High-Compounding Salvation

August_2006_shirt11Discussions regarding wealth, ostentation, philanthropy and Mormonism abound in the Bloggernacle. We’re relatively wealthy people here in our slice of cyberspace, and we don’t mind moralizing about our wealth, either. From a layperson’s point of view, I think I perceive two camps regarding wealth-distribution among Mormons: the amateurs, who talk about wealth according to their relative fields of expertise (be it economics, law, or what have you) and the professionals, who are actually wealthy and engaged in the process of wealth redistribution and philanthropy. I’d submit that the Bloggernacle is almost exclusively composed of the amateurs, myself included, which is unfortunate, because I believe we could learn a great deal about the nature of wealth and faith by involving some of the professionals in our discussions. Jon Huntsman? Dave Neeleman? Consider this your invitation to permablog at BCC.

In that vein, I’ve watched and re-watched a recent episode of Charlie Rose that I think is very germane: Rose’s interview of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s an absolute must-see insight into the world of high-end philanthropy as well as a fascinating view of the challenges major-league charities face. The interview took place shortly after the announcement by Buffett that he was donating the equivalent of more than 37 billion dollars to the Gates Foundation. You can watch the episode here, but permit me to transcribe a bit of Warren Buffett’s view of philanthropy and wealth. I don’t necessarily subscribe to his view, but I find it worthy of discussion nonetheless:

Rose: People have been speculating, as you know, for a long time about why you haven’t done this before, and you were saying you haven’t done it before…

Buffett: …My logic is that philanthropy, philanthropic needs would be huge today, tomorrow, 20 years from now, a hundred years from now, and if people were going to devote their money to philanthropy, the ones that were high-compounders should take care of the high philanthropy 20 or 40 years out.

Rose: And that would be you.

Buffett: Yeah, and I really thought, it made way more sense [instead of] to give a million dollars 30 years ago, which might have been all that one had available, to have it compound, and people who are low-compounders should take care of the current needs. I mean, if I ran a university, and I had two wealthy alumni and they were going to supply all the money, I would take the guy who wouldn’t do very much with the money and use his money currently, and I would have the other fellow compound for me (laughs). So anyway, it’s been a convenient way to think, anyway, and that has been my philosophy on it, but now is the time.

Later in the interview, Buffett refers to money and the process of amassing wealth and philanthropy as “the second act of the money, in effect. You amass these claim checks — that’s what money is, in effect, which money is on society, and then you figure out the best use for them.”

There are two concepts in here I find fascinating, with possible repercussions on how I give my money: first, the notion of making the best use of money from a simple money-management point of view. It makes sense to me that those who are better at multiplying their money should give later, to maximize the amount of money being given. That said, the notion of withholding gifts until the donor deems him or herself “ready” seems repulsive. There seems to be an implicit balancing test here: if we give everything we have as soon as we get it, we may place the group as a whole at a disadvantage — but if we hoard for too long, then the group is bound to suffer. As a side note and example, it may be in the immediate best interest of high-income tithepayers to hold off on their tithing payments until January, as this year’s alternative minimum tax rules reduce the benefits of a taxable donation. The average tithepayer, on the other hand, probably will see little to no benefit from a delay in the date of tithepaying.

The second notion is in the second Buffett quote: the concept of money as a “claim check” on society. In other words, money can mean more than a simple subsitute for direct barter of goods and services – it essentially represents a future obligation of society. We hold onto money and amass it, and with it comes a potential social power. Money can be defined in different ways, whether as a medium of exchange or store of value, but Buffett, by gaining such enormous wealth and donating it to a specific cause, has essentially forced society to take an interest in his cause and revealed money as a store of social power. This is perhaps a new and better way for Mormons to conceive of money; currently we strongly associate money with the evils of the world, and eschew more than is sufficient for our needs. However, we can also view money as a means of social change and a potential long-term tool for doing good.

Lessons: don’t fear money and put off paying tithing. Slim that camel down, cuz we’re headed right for the needle’s eye, folks!

Comments

  1. I am totally and utterly dismayed that you didn’t call out Stephen R. Covey. I mean, sure, he’s not as rich as Huntsman, but I hear he has quite the house in the Provo hills and surely I’m not the only who would be interested in hearing how claim checks can improve synergy in the workplace.

  2. WM, I’m sure you’re right, any moment now Bro. Covey will announce a landmark philanthropic donation. He’s just waiting for the right time….

