Collective Action

Why aren’t we active enough in helping the poor to eliminate poverty in at least those countries which are reasonably democratic and lacking in corruption? It is clear that we have a gospel obligation to do so, and that there are programs available that work, at least to some extent. Why, then, are the poor still with us?

One factor in the explanation is almost certainly the problem known to social scientists as the “collective action dilemma.” This problem, most famously expounded by the economist Mancur Olson in 1965, involves a special set of difficulties that arise in persuading large groups of people to work together for the common good. The idea is a bit complex, but it is also quite directly relevant to problems of poverty — and the gospel of Jesus Christ provides a radical and breathtaking solution to it. Hence, I hope you will bear with a bit of explanation.

The idea of the collective action dilemma is as follows. Suppose there is some outcome that everybody wants, that we’re all free to contribute to, and that nobody can be excluded from enjoying once it exists. An interesting example is clean air in an urban area: if we all decide to contribute by driving less, the air will be cleaner and we can all enjoy the aesthetic and health benefits of a better environment. Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine that there are many people who actually prefer dirty air to clean air.

But, here’s the problem. Suppose that everybody in Chicagoland has begun bicycling to work. I’m now enjoying beautiful, clean air. But — what will happen if I drive to work? The difference in air quality from my decision to drive a single car a couple of miles won’t even be noticeable! I can drive to work and still enjoy the clean-air benefits of everybody else’s sacrifice. But the same is true for everybody else. The result? Everybody drives to work, and we all have to put up with dirty air — even if we’d all be happier bicycling to work in clean air.

More formally, collective action dilemmas arise when the benefits of a particular act are widely dispersed across society but the costs are focused on each individual. In such circumstances, the proportion of people performing the act in question will be much lower than the proportion that is socially optimal.

How is this relevant to issues of global poverty? I would argue that (virtually) everyone benefits from ending poverty. Those who are poor gain a major improvement in their quality of life. Those who are relatively affluent gain an important sense of moral peace, and probably also the much more tangible benefits of a more democratic and therefore more secure world (at least for citizens of other democratic countries). Because the costs of ending global poverty might be surprisingly affordable and the steps to do so remarkably practical, these benefits (as well as the many others that would likely arise) probably outweigh the total costs of ending extreme poverty worldwide.

But, a collective action dilemma arises. While the costs involved in ending poverty are clearly manageable on a worldwide scale, they are still large enough that my individual efforts will make only an imperceptible difference. Furthermore, the benefits of that difference will usually be quite widely dispersed. Hence, some of our underinvestment in solving the problem of poverty is probably due to a collective action problem on this issue. What to do?

The teachings of Jesus Christ provide a solution to this dilemma — a solution that requires far-reaching and radical revisions of our economic lives. Specifically, Christ asks us to value the benefits others receive as highly as we value improvements in our own personal life situations. Let me briefly quote a series of scriptural texts that support this point; links to the relevant chapters are in hypertext, and I encourage readers to look closely at the context for each quote.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself (Luke 10:27). As I have loved you…, also love one another (John 13:35). Be kindly affected one to another with brotherly love, in honor prefering one another… (Romans 12:10). [The sins of the Nephites included the fact that] they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another… (Helaman 6:17).

Examples could be multiplied, but I think these suffice. We learn that we are to love others as much as we love ourselves. We are to honor others more than we would ourselves be honored. We understand that loving and honoring others entails not seeking to have greater material possessions than they do. Rather, because we value others as much as we value ourselves, we are just as happy when someone else’s material circumstances improve as when our own do.

Think for a moment about what this means. Not only do we rejoice with others when they experience economic bounty — we rejoice at least as much as if the bounty had been our own! Clearly, this attitude would forever end collective action dilemmas. If we value the benefits that each individual in society obtains from our actions as much as we do the things we give up by performing those actions, then we recapture the total societal benefit of our deeds. No longer will individual costs be compared with individual benefits; rather, individual costs are contrasted with societal benefits. Such a calculus would produce an outpouring of time, money, and effort on behalf of the poor worldwide.

The next time you have the opportunity to help end poverty, please stop and remember that the costs to you are offset by the worldwide benefits of your action. That, I think, is the Christlike way to approach collective action.


  1. Great post. Not a single democracy has resolved the homeless issue. That wasn’t an urgent issue to me until I realized that most homeless people have mental health. More often than not, they were foster children.

