Money Stories: How income shapes views of God

This post began with my attempt to understand what seemed to me a contradiction: Why can some people both firmly believe that they’ve “earned” and “merited” their income or status, and yet still proclaim in church that God has given them everything?  In search of answer, my thoughts turned home.

As I thought about the fundamental difference in attitude that one of my parents and I have towards money and the possible causes of that difference, I gained more understanding of the variety of views that can exist among equally successful and generous people on the three topics we’re never supposed to talk about: money, politics, and religion.  So ignoring that wise advice, here goes nothing . . . .

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.”  John Adams

My parents had their wedding reception at my grandparents’ farm.  I’ve been told that my grandparents were so poor that they couldn’t give them a wedding present.  So my parents started married life with practically nothing.  Over the next ten years they worked multiple jobs and took out loans until they eventually became quite well off. They were not mega rich.  They’d consider themselves middle-class.  But they had far more than most Americans by any statistical measure.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, and maybe as a result of this upward mobility story, one of my parents strong believes that they earned their money and that others should do the same.  While they give generously, one objects philosophically to governmental redistribution of wealth.

By contrast, I grew up benefiting from the wealth that they had earned. We consumed and vacationed in ways that I didn’t realize were abnormal until I reached college.  My parents sent us to private school and later to elite colleges where I had the luxury of majoring in something useless because I had never needed to consider costs. In my rich ward, I heard occasionally how Jesus didn’t really mean you had to give away money–it was all just a metaphor.  People struggled to reconcile the immense wealth in my neighborhood with the plain language of The Bible.

Unsurprisingly, my views of money are quite different from my parent’s:  Having been handed so much, I don’t believe that I have “earned” my successes.  I see economic or other success as part individual effort, but even more the effort of others–of the people and systems who got me where I am. I can’t help but see trust fund babies and welfare babies as similar in a fundamental way–they both live off the wealth of others. That I’ve been an economic parasite in the past makes me uncomfortable: I constantly feel guilty knowing that over my life I’ve consumed far more than I’ve contributed.

Today, my own family works just as hard for our income as my parents did, even though our start was, thanks to them, much easier.  But my attitude towards what I earn is different. Because taking from others has made me who I am today, redistribution of wealth doesn’t bother me.  I want others to benefit from the same systems and opportunities I had.

Although both hardworking and both striving to be generous, the difference between my parent’s view and my view is profound: Whereas my parent sees individual effort as central to success, I view systems, opportunities, and other people as more central. We both agree that effort and opportunities both matter. But we weigh their centrality differently.  This translates into differences in political views.  But does this also translate into differences in religious understanding?

I think it can.  My parent who believes that they have earned everything still believes God is ultimately responsible for all.  But sometimes I sense that this parent also believes in a model of God in which people earn blessings from God by following his commandments–the classic prosperity model that we see in The Book of Mormon.

By contrast, this is a model of God that I’ve never been able to accept, because God seems to bail me out even when I don’t deserve it.  Because I see agency as intertwined with the systems we exercise it in, I don’t always see people as entirely responsible for their choices and fates.  So as I aspire to be like God, I feel a moral duty to look out for others even if they haven’t earned it.  That said, I know my parent does the same, and undoubtedly does a better job than me.

Both views are valid, and both can be expressed by intelligent, hardworking people. Our different experiences seem to have made us prioritize different aspects of the picture.  But in the end, it isn’t worth letting our differences overshadow how intertwined and similar our lives and views actually are.  I hold the views I do today largely thanks to what my parents accomplished.  We’re two sides of a coin.

But because these differences do lead communities to contend with each other, I found it useful to pause and reflect upon how different experiences can shape our attitudes. Of course, people with the same family dynamics I have might adopt a different range of philosophical beliefs.  And that is why, in the spirit of cultivating understanding, I invite you to share how your experiences with money influence your view of God.

Comments

  1. “Both views are valid…”

    Are they? I doubt it.

    The problem with Mormon philosophy is that it ascribes benefits from God–blessings–but attributes failings to men. Countless fast and testimony meetings contain stories about how someone was down on his luck because he stopped praying/going to church/reading the scriptures/whatever, but the moment he invested in God, God blessed him.

    The logical extension is, if you turn your back on God and you are still successful (like 99% of the world population) the you must have done it on your own. So we create a philosophical dynamic that requires us to believe people can succeed on their own.

    The true answer here, as with most things relating to God’s interactions with our realm, is that we don’t know exactly how this works.

    If Bill Gates converted, would he be worth $100 billion? I doubt it. But scripture rarely is so clear, or uncertain, as to prescribe, “Temporal blessings are 40% God, 30% hard work, and 30% luck.” That’s not very inspiring, is it? But I imagine that the truth is much more muddled than two competing view points.

  2. “But sometimes I sense that this parent also believes in a model of God in which people earn blessings from God by following his commandments–the classic prosperity model that we see in The Book of Mormon.”

    I think this is an oversimplified view of prosperity in the Book of Mormon. I agree that there are a lot of people in the church who see it this way but I think that’s because they are skipping half of the scriptures on money (the ones that make them uncomfortable).

    Most Sunday School teachers will completely skip over any scriptures about money that say we need to share our wealth.

    The Book of Mormon says that we are all beggars from god and we don’t deserve anything that he gives us. It is also very clear that righteous people who are blessed with riches share their riches freely with those who are around them. I always think its funny how people will remember the parts about prosperity is a blessing from righteousness but completely and totally forget the many many other scriptures about money.

  3. Couldn’t the same be suggested about the wealth of the Church? Specifically, the enormous amount of money available to bishops through the fast offering.

    The money is there. Why discuss whether or not we should pay for Sister so-and-so’s rent? Or if someone is really trying to be self reliant?

  4. I prefer a system where a person is not coerced in said redistribution. The benefitors perhaps never would be, but the benefactors sure are. Such a system limits my liberty!

    If you want the same view as your parents, give everything away and start over from nothing. Sell the house (homes? [condos?!?]), give away the businesses, divest the stocks, and give it all to Goodwill/DI/your bishop/extra taxes you just want to pay. Quit the job/jobs, sell the plasma tv’s, etc. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your worldview changes.
    Do something productive for society, rather than investing your time in a “useless” pursuits like a “useless” degree. Perhaps start an NGO using all the proceeds you began.

    Do whatever you have to do to assuage your guilt. Just don’t use the force of the government/gun to come into my home and take away the blessings I’ve worked (until my hands have bled and my toenails have busted off) for. It is my choice how to distribute such bounty–and in its limited magnitude it goes to my family first.

    Those scriptures that say we need to share our wealth? I follow them. I do it by my choice. I don’t set up a “system” of coercion to force it upon others. It could hardly be viewed as a free-will offering in that sense–even if I willingly give it–because I have been coerced.

  5. Good post. This explanatory model doesn’t always work. I come from poverty and have worked quite hard to be successful. And I feel comfortable with a more communal/systems idea about wealth. Although I will confess that I’ve generally only worked to be good at what I thought God wanted me to be doing and have not intentionally focused much on economic success per se.

  6. Whew, tomrod. For a moment I thought your #4 was serious. Guess I’ve been reading too many of the posts and comments at M* lately.

  7. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    I think there is a pretty short to-do list that we’re given for this life in the form of saving ordinances, with a correspondingly simply “to-become” list that centers around becoming Christlike. There is a ton of individual latitude about how your life unfolds around those expectations though, and plenty of different paths through life to get them accomplished.

    I think God would love to leave money out of the gospel discussion entirely, but it is a core ingredient to mortal existence for the vast majority of his children, so it becomes one of the mediums to practice things like sacrifice, responsibility, charity and humility.

    One passage from C.S. Lewis that resonates with me (and has been mentioned on multiple occasions in General Conference):
    “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. … If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, … they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”

  8. Wait…I thought M* was satire.

  9. Natalie B. says:

    This explanatory model doesn’t always work. I come from poverty and have worked quite hard to be successful. And I feel comfortable with a more communal/systems idea about wealth.

    I fully agree that no one explanatory model works. My other parent is a lot more comfortable with communal wealth, and, precisely because they worked so hard doesn’t want others to have to. It’s interesting what different people take away from the same experiences.

  10. I attribute my work ethic, which is pretty strong, to a combination of inborn personality (gift of God combined with semi-random gift of nature) and what my parents taught me. So even though hard work has brought me a pretty decent and comfortable living, I still think I owe it mostly to factors well outside myself. In other words, I see the ability to work hard as a gift in and of itself, as opposed to hard work being the responsible application of gifts that I have been given. I’m tempted to think God sees it my way, but I doubt he cares which outlook is “right” when two people who disagree are equally generous. It seems like it would be easier to give a self-righteous gift if I thought my efforts made the gift possible, but I don’t think self-righteousness is built in to the other viewpoint.

    I agree with the sentiments in comment #2. I think you have to wrest the scriptures vigorously (and dangerously) to decide that the take-away message from the Book of Mormon is that righteousness and personal effort leads to individual prosperity. It gets confusing, because I think it’s a correct conclusion for a society as a whole, which accounts for the statements in the Book of Mormon to that effect. However, I know too much about statistics to apply a collective principle to myself individually.

  11. Natalie B. says:

    2. Most Sunday School teachers will completely skip over any scriptures about money that say we need to share our wealth.

    I’ve noticed this as well. If the passage is raised, then we quickly redefine it in terms of sharing our time, talents, etc. We don’t seem able to reconcile these passages with current economic and political views or our desires and so explain them away.

  12. Usually such passages quickly lead to a discussion of how great the Huntsmans are (and I actually think they are great). Growing up in the DC area, it was the Marriots. I think that I am done talking with Mormons about this stuff. I just hope they get outvoted.

  13. Any Latter Day Saint with more money than they need is failing to live the gospel. And trying to figure out whether you earned your riches through righteousness us like trying to figure out why certain people fell off a bridge a la Brother Juniper in The Bridge of San Luis Rey

  14. Re: #2 & 12

    I saw this exact thing not that long ago. My brother was teaching SS in our YSA ward which is in a rather affluent stake. Several older, married members (people’s parents, bishopric members + wives) were in attendance. When my bro began a discussion of the prosperity cycle, he didn’t shy away from the tough questions about how the people weren’t able to live righteously with their wealth, I was absolutely floored by the number of older people excusing the Nephite behavior and telling my bro straight out that he was interpreting scripture incorrectly; essentially, defending their own wealth as far as I could tell. So yeah, you bet those money scriptures make people uncomfortable. It’s fascinating.