  3. Buffett’s views on philanthropy are interesting precisely because I’d come around to that view some time ago. The downside is that it assumes you will be successful and that the needs during that 30 years don’t matter. But I must admit that the Buffett view is very persuasive.

    WM, I actually believe Covey does donate a lot of money but just doesn’t call a lot of attention to himself. The house is, I believe, simultaneously used for business. So if I recall he has a lot of guests. But I do agree that there are lots of folks up there who perhaps aren’t quite as in keeping with how I understand the gospel. Although I’m loath to really criticize, mote, beams and all that. (Not that I’m rich in the least – far from it)

  4. Eric Russell says:

    He does open up to a lot of guests, I’ve been there a couple times for ward activities. Now whether that justifies the indoor basketball court…

  5. Clark, the Buffett view is persuasive from two angles: first, it ostensibly is logical, from a best-use-of-resources standpoint. Second, it permits rich people to postpone the distribution of their wealth, which I’m sure they’re more than happy to do. The problem is to what extent this second motivation can be successfully disregarded.

  6. S. P. Bailey says:

    The big house thing is interesting in light of Buffett’s comments. Some houses are conspicuous, but not necessarily consumption. A big house bought twenty years ago for $200,000 may be worth $2 million or more in twenty years. Its owners could estate-plan the home to be sold and proceeds to be donated to the poor. Assuming such a home appreciates in value at a rate greater than inflation, its owners have effectively multiplied their gift to the poor. That, and they did so while enjoying palace amenities. Nice houses on the bench, which are often opened to family, friends, wards, and neighbors, do not necessarily grind the face of the poor.

    Anyway, assuming stability in real estate markets, big homes are much less troubling from a moral perspective than pure conspicous consumption: i.e., ultra-expensive cars and clothes and other things that quickly lose their value.

  7. D. Fletcher says:

    I saw the title of this thread, and I thought maybe if I attended Sacrament Meeting every week for 30 years, I could retire on the savings.

    ;)

  8. “big homes are much less troubling from a moral perspective than pure conspicous consumption”

    SP, normally I’d agree with you, except that I think we’re seeing a change in the zoning and construction of homes to reflect more flagrant spending habits — manor-like homes on small lots in areas with the poor and diverse zoned out of existence. Yes, a Lexus is more obvious a status symbol, because it is a movable (and depreciating) thing, but I am afraid that real estate is swiftly moving in a similar direction — witness the housing bubble, among other things.

    Buffett’s comments elsewhere in the interview are also of note, particularly his remarks against dynastic wealth and the proper role of passing money to children. The applicability of his remarks to everyday consumers is in doubt — Buffett does not live in the same financial world as us, really — but they’re still worth mulling over.

  9. How many Mormons do you really know that think money is connected with the evils of the world?

    Except for c-c-crazies like me, who make 30K a year and don’t ever see myself making much more than that.

    I hate to be pessimistic (okay actually I love it) but I think Mormons love money and it validates their “righteousness”. You’re wealthy=God clearly loves you and blesses you. You’re poor=sin, or at least not good friend material.

    Of course I believe in giving money away, but it seems to me that since we like money so much and pursue it so whole-heartedly that our discussions validate the pursuit of it rather than good (associated with money or no) that we do in the world.

    End rant.

  10. Mark Butler says:

    My opinion is that the construction of overly large homes is the greatest, most counterproductive, and of course most regrettably subsidized sink of wealth in the Republic.

    Although I think the whole common conception of money is at best a telestial scheme, rather than a celestial, the “claim check” concept of money is right. Paper money certainly doesn’t store any value per se. Milton Friedman has some interesting things to say about that. He talked about a tribe that used large circular stones as a form of money. They were sufficiently heavy that people quit moving them around, they just kept track of who owned which one, to the point of counting some that had fallen off of boats into tidal waters.

  11. “our discussions validate the pursuit of it rather than good (associated with money or no) that we do in the world.”

    yep. absolutely.

  12. Amri I hear blanket condemnations of the wealthy nearly as much as I hear people trying to get rich here in Utah. In fact when I was in singles ward the amount of spite made towards the rich and especially folks on the hills in SLC or Provo/Orem was almost frightning. I mean I’m more than willing to say I’ve met plenty of people here in Utah with their values out of whack. But the spite some have seems pretty bad as well. Reminds me of Pres. Benson’s talk on pride that included not only those on top looking down but folks on the bottom looking up.

  13. S. P. Bailey says:

    Not sure I follow you there, Steve. Only if a particular real estate market crashes, will a homeowner have less to give long term. Otherwise, not so. And I included the caveat “assuming stability in real estate markets.”