    Biological children can always return to their parents. Foster children have no family safety net.

    They might be big and smelly but in light of their mental condition, society has the same obligation as to orphans. The more I think about, the sadder it is.

    By the way, the costs of the Iraq occupation would be enough to extend health insurance to every American man, woman, and child four times. . . . which shows that there is a lot we can do about poverty if we want to.

  2. We each have the ability to accomplish much and to influence others to join us. As I quoted in another thread, Marion G. Romney said in a conference talk in 1966 that each of us can practice the principles of the United Order to the extent we wish to do so. The problem you pose is a difficult one. I simply try to do my part and, again, encourage others (when they observe or see what is going on) to join in the effort.

  3. Thanks for the post. The Race to the Bottom is a problem in virtually every area of public policy. On the individual level you are talking about with the collective action problem, to state the obvious, it takes a lot of trust to part with material possessions or security with the thought that if all others also do so, poverty will end. This is because, in a world where humanity is condemned to live only by the sweat of the brow, i.e. to provide for itself through breaking its own back in labor, an individual choice to give substantial amounts to the poor could easily land the giver him- or herself in a state of relative poverty. The fear of this prevents substantial self-consecration, to use LDS terminology, or self-socialization, to use secular terminology. It is a (not entirely unfounded) lack of trust of the others in society. Of course, the Gospel or God’s love casts out fear. Still, the problem is real where it is not clear on what common fundamental moral principles society is based, or even if it is based on any perceptible common moral principles at all. One must then wonder whether a certain degree of — gasp — homogeneity, religious or otherwise, is a necessary prerequisite for such a system to begin even to have a hope at existing. And this is all only the level of the individual psyche.

    Associated problems attach to a government’s role in the matter. Can and/or will the government effectively or properly deal with consecrated or socialized materials or property? Will the consecrated or socialized property be expended in furtherance of social programs repugnant or even morally outrageous to the values of those so socializing? Will socialization, absent stewardship principles and private ownership, simply create a dole mentality that further exacerbates the problem?

    None of this is a reason for doing nothing. I share your belief that we should be doing something, as much as we can, to alleviate the problem. But the solution seems far more difficult than talking about the Gospel’s expectation that we should all be consecrating our goods for the welfare of others. Perhaps a first step is the creation of government vehicles for redistribution, as in the social market democracies of Europe. But those avenues also have not eliminated poverty.

  4. Why aren’t we active enough in helping the poor to eliminate poverty in at least those countries which are reasonably democratic and lacking in corruption?

    Maybe the problem is that these governments don’t really exist.

  5. I agree that this is good individual council about how to be a good Christian in a secular society. I don not think that it is a feasible institutional solution, and by that, I believe that it will not alleviate world poverty. It will bless a few individuals, but that is better than nothing.

  6. kristine N says:

    Wow, great post. Very thought provoking.

    I’ve known two kinds of poor people–those who choose to be poor, or embrace poverty through bad choices, and those who are poor because they have few or no opportunities, and are working as hard as they can simply to survive. Actually, I know (and sort of belong to) a third that could be considered a subset of the second: those who are young and currently poor because of schooling or some other investment and expect at some point to become less poor. Our nation’s welfare programs benefit all three of these categories of poor, and allow many people who utilize them to graduate (for lack of a better term) from poverty into a higher standard of living. For these people welfare programs might be as easily seen as an investment–these individuals will eventually put back into the system what was given to them, likely more. I suspect most people who utilize any welfare program in this country fit into the category of those who will eventually climb out of poverty. We will always need these welfare systems, however, because there is a perpetual supply of students and people who are working hard, but not quite making ends meet. Even though individuals transition out of poverty, there are always more to replace them; thus, the poor are always with us.

    The problem with and for welfare, as I see it, is the group of people who don’t care to get out of poverty, or seem chronically unable to make good economic choices. It’s not even a problem that these people exist; it’s a problem we know they exist (or suspect they exist, as in the case of Reagan’s mythical cadillac welfare queen). Many people I know who are against welfare assume anyone who is recieving government handouts belongs to the category of those “lazy, slobby, moochers” who will perpetually siphon off money that would be “more useful” spent somewhere else. There is an assumption that those people who are experiencing poverty somehow deserve it, and I think that’s one of the biggest impediments to solving the problem of poverty. I think that’s why there are so many people who object to government spending on poverty, and I think that’s why so many welfare programs are set up in such a way to discourage enrollment.