  15. All I have to say is Hugh Hefner must be really righteous.

  16. Based on his most recent wife…he was also a very obedient and diligent missionary.

  17. I think it’s interesting that some read the verses enjoining us to distribute our riches to the poor to support their policy preference for taking other people’s riches to distribute for them. Maybe that is good policy, but that not quite what’s asked of us, is it?

  18. dpc, we’re all failing to live the Gospel, one way or another.

  19. The first chapter of Alma describes a group of people who were both wealthy and righteous. And Luke 16:19-25 is a cautionary parable for those of us who have abundance and do not give to those in need. (I’ve wondered if this parable would refer to America as a whole?)

    The main point is – Jesus is very clear about the role of money and how we should act when we have it, and when we don’t. Just because church leaders justify a rich lifestyle in a Sunday school class, doesn’t mean they’re right.

  20. Like Natalie so elegantly wrote, there will always be two sides to the argument.

    What about the parable of the talents? To one was given 10, one 5, one 1. And the moral of His parable was on what each person was able to do with the talents that they received. Notice also that not everyone received the same amount. Each individually had the choice to better their investment. One was called “wicked and slothful” for not working and simply “leeching.”

    Redistribution of wealth might be a good idea if it actually worked. Its back to the ol’ commie argument- in a perfect world, it might work. But in ours, it doesn’t. US “Welfare” clearly has issues that the church does an excellent job in avoiding. Remember that systems exist in the first place because of the hard work of those who went before, and the dangers from mass, inappropriate redistribution.

  21. Just to temper my last comment, giving voluntarily is a good thing. it helps everyone.

    @#10: Is it true that parents “work hard so that others do not have to?” What if you build on top what went before, not just have it easier, but to make even MORE improvements in the world? Rather than the easy life, I wonder if your situation enabled you to better the world in ways that might not have been possible had you started from the “lower tier.” What if instead a ‘scientific approach’ were taken; each scientific discovery and publication is built on top of the life’s work of another- with progress always being determined by the hard work of an individual. This way, we don’t always get stuck with apples falling on our heads each generation, and instead go on to cure cancer- thanks to the individual, hard work of EACH person contributing to the research.

  22. I would like to issue the “I earned it challenge”, which is the way one demonstrates one’s value and lack of dependence on other people. It goes like this: You get some land (0.03 km^2 is the total surface of the US divided by the US population, but since you are important I’ll grant you 15 acres) and any seeds you want. Now you are free to grow these seeds, harvest any mineral wealth for your own use, etc. Anything you produce is yours and the government can’t take it away. Anything you need, well, you’re supposed to be independent, so make it yourself. Don’t forget that you work hard and are smarter than average and you deserve to keep what you earn.

    The inability to recognize our utter dependence on each other is probably the greatest flaw in human societies. If you are consuming more goods and services than average, you are even more dependent on others.

  23. sigh

  24. Thomas Parkin says:

    There are many ways to prosper, and few of them are completely tangled with money. You can be rich in love, experience, friendship, education (libraries are still free), and many other things. Rich in Spirit. (He who hath Eternal Life is rich.) We can think in terms of enrichment without thinking in terms of money.

    Goodness tends to bring all kinds of prospering; it tends to make for lively, vital and engaged people. Some, though not all, of those kind of people will tend to engage in the world in a way that grows wealth. Because the nature of a telestial world is what it is, many who prosper will have a strong impulse to withdraw from the world. The Book of Mormon states flatly that those prospering ones who do engage to become rich will do for one reason: to help the poor. Not all people who are vital are mostly good. Badness and wickedness also bring with them a negative charge which can impel an engagement that grows wealth. Most of the second half of the BoM is not a condemnation of the world, it is a condemnation of the modern church. (Jesus showed us to Moroni, and he knows our doing … he knows that we love fashion more than we love the poor and the needy … why have we polluted the holy church of God? For the praise of the world? Look at all those successful Mormons! Golly, we must have something going for us.) One can totally prosper without more money than you need to keep a roof over your head, clothes and your back and some food in your mouth. On the other hand, it is possible to have more money than anyone could possibly spend and be completely dead.

    I openly laugh at people who think they earned it and it is their’s to keep. We are not owners here, we are only passing through. Life will deprive many of you of what you think is yours, and death will deprive all of you of the rest of it.

  25. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Redistribution of wealth might be a good idea if it actually worked. Its back to the ol’ commie argument- in a perfect world, it might work. But in ours, it doesn’t. ”

    The problem with the communists wasn’t that they redistributed wealth. They took the wealth and then failed to redistribute any of it. That’s the way of the world. We see the same thing in our society. A certain percentage of the people capture the wealth and then clasp at it as tightly as they cane. (For everyone’s benefit!) Healthy economies require robust spending classes – middle-classes and even lower classes with some degree of spending power. These kinds of economies are an historical anomaly. Hard work is necessary among the middle class, but no guarantee of ongoing wealth if the structure of the economy is designed to place wealth in the hands of a few. The main purpose of hard work is not to gain wealth, but to provide for one’s basic needs and to engage the world in an enlivening way.

    Also, the parable of the talents is not about money. The talents represent the sum total of a person’s soul. The man with one talent was not primarily lazy or “leeching”, he was improperly fearful of God – as a quick reading will show. He was “conservative” in that he sought only to preserve what was instead or creating personal growth by his means of engagement with the world.

  26. #14dpc You are very generous with other people’s money.

    There seems to be an assumption in this post that wealthy people are very selfish and uncharitable. I’ve known a lot of wealthy but humble people in the church. Usually you would have know idea they are wealthy because they don’t show it off. It turns out they are some of the most generous people you will ever encounter. In the ward I grew up in, nobody ever had to worry about not being able to finance a mission. Many people would have been happy to help if needed. In another example a couple in the ward had a their house burn down. Ward and community members got together donated materials and labor and rebuilt his house for them.

    In another case I heard our ward clerk mention privately, “We have some very generous members.” Don’t underestimate the number of members we have that quietly do good without any fanfare.

    I sense some envy in some of these comments.

  27. rk,
    I’ve no idea where you got that impression. Natalie is talking about her parents, whom she calls very generous (more generous than she is). Also, she is talking about her parents, so it would be unusual for her to accuse them of being selfish and uncharitable (although not unheard of, I guess). Perhaps you should re-read the opening post.

  28. John and dpc

    Sorry. . .my falut.

  29. My fault. Yes I’m an idiot.

  30. S’all good, rk. I’m an idiot at least 14 times daily (more on weekends)

  31. The other thing that bothers me is that if these things are brought up in Sunday School, the conversation automatically turns political and thereby missing the message in the scriptures. As we can see in this thread some people automatically assume you are making a political statement when you are talking about sharing your wealth.

    I taught the Book of Mormon during Sunday School one year and I had the annoying habit of not skipping those scriptures (the ones that make people uncomfortable). Some people thought I talked about money issues too often. I explained that I talked about them only as much as the scriptures do, which is quite often, people just don’t realize it because most people skip them as it makes them uncomfortable.

    People would do one of two things to deflect the conversation
    1) they would think I was making a political statement (which I was not because I am very non-political) and thereby ignore it as someone of a different political persuasion.

    2) They would say I was talking bad about rich people and thereby ignore what I was saying. I wasn’t doing this either as I happen to know some “rich” people who you would never know were rich because they share their wealth with others and they also don’t spend their money on status symbols or “costly apparal” as it talks about in the Book of Mormon

  32. NPR’s Planet Money did a spot a while back about wealth (in connection with the Administration’s plan to let the tax breaks for the “over $250,000″ crowd lapse), and discussed whether incomes over $250,000 led people to be rich. Of course the answer to that question depends on perspective.

    Most wealthy folks don’t see themselves that way, because most can see someone else who is far wealthier. For this reason, I appreciate the self-awareness of the OP, and inward-facing nature of the question.

    I agree with Cort’s assessment in #11 (and JTB’s in #2) that the prosperity promised in the Book of Mormon is about societal prosperity, not individual prosperity. I’ll also note that the righteousness of a society in the Book of Mormon (and not just individuals) depends on how it cares for the poor.

    Whether riches are God’s reward or a consequence of hard work and luck is immaterial in my view. What matters is what we do with those riches when we have them. Those choices will be personal. I appreciate rk’s comment that there are many remarkably generous members of the church who do far more than contribute generous fast offerings. Some of those operate quietly and well under the radar.

    In response to Natalie’s question, I grew up in a middle class family where my dad was sole bread winner and my mom stayed at home. In their early years, as is common, she pinched pennies to make ends meet. As years went by, her thrift and Dad’s hard work were rewarded by their increasing prosperity (though she regularly pointed out to us kids that we could not afford this or that). In their most prosperous years (after we kids had pretty much left the nest but before retirement), I was only aware of a few of their anonymous efforts to lighten other’s burdens through their kindness, but I assume there were more than I knew about.

    And so theirs is an example I’ve tried to follow as I’ve become more prosperous in my own career. I believe God expects me to be prudent with whatever resources I have. Though I may have earned them, I count them as gifts from Him. And I probably am more wasteful than I should be (I certainly do not yet measure up to Brother Nibley’s standard described in Approaching Zion, but I’m a work in progress.)

  33. One of the most difficult trials of my faith was based around the idea of prosperity. My father, a convert to the church, was always faithful in his tithes and offerings, and yet we were always poor. A few times we had to go on church welfare. This was not due to laziness; he was one of the hardest working people I’ve known. Yet, many sundays a month, I’d hear comments to the general feeling that if you’re righteous you’r prosperous. It took me years to find an understanding in this matter, past my father’s death, my teenage struggles, and serving a mission which was paid for, mostly, by an anonymous ward member. Then, I read a scripture that altered my view of money permenantly:

    But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted. –Jacob 2:18-19

    In my view, money is only a means to an end, and that end is to bless others. I think folks tend to read those verses after, “yes shall obtain riches”, but Jacob makes the point that God only blesses people with riches to the end that they desire to use them to serve others. Thus, it seems that riches obtained in any other way are simply a result of luck.

    Anyone else get this form this scripture, or do you see it differently?

  34. Natalie, I just want to say I love this post. Very uplifting and thought-provoking.

  35. nat kelly says:

    “Because taking from others has made me who I am today, redistribution of wealth doesn’t bother me. I want others to benefit from the same systems and opportunities I had.”

