Can a Good Mormon Make Over $100,000 a Year?

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This post is, in a sense, a sequel to two older posts: “Can a Good Mormon be a Meritocrat?” and “Can a Good Mormon be a Socialist?” In case you can’t be bothered to read until the end, the answers to the three questions are: “Probably not,” “Yes,” and “Sometimes, maybe, but seriously, why would you want to take that risk anyway?”

S. Michael Wilcox’s recent book, What the Scriptures Teach Us about Prosperity, brought these old questions, as well as new ones, to my mind. Wilcox’s book came out several months ago, and has received some careful attention during that time. But just not quite the right kind of attention, I think. As Dave Banack wrote in the just-linked review of the book, Wilcox’s approach is very straightforward and true to his title: he “discusses literally hundreds of scriptures on wealth and riches…[and] offers the sort of good advice and commentary one expects from an experienced teacher with plenty of stories and observations to share.” It’s therefore reasonable, I suppose, to assume that readers of the book will overwhelmingly view it similarly: as a compendium of scripturally based recommendations about how to address the many perennial concerns over wealth–how to get it, how much to get, and what to do with it once you’ve gotten it (assuming you ever do). But I come away from the book thinking that the cumulative affect of the hundreds of scriptures and stories which Wilcox shares should be looked at a little more critically, and little more systematically, than such an approach allows. To be sure, the book provides no theory of political economy, no philosophy of property, no grand historical or economic synthesis of the various Mormon experiments with communalism and consecration. But Wilcox does give us a guiding thesis: namely, “a most remarkable prophecy given by the Apostle Melvin J. Ballard” at the annual general conference of the church in 1929, “just a few months,” Wilcox reminds his readers, “before the stock market crash that propelled America in the Great Depression” (p. 3). At the heart of that prophecy is this:

I am as sure as that I live that the promises of the Lord will be fulfilled, and that this work shall not fail, nor shall it be given to another people. I recognize however, with my brethren, that the sorest trials that have ever come to the Church in any age of the world are the trials of peace and prosperity. But we are to do a new thing, a thing that never has before been done–we are to take the Church of Christ not only through the age of persecution and mob violence, but through the age of peace as prosperity…I am not praying for the return of persecution and poverty; I am praying for peace and posterity; but above all things for the strength and the power to endure this test. For it was not the design and the intention of the Lord to have this people always in suffering in bondage and distress. They shall come to peace and prosperity, but it is the sorest trial that will come to them. (p. 4)

This is the dual notion which guides Wilcox throughout the book or so I believe: he wants, first of all, to let his fellow members of the Church to understand that the relatively enormous wealth and security enjoyed by the bulk of the likely readership of the book–the white middle- and upper-class American Mormon shoppers at Deseret Books–is, in the eyes of God and His prophets, a terrible trial…and second, he wants them–he wants us–to know the teaching of the scriptures so we may better endure this trial. Some might wonder whether Wilcox really had in mind, even implicitly, such a specific audience, but I would suggest that the way he repeatedly turns the lessons of the scriptures (all of which, again and again, as Wilcox demonstrates persuasively and at great length, insist that all the wealth of this world belongs to the Lord, that wealth is a dangerous gateway to pride and sin, and that wealth ought never be used to set one person above another) against the American passion for “building greater” and ever newer and fancier homes (p. 13-14), against the economic territoriality which created “the gulf [that is] Interstate 15″ through Salt Lake valley (p. 27), against the American passion for unnecessary and luxurious “dainties” (p. 83), against the “extravagant” salaries of Fortune 500 CEOs (p. 117), against our unwillingness to make do with “modest” clothes, cars, and homes which would save us from consumer debt, despite direct counsel from President Hinckley to the contrary (p. 158)…all of this, and more, points to the idea that we should take Wilcox’s claims as not abstract suggestions, but very specific and pointed warnings. Wilcox, to be sure, is no Hugh Nibley, pouring out prophetic outrage upon a people entirely too comfortable with the peace and prosperity which have come along with acquiescence to the American way of life…but, it seems to me anyway, it’s unlikely that someone of Wilcox’s intelligence and diligence could study what the scriptures have to say about prosperity so thoroughly and not end up sounding some of the same themes.

How do these themes, these warnings and concerns which motivate Wilcox’s book, connect with the questions I mentioned above? Because both of those earlier questions, in different ways, deal with how we as members of the church should arrange our lives in light of the principles of scriptures lay down. In earlier years, the church as an institution was in a position to help its members so organize their lives, and in so doing attempted to see to it “that the poor shall be exalted…[and] that the rich are made low” (D&C 104:16). There is much that can still be said about, and still learned from, the church’s attempts to establish the law of consecration–but to quote Dave’s review again, at the present moment “the law of consecration is dead; long live the principles of consecration.” Wilcox, while not so succinct, essentially approaches the church’s legacy of economic communalism in this same light, breaking it down into “foundational pillars” rather than institutional guidelines: “We belong to God. All that we have belongs to God. The Lord does not respect one person above another and would have us think the same, esteeming everyone as we do ourselves and concerned for their welfare. The earth has enough for all if some do not take more for themselves at the expense of others not having enough” (p. 180). To be sure, such ethical principles are of enormous import. But how do we really know if we are arranging our affairs such that we can do more than give lip service to such principles of consecration? He voices this worry quite plainly:

Let us say we resist the temptation to build greater. We are not allowing wealth to build gulfs and barriers, and we are not continually shopping for the dainties. We are giving to the poor wisely and doing all we can to build up Zion. All of our church obligations of tithes and offerings are current. We are not in debt. Indeed, we have everything we need for passage through the needle’s eye. Yet we still should pause and ask ourselves, can we handle the pride that might come if we are successful in obtaining more of the world’s offerings? Can we handle the temptation to think we are better because we have more? (p. 169)

This is where the first two questions come in. If these really are the sorts of principles that good Mormons are to commit themselves to, then should we really feel at peace with making life choices premised upon always pursuing (and expecting to be rewarded for) excellence and advantage, in any field of endeavor, even if we “merit” it? Should we really feel at peace with making life choices premised upon the constant (and, presumably, self-interested) expansion of ownership, opportunity, and profit, even if we have “earned” it? Both ways of seeing ourselves and the world, at the very least, invite constant comparisons of the sort which Wilcox sees being explicitly condemned in Jesus’s parable of the laborers (p. 41-43), and invite a lack of gratitude for the simple things which Wilcox sees Old Testament prophets calling for us to value most (p. 126-127).

Does this mean that Wilcox thinks the scriptures’ frequently condemnations of wealth should be taken as a condemnation of work, or trying to improve ourselves? Hardly. If anything, I would actually argue that Wilcox’s use of the scriptures, and the warnings he directs against his mostly wealthy (or at least comfortable) readership from out of them, are to a degree parallel with the arguments made by Matthew Crawford in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft (discussed in a Mormon context here). After all, great wealth, in today’s globalized and information-based economy, is most often the result of a specialized education and involves elite tasks (and Wilcox has some sharp things to say about the inequality in the “position or the prestige that society has placed on any particular occupation”–p. 28), both of which often tend to take people away from the virtues of humbler, more serviceable tasks. (Wilford Woodruff’s sharp comment is relevant here: “The tendency, which is too common in these days, for young men to get a smattering of education and then think themselves unsuited for mechanical or other laborious pursuits is one that should not be allowed to grow up among us…Every one should make it a matter of pride to be a producer, and not a consumer alone”–Millennial Star [November 14, 1887], 773.) The take-away lesson, I think, is that if we take seriously the scriptural and prophetical warnings about the “sore trial” of prosperity, and if therefore we truly want to be humble and charitable, to avoid contributing to the divisions and deprivations caused by great inequalities in wealth, to devote ourselves to our fellow man and the principles of Zion and consecration, then, eventually, we’re going to have to ask ourselves if, in our economic lives, our own choices might not be getting in the way our own best intentions. And that brings us to the third question.

Wilcox talks about an experiment he once conducted, more than 30 years ago, with a class he was teaching in Colorado. “I heard on the news the salaries of the top three executives of the bank that held most of our subdivision’s mortgages. The three salaries totaled more than one million dollars. They each make about $400,000 per year. (I do not know how much that would translate to in today’s figures, but certainly a great deal more.)” In discussing the law of consecration with his class, “the students decided to find out how many families’ interest payments on their home loans supported what the students called the ‘excess reimbursement’ of the three executives. They theorized that the bankers should each earn a yearly salary of between $80,000 and $100,000. Many of my students stated they did not think they would ever make that much in a year, but they wanted to overcompensate the bankers rather than undercompensate them.” If you’re one of the middle- or upper-class American Mormons that Wilcox is talking to, and you have a mortgage on a typical suburban home, then you can guess where this is going: “Because I knew roughly the amount of interest each family in my neighborhood paid to finance their mortgages, we divided that amount into the excess payment figure. The entire interest payments of more than 130 families were going to support the excess salaries of three individuals. I think we were all a little shocked by the numbers” (p. 185). Indeed!

Does Wilcox say the scriptures call for the confiscation of that “excess payment”? No. Does he say that there is no possible way someone who takes seriously the principles of consecration ought to earn that “excess”? No. What he does say, though, is colored by the economic downturn which soon visited that area, and the many neighbors of his who lost their homes to foreclosure: “We are asked by the Lord to operate our stewardships as best we can and then do all the good we can with what remains after our own, generally basic needs are met” (p. 186). What do we need to fulfill our own and our family’s needs? What do we need to avoid the pride and temptations of success? What can we let go of, and dedicate to our fellow man?

They aren’t impossible questions to ask oneself, or to answer. We have examples of members of the church who have. Lowell Bennion–whom President Hinckley praised as a man with such good enough priorities that he never drove a car nearly as nice any of those in the parking lot at his own funeral–saw it as very simple: “Learn to like what doesn’t cost much….Learn to like plain food, plain service, plain cooking….Learn to like gardening, puttering around the house and fixing things….Learn to keep your wants simple and refuse to be controlled by the likes and dislikes of others.” Beyond that? Give it away. Last year, Ronan shared with us the story of an Oxford professor who pledged to give away all of his income over about $30,000 a year. Ronan allowed that he probably could not do that–but that, given his family’s needs, perhaps he could limit himself to $75,000, setting aside the rest to doing good. It reminded me of a conversation Melissa and I had while driving up Provo Canyon, one autumn day soon after we were married in 1993. We agreed that, honestly, we couldn’t understand why any typical family–allowing for all sorts of extenuating circumstances, of course–would ever need more than $60,000 a year. Now, 17 years later, we recognize we were a little naive about our own needs, desires, and–yes–temptations. But hopefully not too naive. Wilcox and his students overcompensated the bankers with $100,000 a year, and yet were still able to do enormous good with the remainder. Wilcox, clearly, wants us American Mormons to think about our own “remainders,” and be willing to let it go. Are there legitimate debates about how we should let it go, and where it should go to? Absolutely. But to get to the point of asking such questions will mean, I think, that we will have answered the earlier and more important ones correctly, and thus are on the right path of negotiating our peace and prosperity in the way Elder Ballard hoped we would.

———————

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Comments

  1. $100K a year in LA or New York is not particularly wealthy. At least, I’m reminded of that every time a headhunter calls with “a GREAT job in NEW YORK CITY”. Then we get into details and that $100K is maybe $50K or $60K in Texas.

    In our stake, the leadership has become increasing vocal about the fact that with the prosperity that has come to certain wards, more is expected — more service, more offerings, more senior missionary service, more temple work. Financial success is a blessing that we should leverage to building the Kingdom, not just acquiring more toys or increasing our leisure time (although, as our old stake president put it — more wealth tends to result in more work hours, increasing the wealth but not much else).

    I’ll have to look for this book; sounds great.

  2. esodhiambo says:

    This title really makes me wish I wasn’t sitting here unshowered and unready for Church, which starts in 20 minutes. Can’t wait to get home and read it!

  3. What an inspirational post. Sounds like a book that would be a great addition to a gospel library.

  4. Thanks for this, RAF.

  5. One solution for anxiety over feeling too rich is to move into a community of people who are much wealthier.

  6. Interesting. I wonder if there are any economists around who could weigh in on the large scale impacts on the economy if everyone gave away all income over $100K to charity. On the surface it seems it could be so helpful, but if everyone did it I wouldn’t be surprized if it could cause major economic problems. (IE.. Wall Street investments that are banking on lucrative investors might tank sending rippling effects everywhere else, etc…)

  7. I hope we can keep talking about this. Too often, it descends into a hunt for the escape clauses so we can enjoy our excesses guilt-free.

  8. Russell,

    I have some thoughts on this…but I better not.

  9. Queno,

    $100K a year in LA or New York is not particularly wealthy.

    You’ve given me an idea for another entry in this series: “Can a Good Mormon Live Someplace Where Property Values Equal or Exceed Those of Manhattan?”

    I’m joking–but only partly. As your stake president has observed, in a world where incomes and costs of living and so much else are radically unequal, it simply can’t be the case that living a Christlike life and building Zion require identical contributions from all. I believe we have to seriously think about what kind of work, and what kind of lives, and what kind of goals, really do most fully comport with the warnings of the scriptures, and Elder Ballard and many others. How do we best contribute to the cause or righteousness? Now maybe it really is the case, for some of us, that we can produce tremendous excess wealth, much of which we can give to charity and to the church and in service to others, the only downside being that we’ll be obliged to live a truly expensive lifestyle (thanks to home costs, etc.) in order to accomplish it. Is that worth it? It might be, but I wonder. If nothing else, I think we’d have to wonder what our deepest motivations truly are.