    I don’t personally see an anti-welfare attitude as very Christ-like; at the same time many of the people I know who are anti-welfare feel that way because they’ve seen the damage done to people who become dependent upon welfare. Anti-welfare people can be as motivated by love for those around them as those promoting welfare. I think they see making poverty uncomfortable as a better motivator than giving people the basics and allowing them to work to better their lifestyle.

  7. Also JNS, in thinking this over in the evening and considering some scenarios, I feel like the logical results end difficultly. If I were to value an individual in Darfur as myself I would necessarily lower my standard of living to theirs and use the balance of my wealth to elevate the maximum amount of suffering possible. My wife and children would assume that standard of living and our combined lifetime earning potential are obviated. Does this Christian ethic require that the long term utilitarian good be sacrificed?

  8. “I suspect most people who utilize any welfare program in this country fit into the category of those who will eventually climb out of poverty.”

    Unfortunately this is not true. Although I wish it were. Poverty tends to span generations, even in the US.

    I remember while we were in graduate school and making ends meet how frustrated I was when I saw a man on the news complaining he couldn’t get by on his welfare check and that it barely covered his $60 cable bill. It upset me quite a bit. So I see how some of the welfare mentality can enrage people who don’t want to pay into it. Meanwhile we were barely getting by as most graduate students do. But I would not have considered myself really poor–but I wasn‘t about to spend even 20 dollars on cable.

    That being said, I grew up in poverty. I think the only way anyone in my family has climbed out of it is through education. I often wonder if we had great accessible higher education for everyone if that would take care of the problem. Although I admit I have seen plenty of college students quit school to provide the necessities of life, and education taking a back seat.

  9. To echo Hellmut’s point in #1, the Scriptures take particular interest in the care of widows, orphans and outsiders, cf. Exod. 22:21-24, Deut. 16:11-14, Isa. 1:17. These are the people in society who are disenfranchised, and the Lord admonishes Israel to pay particular attention to making sure they do not fall through the cracks. Doing so is considered the epitome of genuine religion, cf. James 1:27.

    It is easy to point a finger at the collective and wonder why they dont do something about it. It is harder for us as individuals to actually do something about it, which is why we usually dont, and, thus, why the collective doesnt.

  10. So, any thoughts about the devotion to the common welfare demonstrated by Jeffery Lundgren, news of whose execution your sidebar links to? “Prosecutors said Lundgren killed the Avery family both because the cult leader saw the family as disloyal for not pooling their finances into a common church fund.” How did the manager put it about Kurtz’ action? “The method is unsound.”

  11. Great question, John #10. The solution is to reserve a monopoly of legitimate coercion for the state. Private parties have to rely on contracts and civil litigation to enforce their claims of reciprocity.

    The problem with the cult was not that they wanted to take care of the poor but that they followed a leader who confused his desires for the voice of God.

    The solution to that problem is not to confuse faith for knowledge.

  12. MRB #2, the point of the collective action problem is that virtue does not do the trick. The reason is that individuals do not have the capacity to make a difference by themselves. It requires cooperation.

    Unfortunately, there are no incentives to induce cooperation. That leads to the paradox that each one of us does what’s best for him or her but ends up worse.

    In other words, the collective action problem is about market failure.

  13. Hellmut, I agree that we have a special obligation to the mentally ill and others who aren’t fully able to care for themselves.

    MRB, thanks; that comment is exactly in line with the ideas I’m talking about here. We don’t have to wait for institutional solutions to be in place — if we’re willing to do our part while understanding that others might not do theirs. That’s where the Christian motive of valuing others at least as highly as we value ourselves has to come in.

    John F., I agree that dedicating ourselves to the Christian ideal might land us in relative poverty. The New Testament gives us one famous episode in which Christ endorses just that; giving away what we have materially in favor of spiritual things. Furthermore, if we truly love others as much as ourselves, then we might not have to worry about whether others will follow suit; the benefits of our decision to give will be our own, regardless of others’ actions. All of this is hard, and may be beyond human capacity. But I take it to be what Christ asks of us.

    mami, there are no perfect governments, but there are places that are relatively democratic and relatively non-corrupt.

