast, and know what goes on. This is a huge and well-documented reality for most large U.S. companies.

    The myth is that board members are independent, arms-length participants granting CEO compensation based on objective, third party decisions. The sad fact is that there is much research on interlocking boards which suggests just the opposite, that many board members are in fact hand picked by top executives to get their way. It’s a huge problem in the United States, and maybe the federal government ought to be the solution. All the backdatings of executive stock options in recent years has clearly given rise to new corporate reporting requirements which makes such corruption more difficult. But there are several other models for dealing with this problem.

    In Japan, CEOs make a lot less money because of Japanese cultural values which emphasize equality. In Europe they have another powerful solution, that of co-determination. In the European model, workers and unions hold important seats on corporate boards of directors. They have access to the books. They know how much workers are being paid, and they push for more moderate compensation packages for CEOs because of this transparency. Thus, even their companies are as large and complicated as ours, American CEOs receive 4 times that of Swedish executives, 3.1 times more than Japanese counterparts, and 2.4 times the French. This is not due to some magical factor of the free market, but because of human norms and values. Of course, this completely contradicts the reality that American managers are losing their shirts as foreign firms grab our markets, exploit our inefficiencies, and mismanage our economy. The dollar’s down compared to the Euro, the pound, and is now down to being on par with the lowly Canadian dollar. Who’d a thunk it? While our guys focus on maximizing their personal bank accounts, global CEOs zero in on excellence.

    I should mention that some U.S. executives have figured out what values are most appropriate for our age. In a number of American firms, enlightened CEOs have taken the initiative themselves to create a more equitable system. For example, Ben Cohen, founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, determined from day one that top executives should not receive more than 3:1 the compensation of lowest paid workers. After many years, they moved it to up to 7:1; but still that is roughly an egalitarian structure.

    Management guru, Peter Drucker, argued that CEOs should not receive more than 20 times the pay of regular employees; that to pay more was unjustifiable, that to pay more was a sign of a poorly performing firm, and in terms of capitalism, would reflect the reality of obvious organizational inefficiencies. We need only recall rapacious executives like the Rigas family who stole a billion dollars from their firm, or Enron, Tyco, “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap and his cronies who were described as the “Bosses From Hell” featured in pro-business magazine, to have an awareness of the problems of greedy CEOs and their “corrupt cultures,” descriptions which may go on ad nauseum.

    The great philosopher, Socrates, argued that no society could be ethical in which those at the top enjoyed incomes greater than a 5:1 ratio with the citizens at the bottom. To exceed this would be immoral and unethical. So to those readers defending the status quo of greed as a necessary evil because there’s no other option, I would simply say, of course there are. Consider the hugely successful Mondragon cooperatives, a close parallel to the United Order. It has grown from an impoverished group of 5 young men into an economic engine in the Basque country of northern Spain. How? By emphasizing equality and collaboration instead of power and greed. By caring for the group, not so-called rugged individualism. They designed their system based on economic justice. They do not seek to go back to the farm or live in a hovel of past eras. Instead, they are high tech. They use state of the art technologies to create jobs, while American managers do do to downsize. They are capital-intensive, not labor intensive. They have only had a handful of 200-plus worker-owned firms fail in 60 years, and even then gave everyone a job in the other enterprises. What’s more, they have never had a layoff. What region or industry in America has a record even close to this? With only 2-3 percent of firms going bankrupt? With a pay ration of 7:1 throughout these many companies and their 60,000 people?

    These are not wild, naïve ideas, nor fantasies about some kind of distant, utopian future which in reality may never be achieved. Instead, they are concrete examples of successful contemporary economic systems which are very different from that of America, but which could be applicable if done with cooperative principles and effective planning.

    It is apparent that Brigham Young did have a higher level of compensation or lifestyle than many during the pioneer era of Utah. But even in this case it was only 3-5 times what the average family enjoyed. In that era, America was much more egalitarian than today’s social structure. Within the United Order ideal, Brigham clarified that it was not to be a narrow, strict, mathematical equality, but rather an approximate equality in which there would be a large middle class consisting of most families having roughly the same lifestyle as one another. That would be a sign we have reached Zion. This is a huge contrast compared to the princes of our day who build $30 million mansions and own multiple homes, justifying such practices or lifestyles as some ultra-rich Mormons do, that they are simply taking care of their families. Well did Elder Dallin Oaks point out that in our LDS rush to dismantle communism, we ended up embracing materialism.