    My point: it is atleast possible that the well-housed may act as ultimately generous “high compounders” ala Buffett, even if on a much smaller scale. And Buffett does live in the same financial world as us to a point: like many of the rest of us, he has to choose between vehicles. I understand that he drives himself around in an older, unglamourous Lincoln Towncar.

  14. Were the blanket condemnations from Jesus? because I’m with Him.

    Heh.

    I dont’ want to be rich, I won’t ever try to be and while I don’t expect everyone to be like me I think we ought to take our pursuit of money (not just our use of it) more seriously. I mean, sheesh, The Gay gets EVERYONE in the Blogdom of God going, hundreds and hundreds of comments, right? And Jesus never said a word about it. But money? He addresses specifically and repeatedly. And yet, there are usually few comments and they often are like, yeah, money, it’s tricky.

  15. D. Fletcher says:

    I find the whole topic of money on these blogs, tricky.

    Certainly we do disdain the very rich, the ostentatious houses and lifestyles. I was recently bemused (in a bad way) hearing that many of the housewives in the Short Hills, NJ Ward have personal trainers.

    Simultaneously, we hold our most successful capitalist-Mormons in the highest, highest regard, such as the Marriotts.

    My own mother, the least materialistic person I can think of, often judges the success of other Mormons by their income levels.

    It’s a conundrum…

  16. SP, I guess what I’m saying is that real estate, large McMansions in particular, are low-compounding forms of investment at best, and are poor ways for us to justify not giving to the poor.

    Amri, I think you’re right, but Clark’s got a point that we can’t let spitefulness take over – in other words, if we want to rant against the rich, that’s fine, but let’s do so intelligently and specifically. The fact of being rich isn’t a sin in itself, I don’t think; rather, what we’re angry about is a failure to tend to the poor, or a misuse of resources for personal gain, etc.

  17. Steve, if you take away my spite, what will I have left?

    Please don’t take that away from me.

    Please, please, please, let me get what I want. Lord knows, it would be the first time.

  18. S. P. Bailey says:

    I don’t want to be rich, I won’t ever try to be…”

    This is a statement of fact that describes many worthy Christians. But does this attribute of some Christians make them morally superior to the rest? (Not that I think you, Amri, are saying that think you are morally superior.)

    Could the plan of consecration work without some of us acquiring great wealth so that they can give it up for the benefit of those who don’t want to or can’t? I think at least some of us (not me, I’m poor) are morally obligated to get very rich. And that doing so, and doing so properly (getting wealthy without loving wealth or refusing to part with it when the time comes), is a heavy burden to bear.

  19. You could think that about me, S.P. I accept that.

    If there are those morally obligated to be wealthy in the law of consecration, then are there those morally obligated to be poor? And who are they? I mean, according to Steve’s assessment of Mormon bloggers, I’m poor, but actually I’m not poor at all. Have I missed my moral obligation? And how did it get to be theirs?

  20. S. P. Bailey says:

    One way of thinking of the law of consecration: all of us are obligated to give our capacity and its fruits, holding back nothing.

    Based on my understanding of people and economics (modest as it is) some will fail to provide even for their individual needs, while others will produce far beyond their needs. The question is whether it is moral for those in the latter category to intentionally produce less than they are capable of producing. Is doing so just an indirect way of holding back contributions they could make for the benefit of those in the “coming up short” category?

    At what point is refusing to create wealth just indulging in consumption of another kind?

  21. cj douglass says:

    I once heard my mission president say, “you can afford it, your dad’s a stake president!”

  22. I grew up in Omaha where Buffett is absolutely worshipped. He lives in a nice neighborhood, but still lives in the house that he bought years ago for a little more than $30K, drives a Lincoln, and still eats at his favorite restaurant, which is a hole-in-the-wall.

    Here’s his house.

    He’s also not leaving a cent to his kids out of fear that it might ruin them.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s not quite accurate to say he’s not leaving a cent to his kids. Here’s an excerpt from a Forbes interview with him:

    Forbes:

    This plan seems to settle the fate, over the long term, of all your Berkshire shares. Does that mean you’re giving nothing to your family in straight-out gifts?

    WB:

    No, what I’ve always said is that my family won’t receive huge amounts of my net worth. That doesn’t mean they’ll get nothing. My children have already received some money from me and Susie and will receive more.