    J. Stapley, I think institutional solutions are in the end needed for poverty. The obstacles to such solutions are various — but they certainly include a lack of commitment on the part of citizens of advanced industrial countries. Our individual commitment to end poverty thus has two good ends: it helps some, as you note, and it expresses a genuine preference for an end to world poverty — thereby perhaps enabling future institutional solutions.

    Kristine, I’ve heard these arguments about welfare recipients and the “undeserving poor,” as well. It’s perhaps important to remind ourselves that the Book of Mormon contains a vigorous and explicit denunciation of this line of reasoning in King Benjamin’s famous speech.

    J. Stapley again, I agree that what the gospel seems to ask of us is extreme. You ask whether the Christian ideal demands sacrificing productivity; perhaps not, but it may demand sacrificing everything else. I find this frightening to contemplate, but, well, we know that a religion that doesn’t require the sacrifice of all things can never exalt us. This is a “be ye therefore perfect.”

    Doritos, you’re right; it’s best to start by doing something ourselves rather than by worrying whether others will act. We can’t control them, we can only control ourselves. If we act, at least something will be done — if not enough, something.

    John, so, don’t kill anybody. Sound advice, I’d say.

    Hellmut, I agree that virtue doesn’t solve collective action problems. But the Christian solution of changing our preferences to value others as much as ourselves does seem to solve the issue. Institutional solutions are also, of course, desireable.

  14. J. Nelson-Seawright, I had read your post, and then the news item immediately after, and was struck by the juxtaposition. I should have kept that to myself, though. It was a sickening affair, and I regret bringing it up under your worthwhile pondering of how to turn our hearts to the poor as we’re called to do.

  15. kristine N says:

    mami–is it really the poverty that spans the generations or the bad decision making? women, especially those who have children young, are more likely to dwell in poverty; their childern are then more likely to continue the trend by having children young and out of wedlock.

    my impression of other countries is that poverty spans generations more because there aren’t any options for people in poverty–getting out requires resources that simply aren’t available. Most of those people, given half a chance, will work their way out of poverty. It’s just that they don’t have a chance and there are all kinds of reasons you can come up with for why opportunities are denied to them, from corruption to the way markets are set up.

  16. I think that a major factor in LDS attitudes toward the poor is race. Linda William in Government and Politics at Maryland (amongst others) has argued that racism is the reason that our social welfare state did not develop like that of Germany, Canada, England, or Australia. This is not to say that racism is not a problem in those place, it is just different in the U.S. Our dislike for the poor is not just because they are “lazy” but because they might black and “lazy.” Symbolic racism is a major element of any discussion of poverty whether it be domestic or global. Reagan’s image of the Cadilac driving welfare mother (mentioned in #6 above)purposefully tapped into sentiment of symbolic racism.

    A Mancur Olson reference in at an LDS blog almost brough tears to my eyes. As always, a brilliant post.

  17. I also see two levels of poverty.

    One is US like poverty. bad decisions, poor parenting leading to poverty. Welfare reform clearly was on positive step in the right direction. But in the US you can rise above poverty as my own family did and many others have due to economic opportunities

    The other is what I saw in Africa. No chance of rising above poverty due to social, ecomomic barriers that are simply not easy to overcome. I was comps with guys who had no chance of going home. going to school going to college etc. A path that the US missionaries took for granted. They would go home back to poverty I went home and bought a car and went to school. Simply not fair no matter how you looked at it. PEF is one way to collectively alleviate this dismal situation

  18. RT,

    I completely agree with the thrust of your post. Of course, that may not be surprising given the meat.

    Some quibbles: “surprisingly affordable and remarkably practical” are not anywhere close to how I would describe ending global poverty. It just ain’t so.

    I think a major benefit of helping the poor is actually not social, but personal. It makes us better people. We lack the faith to believe that, and so we don’t do it. But that is not a social benefit, rather it is a personal one. And I think it is not a small part of why God set up the world in a way that gave us poor people on whom we could try it out.

  19. BBell, I do not believe rising out of poverty in this country is a given. Sure, its not comparable to situations in Africa, but I think many Americans hesitate to help the poor in our own country because they think they can work their way out of it, like you did.

    But, those who have worked their way out of poverty need to honestly look at the opportunities and circumstances they had. A single white male from a poor white neighborhood has an education and cultural community (not to mention your religious one, including a dirt cheap university with excellent financial aid) that many, if not most, poor Americans do not have. Those who drop out of high school to help support their family, have children, suffer from health problems (which could have been avoided had they had insurance to recieve proper treatment), lack of transportation to find more gainful employment…the list goes on and on. They find themselves with unsurmountable odds that lead to them never being able to get out of the welfare cycle.