    I think “taking” is the operative word here. The only way to accumulate wealth is through some system of taking it from others. Those who have a lot more than most can only have it because someone else has too little. The US and Europe has benefitted hugely from outright robbery and exploitation of the underdeveloped parts of the world for centuries. Whatever wealth I have is founded upon my complicity in that robbery. And I believe the same principle operates on a micro system within our own society – the CEO or GM can only have so much because the lowest workers have so little.

    I actually favor a pre-tax, pre-government redistribution of wealth, but barring that, I’m all for taxing the rich to itty bitty pieces and redistributing things that way.

    This is really the heart of my most sincere religious beliefs right now. My possessions come from robbery. Maybe this is why Christ said it’s difficult for a rich man to get into heaven – being rich demonstrates something about how you relate to the rest of humanity. So I believe that the best way for me to demonstrably serve God is to work towards creating a Zion-like society – ie, bringing about equality and dignity for all.

  36. 36: nat kelly — some complex thinking here, to be sure.

    It seems you assume that it’s a zero sum game — there’s only so much money and if the rich have more the poor have less. That’s probably not accurate in the long run.

    But I get your point that overpaid CEOs earn disproportionately more than their underpaid third world workers. And in the context of one firm, it is a zero sum game — there’s only so much profit to share between the top and the bottom. (Although GM is an ironic example since their top officers’ pay is now limited because of the gov’t bailout and their US unions are seen by some to be a huge contributor to the company’s demise because of outsized pay and benefits.)

    That said, there is little doubt in my mind that there would not be the same rich-poor inequity in a Zion society. Whether that comes from a re-distribution of wealth or paying people living wages for the work they do is not yet clear to me.

    One thing we do know, however: As China (as an example of a low-wage country) continues to be the world’s source for manufactured goods, the standard of living in China continues to improve as real wages increase. In time their wages will become less competitive with India or Africa and the manufacturers will seek new low-cost sources. That will bring more prosperity to those nations, in turn. One could argue whether that prosperity (and the consumerism that accompanies it) is a good thing or not, and its progress is not immediate, to be sure.

  37. it's a series of tubes says:

    The only way to accumulate wealth is through some system of taking it from others.

    I couldn’t disagree more. When we work together, and focus our talents where they are best applied, everyone benefits. It isn’t a zero sum game.

    I can farm, and another can produce works of art, yet another can produce machinery and tools, and yet another study medicine. In the end, by our industry and trade, we all have food, medical attention, devices to aid our labor, and beautiful, enriching cultural arts. Each of us are wealthier than we would be otherwise, in many, many ways, and none had anything “taken” from them.

  38. “Whether that comes from a re-distribution of wealth or paying people living wages for the work they do is not yet clear to me.”

    If the redistribution of wealth came through the payment of a decent wage, it would not need to come through the transfer of funds by taxation. Most socialists and egalitarians I know feel as such.

    But programs are not what is important (and this is the major downfall of Marx). It is human well-being that matters. How we view wealth is a major component of reaching communities, societies, nation-states, and worlds where the human welfare is one that we can take pride (the good kind) in.

  39. “I can farm, and another can produce works of art, yet another can produce machinery and tools, and yet another study medicine. In the end, by our industry and trade, we all have food, medical attention, devices to aid our labor, and beautiful, enriching cultural arts.”

    Yeah, in an ideal world. This is NOT how our world currently operates, by any imaginable standard. Since Chris brought Marx into this, I’ll just say that such a utopia won’t be possible until workers own the fruits of their productive labors, which is not the case in either agriculture, artistic production, research, manufacturing, or commerce.

    In the US, it seems like allowing a few to accumulate vast fortunes helps raise the level for everyone, but once you account for the utter degradation such accumulation casts upon countries on the fringes of our empire, such a perception is no longer possible.

    But yes, in an agrarian, anarchistic society, a model like yours is quite lovely. I think we need to deal with our current reality, however, and not live as if the ideal is in place.

  40. Sorry for mention socialists. I know this becomes a distraction. I guess it seems to me that people are often arguing against something that nobody has argued for in decades.

  41. “mentioning”

  42. Some lovely quotes from Frantz Fanon in “Wretched of the Earth” to illuminate my point more eloquently than I can:

    “This European opulence is literally scandalous, for it has been founded on slavery, it has been nourished with the blood of slaves and it comes directly from the soil and from the subsoil of that underdeveloped world. The well-being and the progress of Europe have been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians, and the yellow races. We have decided not to overlook this any longer.” (p. 96)

    “The wealth of the imperial countries is our wealth too… For in a very concrete way Europe has stuffed herself inordinately with the gold and raw materials of the colonial countries…. Europe is literally the creation of the Third World. The wealth which smothers her is that which was stolen from the underdeveloped peoples.” (p. 102)

  43. ” I guess it seems to me that people are often arguing against something that nobody has argued for in decades.”

    ….. Apparently we run in different circles, Chris. :)

  44. In general, arguments made outside my circles…do not truly exist. :)

  45. Mark Brown says:

    A very egregious example of what I think nat is trying to get at I think would be a former co-worker. He lives on several hundred acres of land which has been in his family for over two centuries. The land is used to grow sugar cane, and although now it is done with tractors and other mechanical implements, it used to be done by African slaves. Much of the wealth this man enjoys is unearned, since he gained free title to the land the day he was born, and that title was paid for with slave labor.

  46. Yes, Mark, that is one of a million real examples that illustrates the point quite well.

    I think we can take your co-worker’s case and expand it as well – those African slaves didn’t just create wealth for his own family. They created wealth that benefited many white people of the time, in different continents. Their poverty and labor enabled vast wealth and luxury for other people, in a very literal way.

    When Haiti won its independence from France, France eventually promised to stop harassing them if Haiti would “repay” the debt to former slave-owners and colonial masters in France. The country of former slaves was coerced into paying their former slave masters millions of dollars, to “compensate” them for the loss of their “property”.

    Wealth is almost always the result of robbery, in any instance I can think of. Straight up (though sometimes unintentional) robbery.

  47. John Mansfield says:

    Maybe Nat Kelly and Geoff B. could start up a blog together and title it something like “All the World’s a Thief.”

  48. nat, if I were to take your opinions as fact (I don’t) then what is the logical conclusion?

    Unfortunately, to my understanding, when money or food is given to the poor (particularly poor countries) it is more of a harm than a help. If we were to redistribute our wealth to the poorer countries that we, as you say, robbed, then it would most likely be received by those already in positions of power, and used to further enslave those who we are trying to help.

    The most successful tactic that I have read/heard about has been offering microcredit loans to startup businesses in developing countries and help them help themselves. Businesses encouraged by microlending have often been successful in creating jobs for neighborhoods and small amounts of wealth for the impoverished.

    To my understanding, capitalism seems to be the best suited answer to solve the problems that you see.

  49. B.Russ–there’s always the solution that people pay a fair price for what they take, whether that be goods or services, thus avoiding the stealing nat refers to. The rich wouldn’t be as rich and the poor wouldn’t be as poor.

  50. Whats a fair price? Is there a better judge than the markets? Would you be the one to dictate fair price models for everything? Would we institute panels of judges? Would the judges be neutral and free from persuasion and bribery?

    I don’t understand the real world application of what you are saying.

  51. Kristine, how do we decide a fair price? There’s typically not an objective fair price. I agree that the criticism of “stealing” is often silly.

    Although dealing with the repair of injustice can be tricky. I rather liked Joseph Smith’s idea of the federal government buying all the slaves and letting them free. Although as a practical matter it was unworkable. Not just because the South wouldn’t have gone along but because of the problem of determining a fair price. T

    his is a problem not just in the case of these massive 19th century injustices but in more benign modern issues. Such as eminent domain where the state takes property and often frankly doesn’t pay a fair price. As much fun as it is to blame the capitalists for “stealing” I think the the state does it far more often.

  52. B. Russ –

    One of the logical conclusions is to come to terms with the factual history of poor countries. They are poor because of our exploitation of them. Bottom line. The damage wreaked by centuries of the slave-trade and environmental exploitation of natural resources, combined with the devastating blows of approximately 80 years of colonial rule during which native culture and authority was deliberately destroyed and undermined, compounded with continual interference from the world’s superpowers, poses these nations no small obstacles to surmount.

    What can our society do? We can stop providing weapons to pro-America factions that want to overthrow their governments. We can stop assassinating political leaders we don’t agree with, but who are democratically elected by their people. We can stop putting in place NGOs and non-profits that undermine and quash local organizations attempting to fulfill the same needs. We can stop propping up governments that ignore the needs of their people and protect the interests of European and American tycoons that strip the natural resources of the land.

    We can actually live by the principle of self-determination for all.

    One of the things we need to do is relinquish foreign control of others’ resources. Now, I don’t happen to have any control over those companies myself. If you do own an oil company or something, it would be laudable for you to relinquish that, as a minor reparation to the people which you’ve been robbing. You could give the control over to the people of the Niger Delta, for example. However, since I’m guessing neither of us is an owner of Shell, I guess that’s not an option. The option I do have, outside of responsible consumerism (which is almost an impossibility in the States), is to stand in solidarity with the actions taken by oppressed people to liberate themselves.

    Micro-loans are nice and all, but deeply problematic. Most of my standard of living and what wealth I do have is directly attributable to the labor of people in poor countries, as well as the exploitation of the working class here in the States. Am I really pompous enough to then lend “my” money to those seeking to lift themselves? I, and my nation, should be paying reparations to these individuals. My wealth is theirs.

    As capitalism was built upon the enslavement of people all over the world, and is the ultimate root cause of the current state of poverty, I do not consider it the best solution.

    I’ll quote myself in another conversation:

    “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. You don’t need to give a man a fish, or teach him to fish. You need to stop colonizing his village, polluting his rivers, and taking over his tools. He lives by a river. He knows how to fish. Just stop screwing him over, and he won’t need your charity. Paulo Freire says it better than I can: ‘Any attempt to ’soften’ the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity,’ which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty… ‘True generosity lies in striving so that these hands — whether of individuals or entire peoples — need to be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.” – Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 44-45

  53. Hrm…. I just posted a long response to you, B. Russ, but it got eaten up somewhere, and it won’t let me post it again.

    Does this mean I’m being silenced by the man? :) [It's free now]

  54. The markets are punishing you.

    Maybe if you didn’t swear at me so much the filter wouldn’t have caught it!