  10. I don’t think a person’s income is any reflection on whether they are a “good Mormon” or a good person. I do think that what matters are our “deepest motivations”, and I doubt that there is any correlation between income and purity of motivations. I look forward to reading this book.

  11. Esodhiambo, I look forward to your comments.

    Ben, Kristine, John, thanks for the kind words.

    Joseph, I’m sure Scott will weigh in here eventually–and maybe if we’re lucky, even Frank!

    Clair, Wilcox actually talks about that–he wishes every member of the church (and really, of course, he’s talking his target audience here) had the opportunity to live for a while in a context of real poverty, like say the Guatemalan highlands.

    Chris, anything that you have to say on this topic would be welcome. Even opening up a can of Rawlsian whoop-ass would be fun (though I think he was fundamentally wrong in how he justified the difference principle).

  12. Marc Bohn says:

    I’d actually say $100,000 a year in the D.C. area is barely scrapping by if you pay tithes and taxes, have significant student loans, and are supporting a family.

  13. Maybe, rather than wonder what would happen to our *current* financial system if everyone gave away their excess income over $100,000, we should ask the more important question of what kinds of alternative systems are out there in the wings waiting to replace the one we currently have. To me, that’s the exciting implication of this line of thinking. Our current system is no sacred cow, and I feel no particular loyalty to protecting or preserving it.

  14. RAF,

    I think that I am in the process of converting over to G.A. Cohen’s style of egalitarianism. Your title made me think of his “If your Such an Egalitariani, How Come Your So Rich?” book.

    My problem right now is that I am increasingly thinking of this issue in more secular terms.

  15. de Pizan says:

    #6 Joseph, I’m definitely no economist, but one Australian economist Peter Singer, has a theory is that if we instituted a sliding scale based on income to give to charity, we’d be able to alleviate at least the 1 billion in extreme poverty, and would be able to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals within it’s desired time frame. His scale is that those who make over 12 million a year give 1/3 of their income to charity, 2-12 million a year gives 1/4 to charity, $400-600,000 gives 1/5, $250-327 gives 15%, and the rest give 10% (all US dollars). His scale is based on what people could reasonably afford to give without creating a hardship to the donors. There’s an article about his theory: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/magazine/17charity.t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&adxnnlx=1274637652-bo/cBZaOd%20HcY%20naO0VTOw, or he has a book “The Life You Can Save.”

  16. Marc,

    I’d actually say $100,000 a year in the D.C. area is barely scrapping by if you pay tithes and taxes, have significant student loans, and are supporting a family.

    Perhaps. But see my comments to Queno above.

    Paul,

    We should ask the more important question of what kinds of alternative systems are out there in the wings waiting to replace the one we currently have

    Exactly!

    Chris,

    If You’re an Egalitarian… is a great book, and Cohen’s a great thinker. The DSA would welcome your support.

  17. I love Peter Singer and he is the inspiration of the philosopher mentioned in Ronan’s post, but he is a moral philosopher and not an economist.

  18. Russell,

    I will work on establishing the DSA in Wyoming.

  19. de Pizan ,

    Very interesting. Thanks for the link.

  20. A few comments (and by way of full disclosure – I do make more than $100k / year):

    – If we are talking about GROSS rather than NET, people making more than $100k / year already do support a fair amount of “society”. Roughly 50% of Americans already pay no federal income tax. In 2007, the top 10% of Americans were people who made more than $113k. They paid 71.2% of federal income taxes. So the benefits of government, including the upcoming health care reforms, are largely paid for by those making more than $100k. If we capped people at $100k, who would pay for government?

    – My wife and I could afford to live in a nicer house than we do (although ours is very nice). We have specifically chosen to stay where we are to help people. In addition to tithing, fast offering, etc., we help people in our ward and neighborhood with various other needs (often requested informally through the bishop, etc), often more than $10k / year, in addition to the “expected” Church contributions.

    – We are paying down our house very quickly. If we moved to another house and restarted a 30-yr mortgage, I would be in my 70s before it is paid off. We specifically are staying where we are so in my 50s, the house will be paid off. If we want to do volunteer work, etc at that point, it will be economically feasible.

    So, can I be a good Mormon making over $100k / year – I don’t know. We are trying to be an asset to our community, neighbors, etc. There are many people who likely think that I make too much. Maybe we do. But it is certainly nice to be able to help people (usually anonymously) who we wouldn’t otherwise be able to help.

  21. I frequently struggle to know if we’re giving enough. Then I think of the excess of hours my husband is forced to put into his work, and the soul-deadening effect of his job and think of how we don’t feel he is even getting paid what he should be for what he does, even though he’s paid over $100,000. I think of the seven years of university and the two years of articling, and the 18 hour work days, and the ten trial preps a day everyday for weeks at a time, and all the death threats and all the horror that he sees everyday and I know that if he had to do it for $100,000 or less, both of us would opt for him not to do it. He would work at being a philosophy professor instead.

    There has to be something to offset misery, to offset the trauma that comes with some work. Would the reaction by the students in the author’s example have been the same if the example had been changed to a D.A. or a nurse or a firefighter or the people who slog away trying to catch pedophiles, having to look at child porn all day?

    What my husband does is a sacrifice already. It truly is. It’s been hard on him, hard on our marriage. But he’s phenomenal at it. Our province needs him. And in order to cope with what he does, in order to be able to feel like there is a balance in his life, he needs something.

    If everyone made $100,000 no matter what they did for a living, there would be no incentive to do the dirty jobs. We would all just pick something that we liked more and then there would be too much competition for the cushy jobs.

    I know what you’re suggesting is not that we all be forced to live in a certain income bracket. But it sounds like you’re suggesting that there’s something wrong about having what other people would consider to be luxuries. But if we all have our needs met and no major luxuries like, travel, how is it even remotely fair that our family have our needs met by my husband wading around in evil all day and having his life threatened by criminals and someone else having their needs met by being a gardener or an artist?

    So, how do we decide who should be giving away their excess of income? If WE think their jobs are desirable and easy and they’re making more than us at our hard jobs, then we judge them? How do we decide what is a hard job?

    I’m probably something close to a bleeding heart liberal, at least when it comes to things like welfare and social programs. But something about this post and subsequent conversation made me uncomfortable. Maybe I’m not so sold on the idea of equality as I thought I was.

  22. I guess I would have thought this argument more fair and sensible if the example income amount was $1 million, rather than $100,000.

  23. Questions says:

    Does it matter to whom I give away the surplus over $100K? Would I be a better Mormon if I gave the surplus to the Church or to Catholic Relief Services? If I decide to give the surplus to the Church, what would make me the better Mormon–allocating it to humanitarian aid, the Perpetual Education Fund, or fast offerings?

    If I make $100K a year, would I be a better or worse Mormon if I dialed back my work hours to part time so I fall under the six-figure limit and spent more time playing with the kids, working on my tan, taking a calling as seminary teacher, or the like? Would I really be giving my all to build up the Kingdom, if I slacked? (And should I be concerned about the people that would be laid off, if I worked less?)

    Assuming he has the capacity and means to pursue either career, would Brother Smith be a better Mormon if he made $40K a year as a school teacher (contributing $4K in tithes every year) or if he made $300K a year as a surgeon (contributing $30K in tithes every year)?

    In the US, at least, a significant percentage of bishops and stake presidents make >$100K. Are most of them bad Mormons? If so, should their badness disqualify them from such callings?

    If no one in the Church made >$100K a year, what impact would it have on the Church’s ability to operate as it does now? Would it be able to own and maintain meetinghouses, bishops’ storehouses, Church farms, and universities? Would it be able to build temples? Could there be as much assistance to members in need and non-members affected by natural disasters?

    Is it harder to be a good Mormon making $80K a year than it would be at $40K a year? $40K than $20K? Is $100K drawing the line too high, when half that amount puts an individual in the top 1% of world income?

  24. de Pizan says:

    Chris H, thanks for the clarification. I was sure I remembered Singer as an economist. Might have been thinking of Jeffery Sachs, who has a somewhat similar philosophy and who is an economist.

  25. Damn good questions, Questions!

  26. Molly Bennion says:

    Joseph #6 asks a terrific question and two practical nuggets in defense of accumulated capital come to mind. Job creation and innovation matter to any successful economic system. Especially in today’s economic environment, net worth–and most particularly cash in the bank–determines whether privately owned small business can borrow essential working capital and desired growth capital to expand the job market and provide needed goods and services. The small businessperson’s personal statement is his business statement. It may be quite large, but not in excess of the business’ requirements. He cannot give much away without shrinking the business. Furthermore capital makes possible all kinds of investment, for example angel and venture capital financing, frequently the only hope a bright young scientist with a terrific idea has of seeing his idea benefit society.
    That’s not to say the status quo in any country is the gospel truth or to discount the importance of aiding the poor. I suspect few of us are making all the right decisions in this regard. It is to say that after careful, prayerful, righteous considerations, we will come to different defensible conclusions. I personally see some advantage to mankind in having Mormons in positions of wealth and power in Manhattan and elsewhere. I think they can serve uniquely in this flawed world that values such things and without losing their souls if they consider the risks and the gospel as carefully as you advocate.

  27. de Pizan,

    Sachs is great as well.

    Natasha,

    My guess is that equality means something totally different than what you thought.

    I think would should focus on $1 million. That way none of us have to take any responsibility. I love this game.

  28. Thomas Parkin says:

    Lots of false consciousness. About enough to turn me into a Marxist. Rich try to justify themselves and so do the poor. It’s the same story for the very start of this thing and probably will be right to the end.

    I think it all makes baby Jesus cry. ~

  29. Mike S.,

    Good thoughts; let’s take and run with some of them. For example, let’s stipulate that we’re talking about net income. That’s not the only way to think about the challenges which Wilcox poses, but if nothing else it does move us right up against some of the main issues he addresses: what do we do with our disposable income? So, say that you, after taxes, after tithing, actually bring home–to save, to invest, to spend on family vacations or a second (third?) car, to spend on home improvements or orthodontia or summer camps for the kids–a hundred grand a year. What should you do with that kind of money? What kind of temptations does it pose? What would good Mormons do with it?

    Natasha,

    Your experience highlights some very important concerns–namely, the whole troublesome concept of “fairness,” however defined. Some jobs are dirtier than others, more dangerous, more exhausting; others are more cushy, more pleasant. Is there anyway to balance all that out–and if so, is the amount one is paid the right tool to do the balancing? I don’t know (personally I think “fairness” is the wrong way to go about thinking about the issue of equality, but that’s a different topic)–and neither, I suspect, does Wilcox. The scriptures don’t seem to say anything about needful, high-paying versus stress-free, low-paying jobs, it only talks about the pride and sin which frequently comes to those who have wealth, however they have earned it. (If it’s any consolation, though, Wilcox doesn’t see the scriptures as condemning all “luxuries,” only “dainties”–the silly, useless, show-off signs of success and superiority. Spending a lot on real, lasting family memories are, in his view, entirely worth it–assuming you don’t go into debt to do so!.)

    Questions,

    Would I really be giving my all to build up the Kingdom, if I slacked?

    As far as I can tell, slacking off is an essential part of building a strong family and health communities in the midst of our artificially busy, frenetic, on-call-24-hours-a-day lives. So, to this question, I would say give a strong, unambiguous “Yes.”

    In the US, at least, a significant percentage of bishops and stake presidents make >$100K. Are most of them bad Mormons?

    I don’t know. What do they do with their money?

    If no one in the Church made >$100K a year, what impact would it have on the Church’s ability to operate as it does now?

    I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that such a change would have a very significant negative impact on the way the church handles many of its current obligations. But then again, if no one in the church made or kept more than $100K a year, how many of those obligations might change?

  30. I think it’s important not to frame these hypotheticals in such a way that it becomes about communal living or “wealth distribution” to use a popular sling. The moral questions are valid.

    These questions are especially compelling in light of the recently officially added “fourth leg” of the Church’s mission- To care for the poor and needy.

  31. I’m really struggling to figure out what people do with over $100,000 net annually. Where does that money go? Unless you’re living in a handful of super-expensive places, where money just doesn’t go very far (NYC, maybe Silicon Valley), how do you spend that much money responsibly? Private schools? A mansion? Second and third homes? A yacht? Do you feel justified spending that much money on toys and an extravagant lifestyle when other families can barely afford a tiny house, even with the parents holding three full-time jobs between them? When that immigrant family with four kids lives in a two-bedroom apartment?

    I’ve worked in health care, at a law firm, and in education; the most difficult job was the one that paid the least. My teaching salary was in the low 30s. Yet the job was still extremely demanding. The claim that “I work hard so I deserve money” may be true, but plenty of people work harder for far less.

    Too many of us live sheltered lives in upper-class or middle-class neighborhoods. Many of us don’t really see how much poorer people struggle to make ends meet. I’m lucky to live in a diverse ward right now. My ward extends from wealthy suburbs, through blue-collar neighborhoods, down to poverty-stricken ghettos. The wealthier people in my ward have a much more difficult time pretending that they’re not extremely lucky to live comfortable lives.