    I still believe in the philosophy – FORTUNE quoted me saying this 20 years ago – that a very rich person should leave his kids enough to do anything but not enough to do nothing. [The FORTUNE article was "Should You Leave It All to the Children?" Sept. 29, 1986.]

    Remember I said that way back when I was buying Berkshire, I had less than $1 million in outside cash? Well, I’ve made a few decent investments with that money in the years since – taking positions that were too small for Berkshire, doing some fixed-income arbitrage, and selling my interest in a bank that was split off from Berkshire.

    So I’m glad to say I’ve got quite a bit of cash now. Overall I can – and will – use all my Berkshire shares for philanthropic purposes and will have plenty left over to provide well for all those close to me.

  24. Steve Evans says:

    Amri, quoting the Smiths will avail you nothing!! Actually, it will avail you quite a bit. Upon rereading my comment I think I came off as a real ass. I’m not trying to shut you down — I’m all for sticking it to the man, I just want to make sure the sticking-it sticks.

  25. greenfrog says:

    I daresay that if you live in the US and have access to a computer, you’re living well above the approximately 2.8 billion people in the world who get by on less than $2/day.

    On that scale, we’re all rich as Croesus, and we all have the same sort (tho smaller by a bit) of burdens that the Gates and Buffets bear.

    The question is not whether we’re called — it’s what we do with the call.

  26. How do we reconcile abhorrence of wealth with counsel like
    - pay of your debt (which requires making enough to pay it off, and thus not giving away as much as you go)
    - save for a rainy day (again, if I’m saving, that’s money I am not giving away)
    - become “self-reliant” — get an education (presumably so you can make money), care for your own (that takes money), have food storage (could be considered hoarding, after all, right?), etc.

    I have to think there is more that God wants from us than just to give away all our possessions. I just don’t hear condemnation of the comforts of life many of us enjoy. That’s not to say that putting our hearts on those things is a good thing, but still…. It’s not like everything the Church does is stripped bare of any comforts. (Although I would love a microwave in our church kitchen….) ;)

    There are those who do use some of their wealth to do incredible things for the kingdom (think Brother Huntsman and the private jet that gets Pres. Hinckley all over the world, for example, or those private donors who made the Nauvoo temple possible, or….) I would suppose there are many more we don’t hear about…funding temples, giving away land for church purposes, supporting missionaries, giving to church funds, etc. It’s easy to judge a house on a hill, but, say, if that house is completely paid for and those people are freely giving of their excess, can we say such wealth is evil? Since we can’t judge what’s going on simply by looking at the facade of a house, I wonder if we really are ever in any position to judge (I’m speaking to myself here, because the large houses always make me squirm — after all, self-righteousness can feel so good….) Pride really can cut both ways. It’s kinda scary, actually. I don’t wanna be “rich” cuz I don’t want that responsibility (although by the-rest-of-the-world-ly standards, I AM rich already), but how am I doing in my own stewardship? And what about my looking from the downside of the hill up to those hilly houses with disdain? Am I any better, even if they are loving their money?

  27. Steve Evans says:

    M&M, that counsel you cite is still by and large excellent financial advice for the non-investor or for the average taxpayer. There are, however, significant exceptions to that counsel which I believe the Brethren would likely admit. For example, sustaining student loans at an extremely low consolidated interest rate is more economically effective than paying them off.

    However, I’d point out that there is much more to self-reliance than having some barrels of wheat in the cellar. True self-reliance in my book isn’t just some survivalist definition, but also a real-world kind of self-reliance: how long could you and your family sustain yourselves if one or both of you were no longer employed? What kind of financial preparations have you made to fre yourselves of consumer credit card debt and other high-interest debt?

    In terms of your question — how do we reconcile this counsel with our general abhorrence of wealth — the answer is actually pretty easy, it’s all about independence and freedom. Each of those things you cite are financial or real-world measures designed to keep us from becoming beholden to this world and its Prince.

  28. D Fletcher: Certainly we do disdain the very rich, the ostentatious houses and lifestyles. I was recently bemused (in a bad way) hearing that many of the housewives in the Short Hills, NJ Ward have personal trainers.

    It’s actually not a bad thing to invest in if you don’t know what you are doing and don’t have a workout partner. Sometimes they can be a tad overpriced. But if you’re serious about getting into shape you’ll make a lot more progress with one. There are plenty at all the gyms around here in Provo.

    Given health, I think the cost of a personal trainer is often a good investment.