  55. “Whats a fair price? Is there a better judge than the markets?”

    Yeah, the markets, aka: the man with an AK-47 holding your family hostage until you bring in the correct amount of rubber/diamonds/gold.

    The market has done a great job so far of setting prices fairly.

  56. Hey, I actually edited out all the swear words before hitting “Post” this time, I swear.

  57. 52 – you could very discount the sum of the future cash flows from slave labor over the next 30 years. Even if they didn’t discount cash flows back then (when was npv invented?) they could just add up the expected value and expenses over the lifetime of the slaves to determine their financial worth to their owners. But this is really icky sounding…

    In general, a fair price is whatever the buyer is comfortable paying as well as the seller comfortable selling.

    Naturally the elasticity of that “comfort level” changes as marketing enters the fray (the goal generally to increase the perceived value…ie willingness to pay).

  58. I suggest the man with the family get an HK416 in that case to persuade the man with the AK otherwise. Wasn’t there a post about this recently?

  59. Also, I agree that the notion of “compensating” slaveowners for their slaves’ liberation is morally reprehensible at best.

    In a perfect world, the slave owners would have had to repay mountains of debt to the slaves upon emancipation, which would have required selling large portions of their property, moving out of their mansions, and giving up some luxury items. They might have even had to get employment as maids from their former slaves.

    Oh, the horror! Obviously, putting white people in such a degraded position threatens the stability of the whole UNIVERSE!!!! We want everyone to be equal, sure, as long as the rich and powerful don’t have to give up anything. Oh wait…. that’s impossible…..

  60. Yeah, the markets, aka: the man with an AK-47 holding your family hostage until you bring in the correct amount of rubber/diamonds/gold.

    Thats kinda like saying: Yeah, nat kelly, aka: the blonde metrosexual who hosts American Idol taking jabs from Simon Cowell between performances.

    You do see how the two are totally different, right? You don’t think that capitalism is an AK-47 do you?

    What I’m saying is that aid, particularly in the form of money, often is used to buy the AK-47s and furthers the enslavement in Africa.
    Capitalism with its corrosive properties is what has, to date, done the most good in fostering prosperity in Africa. Perhaps there are better answers, but I haven’t heard of anything else working.

  61. Hm. My lengthy response would have taken care of your #61. But alas it is gone. Perhaps I shall try to repost it in segments.

  62. nat kelly,
    I freed your long comment. However, if you ever say something like this again:

    Yeah, the markets, aka: the man with an AK-47 holding your family hostage until you bring in the correct amount of rubber/diamonds/gold.

    The market has done a great job so far of setting prices fairly.

    …then I will banninate you for time and all eternity.

  63. Thomas Parkin says:

    zero sum game: I’ve been making $100 a day. I get a raise to $130 a day. I take the $30 and spend it on a new TV. Now the TV salesman has also got a $30 raise. He takes his family out to dinner and spends $20 with a $4 tip. Now the restaurant has got a $20 raise and the waitress has got a $4 raise. The $6 lands in his bank account, where it will either be sat on or loaned. The waitress takes the $4 a buys a pack of smokes. Now the 7-11 has $4 that it would not have had. Right? This is neoliberal economics, yeah? And it happens the same in the reverse. If I lose part or all of my income, I’m not the only person losing income. Everyone downstream from me loses income they would have had. What is meant by recession, yeah? That money being spent will continue to add income to other people until it finds a resting place. Rich people are a resting place. That is why robust spending classes make for robust economies. Where the wealth tends to settle, the economy is to that degree thwarted.

    In places like colonial Spain or the Soviet Union, two examples of profoundly failed economies, income made one short trip into the hands of the haves. Increasingly, that is tending to happen with us. In theory, the money that rests with the rich will be used to buy capital that will be used to create new income – trickle down – and obviously some of that happens. But that is not all that is done. They also attempt to increase profit margins by increasingly tight control of labor cost. This tends to squeeze the spending classes, and this now happens on a global scale.

    Of course, business must remain viable in order for it to continue to produce income. All profitable businesses have a margin, quite often that margin is very small. They can’t add a great deal to labor cost without making their business untenable. As a business begins to lose money the easy, often the only place, to make up that difference is in labor. But where profits are rising and labor as a percentage of income is falling you have something that is morally repugnant, in my view. The capitalist of the future, if capitalism has a future, will organize not only to enrich himself but his workers as well. This will have a strong tendency to fire up that income multiplier again, providing growth for all. They don’t do this though because they are nasty and greedy adn they think it is a zero sum game,

  64. nat kelly says:

    Scott B.,
    I don’t think we should hide from the fact that “the market” is a composite of human decisions and actions. The initial phases of manufacturing and production in our world are largely based on violence and coercion. The hostage-holding example is not made up. It happened with official colonial sanctioning in the Belgian Congo. All the rubber that enabled the creation of rubber tires for bicycles, and then the surging of the automotive industry, came from violence and exploitation.

    Ford was able to obliquely reference “the market” all he wanted in explaining why he charged what he did for cars, and who much he paid his assembly workers – but the market was a creation of the slavery of millions of people.

    Most of us are so far removed from the actual process of production that the market does seem to be a benign, anonymous, mythical force acting on its own according to some cosmic principles.

    But its not. It comes from human decisions and behavior. And in our world ravaged by imperialism and capitalism, not usually very nice ones.

  65. We can stop providing weapons to pro-America factions that want to overthrow their governments.

    I, and my nation, should be paying reparations to these individuals.

    To my understanding, these two opinions are mutually exclusive. Albeit indirectly.

    As capitalism was built upon the enslavement of people all over the world, and is the ultimate root cause of the current state of poverty, I do not consider it the best solution.

    Imperialism and mercantilism were built upon the enslavement of people all over the world. Modern day capitalism has tended to help countries come out of third world status as much or more than put them in it.

    However, since I’m guessing neither of us is an owner of Shell, I guess that’s not an option.

    Actually, I bet you are. I know I am. Do you own a 401(k)? Is it invested in equities? I can almost guarantee you are as much an owner of Shell/ExxonMobil/ConocoPhillips/BritishPetroleum/Chevron as anyone else is. I could get into the details of why I dislike the modern day C-Corp shareholder corporate structure, but I don’t think this is the time or place, but currently, you are probably just as much a “big wig” for Shell as anyone else is.

  66. Thomas Parkin says:

    Slavery is terrible for an economy. No sooner did free labor enter the historical stage than it began to crush slave based economies. What would the Confederacy have been if that 30% more of its population were able spend, even a marginal sum, on Southern products?

    Now we might be reverting to a slave economy, that’s an issue.

  67. nat kelly,
    That is dangerously close to what I swore in my wrath I would banninate you for. :)

    You have made (over and over in 65) the sloppy, lazy, and obnoxious mistake of equating “markets” and capitalism, and it is nonsense. “Markets” do not create slavery, they do not create hostage situations, and they are not characterized by an AK-47 being pointed at your head.

  68. I don’t think we should hide from the fact that “the market” is a composite of human decisions and actions.

    This is a sloppy definition of Capitalism, and could just as easily describe Socialism, Mercantilism, or the Feudal system.

    AK-47 coersion (by definition) =/= capitalism.

  69. nat kelly says:

    Do I have a 401k?

    Hahahahahaha……..

    I guess we should bring this back to the original point of the OP, how our own financial situations influence our opinions about money and religion.

    No, I am most decidedly NOT an owner of shell or any other company, as I do not own a single piece of stock on earth.

    However, depending on the stock one owns in such publicly-traded companies, one might be able to influence their decisions and affect world poverty in a much more meaningful way than any non-profit or charitable giving can. That’s where Saul Alinsky was headed when he died. I suspect, however, that most companies are structured so that the power given to their stockholders is incredibly diffuse, and that “partial ownership” means you just profit yourself a teeny bit from their exploitation of others, without having any power to stop it.

    Just my suspicion.

    And I don’t know what you mean about those two sentences being mutually exclusive. Want to expand?

  70. jinx Scott

  71. B.Russ (69),
    It’s not just sloppy–it’s completely incorrect, overloaded with political steam, and ignores the entirety of what you meant when you suggested looking at markets for pricing information.

  72. nat kelly says:

    Okay Scott B., what are markets?

    For the record, I don’t think markets necessarily create violence and hostage situations, but that they are created by them, and thereby not the innocent forces we all like to believe in.

  73. I like George Q. Cannon’s 1887 analogies. Money is like snow, he said: “If blown into drifts it blocks up the highway and nobody can travel; but if distributed evenly over the ground it aids man’s travel.” He also compared money to a dung-heap: “So long as it lies in a mass it does no good; but when spread on the land it enriches the soil and produces good crops.”

    “When Zion is perfect there will be no rich, neither will there be any poor — all will have everything necessary for their comfort, their convenience and their perfect enjoyment. The few will not roll in luxury, living upon the proceeds of others’ toil; neither will the great mass lie at their feet, hungering and thirsting, and suffering for the want of that means of which they have a superabundance.”

    These are extracted from an article challenging the idea that men receive preferential calls in the Church because they are wealthy. I really wish he had had a better refutation of that claim than merely repeating several times in several ways: “‘Tain’t so.”

  74. nat kelly says:

    I may also point out that I am not the only one conflating “markets” with “capitalism” in this conversation. (See B. Russ in #69.)

  75. For the record, I don’t think markets necessarily create violence and hostage situations, but that they are created by them, and thereby not the innocent forces we all like to believe in.

    nat kelly,
    I can’t tell for sure which you’re saying with “they are created by them” here. Which is it?
    1. Markets are created by violence?
    2. Violence is created by markets?

  76. nat kelly (75),
    B.Russ is allowed to be sloppy because he’s more or less a slob.

  77. nat kelly says:

    Markets are the creation of violent situations. Because the beginning of production, today and in most of industrial history, is violence and coercion. Markets are therefore suspect from the get-go because of their very genesis.

    Better?

  78. I understand what you said now, yes–that’s better. However, it’s still totally wrong, in pretty much every conceivable way. You keep trying to create some relationship between markets and industrial history, but this demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of what markets mean, since they have existed since the beginning of time.

    A market is nothing more than a location (either physical or virtual) where buyers and sellers meet and exchange products. That’s it. That is what B. Russ was referring to: Go to the Farmer’s Market, and see what people are paying for Fruit #4.

    The systems of government used in different societies to regulate (or not-regulate) such markets may have elements of violence or coercion associated with them–but these systems of government are not the same thing as the market itself.