  32. Natasha, what if your husband made half as much, but worked half the hours? The trade-off doesn’t necessarily have to be same work for less money. If everyone gets paid less, that could mean more people could be employed. And everyone can make do with much less than they think they can. I like to think I’m pretty frugal, but was astounded the other day when I was cutting up jeans for a jean quilt and another woman in the ward asked if she could have the leavings (the top part of the jeans/pockets). I wondered if she wanted to make her own quilt with the pocket patches, but in reality, she uses pieces of old jeans to patch up the holes in her husband’s pants. He’s working on a phd, they’re living in subsidized housing (in what would be considered the worst neighborhood around), but they’re happy and making it work.

  33. Chris, No, I’ve known what the word “equality” means for some time now and I know it can have different meanings or connotations. My comment was more of an emotional slip of mouth (er, fingers). I have never thought that people should be equal in all material ways but I have thought, and still do think, that in some ways we should all be equal and that to achieve that would not be difficult or at least should not be. And yes, the philosophical/moral problems of picking any arbitrary sum of maximum income are not lost on me.

    RAF, “Dainties” was a word that stood out to me that I forgot as I carried on reading the comments.

    I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that such a change would have a very significant negative impact on the way the church handles many of its current obligations. But then again, if no one in the church made or kept more than $100K a year, how many of those obligations might change?

    Good point, if what you mean is that they would be giving away their excess without doing it through tithing.

  34. Tim,

    I’ve worked in health care, at a law firm, and in education; the most difficult job was the one that paid the least. My teaching salary was in the low 30s. Yet the job was still extremely demanding. The claim that “I work hard so I deserve money” may be true, but plenty of people work harder for far less.

    I agree! Loads of people are making far less than they deserve. But just because they are doesn’t mean that we should too.

    And to answer your question, we have a nice house that is only 1600ish square feet. We spend a lot on life and critical illness insurance every month. We put money away for our kids’ educations and our retirement, albeit very little. We have a dog– vet bills are expensive. We have things break down and then we have them fixed by people who are not us. We spend money on luxuries like chiropractic care and nutritional supplements to aid in my shoddy health. We buy clothes from Old Navy when the kids need them and give hand-me-downs to friends. We spend money on gas commuting two hours everyday. We have stunning gas and electric bills. We buy good quality food.

    You can spend a lot of money not buy spending in more places, just by spending more of it in the same places. So, turning on your gas fireplace more than you would if you had less money, and eating better, and buying life insurance for both spouses instead of just the breadwinner (and buying enough to really feel secure). We have never been on a vacation together, not even camping, in 11 years of marriage. We’ve never been to a concert. There are all sorts of responsible ways that money gets frittered away very, very quickly.

    Jes, yes, that would be great. Unfortunately, he has absolutely no control over that– the government does. What we do have control over is how much of our money we give away and that was the point I was debating.

    And I know how to make do. Both my husband and I came from very poor backgrounds. He worked three jobs putting himself through law school. Sure is hard to not feel a little entitled sometimes.

  35. Every time I see discussions like this, I always see them go the same way. I keep trying to come up with a good summary of the arguments that develop, but I can’t. Maybe it is because there isn’t a good summary. Or maybe it is because there is no summary to be had. There is just the conclusion: I should feel guilty if I am wealthy. (Which, by way of full-disclosure, I am not, but I certainly aspire to be someday.) This conclusion usually comes about through examples of what it is like to be “really poor” and with questions like somewhere up above that ask, “What do you do with all of that money?”

    Personally, I much, much, much prefer the Lord’s way of telling us what we should do with our income: 10% annually goes to the church. The rest is up to us. I love that there is no definitive response to the inane question about paying 10% on your gross or your net income. The Lord, through His prophets, seems to be saying: you decide. We are encouraged to be “generous” in our offerings, yet nobody has felt the need to give a specific definition of what is meant by this word. We are left to choose for ourselves.

    Unfortunately, too many people are unwilling to follow the Lord’s way. They want to dictate our actions. Someone said something about not using phrases like “redistribution of wealth” but that is exactly what is being discussed here. Instead of focusing on the question, “How do we avoid the pride that so very frequently enters into the lives of those who are prosperous?” we are focusing on the question, “How can we take from those who have and give to those who have not?”

    The answers are related. We avoid pride by being willing to assist those around us. We don’t take from others. We give of ourselves. Whenever we take, whenever we try to compel others, we all lose. The world’s philanthropists are not philanthropic because they have to be. They are because they choose to be. Let the misers be misers. Let the hoarders be hoarders. But don’t tell those who are generous that they are not being generous enough. Generosity is such a subjective concept. Once we try to set a standard for what is and is not generous, we lose sight of what the Lord expects of us. He expects us to be good stewards over the things He has given us–not the things He has given others.

  36. Loads of people are making far less than they deserve. But just because they are doesn’t mean that we should too.

    I completely agree! We should never, ever, ever aspire to bringing folks down to the least common denominator.

  37. Alex,

    Personally, I much, much, much prefer the Lord’s way of telling us what we should do with our income: 10% annually goes to the church. The rest is up to us.

    Except Wilcox’s examination of the scriptures suggest that your concluding statement is incorrect: 10% tithing is the beginning, not the end, of the economic questions which the Lord poses to us.

    “How can we take from those who have and give to those who have not?”

    I’m not aware of anyone in this thread who has actually posed that question. Would you like me to?

  38. Actually, Alexc is right. After years of listening to Black Sabbath, I decided to follow Satan by being a socialist and advocating the redistribution of wealth. I hate the Lord’s plan. Good thing righteous people like Alex are here to stop me.

  39. Jes, I would also challenge that your church friends are happy and making it work because they have hope that it will one day be better, that they will be making more money.

    I think that any time that people feel deprived with no hope of it ever getting better or balancing out, they will just give up. So, my husband would quit law and do something easier, or people wouldn’t aspire to tough positions, or people just continue to live in poverty.

    We DO need something to aspire to and comfort and experiences and fun are useful motivators that make our world go around.

    Alex and RAF: I like discussing moral responsibility. I don’t really like putting numbers on it! :-) But I think I’m focusing on that because it was closer to the end of your post. I hate it when people do that and here I’ve done it.

  40. “Let the misers be misers. Let the hoarders be hoarders.”
    Sure–but we need to remember Christ’s answer to the young man who wanted to know how to get to heaven. Not exactly “do what you want with your money and you’ll be fine.”

    I think most of us have some area we can work on–some area where we spend too much money instead of giving it to someone who could use it more. The rich and the upper-middle-class may be more guilty of this than those of us with less money, but almost all of us are guilty. I’m not saying our lives should be devoid of pleasure. I am saying, however, that next time we go out to dinner, buy a DVD or a nice shirt, or buy a new car, we should ask ourselves if God would want us to donate the money to a good cause instead.

    And I’m a hypocrite here too. My wife donates anything beyond our normal tithing/fast offering donation, and I cringe. Our family brings in less than $30,000 a year right now, so even a small donation is a big deal. But I recently went out to eat during lunch instead of packing a bag lunch, and I bought Rock Band a few months ago–so I basically wasted money because I didn’t pack a lunch, and I spent money on something that’s actually quite frivolous. Two places where I should have put the money into a larger fast offering or donated to a worthy cause instead.

  41. “How can we take from those who have and give to those who have not?”
    “I’m not aware of anyone in this thread who has actually posed that question. Would you like me to?”

    I hope not. This topic is wonderful when we examine ourselves. It breaks down and turns toxic immediately when we start examining and judging others.

  42. RAF,

    You’ve given me an idea for another entry in this series: “Can a Good Mormon Live Someplace Where Property Values Equal or Exceed Those of Manhattan?”

    I look forward to an explanation of how imperfect labor mobility–a staple of virtually all critiques of capitalism–doesn’t apply in this case… :)

  43. RAF: You are right, nobody has actually asked what the best way to take from others is, but I see the nature of such a question being brought about. I hope that we don’t actually move to that point.

    I also agree that tithing is the beginning of the Lord’s way. His end goal is for us to consecrate all that we have to Him. But, again, it needs to be a personal decision. We can’t consecrate that which is forcefully taken.

    Chris H: I have no desire to stop you from listening to Black Sabbath or being a socialist.

  44. Chris H,

    I have a desire for you to stop listening to Black Sabbath and being a socialist, since both suck. I hate being the one to inform others that their tastes and preferences are wrong, but in this case, someone has to do it.

  45. Scott,

    I look forward to an explanation of how imperfect labor mobility–a staple of virtually all critiques of capitalism–doesn’t apply in this case.

    Interesting question. Were I to actually write that post–and I probably won’t, but you never know–I’m not sure where the question of labor mobility would come in, exactly. On the one hand, the fact that labor isn’t perfectly mobile (and won’t be, I guess, until every single one of us telecommutes and carries our workstations with us in our phones, and all agricultural and manufacturing work is performed by robots) would obviously make it very difficult for a hypothetical, conscience-struck Mormon to relocate their family to an environment more conducive to a lifestyle in harming with various scriptural warnings. But on the other hand, such mountains and valleys in terms of relative costs of living, and the consequent temptations and justifications living in or leaving any of such involve, were arguably created in the first place by the increase of labor (and capital) mobility. In a socio-economic environment in which fewer people moved, most agricultural and manufacturing output was relatively circumscribed, and trade was primarily local, there would be, for certain, far less wealth…but there would also fuller employment, and greater relative equality, within those communities. And, more importantly for the purposes of this post, many of the temptations which come from extreme wealth would be minimized.

    Now please, do go all Frank on me and Wilcox. Don’t hold back. It’ll be fun.

  46. Scott,

    Thanks for setting me straight. I am dusting off my Michael McClean and my Milton Friedman.

  47. spudmom says:

    OK, Here’s a real example. Husband is an ER doctor and holds several positions as medical director for state & local EMS agencies (some paid, some volunteer.) Here’s where all that big income goes:
    Tithing: 10%, plus hefty contributions to other offerings. We tithe on gross income instead of net (that would be a great discussion)
    Taxes: more than 50% for federal, state, and local. I’m not counting all those hidden taxes like gasoline, hotel rooms, utilities, etc. We also are too “rich” to qualify for most deductions anymore, including charitable contributions, mortgage interest, and tuition expenses (which are our largest expenses.)
    Insurance: big income means larger insurance policies to protect a large family, husband not in perfect health. About 8% for life & disability.
    Education: three kids in college next year. About 17%
    Housing: Our own home, plus one for the college children (one married with baby) to live in. Our children do not qualify for financial aid, and we choose to not burden them with student loans. Yes, we do have a large home, but since half of the kids have left, we now house the missionaries and get a $75/mo stipend. Another 17%.
    Healthcare & retirement savings: fortunately, covered by employer.
    Add that up and you get a total of 102%. Good thing we used to save about 10% of our income for such a time, since our savings is being depleted right now. We hope to pay off the mortgage in time to serve a mission together. In the meantime, we try and live the gospel the best way we can, using our time and talents and assets. So, are we good or bad?

  48. #34- Please save your money- stop going to chiropractors and buying health supplements! None of those things will help with your shoddy health.

  49. Mark D. says:

    If the government weren’t in the business of guaranteeing (or even tolerating) one of the riskiest enterprises ever devised, namely fractional reserve banking, it is highly unlikely that the executives of an apparently relatively small bank would be earning nearly half a million dollars per year.

  50. Now please, do go all Frank on me and Wilcox. Don’t hold back. It’ll be fun.

    Nah. There’s really not much for me to say as an economist to this–it’s one person’s (Wilcox’s) view of things and I’m not really in a position to dispute anything he says–his views are just as valid as me.

    As a practical matter, I find horizontal examinations of others’ wealth and spirituality to have very little upside, and quite a bit of downside. The one upside is conditional on how the post is received–inasmuch as the post and such discussions cause me (or others) to reflect on their own level of charity, then I applaud them. In this case, I applaud it. I like the post. Really.

  51. Spudmom, I know it’s wrong to judge, but I’m going to do it anyway. You are good Mormons. :)

  52. It’s interesting to see wealthy people describe what their money goes for. Do you realize the majority of Americans would love to have the money to spend on stuff like that?

    When we’re rich, we surround ourselves with people in our same economic situation, and we can conveniently ignore the fact that most people don’t live that same life of privilege.

  53. spudmom,

    I can give you an answer to your question if you provide more color on how you are paying 50% plus in taxes, whether you feel those payments are disproportionate and, if so, why.

    The top marginal federal income tax is 35% and you would have payed less on the first $373,000 giving you an effective tax rate somewhat lower. Most state income tax ranges from zero to 6 percent though Hawaii can hit you up for 11%. Municipal taxes are typically zero though certain places like NYC can charge up to approximately 4%. From the sounds of things you might live iin California which has a top income rate of around 9.5% and perhaps in a municipality that also taxes you on income. Even figuring that in, the only way I can work out that you are paying 50% plus is by including property taxes on two homes–one of which is large. Based on these facts and assumptions your case doesn’t sound likely to generate a lot of sympathy.

  54. Thomas Parkin says:

    Spudmom,

    I judge that you are a sinner like everyone else, and also proof positive that the poor are not the only people who are oppressed by telestial systems. I say set your hearts on treasures where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, nor theives break through and steal, and give all you have to the poor, if only metaphorically, and follow Jesus. ~

  55. Spudmom,

    We hope to pay off the mortgage in time to serve a mission together. In the meantime, we try and live the gospel the best way we can, using our time and talents and assets. So, are we good or bad?