  29. Molly Bennion says:

    Both my husband and I have fascinating statements regarding wealth in our patriarchal blessings. His includes a blessing on his purse and a warning to be generous. Mine speaks to the mourning of the poor, the fear of the rich and a promise that character, not wealth or poverty, determines our salvation. We found these blessings curious when we received them because we carried heavy school debt and had, then and since, no help from family. But our purse has been blessed. Since I don’t think God curses us, I think the promise of a blessed purse and financial gain must not be evil in itself. I don’t believe it is very often a reward for anything though I too have heard Mormons claim they could judge a person’s righteousness by his wealth. Ridiculous. I’m not any more or less worthy because of a comfortable bank account. I do have a different set of challenges than I did when we were in debt and happy to have $2 available to see a campus movie.
    The brilliant Gates/Buffett approach speaks to the difficulties of dealing with wealth. To throw money blindly at causes is to be a slothful servant. The needs are too great to waste the resources. Yet the needs are too great not to try to share wealth as efficiently and wisely as possible.
    Some wealth can’t be given away. Capital is the fuel of the entrepreneur–the primary job creator, research driver out there. Buffett is right; he can make more money for charity than the charities. They are shockingly happy with very low returns because making money isn’t their area of expertise. Similarly, many a successful small business person can do the greatest good growing the business and creating more jobs and better products and services. And what would happen to your job if people bought only necessities?
    Wealth is such an important part of the Book of Mormon because it is such a complex subject bungled more or less by all societies and all of us individually. Consuming, giving and investing are all potentially righteous and unrighteous choices. Because they are difficult and call for constant care, they push us to remember the Lord, accept our failed choices, struggle to make better choices and avoid judging others hopefully struggling with the same dilemnas.

  30. I’m not entirely sure that when Jesus told the rich man to give his possessions to the poor he necessarily had the poor in mind.

    In other words, there may be a good economic and philanthropic argument for waiting for one’s money to compound before giving, but the rich man needed to purge his life of riches now, for his own spiritual benefit.

  31. I’m not at the point where I can really consider becoming a major philanthropist. But if the opportunity arose I would be willing to accept the responsibility.

  32. I’m going to second what Molly Bennion said.

    We can object to big houses on the grounds that they are a crass display of ostentatious wealth, but I’m pretty sure that plumbers, drywall hangers, and electricians see it from a different angle. What we might see as money down the drain is really what provides a livelihood for people in the building trades.

    I have heard members occasionally make the wealth=righteousness argument. I have also heard the wealth=sin argument, and neither one makes sense to me. What I find both funny and appalling is the attitude that says “I may not be rich, but at least I’m (sniff) humble.” I have also found that many who are not wealthy are unseemly gleeful when something goes wrong in the life of their relatives or acquaintances who are wealthier.

    It is usually very difficult to help someone. Think of the relative who is continually running into debt, the person you home teach who can’t seem to keep a job, the friend with substance abuse problems. More money is the easiest thing to provide, and it may often be the wrong thing.

  33. Mark,

    That’s probably about right, although I don’t think it’s a NT argumuent (that riches are amoral; see Kevin’s post at BCC about this “hard thing”).

    One thing I will bet my student loans on though (if I’m wrong, you can have them) is that it is wealthy people who are more likely to see their riches as providing a greater good to plumbers and charities, and poor(er) people who are more likely to see riches as morally problematic. If I could access the bank account balances of people making comments here, I could guess with about 90% probability how people will come down on this one!

    As for me (and I’m currently skint — last year of grad school and all), I do think that the NT Jesus took a dim view of weallth, but then again, he also condemned divorce, and asked us to ignore our families for his sake. So I’m not going to pretend that just because the NT says it, everyone should do it! Again, as far as I can tell, Jesus did not set up a charitable foundation; in the case of the rich man, he was doing the rich man a favour, not simply the poor.

    BTW, I applaud Buffett’s philanthropy. One thing worries me, though: I hope that we don’t now see this as the number one solution to world poverty. People could look at Buffett and say, “See what low taxes and capitalism can achieve!” A reduction in poverty and improvements in healthcare require more than just the generosity of individuals. Systemic improvements are in order.

  34. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, I tend to agree with your reading of the young rich man’s story — Jesus was concerning himself with the rich man’s salvation, not necessarily the solution to poverty. That said, are the ideas here exclusive? If the rich man heard what Jesus said, and (instead of just being sad) had said, “OK, I’ll work day and night to turnover my money and get as much as I can, then I’ll be able to do more for the poor than has ever been done” — man, how unsatisfying the scriptures would be to read in that case.