  79. nat kelly says:

    In a simple society, absent the influence of governments, culture, society, and larger economic systems, a market might just the place where people go to buy and sell things.

    But the market doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in the context of greed, slavery, and violence. Unless you address those forces, any reliance on the market is going to be tainted by them.

  80. Nat (70) mutual exclusivity:

    Then he told me his version of what took place all those years ago – how the lightly-armed rebels he led took on the mighty Ethiopian army which had all the latest Soviet weaponry. He told me that as the money began flowing in to feed the starving, a bitter debate had taken place inside the rebel movement.

    There were divisions over how the cash should be spent.

    Money that was being channelled through the rebel side went to the party and to buy guns. He also explained how the aid money was diverted not just to buy weapons his troops needed, but also to build a hardline, Stalinist party – the Marxist Leninist League of Tigray. . . .In 1985, Aregawi told me, just 5% of $100m (£65m) they received went to the starving.

    Source: East Africa Forum (http://www.eastafricaforum.net/2010/03/05/on-the-trail-of-ethiopia-aid-and-guns/)

    On a very similar vein about how our “aid” just tends to damn the recipients:

    A constant stream of “free” money is a perfect way to keep an inefficient or simply bad government in power. As aid flows in, there is nothing more for the government to do — it doesn’t need to raise taxes, and as long as it pays the army, it doesn’t have to take account of its disgruntled citizens. No matter that its citizens are disenfranchised (as with no taxation there can be no representation). All the government really needs to do is to court and cater to its foreign donors to stay in power.

    Even what may appear as a benign intervention on the surface can have damning consequences. Say there is a mosquito-net maker in small-town Africa. Say he employs 10 people who together manufacture 500 nets a week. Typically, these 10 employees support upward of 15 relatives each. A Western government-inspired program generously supplies the affected region with 100,000 free mosquito nets. This promptly puts the mosquito net manufacturer out of business, and now his 10 employees can no longer support their 150 dependents. In a couple of years, most of the donated nets will be torn and useless, but now there is no mosquito net maker to go to. They’ll have to get more aid. And African governments once again get to abdicate their responsibilities.

    In a similar vein has been the approach to food aid, which historically has done little to support African farmers. Under the auspices of the U.S. Food for Peace program, each year millions of dollars are used to buy American-grown food that has to then be shipped across oceans. One wonders how a system of flooding foreign markets with American food, which puts local farmers out of business, actually helps better Africa. A better strategy would be to use aid money to buy food from farmers within the country, and then distribute that food to the local citizens in need.

    And by contrast

    Look what has happened in Ghana, a country where after decades of military rule brought about by a coup, a pro-market government has yielded encouraging developments. Farmers and fishermen now use mobile phones to communicate with their agents and customers across the country to find out where prices are most competitive. This translates into numerous opportunities for self-sustainability and income generation — which, with encouragement, could be easily replicated across the continent.

    Source: Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123758895999200083.html)

    Sorry to blockquote large excerpts. I usually try to avoid this.

  81. nat kelly (80),
    I know that the market doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is controlled and regulated and influenced by lots of things. No one is disputing this. Srsly! I promise. So PLEASE, for the love of not sounding an ignorant fool, blame those otherthings! Blame capitalism (a system!) if you want–I don’t care! Just don’t use “market” like it’s some kind of swear word when it means something completely benign, because it’s lazy, sloppy, and inaccurate.

  82. Why are you threatening nat kelly with banning her? I’m baffled. The scenario of being held hostage with an AK-47 is a literal contemporary reality (and not hyperbole in the slightest) for forced laborers working in the coltan mines in DR Congo, the sapphire mines in Madagascar, and diamond mines all across West Africa. The computer you’re typing these responses on was manufactured using “conflict minerals” (coltan, gold, and others) manufactured from illegal mines in Congo that are controlled by militarized groups that rape 4 women every 5 minutes and enslave children from neighboring villages. So yeah, all the abstract talk about “markets” is fun and everything, but it makes little difference to the woman who was gang-raped by a militia fighting for control of the local gold-mine. I know it’s unpleasant to think about, but a good starting point is acknowledging our complicity.

  83. nat kelly says:

    “Go to the Farmer’s Market, and see what people are paying for Fruit #4.”

    But WHY are they paying what they’re paying for fruit #4? Is it because fruit 4 is intrinsically worth that much? Or is it because of the amount of labor that went into getting fruit #4 to that table?

    If I own a large farm that produces fruit #4, and I hire only undocumented workers, and I chain them in trucks at night and pay them nothing (there are 3 documented instances of this happening in Florida, in Immokalee, in the last 20 or so years), I can sell that fruit for a pretty low price and still walk away with a nice profit, because my production costs were so low. But if I pick the fruit myself, and pay people in my community generously to help me, I might have to charge more for the fruit. Because the revenue generated from that fruit needs to be distributed much more widely.

    Markets are determined by human behavior and decisions.

  84. missy,
    Yawn.

  85. nat kelly says:

    “missy,
    Yawn.”

    Really?! I’ve pretty much just lost all faith in the usefulness of this discussion.

  86. Yeah, that’s awesome. See ya.

  87. nat kelly (75),
    B.Russ is allowed to be sloppy because he’s more or less a slob.

    Its true . . . but I’m also just using shorthand. When I say “market” I am referring to a capitalist market. When you start describing coersion, you by definition are describing something that no longer fits the term capitalist. And are therefore describing a different type of market.

  88. nat kelly (84),

    But WHY are they paying what they’re paying for fruit #4? Is it because fruit 4 is intrinsically worth that much? Or is it because of the amount of labor that went into getting fruit #4 to that table?

    The point is this: The same questions existed before the industrial revolution you love to hate so much.

    Markets are determined by human behavior and decisions.

    So let’s see then–using the definition of markets (people meeting to buy and sell goods), we can translate:
    “Humans behavior and decisions about buying & selling goods are determined by human behavior and decisions.”
    In other news water is wet.

    The point is, everything you have said is as true about the markets in 2,000 BC–and every other point in time–as it is today.

  89. nat kelly says:

    To get back to the point of the OP, any part of me that is religious reacts directly AGAINST things like comment #85.

    The only purpose I see in my life here is to fight to elevate the dignity of God’s children, including my own. The only thing I’m sure “God” wants of me is for me to join in the cause of liberation. I feel like I was placed in the position I am, in the heart of the empire, in a poor corner of a vastly wealth neighborhood, in order that I might refuse to tolerate the vagaries of the system from my position.

    Yawning, or ignoring the problem, is, for me, basically atheism.

  90. nat kelly,
    Don’t conflate yawning at the problem and yawning at the person who is speaking. Everyone has their own way of dealing with comments that contain nothing but banalities and add nothing to the conversation. My way is yawning. If that offends missy, then she is certainly welcome to not rush in and start lecturing me on where my computer monitor came from in the future.

  91. nat kelly says:

    “The point is, everything you have said is as true about the markets in 2,000 BC–and every other point in time–as it is today.”

    Sure, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the context of today. The context today is violence and slavery. The violence and slavery, on such a wide scale, is a result of industrial capitalism. The markets, today, are irrevocably tainted by this. Whatever cosmic role they’ve played in human history, we can’t ignore the harms they spring forth from now.

    Scott, what is it that you are arguing? That we shouldn’t take steps to regulate the market? That we can address economic violence and slavery completely separate from the question of capitalism? I get that you are nitpicking the semantics of my use (er, of my response to B Russ’s use) of the term “markets”. But what are you actually arguing against here?

  92. nat kelly says:

    “The scenario of being held hostage with an AK-47 is a literal contemporary reality (and not hyperbole in the slightest) for forced laborers working in the coltan mines in DR Congo, the sapphire mines in Madagascar, and diamond mines all across West Africa.”

    ……..

    Banalities?

  93. nat kelly says:

    I rather think that talking about concrete circumstances and actual facts adds quite a bit to the conversation.

    But if you prefer to discuss only abstractions and theories, I’ll bow out.

  94. nat kelly,
    I’m arguing against your statement that markets are characterized by “the man with an AK-47 holding your family hostage until you bring in the correct amount of rubber/diamonds/gold.”
    I have not made a single normative statement about anything else–what should be, what shouldn’t be. I am just telling you that your characterization of markets is painfully inaccurate, and it makes you look bad. You’re trying to say that markets were born out of the violence of the industrial revolution, and this is just nonsense.

  95. nat – have you read my 81? If you have then I’ll ask again, what other system or solution would you suggest that would fix the world’s woes. If, demonstrably, aid in the form of money/food has had the overwhelming tendency to hurt African economies, stifle growth and prosperity, and keep people under militant control. Then what can we do to help, if not microfinance – the one solution (and not without problems of its own) which has demonstrably helped the situation?

  96. Banalities?

    Yes, actually. Are those actual events themselves banal? Of course not. Is jumping into an internet forum and lecturing someone on where their computer is made banal? Yes, it is.

    But if you prefer to discuss only abstractions and theories, I’ll bow out.

    I’d prefer that you use accurate definitions instead of political rhetoric and catchphrases when you discuss important topics.

  97. nat kelly says:

    Alright then, I think we’ve killed that horse a few times over, and I will just re-assert my initial claim:

    Most accumulated wealth is based on robbery at some point. To build Zion, we have to stop this process, and redistribute that wealth in a way that respects human dignity and ensures a basically standard of living for all. I feel this way because I have lived large segments of my life in relative poverty.

    That is all.

  98. nat kelly says:

    B. Russ, no, sorry, I had missed your #81 before.

    I don’t see what those examples have to do, of necessity, with the options I suggested in #53. We need to dismantle our imperialism, both militarily and economically. At that point, we can discuss how best to stand in solidarity with people who are struggling for their own liberation.

    And now, I have to stop ignoring my poor husband and go for a walk.

  99. They have to do, most specifically, with this comment:

    ” I, and my nation, should be paying reparations to these individuals. My wealth is theirs. “

  100. A market as has been stated is the natural result of when people are given the freedom to exchange things.

    What happens in the markets is a reflection of the values and desires of those who participate in them. Which items are produced and exchanged and what they are priced at are a really good indicator of what people value and what they desire.

    I’m thinking that in zion that there will be free markets as well as agency is an important part however with a people who are pure in heart, the markets will reflect the values of a good people. Only those things which further our happiness and progress will be produced and desired for exchanged and they will be valued appropriately. Also if people were to gain more than another than in zion the person would redistribute it as someone who is pure in heart in a zion society would have no need for have more than is sufficient for their needs.