    I’m not your bishop or judge; I’m not even Wilcox. I’m just throwing out ideas based on the scriptures which he discusses. On the basis of those ideas, it seems to me that you’ve done exactly what he thinks (and which I agree) all of us should always be doing: thinking seriously about where our money goes, about the choices that lead us to the situations we are in, and about how we can do better. Seems to me you’re doing pretty well as things stand. Are there different decisions you could have made? Probably. So could we all. (The Melissa and Russell Fox family: $56K a year, four kids, one car, one mortgage, $8000 in credit card debt, which is being paid off VERY slowly, with oldest daughter’s orthodontia on hold in the meantime. Do we wish we’d done some things differently along the way? Damn straight. But we still donate what we can, when we can. I’d like to be able to do more, but we’re not there yet. Thankfully, there is Mosiah 4:24 to give us hope.)

  56. ” We tithe on gross income instead of net (that would be a great discussion)”

    Actually no, that wouldn’t be a good discussion.

  57. Naismith says:

    It’s interesting to see wealthy people describe what their money goes for. Do you realize the majority of Americans would love to have the money to spend on stuff like that?

    Well, yes, because a lot of us were not as well off throughout our entire lives. We raised three children on $6,000 a year during my husband’s schooling–and even accounting for inflation since the 1980s, it would be well below poverty level.

    When we’re rich, we surround ourselves with people in our same economic situation, and we can conveniently ignore the fact that most people don’t live that same life of privilege.

    Do you have data to back that up? Because seriously, it’s my understanding that the new tax system in Oregon, on those with incomes over $250,000, was started by the very people who would be affected by it, because they want to give back.

    We sponsor at least one EFY student most years–the program will give a scholarship of about half the fee, but the student has to come up with the rest, and when a worthy (in the bishop’s eyes) family needs help, we chip in. It’s anonymous, but they write us the nicest thank you notes, passed through the bishop.

    Also using the bishop to remain anonymous, we have paid for prospective missionaries to have dental work done, for which church funds cannot be used. Also to support senior missionaries, which church funds cannot be used.

    None of those is tax-deductible, but they are needed.

    We also support a clinic that provides free and reduced-price medical and dental care. And to a program in the country where my husband served his mission, to help families of elementary-school-aged kids to afford the books and uniforms so their children can go to school.

    And of course we pay tithing, generous fast offering, and a contribution to the PEF.

    We also have given to our children in college, even the married grad students. We had three this last year.

    We have health care costs not covered by insurance like hearing aids and a surgery, etc. And we are trying to save for retirement, which we were late getting started on due to being students for so many years. Retirement savings is actually our biggest-ticket item this year, and will be for a while.

    Also when my husband served as bishop, we gave away hundreds of dollars every month, because he was aware of so many needs that didn’t fit in the guidelines for church dollars.

    I still shop at clothing consignment stores and usher for our local performing arts center, in order to get in free. So it’s not that we separate out ourselves from others. But then maybe we’re not really “rich,” just debt-free and not as worried about money as many are.

  58. spudmom says:

    Matthew,

    I was simply going by the difference between net and gross on the pay stub. That includes income taxes, FICA, and Medicare tax. Property tax would be included in the mortgage category, since the escrow account is paid with the P&I. We may get 5% of our withholding back in refunds if we are lucky. We also have a passive loss on an underperforming rental property which does not reduce our tax liability. Any more details would have to be answered by our accountant.

  59. Focusing on the dollar amount is missing the symbolic nature of the question.

    Naismith, I applaud your efforts. Though, I think sending anyone to EFY is cruel.

    Russell, I am not sure if these type questions can really be discussed in a culture (the USA) of any serious sense of justice.

    Maybe I should do a breakdown of my finances for all to see…

  60. spudmom says:

    Tim,

    During the internship year, my husband worked 12 hour days, six days a week, with night shifts every third night. He made less than minimum wage. We qualified for Head Start and food assistance. We were no more or less happy then than now; but we can certainly help a lot more people now than we could when we were poor. We live in a nice neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean that there are struggling people nearby, like the sister whose husband left her for a younger woman and left her with a house she can’t afford and kids to take care of; or the widower whose family business is being destroyed by the recession; or our neighbor whose wife is disabled. Our adult sons are struggling to find work over the summer. I don’t have to live in a hut in India to find places to serve others or feel compassion.

  61. #34- Please save your money- stop going to chiropractors and buying health supplements! None of those things will help with your shoddy health.

    Are you serious or trying to be funny and failing? You have no idea what my health problems are. Be off with you, now. Or, if you really want to argue something you know nothing about, email me. My address is on my About page when you click on my red name.

    Tim,

    It’s interesting to see wealthy people describe what their money goes for. Do you realize the majority of Americans would love to have the money to spend on stuff like that?

    When we’re rich, we surround ourselves with people in our same economic situation, and we can conveniently ignore the fact that most people don’t live that same life of privilege.

    You said a lot without really making any point. Do I realise that, for example, most people don’t have the kind of life and critical illness insurance that I have? Um, yes. Because I wasn’t always able to afford it either. So?

    Your generalisation about who we surround ourselves with “when we’re rich” (wow, how I’d love to be rich to be able to speak so confidently as you have just done) is just not fair or demonstrable. No, seriously, that was insulting. I have friends all over the board because their fabulous personalities and their education are not always reflected in their salaries for their employment. I mean, DUH.

    What WAS the point you were trying to make? What point did you THINK I was trying to make?

    RAF: Personally, I like that BCC is a place where typical constraints of what makes for gauche conversation go out the window. Sure makes things interesting and keeps biases from being private, which is humbling.

  62. Natasha, the statement about living on much less than we think we can was not intended directly for you. It was more of a rebuttal to people who say, “there’s no way anyone could live on less than $________, especially if they live in _________. Of course it’s all about choices, as we all know. I just think that sometimes we don’t see all of our choices because habits are so ingrained.

    I thought I was being semi-frugal for making a quilt out of old jeans (after I’d already turned many of them into shorts). I knew that throwing away the pockets was throwing away potential quilt squares, and I was being less than frugal for refusing to wear or put my kids in holey jeans, but it never would have occurred to me to patch those old jeans with other old jeans. I think there’s always room for objective, outside evaluation of our habits. 10-20 years ago cell phones were unusual, now they’re a “need”. Same with caller id and voice mail plans, TV channels, 2 cars, big cars with 2-3 seats more than our family needs, 3000 sq ft houses when 2000 would be more than sufficient, the best rated schools when 2nd best would be more than adequate, buying new instead of used, etc, etc. We all have places to cut back.

  63. The hot button phrase of “redistributing the wealth” may present some valid objections. The hard core market enthusiasts are particularly offended by it’s basic premise. Robin Hood is the real bad guy in this line of thinking.

    I’m not really enthusiastic about centering an economic system onthis premise of taking thimfs away from people either. I’m more enthusiastic about ideas that attempt to reconceptualize wealth acquisition in the first place. I don’t favor true socialism, hough I’m sure some might accuse me of those tendencies, based on their interpretation of my words.

    At some point, the conversation has to focus on values and ideals. We have ideals as individuals, and though there is no such thing as group ideals in the strictest sense, we do end up with collective values, as filtered and smudged through all of the conventions and institutions were a part of.

    I remember a cheesy seminary slide show/video that posed the question of what if everything that it is now considered expensive (sports cars, fur coats–remember this is an old video–and all other worldly status symbols) was suddenly priced at it’s true eternal value, and everything of true eternal value was priced according to it’s real worth. As outdated as that video is now, it’s lesson is still valid.

    Our current market system has all kinds of skewed values, as we well know. Not only that, but the market is disproportionately influenced–or in some cases controlled–by those with the most money in the first place. Money buys influence through many avenues: social, political, and economic.

    I don’t have concrete suggestions to discuss at this moment, but unless we collectively evaluate our ideals and what our current system places the highest price on, nothing else really matters.

  64. Sorry, Jes, you directed the comment at me and then didn’t break up the rest and clarify.

  65. I’m sorry if I’ve offended. It’s easy to criticize others; it’s much harder to not do the same as they do when the money starts coming in. The love of money is the root of all evil; the most righteous communities ever to exist on this earth had no poor–and no rich. Three years ago I was confident I was going to spend my life poor, as a teacher, and all this talk about having too much money would never apply to me. Now that’s changed–and I’m conflicted. Live a humble life in a modest home even though we’re rich on paper, or live the good life in a large home with nice cars and nice clothes. Both are possibilities. I sincerely hope I have the strength to live the more modest life. I apologize for criticizing anyone else; I was out of place for doing so.

    I will say that I don’t have much sympathy for the financial situation of those making over $100K net when I look at some of my fellow ward members. People who are disabled, or people who work for minimum wage. Couples that work 3 full-time jobs between the two of them so they can make enough money and have health insurance–and still live very modestly. People who live in unsafe neighborhoods because they can’t afford to live in safe ones. A great many cannot afford even a cheap car. Even those who are the worst-off in a well-to-do neighborhood are much better-off financially than a great number of people in my ward. And those people in poverty aren’t going through it as a phase; they will live in poverty their whole life.

  66. StillConfused says:

    Here is my honest question… what does it matter to anyone how much someone else makes? Seriously. I don’t care at all what other people make. It does not enter into my equation at all.

    My personal preference is to live a simple life and to run a charity with my extra. But that is what works for me. I don’t force my ways on others.

    I have always been in highly compensated fields — but that is more a result of my talents and skill sets, not a desire to be highly compensated. I do have to say, there should be differences in pay. My time as an air traffic controller warranted much more pay then my time working the Burger King drive through.

  67. Focusing on the dollar amount is missing the symbolic nature of the question.

    Well said, Chris. Of course, if we consciously refuse to ever attach dollars and cents to the question, then we’re essentially making sure that we will personally never be on the hook; it’ll always be possible to say that we don’t have to rethink our choices, because we’re not one of the ones with a problem. But only by being willing to consider ourselves as such will the symbolic point of the question, or any number of other questions, being able to do us any good. Peace and prosperity of great blessings; they are also trials. If we can’t see that as at least a possibility in our own relatively wealthy, relatively secure lives, then we might be setting ourselves up of a fall.

  68. spudmom,
    You’re not paying 50% in taxes. If your husband is making that much, the withholding is pretty ugly for the first half of the year, but there’s a cap on the amount of FICA you have to pay. Once your husband hits somewhere around $106,000, there’s no more FICA withholding, and suddenly his net pay will jump up a fair amount. (It’s also worth noting that looking at gross vs. net on his pay stub doesn’t tell you much about taxes: they’re withheld, but so is his contribution to health insurance, dental insurance, 401(k), life insurance, subsidized gym membership, etc. Which is to say, just because his net is somewhere around 50% of his gross doesn’t mean that the 50% is all taxes).

    Also, I was interested in your assertion that you no longer get a deduction for charitable contributions. If your tax advisor has told you this, I’d fire him or her. There is no income at which charitable deductions disappear; even if you’re paying the alternative minimum tax, you get to deduct mortgage interest and charitable contributions. If you’re making donations of more than 50% of your taxable income, you can’t deduct the excess of 50% (and if you’re donating that much, good for you!). And there’s talk of capping the deductible amount at 28%, but that hasn’t been discussed recently. But the only way in the U.S. that you couldn’t deduct your tithing and other charitable contributions would be if you didn’t itemize; that tends not to be a problem for high-income Mormons who tithe 10% and have mortgages.

  69. $60,000 a year. Now, 17 years later you are talking spendable income of $120,000.00 a year.

    The problem comes up with what income level it takes to reach that kind of spendable income.

    My wife and I could afford to live in a nicer house than we do — someone posted about just (to paraphrase) live in a wealthier area. Actually, the key is to live below your means, rather than above them, if you want to feel that you can afford more charity.

    or if he made $300K a year as a surgeon — the surgeons I know are making more like two or three million a year (I take their depositions and it comes up under oath as part of the discovery).

    Now the ER doctors tend to make a lot less, have to admire those who chose to take control of their schedules, do that kind of work and accept much less in income.

    Interesting discussion.

  70. Russell,
    To your post: it brings to my mind something that gets raised periodically in the tax literature: that the most just tax would be a tax on endowment (that is, on a person’s ability to earn income, rather than the income she earns). The main idea underlying this is that some people could earn a lot of income, but prefer untaxed leisure. That is, people who could earn more but choose to work less and earn less get roughly the same total value as they would otherwise.

    All that to say, what do you do about the person with the ability to make more than $100,000 who chooses instead to watch TV or to take vacations? Is that person more moral than the person who chooses to work and earn more money instead?

  71. All that to say, what do you do about the person with the ability to make more than $100,000 who chooses instead to watch TV or to take vacations?

    …or become an academic?

  72. Scott,
    Which is where I’m coming from. The significant pay cut to go from private practice to academics is compensated by certain significant lifestyle improvements here (much to the chagrin, of course, of my wife).

    Same goes for my friend whose plan is to work in a big-city law firm for a couple years at huge pay, and then wants to take a job at a small shop in Utah (for less pay and with fewer hours). In fact, pretty much everybody I know, when they change jobs, take pay cuts. And we have to assume that they’re getting something (upside potential, lifestyle changes, control, TV time) out of the change, if they’re not getting more money.

  73. I admire anyone who can sacrifice all excess income. I probably won’t do it though, and I’ll feel more guilty about watching my savings account grow from now on.

    Can your next post be about the damage done to emotional health by demanding perfection from people who are already doing better than the vast majority of society? Because it happens a lot in Mormonism.