    A couple readers nicely observed that we have poor families all around us, and that we don’t need to travel afar to serve those who suffer. This is an important point, and I concur completely. Each of us has the opportunity, indeed, the moral obligation, to assist those in our own communities who may lack shelter, food, healthcare, and jobs. If we don’t notice them, we ought to open our eyes. In truth, we are to seek them out, not simply respond if we happen to notice. As the Savior taught, such individuals are our neighbors, and we are indeed our brothers’ keepers.

    Several reader comments praised today’s rising capitalism in the Third World as evidence that it has clearly improved lives for the masses. But unfortunately, we still have huge numbers of people who live in abject poverty. Over a billion of the “hyper poor” try to eke out an existence on less than a dollar a day. More than 1.3 billion more attempt to survive on under $2 a day. A quarter of all Asia is officially poor. More so in sub-Saharan Africa, where millions of people die from preventable disease, additional millions are homeless because of conflict and drought, and millions more barely exist, slowly succumbing to a gradual death in places like Darfur. Globally, hundreds of millions living don’t even own a piece of land for building a shanty. Malnourished children suffer extended stomachs before dying while we flip the TV channel to avoid the poignant video clips.

    One reader declared that ”Thirty years ago billions of people in Asia and Latin America were under the yoke of government-controlled economies that kept them enchained in poverty and despair,” continuing to assert they are out of poverty now. Wouldn’t it be wonderful? Perhaps, except it’s not true. They are now being exploited by MNCs and the power of globalization which is a lot more crushing than governments in the past. No wonder there is such a huge outcry against U.S. foreign policy by millions of protesters who see the new control asserted by core countries as they depress the markets and economies of those in the periphery. So far, the benefits of today’s capitalism have mostly accrued to rich nations, making them wealthier than ever before.

    As is well-known, the rich countries (U.S. and Europe) have controlled 80 percent of the world’s income during the 20th Century. It totaled about $51 trillion last year. We took most of it while a few countries remained stagnant in the middle. The rest languished in dangerous and declining environments which are so bad these countries now have a new name, the 4th World. We in our comfortable U.S. context enjoy a very good lifestyle, while our brothers and sisters in 40 nations are currently worse off than they were a decade ago. This is true among many Latter-day Saints as well.

    A couple of readers who went to my website asked about becoming involved in the efforts our NGOs are making to lift the world’s poor, both globally and here in Utah, as well. We have dozens of programs and strategies for empowering the poor and building economic self-reliance. In 2006 16 of these social enterprises that had been spun off from my BYU courses in recent years raised some $10 million, trained over 170,000 microentrepreneurs, and we grew to have a microcredit client base of more than 1.2 million families. I’m currently calculating the results for 2007, and it appears the numbers will be at least double those of the year earlier.

    This fact suggests that we can all do more. We can have increasingly greater impacts for good. No one can do everything, but we can each do something. None of us can ignore D&C 58, and simply wait for the bishop or church headquarters to command us. Instead, we need to pray, dig down deep, and find the power within ourselves to be agents of change. For those interested, go to .

    Another theme in the reactions of many comments had to do with conspicuous consumption, or what we may call “The Lifestyles of Mormonism’s Rich and Famous.” Geoff B. praised “our wonderful global capitalist system,” suggesting that I can’t go around blaming the system. Oh yes I can, and oh yes, I do. I do so right here in my Marriott School office where I’m keyboarding now, and in my MBA classes located here in what I call the “great and spacious building” at BYU.

    The current capitalist system is certainly not the vision Adam Smith sought, nor Joseph Smith, for that matter. Yes, greedy Walmart offers us lots of cheap goods, but this occurs because of the low wages and near-slave labor it forces on Asian suppliers. I believe we should pay more when we go shopping so that Third World women and children can have a better quality of life, instead of me enjoying the cheapest prices possible.

    Regarding those readers who praised the availability of multiple choices for all kinds of products, I would simply suggest that there may be pluses for this, but also minuses. We seem to live much like hamsters in cages, racing in a never-ending spin on our economic treadmills. The more choices there are, apparently the more we want to buy and consume. What benefit is there in the eternal scheme of things to have 100 different kinds of crackers? Two hundred alternative soda drinks? Three hundred variations of breakfast cereals? These things don’t create a more meaningful life. Instead, they generate greater consumption habits. The more alternatives we have, the more we seem to “need.”