    In a market economy which is really what happens when freedom is a part of it the market is driven by desires. Pure in heart I have come to see means have pure desires, or only desires that help us and others to be happy and become like God.

  101. sorry for all of the misspellings and grammar errors, I typed it to fast and its painful to read now.

  102. I knew there was something familiar about your take on things, nat kelly, but it took me a while to figure out what exactly it was.

  103. What I was trying to say is that desire drives markets, or demand as it is called in economic terms. If a people were to be pure in heart they would only desire that which is good for them and mankind.

  104. Scott that was exactly what I thought of also

  105. And now, I have to stop ignoring my poor husband and go for a walk.

    I think the question that we are all wondering now is whether his poverty is a result of violence and coercion…

  106. nat kelly says:

    omg, I love peasants. Seriously. Through various things I’ve recently read, I have a serious crush on peasants. I won’t deny the comparison. :)

  107. Looking back at my post again it still doesn’t make sense. Sorry about that.

  108. Costs and benefits. Sacrifice. Quid pro quo — something for something. Very basic economic concepts. We get what we want by doing something we don’t want to do, and wouldn’t do if it didn’t bring us what we want.

    I remember a talk given by a dear friend of mine who described a time in her life where her family raised rabbits to supplement their food budget, because cash was so very tight, and rabbits happen to be a cost-effective way of producing dietary protein. She spoke of the day that she involved her young sons in killing the rabbits they were eating, so they would understand directly the sacrifice being made for their benefit. So they could see the price being paid for their lives.

    All of us buy our lives in a similar fashion. Our meat comes at the price of death for the animals we consume. Our goods come at the price of the time and effort of those who make them and distribute them. Our market-based economy has been an engine which has produced vast amounts of wealth, and distributed it over a very wide area, with some large clumps showing up here and there, and some areas not getting much at all. What Nat is pointing out is the places where very little of this wealth reaches, but where significant amounts of it are produced. That suffering and injustice is as real as the bodies of the animals we eat, and, sadly, waste all too much of. If you don’t like to think about the price others pay for the goods you like, tough. Grow the hell up, and learn what two young boys learned at the hands of their mother more than twenty years ago.

    The fourth fold of the four-fold mission of the Church is to care for the poor. Some of that will involve teaching them to fish, and a great deal of that is being done. Some of that involves buying them the gear they need to fish with — I like microlending outlets like kiva.com for supporting those kinds of efforts in a bite-sized fashion. And some of that involves giving them fish, knowing they will never be able to provide for their own physical needs. I am a big fan of people pulling themselves up by their boot-straps, but I also see people who don’t yet have any boot-straps, and some who never will. If you don’t see them, it’s because you don’t wish to, and that is your failing.

    Whatever we have comes from God. He gives us things to see what we will do with them. And he gives us the chance to promise to consecrate all we have for the building up of his kingdom. I have promised to do so, as have many here. I believe we will be made to account for how well we’ve kept that promise.

    And please stop with talking about banninating Nat for saying things you don’t like. It makes you look like a bully who uses force to overcome his inability to reason effectively.

  109. Scott, by all means feel free to research your own computer monitor. Maybe then I won’t feel such a need to correct you when you accuse other people of waxing hyperbolic when they are talking about real facts in real people’s lives. Anyway, don’t worry about further “lectures” from me. I doubt I’ll be back, after your lovely welcome.

    Blain, well said.

    And Natalie B., I found your original post to be compelling and self-aware and thought-provoking. Thanks.

    And nat, you are awesome.

  110. Mark Brown says:

    Scott, I think I follow what you say, but I question whether markets themselves are always 100% benign.

    If we define a market as a place where buyers and sellers meet, so far so good. But what if that place is at a slave market or a crackhouse? Sometimes the product or service being bought or sold makes the entire transaction filthy.

  111. 111 — Or Microsoft products. Eww! (ducking and running)

  112. That suffering and injustice is as real as the bodies of the animals we eat, and, sadly, waste all too much of. If you don’t like to think about the price others pay for the goods you like, tough. Grow the hell up, and learn what two young boys learned at the hands of their mother more than twenty years ago.

    Whats annoying is when people assume that, due to a political outlook, that someone like me doesn’t care about “suffering” “injustice” or “price others pay”. I imagine its tantamount to how Chris H feels when people talk about the war in heaven when he brings up Socialism.

    I probably care as much as anyone else talking on this thread. I really hope to be able to find real answers and do what I can to help the world overcome the problem of poverty. I’m just yet to see an example of market regulation not hurting those it intends to help.

    When I ask for better solutions, I sincerely would like to hear better solutions, but I completely reject anything that has been tried multiple times, and failed every time.

  113. 111 – In Scott’s usage, the market is still benign, the slave economy is what is corrupt. The market only controls what the slave is bought and sold for, not the existence of the slave in the first place.

  114. missy (110),
    I’m 100% positive that I didn’t accuse anyone of waxing hyperbolic.

    I did accuse nat kelly of using lazy, sloppy, and inaccurate definitions.

    I have no idea how “talking about real facts in real people’s lives” is relevant to nat kelly’s use of lazy, sloppy, and inaccurate definitions.

  115. Mark (111),
    Benign is perhaps the wrong word–”neutral” would be better, maybe. The goods and services may be horrific, sure. But the market–the actual “market” itself–doesn’t have any input on the morality of the goods or services being exchanged.

  116. 113 — On that, I believe we agree across the board. My finger is only pointed, to the degree it is pointed at all, at those it actually describes. They know who they are, because they’re very angry at me right now.

    I have long noted the tendencies of revolutions and reforms in producing more and worse of whatever they were nominally created to reduce or end. The Law of Unintended Consequences is a bit-cah.

  117. Is it true, then, that the market is neutral though its players may not be (indeed are not, since each has the incentive to get the most out of the transaction as possible)?

    Nat, your concerns (and others’, including B. Russ’) can be met by market forces, when consumers care as much about the conditions in which their goods are produced as the price. There are consumers who will pay a premium, for instance, for fair trade coffee (perhaps not among this group) knowing that a greater share of the profits find their way to coffee growers.

    Another actor in the marketplace to settle injustices is regulation, though, as B. Russ accurately points out, it has not been without unintended consequences.

  118. I am the Market Manager of not one but two Farmer’s Markets. For the purposes of this conversation I believe that makes me God…or Satan.
    You are ALL Banned! (Except you. And you over there- I have always especially liked you.)

    Seriously, I do like that even the here the idea of a Farmer’s Market being only benign and wholesome was exploded. As if there weren’t vendors who dressed themselves up as Mennonites- even though they are no such thing- re-package the produce they bought at Sam’s Club and label it “farm fresh,” and the ones who swear that the peaches bigger than my fist were grown in Eastern Wyoming in a “like, special greenhouse.”

    The Market, under any thumb, is a wily, wily beast.

  119. Holy Crap. That is all I got. For here, at least. I need to redo my markets post for the bloggernacle.

  120. it's a series of tubes says:

    Forgive this one, but I just couldn’t resist:

    I feel this way because I have lived large segments of my life in relative poverty.

    Do you think your outlook would be different if you had the exact same share of material goods etc as in your current life, yet had it in a country where your share was relative wealth?

  121. crazywomancreek,
    You’re talking about a specific market. Specific institutional marketplaces like the one you refer to can be unruly, sure. That doesn’t really have any implications for “markets” though. nat kelly kept wanting to call all markets the same, and establish that they were all born from violence and coercion and slavery during the industrial revolution. Apples and oranges to your farmer’s market.

  122. Chris H. (120),
    Go ahead. As long as you don’t try to claim that markets were invented in the late 1700′s, I’ll be cool.

  123. I will not do that since I love you and because such a claim would be historically inaccurate. Your responses to my earlier blurb will be taken into account. Have fun a time at the snacker tonight!

  124. Holy cow. There are like 70 comments since I left for lunch.

    Whats a fair price? Is there a better judge than the markets?

    How about judging fair by common human decency. Is it fair for a CEO to make more than 400 times the wage of the lowest-paid employee? Probably not. I highly doubt the value of the labor put in by a CEO to his company is truly worth 400 times more than the value of the lowest-paid employee. Making wages equal is also not really fair because again, the value of some people to a company is greater than others.

    About a year and a half ago, this paper came out and estimated what a fair wage distribution should look like using thermodynamics. One of the conclusions was that a CEO should make 8 to 16 times what the lowest-paid employee makes. Interestingly enough, that happens to be not too far off from the average for European and Japanese companies, and for a lot of American companies until recently.

    Ideally, I’d say people caring for the well-being of their employees would determine what’s a fair wage. Markets seem to do well to a point, but it does seem to be necessary to regulate people to prevent the sorts of excesses we see in today’s economy.

    Feel free to ignore me if the conversation’s moved on. I obviously missed out on the party.

  125. 125 – Median pay for a CEO is around $700,000. 90th percentile might put you as high as $1.1Mil. That is around 18 times the salary of the lowest paid employee, no?

    Or are you talking specifically about the .001% that manage large multinational companies?

    They are anomolies, and really not worth talking about since adding up all the salaries of the CEOs of the Fortune 25 companies would only represent .00001% of GDP, it’s basically irrelevant.

    In addition, the market punishes (albeit, not significantly) companies that hire $100mil CEOs. They have to pay them – even though its in stock options, the stock market factors in the dilution of shares – and that effects profitability for stock-owners. I’ll bet given enough time, the market will reign in even these anomolies, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t really change anything.

  126. Douglas Hunter says:

    Have not read all the comments so maybe I missed it, but has anyone mentioned the role of luck in personal wealth? For every hard working, well educated righteous personal our there who succeeds financially, there is another person with the same characteristics who is not wealthy or successful. Don’t ignore your own survivorship bias when thinking about these issues.

  127. I see the semantic distinction Scott has been insisting on. But Nat’s point—which, if I understand it, is that the prices affixed to certain commodities by markets reflect not just basic supply and demand dynamics but also forms of violence and human exploitation which tend to underlie the raw materials extraction/mobilization, labor capture, and economies of scale so central to pricing patterns—is one I definitely agree with. Global capital markets and First World production and consumption practices do implicate all of us in forms of human violence from which we would prefer to completely disavow ourselves, to bind us together in a causal nexus of iniquity that forces us to share complicity in the blood and sins of an entire generation.