  74. And I should say, for the Ph.D.s, 4-7+ years of grad school could get you several MBAs, a couple JDs, or plenty of job experience. Which is to say, even those academics who didn’t leave private practice are likely smart people who know how to work hard; presumably, they have high endowment, as well, and have chose to exchange some of the cash compensation for the non-cash compensation that comes with academia.

    And the fact that we are not solely compensated by the number on our paycheck significantly complicates the question of whether a good mormon can make more than $100,000 a year.

  75. Tim,

    I will say that I don’t have much sympathy for the financial situation of those making over $100K net

    Which of them is asking for sympathy? First you make wildly ridiculous claims that a person making over 100k must be spending it on stuff like:

    Private schools? A mansion? Second and third homes? A yacht? Do you feel justified spending that much money on toys and an extravagant lifestyle

    Then when someone making more than 100k tries to correct your misunderstanding of how much wealth 100k-a-year really represents you say you have no sympathy for their financial situation. Give me a break.

    I think what discussions like this always establish for me is that President Benson was right when he said that there is the pride of the rich looking down on the poor and there is also the pride of the poor looking up. I think it is important for everyone to think carefully about how they are spending their money. I think it is nearly as important for everyone to stop thinking carefully about how other people are spending their money. So unless you are making $100,000 a year (or plan to), I don’t think you should spend much time thinking about the question posed in the title.

  76. Tim, thanks for that. I am familiar with the cycle of poverty and it breaks my heart. I think I’m well familiar the sociology of poverty and it’s why I am in favour of more socialistic policies. It also really breaks my heart to see friends work so hard at important jobs and barely get by raising their families with mom at home because they are not paid what they are worth.

    RAF, you said,

    Of course, if we consciously refuse to ever attach dollars and cents to the question, then we’re essentially making sure that we will personally never be on the hook; it’ll always be possible to say that we don’t have to rethink our choices, because we’re not one of the ones with a problem.

    For the purpose of discussion I could not agree more. I was going to say that myself. But to impose rules, of course I object.

    And your post reminded me that I really need to get our finances in order. In the past three years while I’ve had health problems, I’ve done a shoddy job at basically everything in my life, including managing our finances. But I’m doing much better now (thanks in part to proactive health management via, in part, nutritional supplements *grin*) and am motivated to get things back on track not only for us but so that we can realise our shared dream of helping more people. We’ve always helped people and we’re pretty generous people but we could definitely be doing more if only we were better stewards of our money. The first person I want to help, though, is my husband, who deserves a reward after oh, twenty-five or so years of hard work. He’s never traveled anywhere. He doesn’t have any expensive hobbies. He does very little for himself, only helping others. I see him as being in need– not of food or housing, but of a life.

    Anyway. Anyone hear of that German man who started out quite poor and… made his fortune in flowers? and then recently decided to give it all away and live on just $1600 a month because he says he was happier then? Verrrry interesting story. Lots to discuss there about what really causes happiness or unhappiness and how money influences it or only seems to.

  77. What about we flip this argument on its head? For instance, inherent in the title, “Can a Good Mormon Make Over $100k a Year?,” is a subtle indicator of exactly where we are.

    This may come off overly trite, perhaps it is, but why do we remain to prop up a dying system, one whose fall could easily be described as “great” or “biblical” or “apocalyptic” or whatever word you might choose to use. If we really broke it down, we spend the majority of our first 20-30 years of our life in an education system that is built around creating machines, usable parts to fit easily in a system which is predicated on little more than power and/or greed. We go to school – elementary and high school – and by the time we’re ready to graduate the vast majority of us are thinking about college and obtaining that influential “degree” which certifies that we’re ready to make the big money. Some continue on to master’s and doctorate programs, 90% of which have a significant financial reward attached to them. Some suggest they pursue this or that degree for altruistic reasons, and that may be the case, but most people choose a career or profession which will remunerate them for the rest of their life and, if all goes well, set them up for a good pension or retirement.

    BY said, “The doctrine of uniting together in our temporal labors, and all working for the good of all is from the beginning, from everlasting, and it will be for ever and ever. No one supposes for one moment that in heaven the angels are speculating, that they are building railroads and factories, taking advantage one of another, gathering up the substance there is in heaven to aggrandize themselves, and that they live on the same principle that we are in the habit of doing. No Christian, no sectarian Christian, in the world believes this; they believe that the inhabitants of heaven live as a family [Deuteronomy 31:12 and 12:6-7 say that offerings should always be made in a family group—the individual is the one responsible, but he must always bring his family], that their faith, interests, and pursuits have one end in view—the glory of God and their own salvation, they may receive more and more. . . . We all believe this, and suppose we go to work and imitate them as far as we can.” (JD 17:117-18.)

    This, from Nibley:

    “”Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). That is the question. I asked my students, “If you were granted one thousands years of life with whatever worldly means you might request, what would you plan to do?” This is precisely the situation in which the Latter-day Saint finds himself; the answer would be the same if the grant were for only a hundred or fifty years. The opening chapters of the Doctrine and Covenants are taken up with answering that question for various new members of the Church, telling each brother what he is to do at the moment. Our patriarchal blessings assume that we are looking farther afield. It is certain that in this world, especially in the acquisitive and expanding world, we are not going anywhere, but throwing our lives away. “Be wise in the days of your probation” (Mormon 9:28). A highly successful corporation president said,

    One of the great tragedies of American business life is what happens to talented executives who dedicate their lives to the company, who are successful and part of a system that is so bad. I didn’t take the company from a million-dollar loss to a million-dollar profit without hurting a lot of people. . . . You do to others, and then it is done unto you. . . . One morning, I found my own resignation on my desk. Absolutely no reason was given. I didn’t know what to think. . . . I left immediately. That was part of the deal. They used the same formula I had used. You do to others, and then it’s done unto you. . . . You begin to wonder about this capitalism you preached, the profit motive. I used to tell young executives the name of the game is profit. You wonder whose game it really is. . . . Our profit system, the one we all live by, is presented as a fun game for young people training to be managers. If you can reduce the time it takes to do something, you increase the profit. Growth and investors’ happiness are based on this. You can expand your facilities . . . that’s why America is the land of plenty [a bitter note]. I’m so proud of the system, . . . that we all have television sets and cars and pollution and everything. There’s no place like it.” (The Law of Consecration, found in Approaching Zion.)

    And so it is with us. We like to think we’re different, that this day and age is different, unparalleled in all the annals of history… and yet it’s so similar that we can’t make heads from tails and continue the same games of trying to get ahead, make just a couple of extra dollars to help the church, to pay off debt, to be comfortable or whatever the excuse du jour is.

  78. BTW, the stock-market crash of 1929 was not what “propelled America in the Great Depression.” The U.S.’s economy shouldered on for another three years after the crash before the Depression hit.

  79. #75–“So unless you are making $100,000 a year (or plan to), I don’t think you should spend much time thinking about the question posed in the title.”

    I agree that those who need to think the most about the question are those who do make that much–or, as in my case, who probably will be making that much in the future.
    But I think others who make far less (and have no plans to become wealthier) can also add to the discussion. Again, though, I do fit into that category, so the question is one I need to be thinking about.

  80. Sam,

    What do you do about the person with the ability to make more than $100,000 who chooses instead to watch TV or to take vacations? Is that person more moral than the person who chooses to work and earn more money instead?

    Are they doing nothing with their time besides watching TV and taking vacations? No more-than-they-could-have-otherwise volunteering, no time with the family, no gardening, no learning practical (and always needed) fix-it skills, no nothing? Well then, again, speaking as someone who is neither a bishop nor Jesus at the judgment seat, I’d say this was a person was burying their talents and refusing to acknowledge all that they have (including all that time spent watching Lost) actually belongs to the Lord. If, however, they were choosing to make less money as part of a re-evaluation of the time and their lifestyle, deciding to clear their lives of unnecessary distractions and expectations so as to better serve their fellow man, then I would say such a person would have demonstrated my point about “slacking” above.

    Jacob,

    I think what discussions like this always establish for me is that President Benson was right when he said that there is the pride of the rich looking down on the poor and there is also the pride of the poor looking up. I think it is important for everyone to think carefully about how they are spending their money. I think it is nearly as important for everyone to stop thinking carefully about how other people are spending their money.

    I fully agree with President Benson on this point: pride is the central sin of the modern world, and can easily flourish in the lives of the rich as well as the poor. And I fully agree with you that it is much more important for each of us to be posing the challenges which Wilcox discovers in the scriptures to ourselves, rather than posing them to others (the old mote and the beam principle). However, just to be clear: if saying the poor can be prideful as well (true), and saying that we need to tend to the beams in our own eyes first (also true), means that we can never talk about the particular temptations and evils which come along with wealth and the inequality between the rich and the poor, then we’re not following what the prophets say again and again throughout all the standard works. Wilcox concludes–and on my reading of the scriptures I have to agree with him–that seeking for wealth is never praised by the prophets, and obtaining it is both a blessing and a trial, simultaneously.

    Tom,

    Yes! That’s the good stuff.

  81. Russell,
    But what about you and me? Is there something more moral about choosing a career that pays less money but gives more satisfaction in other ways? That is, is the offense just in the number of zeros on the paycheck?

    Put another way: assuming that an academic making, say $60,000 and a businessperson making, say $120,000 both provide the same amount of service and value to the world. Both the businessperson and the academic have the capacity to make the $120,000, but the academic has decided that having a consistent schedule and control over her career (and, frankly, no real boss) is worth $60,000 in lost wages to her. Are you arguing that choosing the lower-paying job (even that she’s got the same ultimate money + satisfaction as the higher-earning individual) is more moral?

    What I’m trying to push is this: are you arguing that there is something qualitatively bad about money over a certain threshold that doesn’t apply to non-monetary satisfaction?

  82. Are you arguing that there is something qualitatively bad about money over a certain threshold that doesn’t apply to non-monetary satisfaction?

    Let’s put it this way, Sam: based on Wilcox’s understanding of the scriptures and modern prophets (an understanding which comports with my own), it would seem that “there is something qualitatively dangerous about money over a certain threshold that doesn’t apply to non-monetary satisfaction.” No doubt there are a great many sins which are more particularly a temptation and trial for the 60K-earning academic than more the 120K-earning businessperson. For whatever reason, though, the Lord seems to have seen fit to use the prophets to mostly spread a warning about those temptations that arguably will affect the high-earning businessperson more than the low-earning academic. Why? I don’t know. Natural law, perhaps–that the essential telos of money challenges the universe in a way that the essential telos of academic knowledge doesn’t? Or maybe God, in His foreknowledge, just knew there would be, amongst the faithful, a hell of a lot more people being tempted in one way rather than the other, and He wanted His prophets’ warnings to have the most bang for the buck? Both are equally likely, perhaps.

  83. Why set the bar so high? After all, if the average per capita world income is around $8 and we assume a family of 4, then anyone making over $32,000/year is rich, correct? So what are those making over $32k/year doing with their excess income?

  84. Russell,
    I’m going to fundamentally disagree with you, then. I don’t see any more sin inhering in disposable income than in disposable time. I would argue that the prophets argued against money historically because historically most people haven’t had the option to choose between work and leisure (although frankly, most people haven’t had the option to choose between wealth and poverty, either).

    Arguing that money is the sole compensatory aspect of work, and therefore that money is the sole–or even the principal–potential evil that we have to watch out for strikes me as fundamentally naive. If we have to watch out for money, satisfaction, leisure, control over our schedules, etc., then your critique becomes much fairer.

  85. when he said that there is the pride of the rich looking down on the poor and there is also the pride of the poor looking up. Gee, there just happens to be a couple of verses in the Doctrine & Covenants on that point ;)

    ”So unless you are making $100,000 a year (or plan to), I don’t think you should spend much time thinking about the question posed in the title.”

    But most people are capable of making that much money.

    It is a matter of discipline and desire.

    Lets say you get a BSRN — a four year nursing degree. With a little overtime doing critical care work (ICU/CCU) in a large city you can probably make that much. Do that for two years and then go on to get a CNRA — I know that the starting pay for Abilene, Texas for that degree is 160K, six weeks vacation, paid continuing education, profit sharing, etc.

    It is a career path within the reach of probably everyone who can blog.

    The question is do you really want to work that hard?

    Sam makes a good point when he says less pay and with fewer hours). In fact, pretty much everybody I know, when they change jobs, take pay cuts. And we have to assume that they’re getting something (upside potential, lifestyle changes, control, TV time) out of the change, if they’re not getting more money.less pay and with fewer hours). In fact, pretty much everybody I know, when they change jobs, take pay cuts. And we have to assume that they’re getting something (upside potential, lifestyle changes, control, TV time) out of the change, if they’re not getting more money.

    Worth thinking about, which would get the comments back on track with the original essay ;)

  86. Sam,

    I’m going to fundamentally disagree with you, then. I don’t see any more sin inhering in disposable income than in disposable time….If we have to watch out for money, satisfaction, leisure, control over our schedules, etc., then your critique becomes much fairer.

    I don’t think our disagreement is fundamental; it’s just that I’m following a critique which Wilcox introduces, a critique which can be derived from the scriptures…which, as you rightly note, reflect particular historical conditions. Who knows what sins, inequalities, and temptations Elder Ballard (much less the Old Testament prophets) might have warned us about if his worldview hadn’t been shaped by a legacy of pioneer struggles and poverty, but rather by a world of relative abundance, where leisure itself poses a real tempting option for many? I really couldn’t say. You might be right that, in such a context, the scriptures would have spoken much more directly against the equal evils of false humility, hidden resentments, and plain old irresponsibility.