  35. Okay, so here’s my problem. Rich people like Buffet or even lessers like Huntsmen are fewer and farer between-er. Right? I don’t know how to explain their money and I’m pleased that they do such huge and good projects. (Though I am disturbed slightly by the trend that seems to be increasing the number of mil/billionaires in the world)
    But most Mormons aren’t these types. Of the wealthier Mormons, most Mormons are upper middle class, maybe burgeoning into the next step up, whatever that is called. So there’s no room for huge giveaways like Buffet or funding big projects, like cancer research at the U, right? (Unless I’m wrong which would completely freak me out) So all these people with not enough to follow the lead of the philanthropists, but plenty, plenty to spare. So their lives adapt to this larger amount of money. They spend more, buy more, want more. Then need more. Then a bunch of things get sacrificed: maybe family time, or self time, or church time or whatever. But Mormon neighbors see what they have and then want too. I’m rambling by I think all this upper middle class-ness, our consumerism cankers us, compromises us rather than making philanthropists of us.

    Jesus’ economics had to be different from ours (even mine, I would love to see people live on little and even out the world or something ridiculous) and so like Ronan was saying, I don’t think we can always assume he wants us to give everything away or that money is evil. However he clearly invested much of his time with the poor and I think we need to be about that sort of business. Right now, it’s like the poor are the girlfriend in a coma, that we know, we know is serious.

    Heh.

  36. Steve-o,

    Had the rich man said that, I hope Jesus would have slapped him in the face!

    It feels awfully convenient (beware, I’m poor, of course I’m going to say this) to say, “Hey, I know I’m rich, but let me wait 30 years until I’m MEGA-rich, then I’ll give it all away.” I think Jesus would have feared for that man’s soul for the intervening thirty years. But hey, this is one scripture that we explain away (it’s not about riches, man, it’s about whatever happens to be your own thorn-in-the flesh. It CANNOT be about riches, DAMMIT!).

    (Goes back to his lunch of baked beans on toast (yum!) and dreams of the day when he can really do some good in the world by eating lunch in swanky restaurants so he can give big phat tips to poor waiters. One day!!)

  37. BTW,

    Anyone have any idea how Jesus funded his ministry? Was it really without purse and scrip? Did he have a wealthy benefactor — Joseph of Arimethea? Or did they continue making money from fishing?

    Hmmm.

    So, what I’m wondering is if Jesus wasn’t rich (and I see no indication that he was), someone, somewhere had to have some dosh, even if it wasn’t McMansion dosh.

    See? The humble, very righteous poor guy throws you unrighteous richies a bone!! Even Jesus needed a philanthropist. Compound away and then give it to Jesus! You now have my blessing.

    (Or give it to me, and I’ll give it to Jesus. Promise.)

  38. Tricky subject. I have been both poor and upper middle class. Lived in a cheap one bedroom apartment in a poor area (gunshots at night) with a child in our bedroom and in a nice house in the suburbs. Honestly I feel about the same with my relationship with Jesus and my personal rightessness. I paid tithing then and now. I did my HT then and now. My parents have both qualified for food stamps and been very wealthy (the professionals Steve mentions) in the last 35 years. They will tell you the same thing if pressed about it.

    There is one real advantage to being upper middle class. You can have a larger family and have a SAHM. This is nothing to be sneezed at. Wealth provides options in this area of life.

    Its just as sinful to look at and judge the successful if you are poorer as it is to look down upon those that are not as successful as you.

  39. “So, what I’m wondering is if Jesus wasn’t rich (and I see no indication that he was)”

    I’ve often heard people say Christ was poor, he didn’t have anything, but that didn’t stop him from sporting a really nice coat!

    It was so nice, in fact, that instead of tearing it into fourths as they did his garment, they cast lots for it.

    John 19:23,24

  40. I dunno, Ronan. I like this thread because it at least allows for some nuanced conversation along the rich/poor divide. I’m afraid that often in these discussions we come off sounding like Judas who objected when Mary annointed Jesus with costly ointment. I’m always surprised to hear smart people claim that the reason we don’t have better housing or healthcare is because Halliburton is using more than its fair share.

    Here’s my point: The building up of Zion is going to take everybody’s best efforts and talents, including the talent of creating wealth. If we think there is nothing more to it than just getting rid of rich people, we are, as Molly B. noted, slothful servants.

  41. Here is what I believe the point of the Camel and needle story is. I believe having riches is not fine. But should we be asked to give them up, we should be ready and willing. So, no wealth is not evil, but we really should not be so attached to it either. As King Benjamin asked, “Are we not all beggars before God?”