    As far as extricating ourselves from that causal nexus, I’m not saying there are easy solutions (though I’m as dubious about libertarian solutions as I am of a Dictatorship of the Proletariat), but a starting point, for Mormons at least, might be fully walking up to the covenant obligations we take on in the temple, including and especially the Law of Consecration.

  128. “Have not read all the comments so maybe I missed it, but has anyone mentioned the role of luck in personal wealth?”

    And maybe we should start a discussion about estate taxes!

  129. Nat’s point—which, if I understand it, is that the prices affixed to certain commodities by markets reflect not just basic supply and demand dynamics but also forms of violence and human exploitation which tend to underlie the raw materials extraction/mobilization, labor capture, and economies of scale so central to pricing patterns—is one I definitely agree with. Global capital markets and First World production and consumption practices do implicate all of us in forms of human violence from which we would prefer to completely disavow ourselves, to bind us together in a causal nexus of iniquity that forces us to share complicity in the blood and sins of an entire generation.

    I think for the most part we agree that this is a problem. I also agree that we all, though indirectly, share complicit blame in it.

    Where we (nat and I) differ is:
    A)Our understanding of what part Capitalism has to play in this.
    (it is my understanding that slavery = slave economy, and by definition is not capitalism; at the very least, it is not modern capitalism. That goods produced by slave-laborers are consumed in Capitalist economies does not mean that the economies where they originated were Capitalist as well)

    B)How we would solve these injustices.

  130. Thinking in terms of genesis (which kind of economy originates where) might not be as useful as thinking about how the different economies implicate and mutually reinforce each other. The price of the diamond will be configured differently in the capitalist market if it is harvested in the first place via labor practices you and I don’t find morally abhorrent. The industrializing, capitalist economy of the northern US and western Europe did not arise in economic competition with the slave/plantation economy of the South. There was a kind of co-dependence between the two which, despite their political conflict, was nevertheless more or less restored post Civil War with the sharecropping economy that followed. As labor standards improved and the Jim Crow political economy gradually phased out, firms that produced for First World consumer markets sought raw materials in parts of the world where they could be found cheapest.

    I think it is entirely possible that a moderately regulated market-capitalist economic framework (labor and wage standards, scaled back corporate liability shielding) could produce considerably more just economic relationships and reductions in violent exploitation, but only a completely integrated, consolidated global market in which the regulations in question are universal and universally enforced. It’s nice to think that consumers would revolt against firms which engage in or support abhorrent practices, but given how difficult it is to imagine (even in the internet age) the widespread availability to consumers of the relevant information, it’s not really practical to place much faith in that solution.

    For now, I suspect that if most of us had a seer stone through which we could see, start to finish, the production processes upon which the successful companies driving the growth of our retirement funds depend for their competitive market advantage, we’d be literally riveted with horror.

  131. The price of the diamond will be configured differently in the capitalist market if it is harvested in the first place via labor practices you and I don’t find morally abhorrent.

    Interesting that you would pick diamonds as your example. As I understand it, the price of a diamond is mostly a product of a controlled supply/demand relationship under the watchful eye of the DeBeers monopoly. Cost of labor is a very very small factor in the value of a diamond, even if the labor were “fair wages”.

    Additionally, I imagine (though have no way to quantify it) that the movie Blood Diamond, and its psychological effect on the markets and demand for “blood-free” diamonds has been about as effective as all the legislation and regulation in the same realm.
    The movie was made for Capitalistic reasons, the studios aim was to sell tickets and make money, and yet people change their buying behavior.

    I’m not a total-libertarian, but I definitely lean that way. Some regulation and legislation – on a worldwide scale, if it were possible – may be necessary, but I’m similarly not convinced that it is very often the most effective answer.

  132. Brad,
    Semantics, perhaps, but not all semantic distinctions are created equal. Nat Kelly’s semantics lead her to believe that markets did not exist until the late 18th century.

    If I ever engage in semantics which cause me to believe such a ridiculous proposition, I pray that someone will start a semantics argument with me.

  133. Well, the terminological issues here might have warranted more technical treatment. While clearly lacking in the semantic precision of disciplinary jargon, employing the term “market” in a widespread non-specialized use (i.e. as denoting something like “free markets” or “capitalist marketplace” and, historically, the emergence of what non-economists would call a capital based market economy) is hardly the unpardonable sin. Don’t get me wrong, I think the precision you brought to the conversation is useful, but that doesn’t necessarily make Nat’s use of the term ridiculous.

  134. “Nat Kelly’s semantics lead her to believe that markets did not exist until the late 18th century.”

    Really? I was unaware of these beliefs I apparently hold. Thanks for the heads up.

  135. Steve Evans says:

    I’d like to come back to the issue of market genesis for a moment, because I think we have a right to reclaim our share of the Fertile Crescent.

  136. It’s late so eventually I started scrolling, but Nat, I loved all your comments!!!!!! You basically explained in great detail a lot of my own thoughts/issues/concern with our “great civilized western world”.

    As for the OP, I liked that, too. Though I have to say the typical (to me at least) sentiment of “I earned this, and therefore shouldn’t be coerced into sharing” seems more of an American mentality to me than anything else. Sure, there are people like that in other places of the world as well. But, being German, and having lived in various European countries, this always strikes me as a foremost American attitude, and usually one more or less at odds with basic gospel principles.

    Sure, I believe in freedom, but there are lots of things in place, within government as well as the Church that indicate exclusion if you don’t play by the rules. Is that coercion? Or just the price you pay for being part of a certain group (nation?). Is it any better to “force” taxes and using them for military purposes or who knows what rather than social programs? If taxation is coercion, it shouldn’t matter what the money is spent on, the person objecting to coercion should be opposed to taxation – period. However, oftentimes those who don’t want to be forced to share their money through taxation, don’t object to being forced to pay for the military.

    I’d think that someone who realizes and fully believes that all their blessings stem from God, will a) not judge the person needing help (by deciding whether they deserve help or not or have done all they can etc.) and b) not mind sharing their fortune no matter how it’s done…Basically, someone who’s truly humble, and focused on the Savior probably doesn’t have much time to think about how right or wrong it is to help someone else this or that way. They just help. Period.

  137. They are anomolies, and really not worth talking about since adding up all the salaries of the CEOs of the Fortune 25 companies would only represent .00001% of GDP, it’s basically irrelevant.

    Really? That seems awfully dismissive. Just out of curiosity, what percentage of GDP is represented by the companies, since that’s probably the more relevant measure?

    I’m guessing that yes, most American companies would be characterized as fair under the framework that paper proposes, and probably most Americans employed in the private sector work for those kinds of companies. After all, small businesses employ the majority of Americans and I’m guessing most small business owners don’t take home multi-million dollar paychecks. At the same time, those who work for the large, multinational companies headed by CEOs raking in the truly big bucks are probably a significant portion of the economy, so dismissing them as “unimportant” doesn’t work for me.

    You go ahead and claim that markets keep CEO pay in check. I’m going to disagree and state I think it’s human decency as often as market forces. I think the existence of the multi-million dollar paycheck indicates market forces are insufficient to keep things fair all the time, and shows there are plenty of people out there ready and willing to game the system in their own favor. Human nature is at once the problem and solution. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all to have regulations around that keep things fair in more cases, particularly if those regulations don’t harm those already naturally tending toward the fair solution.

  138. krinstine N
    Have you considered the following?
    A company pays someone $10/hr to package an order in a warehouse, because that’s what customers are willing to pay for their order to be packaged. (ie. that’s approx. the amount of revenue a company brings in as a result of charging freight…simplification I know).

    A company pays a CEO $100million dollars, because as a result of their vision, connections, etc. they have moved the company into a strategic direction that not only brought in $10billion this year, but expect similar cash flows for the next 5 years.

    Clearly the CEO does not need $100million. But if as a result of his vision and leadership the company is moving in a direction that brings in those gains, he is, in some sense, being paid what his labor was “worth”. What if you replaced him with someone who would have happily accepted $1million? or $500,000? Well, when you’re dealing with $10billion a year, perhaps it’s not best to risk it. So yes, market plays a role, as well as some sense of propriety.

    The only problem with regulations to make things more fair, is whoever decides what is fair decides winners and losers. So telling a CEO he’s made enough, may very well encourage him to find something better to do with his time. Such as fishing and living on the beach. Nice for him, potentially bad for his company and the 50,000 employees he would have hired over the next 10 years as a result of the strategic direction he took the company in.

    To suggest otherwise, is to make claim that anyone could have done what Apple, Microsoft, etc. did.

  139. Mark Brown says:

    Some of the frustration which often accompanies conversations about markets comes about because the boundaries of the market can be moved whenever we want. We can limit the definition to dollars only, for example, or we can include other, indirect but nonetheless real costs, environmental degradation, for instance. A CEO can focus on short term results and be applauded for responding to his market. Or he can take a long-term view and also be applauded for taking his cues from the market. Both CEOs could be in the same industry at the same time and both claim to be free market advocates, and they would both be right, even though they were responding to different signals which resulted in different actions.

    ce, sure, Apple and Microsoft have CEOs with large paychecks. But you also need to account for Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns.

  140. Well, the point wasn’t necessarily that those individuals have large paychecks, but individuals can make a big difference, therefore paying a small percentage of revenue, even though it may be an obscene number is still a “safe” thing to do for that company.

    Sometimes we look before crossing the street and get hit by a car, even though we were doing the safe thing (Lehman, etc). I’m not up for changing the whole system because accidents (or abuse) happens.

    Don’t you still think Lehman would have collapsed if Fuld was making $10 an hour?

  141. Mark Brown says:

    And just to try to bring the conversation back on course, the question is how our views about all this influence how we think about God. I think the challenge for all of us, but especially for strong advocates of an unfettered free market, is to avoid the world of Korihor, where “every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius,”. I believe it can be done, but I also expect it will be harder than we think.

  142. Mark Brown says:

    ce, right, bad luck happens. And so does good luck. Bill Gates himself has said that much of Microsoft’s success can be attributed to dumb luck, just being in the right place at the right time.

  143. so it seems clear that with ‘given wealth’ comes ‘wealth guilt’ and the best remedy to that is to publicly extoll the virtues of charity by forcing those behaviors on others at the end of a gun through force of government? Sounds like a winner! /s

    Though it does explain why entertainers are usually the first to be involved in those sorts of games – they live rediculous lives for the most part and know they’ve done about nothing to be so fortunate.