    I made a couple of comments about “slacking” above, and I really do believe that, for a great many people, a willingness to accept less, be content with less, and be less busy, less scheduled, with fewer expectations or desires, may be an extremely valuable tool for enabling us to withstand the sinful blandishments of the consumer society, and give us more opportunity for service and charity. But if, in your observation, the decision to slack off and earn less than one’s capability in exchange for other goods (relative freedom in one’s working life, for example) may reflect a selfishness, a desire to by lazy and avoid building up the Kingdom and blessing others with whatever you might otherwise have been able to accomplish, then clearly that’s a troublesome decision as well. I look at my own life as an academic, and the hell I put my family through as I scrambled and we went without for five years while we searched for a permanent position, and I can’t deny that it wasn’t all nobility: there was a selfishness there, I realize, a desire to avoid the pressures that I’ve seen consume my workaholic father. And it is arguable that my children suffer from those actions of mine. If so, is my life a sinful one that I’ll need to repent of? Absolutely! However, for better or worse, the case remains that the prophet Elijah didn’t very explicitly call me to repentance–he called the rich. Which I guess makes it a good thing we have modern-day prophets, huh?

  87. Russell,
    Fair enough. And I’m not trying to suggest that an academic career–or any other career where we earn less than our endowment–is immoral. I chose an academic career, too. But I do think that substituting leisure (meaning anything unpaid–slacking, engaging in unremunerative pastimes, working is a soup kitchen) for work raises the same morally troubling implications as earning more money, because they certainly do implicate selfishness. So if we set $100,000 as the troubling limit, we have to somehow value the leisure that our work affords us, and include that in our calculus, even though it doesn’t show up as a line item on our paychecks.

  88. Russell,

    Its an interesting question. I guess I have mixed feelings about the topic. My small business at one time was doing fairly well. That all changed in the last couple of years. My income went down about 80% from 2007 to 2009 and has gone up a little bit in 2010. Down maybe 60% from 2007. The good news was that we were ready for the recession. We had paid off cars really low bills etc.

    I honestly feel like we were happier and more productive when our income was higher. We had more to give both emotionally and financially.

    To sum up I see how both wealth and poverty can be a spiritual danger. Depending on the person and the circumstance both can damage us spritually. I think it really depends on how people react to their circumstances.

    The answer to your question is to me a solid yes. A good Mormon can make more then 100K a year. In addition a good Mormon can make 25K a year.

  89. richandconflicted says:

    About five years ago I sold my business for several million dollars. I had more money than I had ever dreamed of and thought I should quit working for money and devote my efforts to some kind of humanitarian work. This was something I had always wanted to do. I thought it was wrong to work for money when I already had much more than I needed. However, after a lot of soul searching I came to the oppositie conclusion.

    As it happens, I guess I am pretty good at making money. I concluded that if I continue working for money, I could probably make enough in a year to pay for twenty people to perform whatever humanitarian service I might have performed personally were I to try. So continue to do so, and so far, I think my decision was correct. I don’t get a lot of personal fulfillment out of my work. However, I think that if society is willing to reward me so well for doing that work, I have a moral obligation to take the reward and then to dedicate those resources to doing good.

    The issue is never how much we make. The issue is how we live, and what we do with the resources we acquire. Warrren Buffet and Bill Gates will probably both do far more good by acquiring huge wealth and then dedicating that wealth to charitable causes than humanitarian workers who dedicate their lives to helping others for little remuneration. (I am not saying that makes them any better worse than anybody else. I am only referring to the amount of good that they actually accomplish. Those are very different things.)

  90. But the real question for Brother Jennings is whether a good Mormon can win $2.5 million on a quiz show. Especially when it means running roughshod over a worthy brother who only has the $2,000 consolation prize to show for his televised humiliation at his hands.

  91. I’d turn this question on its head and wonder what kind of supposedly good Mormon could ask such a question.

  92. RAF,
    You asked me to go all Frank-economist on you, and I declined, but I figure I may as well indulge you a little bit, at least to clarify my comment about there being little upside to these kinds of discussions.

    From my perspective, these discussions are problematic because they often ignore the issue that Sam B. brings up–that choices in profession are not made purely on the basis of income, and in many cases not even primarily on the basis of income.

    Now, I recognize that your post is only looking at what the scriptures say about wealth, and that’s fine and dandy, but that’s really kind of a cop-out to me because from an economist’s perspective, disposable income is just one component of being “rich” as to the things of the world. Talents and time are, in my opinion, much bigger and more important components, and I believe that scriptures about wealth necessarily include all components of our personal filthy lucre. (I am more of a scrooge with my time than my money, and I know I’m not alone there.) Without including such, the scriptures just become a tool for Pharisaical preaching from those in harmony with some specific letter of some particular law.

    Another reason I find theses discussions problematic is that, implicit in virtually every word, is the assumption of no possibility (or at least no value) for inter-temporal substitution of charitable donations. In other words, a focus on annual income suggests that donations made today are more important than donations made tomorrow. While I agree that it is important to help those that are starving today, doing all we can today has a very direct impact on what we can do tomorrow.

    Naturally, an allowance can be made for the possibility that my donations are given to an organization that also invests those funds and similarly earns a greater-than-inflation return on them (certainly the government is not one of those organizations) but it still seems to me that a very strong argument could be made that, in a world where investment returns are greater than inflation, donating too much today instead of tomorrow limits one’s capacity to help in the first place.

    In a similar vein, there is an unstated idea that, on a personal level, hours spent performing acts of charity today are better than hours spent performing acts of charity tomorrow. I’m not sure how earning, saving, and investing for an early retirement, which will allow me to devote less time today, but more time tomorrow is somehow inferior to a plan that allows me to devote more time today and less time (or resources) tomorrow.

  93. “I’m really struggling to figure out what people do with over $100,000 net annually. Where does that money go? Unless you’re living in a handful of super-expensive places, where money just doesn’t go very far (NYC, maybe Silicon Valley), how do you spend that much money responsibly? Private schools? A mansion? Second and third homes? A yacht? Do you feel justified spending that much money on toys and an extravagant lifestyle when other families can barely afford a tiny house, even with the parents holding three full-time jobs between them? When that immigrant family with four kids lives in a two-bedroom apartment?”

    I’m sure someone has said this already, but the first thing I noticed when I started work after years of school is that the money I once thought was huge didn’t go nearly as far as I thought it would. Between having to buy an entirely new wardrobe appropriate for the type of work I do, large student loan payments, increased taxes, compensating for other less-compensated employees’ insurance, starting to actually save for retirement (which I had ignored for years while going to school), and simply starting up a savings plan to add to the zero I had before (again due to school), I was surprised to find that my standard of living hadn’t gone up all that much. By no means were we worrying about where the next meal was to come from, but it wasn’t like we were driving A-class Mercedes and living in Beverly Hills. It was more like a Honda in a solidly middle-class neighborhood.

  94. MikeInWeHo says:

    “When we’re rich, we surround ourselves with people in our same economic situation, and we can conveniently ignore the fact that most people don’t live that same life of privilege.”

    I tend to agree with Tim. One thing I’ve noticed is that people typically compare themselves mostly with people who have more. We mostly look up. By any rational standard I have a ridiculously comfortable life, but because of where I live and work I sometimes feel almost poor. It’s just crazy. In fact, I just moved to a much less affluent neighborhood in L.A. because I am just sick of being around all the conspicuous consumption.

  95. Tim,

    I will say that I don’t have much sympathy for the financial situation of those making over $100K net when I look at some of my fellow ward members.

    I don’t think that I, or anyone else, am asking for your sympathy. I’d prefer a simpler behavior: that people who don’t know the intimate details of others’ budgets shut the hell up refrain from opining on them.

  96. Sam,

    But I do think that substituting leisure (meaning anything unpaid–slacking, engaging in unremunerative pastimes, working is a soup kitchen) for work raises the same morally troubling implications as earning more money, because they certainly do implicate selfishness.

    You may be right–as I allowed, my own less-than-income-maximizing decisions have likely partaken of a good deal of selfishness, and likely that’s the same, to one degree or another, for most everyone reading this. We all often make decisions–regarding our work, income, lifestyle, leisure, time, whatever–which are more often self-regarding than charitable, and hence we all have reason to repent, and do better. That being said, it remains a fact that, for better or worse, the scriptures do not quite make the case–and hence Wilcox does not quite make the case–that it is obvious that all the various ways we can and do choose selfishly all equally have the “same morally troubling implications” as wealth. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong; it just means, for whatever reason, the canonized scriptures seem far more concerned about certain sinful conditions than others.

    Chris,

    I’d turn this question on its head and wonder what kind of supposedly good Mormon could ask such a question.

    Well, on the basis of my own home teaching record, I think it’s manifestly obvious that only a really a bad one would.

    Scott,

    I recognize that your post is only looking at what the scriptures say about wealth, and that’s fine and dandy, but that’s really kind of a cop-out to me because from an economist’s perspective, disposable income is just one component of being “rich” as to the things of the world. Talents and time are, in my opinion, much bigger and more important components, and I believe that scriptures about wealth necessarily include all components of our personal filthy lucre….Without including such, the scriptures just become a tool for Pharisaical preaching from those in harmony with some specific letter of some particular law.

    I think that’s a fair point, though I would also reiterate my concern from up above about making sure our reading of the scriptures don’t become so broad, encompassing, and consequently abstract that we never find us particularly on the hook for any scriptural warning. Chris H. rightly observed earlier in the thread that the real purpose of the question is essentially symbolic: it’s a way to communicate how and to what degree we are (or are not) aspiring to live in accordance with the principles of consecration and service to others. And insofar as those principles include devoting everything we have to the Lord–our time, our talents, everything–then you’re absolutely correct that we should not narrowly construe wealth as beginning and ending with money. But neither should we assume that, since the Lord asks for everything, that we are excused from asking ourselves questions about our income and lifestyle just because we put in a lot of hours at the bishop’s storehouse.

    Another reason I find theses discussions problematic is that, implicit in virtually every word, is the assumption of no possibility (or at least no value) for inter-temporal substitution of charitable donations. In other words, a focus on annual income suggests that donations made today are more important than donations made tomorrow….[I]t still seems to me that a very strong argument could be made that, in a world where investment returns are greater than inflation, donating too much today instead of tomorrow limits one’s capacity to help in the first place.

    Now here I would actually disagree with you, or at least pose the possibility of serious disagreement, a disagreement which is the basis of a long-running argument I’ve had with Nate Oman over just how “effective” God wants or demands our service to the poor to be. Are you so certain that the Lord actually wants us to strategically “maximize” our donations to the poor? On the one hand, obviously He does: giving more is better than giving less (in terms of time as well as money). But on the other hand, we have the story of the widow’s mite. The rich man gave more than the widow did, yet Jesus chose to praise her instead–though she cast herself into penury by doing so, though she might have been able to give thrice that much at some later date. On my reading of the scriptures, I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea that we can always evaluate our own behavior by reminding ourselves of how much more or better we’ll be able to give tomorrow.

  97. @ #96

    Well in that case you’re probably not half as bad as you think I know you are!

  98. Scott,
    Even though I’m generally with you, I’d temper the future investment justification a little bit. (And give me that I’m dramatically simplifying.) Even where investment returns are in excess of inflation and an individual’s return is better than a charitable organization’s return, by donating tomorrow instead of today, you’re also introducing risk into your charitable donation. If I give my money to charity today, the charity can evaluate its risk profile and invest in accordance with that. But if, like Warren Buffet, I keep my money today with the intention of donating in 30 years, it’s possible that my bets will go poorly, and I’ll end up with donating less inflation-adjusted money than I would have.

    (I’m assuming that, if your return is better than inflation, anything above the inflationary return must be risky, and risky returns have to have the chance to go down, as well as up. I’m also assuming that the charity somehow has a right to the amount you would currently donate. I’m also ignoring the fact that charities have a tax-free rate of return on their investments, meaning their risk tolerance should generally be lower than a taxable investor’s, and the fact that an institution likely has a larger asset base to invest, and can presumably make investments not available to me and to negotiate lower fees.)

    All that said, Russell, Scott is absolutely right that reading scriptural statements about wealth as including only money and other tangibles is close to irrelevant, if not completely irrelevant, in our 21st century developed world economy.

  99. Naismith says:

    I will say that I don’t have much sympathy for the financial situation of those making over $100K net when I look at some of my fellow ward members.

    The other thing is that your assessments of income may be all off base. You can only judge things you see like houses and cars and clothing, not whether those items were bought on credit or owned outright.

    My family lives in a neighborhood with schoolteachers and so on. Middle class, not upper. But we own our house and cars. Unlike spudmom, our employer doesn’t cover our healthcare and retirement. We put $56,000 a year in retirement savings (maxing 401k’s and Roth IRAs), and spend another $13,000 per year on health care, between insurance premiums, co-pays, non-covered services and over-the-counter medications.

    But we don’t have cable television, and I ride my bicycle to the office most days, so we don’t particularly look like a family earning over $100,000.