  42. Jon in Austin says:

    Ironically I ran across this tidbit from the Gospel of Kiosaki(TM) this morning and thought it might add another dimension to the debate:

    Go Forth and Multiply — Your Money

    While his interpretation is a fairly bizarre (If I’m given one talent and then multiply it by two, I’m still poor though perhaps not evil now…) it’s curious that we generally associate this parable with gifts rather than with actual ‘talents’ as shown in the parable (which is> the point of parables but I digress).

    I’m sure that taking it literally looks beyond the mark but it still has some relevance to trying to increase what HF has given us.

    And yes, I hold Kiosaki in the same esteem that everyone here holds Covey so don’t think that I’m going to proactively synergize his advice with my colleagues at work.

  43. As much as I admire his generosity, I think Buffett’s logic is flawed. Although it’s true that a charity would be less able than Buffett to turn $1 million into $1 billion in 20 years, $1 million spent today may have a more lasting impact than $1 billion spent in 20 years. Charities don’t exist in order to amass large endowments–they exist to distribute money in ways that have an immediate impact. Money is not the only commodity that compounds. Suffering compounds too, at a rate that is difficult to measure. Imagine how the world might be different today if, say, Gates and Buffett had devoted a small fraction of their current wealth to AIDS prevention and education in 1986. Sure, they’d have a lot less to give away today, but there’s a good chance they would have saved more lives and done more good than they will be able to in 2006.

  44. Sharq, doesn’t that depend upon what kind of charity one is interested in? For some kinds of research you need the big bucks to make much difference. A small amount may actually be wasteful. So I think both the Gates and Buffett can do things with billions that they couldn’t do with millions.

    Of course this then gets at where charity should be spent. Should the Gates be spending less money on malaria and more on AIDS?

    That’s a harder question.

    The more interesting point Buffet’s argument raises though is the effect of small savings to big charity. What if each of us as individuals gave up say diet Coke and put that money into investments and then 20 years later donated those funds? When we judge charity how do we judge all these small expenses?

  45. Clark????

    Are you suggesting that some people in the bloggernaccle drink Diet Coke? egads….. Slurp slurp

  46. Responding to the original post:

    Oh great. Just what we need – yet another excuse to feel good about our own brand of materialism.

    Be a rich philanthropist if you must. But if you value your own salvation, you had better never become comfortable with the idea.

  47. a random John says:

    This is a bit off topic but I have serious concerns about the Gates Foundation and I’m unhappy that Warren has decided to use it to give away his money. Though it does a lot of good, the Gate Foundation also acts as a lobbying arm of Microsoft. Its influence has already been seen in India where the government was about to start using open source software exclusively for both practical and philosophical reasons when the Gates Foundation showed up and started pouring money into the country. Suddenly their software philosophy took a 180 degree turn and they’re all about Windows now.

  48. Steve Evans says:

    “the Gate[s] Foundation also acts as a lobbying arm of Microsoft.”

    rJ, I believe you’re full of junk on this one, but you may know something about this that I don’t. I would hope in any event that if we become super-wealthy philanthropists that our right hands don’t know what our lefts are doing.

  49. Steve Evans says:

    Seth (#46), that’s similar to my initial reaction as well, but perhaps you could explain yourself a little more. I think we can be non-materialistic and still adopt a “smart” view of charitable donation such as Buffett’s, no?

  50. I think there about as many people on the earth who would “righteously handle” having a great deal of wealth as there are people who would righteously handle being appointed dictator-for-life over Abu Dhabi.

    Of course it doesn’t necessarily corrupt. But it is highly toxic. It’s likely to corrupt. It will probably corrupt me. It will probably corrupt you.

    Maybe a fellow can be the exception to the rule. But I wouldn’t bank on it.

  51. It already has corrupted us Seth, don’t fool yourself. Embrace it! Do you have an Xbox 360 yet?

  52. Seth,
    Ah, righteous dictatorship, I’ve heard that is the most perfect form of government.

    Seriously, It is toxic if it becomes your idolatry, and it probably is a pretty seductive idol. I do believe the trick is to be able to at any point, simply walk away, or give away as the case may be.

  53. I’ve given my Xbox away to the Elders quorum for the building the bonds of brotherhood in the Kingdom of God. ;)

  54. Josh Madson says:

    Great wealth creates great poverty. poverty can exist absent great wealth, but it is the accumalation of mass amounts of wealth that lead to great poverty.You cannot have lords without serfs. plantation owners without slaves, and wal-marts, nike, etc without underpayed, overexploited workers.