    Wealth guilt must be a terrible adversity – if only I were so ailed!

  144. The government doesn’t force by gun. You’re being taxed. You can choose to not pay taxes, and deal with the consequences. But there is a choice. The Church doesn’t operate so differently from that in the sense that you’re supposed to keep certain commandments etc. and if you don’t you may be excommunicated or disfellowshipped. The scriptures also don’t suggest to do away with government.

    So, I think the issue at hand is that people don’t want to be taxed to support the poor. But being forced to pay taxes for other things (maybe even more questionable than helping the poor) is equally forced (yet gets less objections). If taxation is wrong, what’s the alternative? And how does it compare to the gospel? Even within the Church we’re asked to give money so things can operate and function. There’s no real force, but not paying tithing certainly can/does have consequences (ie. no temple recommend etc.).

    So, I’m getting a bit tired of people yelling they’re being forced to be charitable. Nope, you’re being asked to pay taxes. Pay them, or don’t and deal with the consequences. You can still be charitable on your own beyond that. Just like you can still choose to give money even though you paid a generous fast offering (though often times I hear members say they don’t have to give since they’re already giving to the Church…)

  145. 143- “every man prospered according to his genius”
    Teaching that doctrine does not mean that you should not be paid according to the value of your labor. Teaching that doctrine implies that all the blessings (and adversity) in your life are the direct result of your own control. No one is suggesting that, and even if some CEO believes that, he’s likely not out trying to convert people to that principle and abandon any belief in God.

    I think we’d have to be twisting the meaning a bit if we wanted to make those verses claim a person should not receive financial compensation according to that which they produced.

    I mean, we could implement such a program, but providing me equal compensation of someone who is digging a canal, while I was only digging ditch and prompting filling it back in again would be ludicrous. In both instances, we sweat the same amount, and even did the same amount of work. Mine was value-less, and even a waste of resources (opportunity cost of my labor + depreciation expense of equipment) while the other’s labor actually contributed to real value for the rest of the market.

  146. I would like to point out that individual Americans give far more to charity by any reasonable measure then say the enlightened Germans mentioned in some of the posts upstream. The data simply does not support this idea that Americans are stingy with charitable contributions. In fact the opposite is true. Most observers of the data believe that higher individual taxes lead to less charitable giving. The attitude becomes “well I pay taxes so let the government deal with the poor”.

    “Gaudiani said Americans give twice as much as the next most charitable country, according to a November 2006 comparison done by the Charities Aid Foundation. In philanthropic giving as a percentage of gross domestic product, the U.S. ranked first at 1.7%. No. 2 Britain gave 0.73%, while France, with a 0.14% rate, trailed such countries as South Africa, Singapore, Turkey and Germany”

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-06-25-charitable_N.htm

    As far as the debate over market capitalism vs other methods. Let me just say that in the West we have capitalism that is heavily regulated. The text books refer to “mixed economies”. Some have more regulation AKA Germany Japan ETC and others have a bit less like the US. The debate in real circles (not the extreme position articluted by say folks like Nat Kelly or her opposite free market extremists) is the degree of regulation. Most of these debates take place between the 40 yard lines.

  147. Mark Brown says:

    bbell, I question the value of data like that because not all countries allow tax deductions for charitable giving. Apples and oranges, really.

  148. 148. I did not say that Germans give more in charitable donations. I said that the mentality of “I earned it, so therefore I shouldn’t be coerced to share” is an American mentality. And it is. Most Europeans don’t object or don’t mind being “coerced” to take care of the poor through taxation. Whether they give more/less outside of taxation in comparison to the US is a completely different debate.

  149. You go ahead and claim that markets keep CEO pay in check.

    Well, I didn’t claim that. I said that I imagine, given enough time (say 20-40 years) the trend would regress to the mean since it is probably an anomoly born out of the ridiculous market gains of the 80s and 90s. But I’m not sure it will, and I’m quite frankly not that worried if they don’t.
    One problem I have with over-regulation is that it is usually a response to temporary situations. We put in regulation to control problems that happened once in a specific circumstance.

    Really? That seems awfully dismissive.

    It is dismissive, because it doesn’t matter. My point was that if we reined in all of the multi-million (i.e. 20million plus) dollar salaries for CEOs, it still wouldn’t make a dent in my life or yours since they are so rare as to be almost non-existent. I also don’t see how the percentage of GDP that those companies represent is relevant.

    ce (140) – I also don’t really agree with you. The truth is that you could take most competent individuals with a business background who have drive and focus, give them 9 months, and they could probably run a Fortune 100 company just as well as the next guy. We get focused on the idea that the people making huge salaries are somehow wonderful people and that no normal person could do the work. It just isn’t true. Sure, some people in that circumstance would crash and burn, but some people with illustrious backgrounds making 100mil today crash and burn too.
    Also, neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates are really relevant examples since both of them were founding members of their companies, and the majority of their wealth was gained through ownership, not management salary. They probably are wonderful people who are better than us, but you can’t really reduce Steve Jobs’ $1 a year salary much. (yes, yes, stock options)

  150. Peter LLC says:

    I question the value of data like that because not all countries allow tax deductions for charitable giving.

    Or severely limit the kind and amount of deductions that count as charitable. I get to deduct a whopping $270 per year of tithing as a charitable contribution, for example.

  151. BBell, another problem with those statistics you used is that it pitches the GDP of a small country like Germany (or France or UK) against a far bigger country like the US. Size cannot be dismissed in this matter. I’m sure if you’d compare the giving of certain US states that match the size of certain European countries, the giving would be about the same. Or vice versa if you combined the giving from GDP’s of various European countries, it would add up to about the same as the US.

  152. #153,

    Actually no. An argument can be made (I think its pretty weak but its an argument nevertheless about tax policies impact on charitable giving. A better argument would be that the high tax rates allow for less personal income so less charity because you have less money in your pocket) but percentage of GDP is just that a percentage of GDP. So for every 100 billion in GDP the US gives 1.7Billion to charity and for every 100 billion in GDP France gives $140 million. So percentage of GDP measures things fairly.

  153. I don’t think it measures fairly, just because it’s percentage.

    This doesn’t account at all if a huge state such as California, for example, is responsible for half of the 1.7 percent (or a state like NY), while maybe another state that is more similar to France (or Germany), would have a lower percentage if considered on its own.

    Of course, percentage is percentage, and it that sense it’s all the same, but considering how big the US is and how different things are from state to state, to compare the whole of the US to one single European country, doesn’t really exemplify a fair comparison to me.

    And as mentioned before, taxation can play a big part…In Germany, you pay Church taxes (if you’re Catholic or a Protestant). Here you can write it off as a charitable donation. I’d say that things like that definitely make a difference.

  154. The data indicates that individual Americans give to charity at a rate that is more then 10 times that of individuals in France and somewhere between 4-10 times that of an individual German.

    The data is clear. When it comes to charitable giving Americans are far more generous. But even when you account for higher tax burdens Americans are still far far more generous.

  155. Oh, here is another thought on that charitable giving statistic quoted. It shows that about half of the donations were given to religious organizations and education/colleges. Considering that pretty much across the board these things are covered by taxation in all of Europe, that would also have to be taken into consideration when evaluating this “charitable giving”.

  156. bbell in 156
    But even when you account for higher tax burdens Americans are still far far more generous.

    And in 148 Most observers of the data believe that higher individual taxes lead to less charitable giving.

    These two seem to contradict each other.

  157. The higher tax burdens are those in Europe. Not in America. No contradiction. I should have wrote if you want to get picky.

    But even when you account for higher tax burdens in Europe… Americans are still far far more generous

  158. GDP is a worthless statistic. It means jack squat.

  159. And lastly, another thought is also to consider the overall need when considering charitable giving. If a country has a well-established living standard for almost all its citizens, the need for charity within your own country diminishes. Though it’s only my own experience, I’ve definitely seen far more poverty in the US than I have growing up in Germany. That’s no proof of anything, but I’d also imagine it influences things. It would be interesting to have an exact assessment of charitable giving to underdeveloped nations and the like.

    So, I simply find the overall assessment that Americans are more generous than Europeans based on that one statistic less convincing. Statistics are pretty complex and a lot of things can/could alter the picture of that statistic. And the rate of giving is kind of irrelevant. If someone gives 10 times a year 1 dollar, but someone else gives once a year 20 dollars, then…the fact that one person gave more regularly over the other hardly matters in amount.

    However, with all that said, I find many Americans to be very generous and very kind. But many Americans are also oblivious to how their style of living is harming the global community. Maybe if damage caused by living standards is taken into the equation of charitable giving (considering the giving sort of as a reparative pay), who knows where the US would stand. I doubt it’d be that glamorous. But that’s not to say that Europe is innocent.

    Basically, I’m just not convinced that overall, Americans are that dramatically more generous than the average European. And if we just focus on the US itself, and leave Europe out of this discussion, than it’s still interesting to note that studies have shown that conservative people like economy professors are twice as likely to NOT give to private charities (Cornell study by Fran and Gilovich). Not that economy professors are necessarily the represenative face of America, but I’d say a lot of conservative folks would have a similar mindset to the average economist. So, that still makes me wonder if/that maybe those with the mindset of “I earned it and therefore shouldn’t be coerced to share” would be less likely to share no matter what (whether there’s taxation, or just giving on their own), and that it doesn’t matter how you’re taxed or not, but how you feel about reaching out to others less fortunate in general.

  160. Fran,

    The data clearly shows that in the US Conservatives give more then Liberals. I think there might be a BCC post about this from a few years ago. The data is clear.

  161. it's a series of tubes says:

    bbell in 156
    But even when you account for higher tax burdens Americans are still far far more generous.

    And in 148 Most observers of the data believe that higher individual taxes lead to less charitable giving.

    These two seem to contradict each other.

    Not in the least. When harmonized, they say: Americans, even when taxed at a European level, still give more to charity than Europeans do.

    I know this sticks in the craw of some, but there it is.

  162. it's a series of tubes says:

    The data clearly shows that in the US Conservatives give more then Liberals. I think there might be a BCC post about this from a few years ago. The data is clear.

    Indeed. Read “Who Really Cares” by Arthur Brooks.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/opinion/21kristof.html

    http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=2682730&page=1

  163. Are you people still at it? I gave the last word like three days ago. We’re done here. Comments are closed.

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