  100. Even though I’m generally with you, I’d temper the future investment justification a little bit. (And give me that I’m dramatically simplifying.) Even where investment returns are in excess of inflation and an individual’s return is better than a charitable organization’s return, by donating tomorrow instead of today, you’re also introducing risk into your charitable donation. If I give my money to charity today, the charity can evaluate its risk profile and invest in accordance with that. But if, like Warren Buffet, I keep my money today with the intention of donating in 30 years, it’s possible that my bets will go poorly, and I’ll end up with donating less inflation-adjusted money than I would have.

    Sam B.,
    Absolutely–I moaned and groaned about the unstated, implicit assumptions in this conversation and then left out my own important one–that the investment portfolio’s returns are risk-adjusted and still greater.

  101. Seriously?! How can you possibly make a judgement on someone based on the amount of money they make? How they got it? sure. What they do with it? sure. How much it is? Absurd.

  102. Scott,
    You’re no fun–what can I argue with you about if you’re reasonable? (And right?)

  103. When we finish this thread, let’s all continue right on with the number of children good Mormon parents should have.

  104. John Taber says:

    Based on the mission president that’s serving here (he goes home in July) and the mission president (and wife) my ward is going to send out at that time, one would think that it requires an income of at least several hundred thousand a year to serve in that position.

  105. You’re no fun–what can I argue with you about if you’re reasonable? (And right?)

    I can’t help that I’m the smartest and most reasonable. I don’t even exercise.

  106. Are you so certain that the Lord actually wants us to strategically “maximize” our donations to the poor?

    No, I am absolutely not certain. However, I’m similarly uncertain that God wants me to strategically manipulate my time and income such that I meet the criteria in OP for being a good Mormon. More importantly, I’m extremely uncertain about what God would have other people do strategically. You say that you’re not a judge or a bishop, and I believe you because I know you (sort of) and believe you’re being genuine, so I don’t really stress it. But when I read things like what Tim wrote–about private schools and yachts and such–where the smug judgment can be cut with a dull knife, and I see my proof of argument that these discussions have a big downside staring me in the face.

    On the one hand, obviously He does: giving more is better than giving less (in terms of time as well as money). But on the other hand, we have the story of the widow’s mite. The rich man gave more than the widow did, yet Jesus chose to praise her instead–though she cast herself into penury by doing so, though she might have been able to give thrice that much at some later date.

    Ah, but I thought we were talking about voluntarily giving an excess here–and not the tithing bill that is due twice-monthly (or yearly). I’ve always understood the actual mite the Widow paid to be, essentially her tithing; is that not the case? Because my reading of the comments above is that we’re speaking specifically about payments in excess of tithing, since tithing is only a starting point. Thus, my statement above should be understood as investing/saving only that above what is specifically required–investing/saving the excess.

    On my reading of the scriptures, I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea that we can always evaluate our own behavior by reminding ourselves of how much more or better we’ll be able to give tomorrow.

    I’m almost entirely uncomfortable with the idea that I can evaluate my own behavior before God ever, whether it be today or tomorrow. I’m even more uncomfortable evaluating others’ behavior. Even though–again–you’ve said that you have no desire to do so, the comments above from others indicate that many have no problem doing as much in your place.

  107. I’ll have to get this book, sounds like something I should read.

    When presented with this topic I find appeals to economics completely unconvincing (although, by naming a dollar value, I suppose the OP invites them into the conversation). Although I’m totally untrained in the field, my simplistic understanding of economics is that it is an extremely useful behavioral science describing how the average person will act. A great resource in setting public policy or starting a business, but hopefully irrelevant when we decide how to spend our disposable income to build Zion. I sure hope the economics describing Zion would look a whole lot different than what we have now (in a behavioral, not legal, sense).

    Since we don’t live in a bubble, how much we get paid and our individual costs to fulfill our needs depend strongly upon our local economies. That makes the details impossible to agree upon. However, if the entire economy would collapse if everyone gave up most of their disposable income, maybe that tells us how far off we are from Zion. Shouldn’t that motivate us to swim against the current instead of being used to justify status quo?

  108. Just a side note I thought of while reading this: we only developed a “need” for economists because we allowed our economies to grow to large, and therefore our love and concern has been spread thin. “Like butter over too much bread,” to quote a certain prophet.

  109. “too large” – idiot…

  110. we only developed a “need” for economists because we allowed our economies to grow to large

    Can you explain your reasoning to me please?

  111. Sam, Scott–I hereby officially and completely grant your points about our choices and resources in regards to time, etc., as deserving to be just as much a component of any serious attempt to address “wealth” in the spirit in which the scriptures seem to insist it be addressed as income. I’m not sure granting that would change much of how one might contemplate applying Wilcox’s insights; a blog post titled “Can a Good Mormon Accept a Job That Has Him/Her Working More Than 60 Hours a Week?” would have, I suspect, played out much the same way. And, of course, it should be noted that granting that the scriptural statements on wealth need to be applied to something more than what they actually talk about leaves open the possibility that, in failing to provide explicit statements fully relatable to our “21st-century developed world economy,” the counsel of the scriptures perhaps also implies a critique of such an economy itself. But that’s better left for another post, perhaps.

    When I read things like what Tim wrote–about private schools and yachts and such–where the smug judgment can be cut with a dull knife, and I see my proof of argument that these discussions have a big downside staring me in the face.

    Have there really been a lot of Tims in this thread–or indeed, have you really encountered a lot of Tims in your time in the church? I ask that honestly, because in my experience, for every Tim I encounter, I encounter a couple of dozen people leaping up in gospel doctrine to denounce any such thinking. And that’s probably a good thing, because after all we’re supposed to love one another, and bear one another’s burdens, no matter what they are. But maybe, sometimes, isn’t it also a sad thing? Because if no one in the church ever feels comfortable wondering, even hypothetically, if that expensive private school is really a need or not, then how will we ever learn to ask ourselves those questions? I’m not trying to make a point here, Scott; I’m asking a genuine, sincere question.

    I’m almost entirely uncomfortable with the idea that I can evaluate my own behavior before God ever, whether it be today or tomorrow. I’m even more uncomfortable evaluating others’ behavior.

    Sometimes I think God just wants us to be uncomfortable in this life, period. Fear and trembling and all that, you know. Makes us more submissive, or at least it has for me.

  112. #90 = comment of the year!

  113. Russell,

    Have there really been a lot of Tims in this thread–or indeed, have you really encountered a lot of Tims in your time in the church? I ask that honestly, because in my experience, for every Tim I encounter, I encounter a couple of dozen people leaping up in gospel doctrine to denounce any such thinking.

    This thread has been this direction–but if we went over to a conservative blog, it would be the same thing, just turned around and talking about how the poor people made their choices and just want to be lazy and suck on others’ hard work. If I were there, I’d have said the exact same thing. In other words, I’m far less concerned with the direction–to the rich or to the poor–as I am with the horizontal looking in the first place.

    Because if no one in the church ever feels comfortable wondering, even hypothetically, if that expensive private school is really a need or not, then how will we ever learn to ask ourselves those questions?

    This gets to my first comment on this post, where I said that “The one upside is conditional on how the post is received–inasmuch as the post and such discussions cause me (or others) to reflect on their own level of charity, then I applaud them.

    In other words, I think these kinds of discussions can be valuable; I just tend to start out from a wary position because I think it’s very difficult to write them in a way that causes self-reflection and not reflection on others.

  114. Scott B.,

    I referring to the abandonment of agrarian economies, and the communal stewardship of land as a trust with God. The economic system is so large now, and centralized, that we need so many theories to replace the common sense knowledge and distribution of land and work.

  115. Again, “I am” instead of just “I” – not making my case with a lack of English under my belt am I Scott? Ha.

  116. Ran across this excerpt from the Tao Te Che that seems appropriate to this discussion:

    I have Three Treasures,
    Which I hold fast and watch over closely.
    The first is Mercy.
    The second is Frugality.
    The third is Daring to Be Not First in the World.
    Because I am merciful,
    I can be brave.
    Because I am frugal,
    I can be generous.
    Because I dare not to be first,
    I can lead.

    “Because I am frugal, I can be generous” is a lesson that I have struggled with myself. All three of these statements apply to pride, which as others have pointed out is a huge part of the discussion here.

  117. Tod,
    Actually I want to know why you think economists only developed at that point in time.

  118. Peter LLC says:

    I don’t think that I, or anyone else, am asking for your sympathy.

    Since when was blogging by solicitation only?

  119. That is a terrific question. I think as capitalist systems began to emerge, you get this shift from philosophy to economy. Adam Smith was an agrarian philosopher, for instance, and argued through that 1776 perspective in his Wealth of Nations.

    I think as we’ve become more and more of an information society, we unfortunately require economists to explain systems that should be apparent through obvious use of land and raw materials.

    That being said, I am aware of the state we are in and therefore are lucky to have economists such as yourself to work things out. I am just a huge fan of local sustainability which should be grounded in raw materials economy (check out Charles Walters on that one). We need to return to the agriculture as a determinant of value, in my opinion. And I realize that makes me a dreamer.

  120. I guess I just found your comment confusing because in my eyes a) economists have existed for centuries (Adam Smith is the father of modern economics, but certainly not the first economist per se, which is more broadly any person who studies the use resources), and b) it implies that economics is only concerned with macroeconomics, which I find appalling (not your comment–macroeconomics. Of course, to the extent that you equate economics with macroeconomics, I do find your comment appalling…)

  121. What a boneheaded question. With that logic, none of the First Presidency, 12, 70’s, Stake Presidents and Bishops would quality as ‘Good Mormons’

  122. Yes, and Lowell Bennion and Hugh Nibley were boneheads for asking the same questions. I am proud to be a bonehead.

  123. richandconflicted says:

    Russell: Suppose that I happen to love reading literature and studying ancient languages and philosophy. Let’s also suppose that I have the ability to be a successful dentist and make $500,00 per year, but instead I choose a career in academia because I love the life of the mind and I don’t like the life of a dentist. If I could have earned an extra $400k per year and dedicated that money to saving starving children, am I just as morally culpable as somebody who earned that extra money but spent it on expensive vacations, jewellry, cars and houses?

    In other words, can we easily turn your question on its head, and ask whether one can be a good Mormon and still choose to earn less money than one has the ability to earn in order to indulge one’s own private tastes in lifestyle?

  124. Scott B.,

    I think if you asked the lay person, most would equate economics and economists with macroeconomics and the globalized system. Whether that is appalling is merely one aspect of the issue. Our misunderstanding is primarily one of semantic preference.

    I totally hear you on the front of economists existing long prior to Adam Smith and modern economics. Economists come in a wide range and variety. I suppose I do not understand why there is a need for such specialization and focus in study of what wealth is. We are obsessed with wealth production, which is quite different from actual production and viability for communities and people’s real needs.

  125. Scott B.,

    Also, I do not think you can really completely tease out or exclude macroeconomics from the mix.

  126. Uh… threadjack.

  127. I find prosperity to be a slippery thing. Wealth is a comparison.

    It doesn’t matter how much you make, only if you are making more or less than your neighbor. Even street people will size-up other street people to see if their colleague has a better shopping cart or set of shoes.

    People talk about service all the time and about WHO should donate HOW MUCH. My mother always felt that service didn’t count unless the giving of time, talents, or money caused a true loss to the giver. It was important to give enough that it HURT in some way.

    The longer that I live on this planet, the more I come to agree with her. If I am giving in some way that affects MY life, that qualifies as service. If I do something that doesn’t even cause a ripple in my own life .. Well .. It may qualify as a donation in IRS terms, but I don’t believe God considers it the same way.

    Steve and I struggled financially in our early years, we were sure that there was a golden number that would signal that we had arrived at the destination called “prosperity”. As time went on and we saw more zeros behind our paychecks, we still didn’t feel prosperous.

    I finally asked our CPA, ” At what point do people feel financially that they have arrived.” He felt that anyone who has to get up every day and go to work does not feel like they are prosperous. The only clients he has who feel that they are prosperous are those who have sold a business concern and are able to live off the proceeds for the rest of their lives without going to work.

    So can you make 100 K a year and be a good Mormon. Absolutely. Should we even be having this discussion .. I less sure about that.

    If I know what I make and what I can afford, I naturally look at my neighbor and compare what I have and what he has. But how do I compare his ski-doos and truck to my daughter’s college education? How do I measure my trip to Paris to his new sofa set? If 20 people were each given $5000, each person would spend it differently. If they were each asked to donate that same amount, each would donate it differently.

    Another saying of my mother’s, ” Everyone has problems, and usually money problems are the easiest to fix.”

  128. RichAndConflicted: Don’t forget that we have a responsibility to better ourselves, too. I don’t see “dainties” as betterment in any way. Education always benefits both us and those around us. I have yet to have the opportunity to spend any devoted amount of time to my education, either at university or via self-study. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to be able to pour through posts here and feel like I can ask a couple of more knowledgeable people some questions that are on my mind. I’m glad to feel like I can get some quick answers and opinions rather than having to slog through the internet and books to get my answer. (Of course, I’d like to do that too, but in the meantime, it’s a real blessing, to sound corny about it.)

    Those who choose academia over more profitable employment might do it because it’s more enjoyable. But that’s not the only reason they do it. Friends of mine who are or were academics wanted to change the landscape of their area of pursuit. They wanted to increase not only their knowledge but the world’s knowledge on a certain topic. The pursuit of knowledge is a very important reason for being here, I think.