    By the way, most of these product choices are derived, not because there is a market demand for them. Instead, corporations create these markets by spending billions of dollars advertising in the print and electronic media about how important it is to have all this “stuff.” For many Mormons, like the Protestant ethic, we tend to believe that having all of these kinds of products, one of each preferably, shows that because we can afford them, they somehow must be important. They apparently show that God favors us because we are so successful materially.

    In closing, let me respond to those who declare that crazy old Hugh Nibley pushed for a Zion lifestyle that we don’t yet need to live. Maybe I’m crazy too. One writer said he is prepared to sell everything and give it to the Church if the prophet asks him to do so. I may be wrong, but wasn’t this the dilemma of the rich young ruler? He too couldn’t consecrate everything he owned. As I understand it correctly, we are to initiate the principles of stewardship, not wait to be “commanded in all things.” The only way to build Zion is to inch forward in becoming a covenant community, one step at a time, one family at a time.

    In the temple, don’t we covenant to live the Law of Consecration here and now? Or does it say to do so later, when it’s more convenient? Or when we’re all millionaires? I believe there would be more explicit encouragement from church leaders for our people to fully live the laws of Zion now if we could just get beyond our own materialism. Obviously the Welfare Plan, fast offerings, the Humanitarian Fund, Latter-day Saint Charities, and the Perpetual Education Fund are mechanisms to prod us toward the great end, Zion. Yet apparently many are dragging their feet in protest and trying to cling to the one and only clear financial commandment they can handle, a tithe of 10 percent max! They feel anything else is merely optional. Prideful living and our competition with the Joneses inhibit our ability to approach Zion. It seems to me that we each need to take action in our personal lives here and now—to live what the scriptures explicitly command us to do–not at some ethereal time in the future when we are comfortably dwelling in Independence, Missouri.

    Any further responses or rebuttals?

  40. Clark (way back there): The first and most important commandment is “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I do not think in this life that commandment can be lived perfectly. I think you can “do” all the other stuff and still fall short on that one.

    Although Mother Teresa, she didn’t pay her tithing or join the church or have a recommend and I bet you 10,000 dollars she’s up there having a lemonade with God right now.

  41. “Then remember that Christ is starving in Africa right now (Matthew 25). Then notice your cognative [sic] dissonance, and your justifications …If you’re like me, you’ll realize that you either don’t believe Matthew 25 or you don’t love Christ like you thought you did.

    “What arrogant sounding, high minded statement.”

    If I wrote it Joe, you can be assured it’s arrogant. It does happen to be true, however, that I’ve had this conversation with maybe 50 Mormons, and have noticed the mental gymnastics we all play when we realize that we know Christ is starving (whether in Africa or our backyard) while we’re choosing to comfortably play on an expensive computer.

  42. Warner,

    Thanks for responding. First, let me again stress that I believe the second commandment requires us to share every good thing, and to work for the benefit of our neighbor.

    That said, I was disappointed that your advocacy of an egalitarian pay structure completely ducked the economic fundamentals, especially supply and demand. Interlocking directorates are only a small factor in setting high CEO salaries.

    Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever (Holland) in 2000, after years of flat sales. Paying their CEO less than the average starting salary for a top-school MBA grad ensured their CEOs viewed the position as a resume-building internship and a stepping stone to better opportunities — replacing the CEO every 18 months proved to be a bad management strategy. Now they’re overseen by the suits at Unilever.

    All of the big companies that used “egalitarian” structures (B&J, Whole Foods, Herman Miller) excluded stock options from their calculation, and I don’t know of any company that had egalitarian pay in the 90s that still has it today. In every case they abandoned it because they couldn’t attract or retain top talent. The pesky law of supply and demand raises its head once more.

    It’s unfortunate, but true, that many more people are willing to pay lots more money to watch Alex Rodriguez play baseball than they are to watch me play baseball. A lot more people want to hear Billy Joel sing than to hear me sing. Any argument for egalitarian pay has to address talent scarcity and demand disparity.

    The answer, I believe, is not to force Zion-building to ignore supply and demand, but to focus on consumption. I see no moral problem in J. K. Rowling’s selling a billion books. The moral issues arise from her choices of using that money. Many of those issues reduce to — for the benefit of my neighbor, or for myself? That’s where we should be focusing our efforts — educating the public, especially Mormons, about their moral obligation to use their resources to bless others, not themselves.

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