    At present more people are entering poverty in the world than are being born. the wealth – poverty gap is increaing in the US and throughout the world.

    I also find it interesting that archeological studies of Palestine/Israel have shown that in the times when homes were the most similar and society seemed to have less disparity and great wealth the prophets were more silent. I have always found that the old testament consistently addressed wealth more than any other subject minus perhaps idolatry.

    As to Hunstsman and his philanthropy. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I have heard that much of his wealth came from building weapons or biological weapons. Does anyone know about this? If so, is it not important how we aquire wealth just as much so as what we do with it?

  55. Brent Hartman says:

    Who has a harder time living the Law of Consecration, the poor man giving nothing, or the rich man giving everything?

    After hearing Buffett’s logic, I’m thinking it might be better to invest the money I give for tithing, and then give the Lord a much larger sum thirty years from now. Of course, the Church could probably invest it better than I could. Yea, Zion prospereth!!!

  56. Josh, Huntsman is one of the world’s largest chemical corporations. They do not manufacture weapons.

    I think you need to revisit the idea that wealth creates poverty. Circumstances of nature create poverty; the fact that one farmer has a larger harvest than another does not make the one a cause of the other. The relationships you describe are not rich/poor relationships, but are more accurately described as power relationships. They may ultimately result from wealth but are not necessarily linked.

    Brent, the Church has some pretty good money managers working for it — chances are, the Church really could manage those funds better than you or I.

  57. Brent Hartman says:

    I have no doubts about that, Steve, it was prophesied.

  58. Brent: After hearing Buffett’s logic, I’m thinking it might be better to invest the money I give for tithing, and then give the Lord a much larger sum thirty years from now.

    I know you were being facitious but for the record I don’t consider tithing to be charity but to be a kind of duty quite different. Charity is what I do on top of charity. I should note that the Church does invest a lot of tithing so as to get a better return. Which is interesting when you think about it.

    The issue of investing charity is a profound one and this post has really made me think. It’s a topic I keep coming back to in so many guises since it’s very hard to quite understand what we ought to do as a practical matter. Individual acts of charity are easy. For instance tonight while mowing my lawn I mowed the neighbor’s lawn just to be nice. But I think here we’re talking about substantially more investments into making larger differences.

  59. Steve Evans says:

    Clark, I agree entirely — tithing is an ongoing duty, quite different than our alms. That said, we can vary the timing and proportion of our tithing payments….

    and mowing another man’s lawn? quite the invasion of privacy.

  60. Josh, (#54), I think that is true to a limited extent in more primitive societies. I don’t think it is as true today where the production of materials is not quite so tied to ownership of land or items. Those things do matter – especially with things like oil. But farmland is so much more productive today that it seems to me that the situation is radically different.

    I’ll confess that is what makes reading the NT or BoM so difficult. I fully admit to having a difficult time figuring out how to relate some things to our modern technological world.

    BTW – I believe Huntsman made most of his wealth from styrofoam and related stuff back in the 70′s.

  61. Whoops. That should in #58 read “charity is what we do on top of tithing.” Duh.

    It was my neighbor and he’s working a second job to help pay for a minivan now that his family is getting bigger. He’s not had time to mow for a week and a half. So I was trying to help out. Folks have done that for me as well.

    If it was a stranger, perhaps it’s an invasion of privacy. I don’t think so.

  62. Brent Hartman says:

    Steve,

    You stated, “That said, we can vary the timing and proportion of our tithing payments…”

    That’s not how I read the law of tithing. I read it…

    “Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion…And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.”

    How are we to pay our tithing? We are to give all of our surplus, then after that we shall pay one-tenth. When? Annually. And this is a standing law forever.

  63. Steve Evans says:

    Annually? Then what the crap am I doing with those monthly tithing slips! Silly me.

  64. No Steve,

    I don’t have an XBox360. I have a beat up old Playstation that I snagged from my kid brother when mom and dad upgraded him to a Playstation 2. I’m hoping that he’ll upgrade to a Playstation 3 sometime so I can grab the Playstation 2, but it doesn’t look hopeful right now.

    And my computer has a Celeron processor. That’s about enough to play Age of Empires, but that’s about it.

    Seriously. I have no cash. That must be why I’m so bitter about rich people.

  65. Steve Evans says:

    Seth, you’re probably right. You’ll feel a lot better about rich people once you have more money. I know I do – and I am RICH. Like Stapley-rich.

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