    Win Marsh: I’m unconvinced that service needs to hurt in order to mean anything. I think it only needs to be sincere. If a billionaire sees my children and I stranded on the side of the highway and gives us a ride and buys my children lunch, does that mean little just because it wasn’t an inconvenience and made no noticeable dent in her bank account? If she was kind to us and eased our stress and concerns and made us feel safe, is that not a great act of service?

    I can give a lot of money and have it hurt and I can do it either with love or begrudgingly. The financial sacrifice is meaningless compared to the motivation. The same could be said for time and talent. I have had people serve me and have seen that it was a sacrifice and I would have rather they did nothing because there was no love in it.

    The greatest service we can give, and the most difficult thing to do, is to love people, genuinely.

  129. More importantly, I’m extremely uncertain about what God would have other people do strategically.

    I have to say I have similar feelings.

    Win … The longer that I live on this planet, the more I come to agree with her. … careful, I’ll tell her you are agreeing with her again ;)

    Kidding aside, good to see you posting here.

  130. Natasha — I had a prof who used to enjoy standing in the hall giving directions to people because it was enjoyable.

    If I tutor for free in the English lab because I enjoy it and it helps me relax, I’m not sure that counts as charity (I never thought it did when I did it).

    I think that is the point Win was trying to make.

  131. Of course it counts, Stephen. It may not count as sacrifice but it can still count as charity. Think on this– would a student rather have a tutor who likes to tutor and be there, or someone who doesn’t like to but feels obligated or is looking for an excuse to pat himself on the back? There are other things you can do that you enjoy that help you relax that don’t involve helping out strangers. Why don’t you do those things? If you can honestly say that no part of you wants to help another person, then I’ll agree with you that no true charity is taking place. But just because you enjoy it, doesn’t mean it’s not charity or service.

    There are selfish motives to most things we do. As long as they aren’t the primary motives for what we do, I think we’re okay.

    This past Christmas I sent a substantial care package to friends abroad who have 11 children. Most of the gifts, totaling about $1000, were “purchased” with points at a large Canadian drug store chain. The gifts were items from their list. I had a ton of fun buying the presents I knew the kids would like and finding more for my friends and their kids that I thought they might like. The shipping costs were outrageous– hundreds of dollars– but technically, we could afford them. We have debt to pay off but we could afford this shipping and a payment on our debt at the same time. So, the situation was that most of what I purchased was free. But, we could have used that on our own family. We could have bought food and all sorts of supplies for ourselves. And I very much enjoyed sending the package.

    So, are you saying that because it wasn’t a great sacrifice, because it wasn’t utterly painful, because it made me happy, that it was not service or charity? Because from their perspective it was a miracle. It took time, thought, DESIRE, and some sacrifice.

    I think the idea that you have to suffer in order to give service is foolish and dangerous. If more people thought of service as easy and enjoyable, maybe they would give more of it.

  132. Natasha:

    The point about “service needing to hurt” .. I should have expressed it differently. An true example:

    You live in a community wherein it is highly unusual to be LDS.

    Imagine your Relief Society President (and dear friend) had a minor surgical procedure. She knows how to order pizza, but you want her to feel cared for. You place a couple phone calls and organize your mutual friends to have some meals brought in. You know that she will be writing you a thank you note, and that she will be mentioning to others just how “Christ-like” your behavior was. Your friendship will be further cemented and you really will have fun doing this.

    Now .. imagine a poor family in your ward. The dad is a long haul trucker and has been known to beat his wife and children when he is home. There are 8 kids. The two oldest boys are in the local jail for sexually abusing their little sisters. Mom works 3 pm to 11 pm so that she doesn’t have to be home when the kids are there (and still awake.) The family comes to church sporadically and the kids are always dirty .. matted hair, dirty clothes, and a certain aroma .. Numerous attempts have been made to teach the girls proper hygiene thru primary and young womens. The boys have had lessons on hygiene too. Baskets of soaps and shampoos have been given. No changes have been seen. The family has been receiving help from the church for years … Including re-training/job skills for both parents without any change in the situation.

    The local community knows the family well. The father is notorious for having hit one son in the head with a baseball bat for missing a pitch during a baseball game.

    There is no air conditioning in their home and it is currently 110 degrees outside and 96% humidity.

    You have a afternoon suddenly free. You want to be of service to someone. Do you go visit your friend the RS pres and do her dishes .. OR .. Do you stop by the poor family and take the kids to your home so that they can sit in an air conditioned room and eat ice cream.

    Visiting the RS president — in my humble opinion is not service — it is SOCIAL masking as service.

    Taking a bunch of smelly kids home for ice cream is SERVICE. There will never be a thank you note. No one will ever know that it even happened. The smell is such that I won’t particularly enjoy the experience, but I will have done something that cost me — in my comfort level.

    I have found that the services that have had the biggest personal impact on me were the services that cost me something personally — And I don’t mean money.

  133. Win, that’s an awful story. Not the service part, obviously.

    There are different degrees of charity, we can agree on that. I hope we can also agree that charity need not hurt to be charity but that when it does hurt, it changes the person who gives it. It doesn’t necessarily change the effect on the person who receives it and so the result, for them, is the same. In fact, if it hurts the giver, it can sometimes hurt the receiver too, who can then feel guilty or ashamed. It depends on how it’s hurting the giver.

  134. “In other words, can we easily turn your question on its head, and ask whether one can be a good Mormon and still choose to earn less money than one has the ability to earn in order to indulge one’s own private tastes in lifestyle?”

    No way. This sounds more like an accounting trick than an earnest question. The argument seems to rely on the assumption that the money we “earn” is a valid measure of our contribution to our communities, which I reject. Sure, the forgone salary might be used for good, and academics are free to go make better money elsewhere, but some things of value simply don’t have a booming market. God bless those with the stamina to stay in those fields. It’s a bit desperate to try to twist someone’s choice to live a life seeking and transferring knowledge for a pittance as “indulgent”, even if they enjoy their job.

    For my part, I have just emerged from school and chosen a non-academic path because it seemed both professionally and financially easier. I’m OK with my choice; I think it’s right/needful in our case, but I can’t pretend I am doing it to avoid an indulgent life. I have nothing but admiration for my pals/brother who are toughing it out in academia.

    Oh, and why was I not informed 10 years ago that I could pull down .5M as a dentist? Regrets…

  135. Natasha:

    The secret is to NEVER let the receiver know that there was any pain involved on the part of the giver.

    Another true story. Steve and I had three of our children die over a 4 1/2 year period of three different, unrelated medical conditions. There is a certain financial ruin associated with such experiences. And my identity as a mom took a hit. I needed something else. I went back to school, planning to go into anesthesia. I finished my second BS with honors in 3 years. Did my time as an ICU nurse, and applied to a very competitive anesthesia program. I was accepted. 3 weeks later, I realized that I was pregnant. We were thrilled about the pregnancy, but couldn’t figure out do pay for child care while I attended grad school. I felt that grad school was something that I should still do, but financially, the numbers were not adding up.

    My brother and my mother came to me and stated that after everything I had gone through with children and everything I had done to prepare for grad school, that I shouldn’t have to choose between the two of them.
    They asked for an amount that I would need to be able to pay for baby expenses while attending school. Between a sitter, formula, and diapers, it was $1500 a month that I needed. Every month that amount showed up, until Steve’s income improved and we no longer needed it. I borrowed $20,000 in total from my mother and brother. After I told my mom that Steve’s profession was back on track, and I didn’t need money anymore, she told me to let them know if that changed. A few months later when it was obvious that I was fine without their help, my mom mentioned that she was glad to not have to clean chapels anymore.

    My 72 year old mom didn’t want to dip into retirement income, and she didn’t want my dad — and his temper — to get involved. So, she cleaned 3 chapels to provide her part of the money.

    I get tears in my eyes when I think of what my mother and brother did for me. The selflessness of it. I find myself constantly looking for ways to do things for them. They were the first debt to be paid. Although the financial debt is gone, I can never pay them back for the profession that they gave me.

  136. WOMAN. That is one heartbreaking story. My goodness. I feel like I want to interview you and write out your story. I am horrified and astounded.

  137. And people wonder why I love my mother in law.

  138. No matter where we are in our lives, we have a habit of comparing our circumstances to those of our peers. Then we judge. We judge that their money are earned easier, that their education was achieved quicker, that their successes were somehow unearned. That their pregnancies didn’t appear to take nine months.

    After we decide that someone has not truly earned their accomplishments, then we sit back and decide that we would be more charitable and giving if we made as much money. We see houses and cars and spouses and children and we covet.

    What does MONEY have to do with anything significant in our lives?

    If there is a roof over our heads, food on our table, and clothes on our bodies, our basic needs are met.

    Money can buy books and classes, but not an education. Cramming for an exam and retaining none of the knowledge base may get you a grade, but not an education. An education is long hours of study and effort while you cram information into your head and try to make sense of it.

    Money can buy better teeth and a bigger chest, but it cannot cure chronic diseases and it cannot heal a wound.

    Money rarely is the answer to infertility.

    Money cannot buy you a better body. Consistant exercise will get you a better body. Walking, running, sit ups, and push ups will do wonders. Yet, we keep trying to write out a check to make 20 pounds go away.

    The things that will really get us far in life take hard work and discipline. Unfortunately, we are more likely to praise the dude who just happened to end up tall and assume that he earned that height. Then we turn around and assume that the neurosurgeon just woke up one morning, leaped out of bed, and discovered his new skill.

    Most accomplishments in life are earned. The average “over night success” takes seven years of effort. I should hope that we have some LDS people out there who have discovered the ability to work hard, accomplish something noteworthy, and see them financially compensated for their efforts.

    If watching other people succeed in life makes you angry and envious, go read that old classic, “The Little Red Hen”.

  139. MikeInWeHo says:

    You’ve chosen the right profession, Win Marsh. Chloroform in blog?

  140. MikeInWeHo, there are people out there who would feel that if you take a cheap shot at their wife, they will take permanent and total offense, every place you meet, every venue, every line and every word. Without end.

    Just so a reminder that some people are throwbacks that way.

    On the other hand, there are people who think that their spouse can take offense (or not) for themselves, stand up (or not) for themselves and that it is all just good fun in posting.

    BTW, Feminist Mormon Housewives had an interesting response to this article:

    http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/nick-pell/28601/a-response-to-alexa-von-tobel

    Kind of fits in the side discussions going on here.

  141. MikeInWeHo:

    That was a cheap shot.

  142. MikeInWeHo says:

    You’re right, very sorry. It was late. I would retract it if I could. I was responding to what I felt to be some moral heavy-handedness, and disagreement with several of your assertions in comment 138. Rather than take the time to articulate all that, I took a cheap shot. I apologize.

  143. MikeInWeHo:

    Apologize accepted.

    I need to find a venue wherein I can respond to an comment without DH leaping to my defense. ( Its kinda sweet on the home front) .. LOL ; )

    Let me explain my hard-ass comments.

    My going to grad school was hard. I had to be in a hospital 60 miles from our home by 5 am. Every day. I got up at 3:30 am .. and was out the door by 4 am. Planning it out was easy. Writing it now is easy. Living it was hard.

    I had a 7 month old baby, and a 12 year old who was still reeling from the deaths of her big sister and 2 little sisters. My husband’s employment had taken a huge hit due to grief related stuff.

    We had gone from living a small town life with some big time dreams .. To looking like people who life had chewed up and spit out. We felt that way too.

    On top of it all, I got flack from people about going to school. .. Wasn’t I neglecting my family? .. You can imagine the rest.

    Fast forward .. Now I have people come to me a couple times a week and ask about my profession (Nurse Anesthetist) and ask how they can get there. As I lay out what it takes .. And that includes not being able to work while in school. They consistently mention their new house or their new car — that they need money for those payments. I tell them that they would need to down-size in order to go to school. Sell the house, sell the car. Live poor for a couple years. But the rewards would be later. Each time, people shake their heads and tell me that they are unwilling to sacrifice material things in order to accomplish such a professional goal.

    They want the reward, but without the journey.

    To choose an easier climb and then complain that one didn’t get very high in a quick time has become annoying. It causes my soap box to appear.

  144. MikeInWeHo says:

    Hey Win Marsh,
    I suspect we’d get along great in real life. I know from experience what it’s like to put oneself through grad school and work in a medical setting; that’s been my whole career too. People who achieve what you did with small children in tow have my utmost respect. I don’t know how you did it. The idea that anybody (LDS or otherwise) would give you flack for pursuing that boggles my mind. To heck with them!

    So get back on your soap box. It’s a HUGE deal that you became a Nurse Anesthetist under such challenging circumstances (a good friend of mine is doing that right now). You’ve earned every penny you make.

  145. Stephanie says:

    Win, I’ve appreciated reading your comments.

  146. Interesting thread.

    Russell, I couldn’t see if you ever addressed the issue raised in several comments about the arbitrariness of your $100k standard. Given that we’re commanded to be equal in earthly things, and that global income is about $7k per person (World Bank 2007), we know that families consuming (consuming is a superior metric to earning — earning isn’t the moral problem) $100k per year violating the gospel standard unless they have a household of 14 people.

    So, rather than take the tack of Sam and Scott, whose critiques I find convincing, I’m interested in hearing your defense of those who, like you and me, choose to consume more than our equal share of global production, even if our families were to consume less than $100k.

    (There’s also the question of why we should even spend $7k on ourselves so long as a billion of our brothers we’ve been commanded to love as ourselves miserably survives — and dies — on $2 a day and less.)

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