    I don’t mean to pick on bbell directly, but I hear so many mormons (most especially my own family) who discount the poor in their own communities because they assume they can work their way out of it, like we did, indicating that they are some how choosing to remain in poverty. The reality is much more complicated.

    Excellent post, by the way. I feel very motivated to keep working to help, despite the futility I sometimes feel.

  20. I agree with Veritas–Why is everyone assuming that the poor in America can work their way out? It is simply not always the case.

  21. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    To assume that poverty in America spans generations because of bad decision making is ridiculous. Poverty is not a condition, it’s a culture, with its own language, rules, expectations, mindset. Falling into poverty may be the result of making a bad decision (or several), but generational poverty is more a result of culture than decision.

    “Work hard and save your money” just doesn’t cut it when it comes to generational poverty.

    As a side note to that, falling into poverty can also result from good decisions. 40% of the women who passed through the homeless center where I worked were there because they had fled domestic violence. In a situation like that, all assets and power rest with the abuser while the abused ends up homeless, jobless, skilless, and often with children.

    Bridges Out of Poverty and A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne are the best resources I’ve seen regarding the culture of poverty.

  22. Linda William in Government and Politics at Maryland (amongst others) has argued that racism is the reason that our social welfare state did not develop like that of Germany, Canada, England, or Australia.

    For those of you who know of Linda Williams, I am sorry to inform you that Linda died last week. Her funeral is tomorrow afternnoon in the DC suburbs.

    Linda has been suffering from kidney failure for many years. That never kept her from caring for her students. It’s very sad.

  23. I stand by my post. Sorry, Huge difference between climbing out of poverty in Africa VS the US. The US offers anybody who wants to an opportunity to at least have food on the table, a car, a TV, a phone etc. Our Poor are rich by African standards.

    having a child out of wedlock is a choice, as is crime, as is dropping out of HS.

    Keep you nose clean and making a series of good choices will permit just about anybody to a moderatly middle class lifestyle in the US. If not for you then for your kids. Its why immigrants flock here in such large numbers.

    No comparison. Is PEF being rolled out in Los Angeles or Rose Park SLC?

    I rest my case

  24. Hellmut,

    I found out about her passing immediately after making my comment above. I do not know her, only her work. Yet, I am still sad.


  25. The US offers anybody who wants to an opportunity to at least have food on the table, a car, a TV, a phone etc. Our Poor are rich by African standards.

    Not anybody. I agree that we can’t begin to compare poeverty in Africa with US poverty. But what if you take achild from the Ozarks, for example–who from no fault of his own, never learned to read, was never taught good hygiene, and was raised in poverty? How will he get out of it? He has no skills and can’t get a job…

    Perhaps you simply don’t know enough people. Many of the homeless people are illiterate. This is a societal problem. They can’t climb out of the hole on their own. I have yet to see how you would remedy the problem BBlele. And these people don’t have any social skills.
    What about children who lived in foster care and gorup homes and then are dumped on the street at 18 with no help? Happens all the time.

  26. Like I stated in my post, no, poverty in the US is not the same as Africa. Your right, no comparison. I lived in India and I’ve seen that level of poverty myself.

    But, by making the false assumptions you are, you are brushing aside the great number of poverty stricken in this country that need our help, and NO, cannot do it alone.

    I also wonder, while people do suffer consequeces of their own decisions, does that mean we should not allow them the opportunity for social advancement? If someone dropped out of HS because their family was starving and they felt they needed to work full time to put food on the table, should we forever punish them for that? That doesn’t seem like what our country is about. Also, like mami said, there are countless americans who did not make any choice to be where they are – poor and illiterate, often homeless. It is our duty to recognize them and help them.

    But it goes further than that…it is not as easy as it once was to break the cycle of poverty (not that it was ever easy) and certain recent legislation, as well as housing, education, and healthcare costs (which are out of reach for not just the poor, but also the much of the middle class), as well as the disparity between the minimum wage and the cost of living. Because student aid has been reduced and interests rates on student loans have increased, entry-level wages are often not enough to cover the basic cost of living for college graduates, so often even beating the odds by making it through a bachelors degree will not be enough to break the cycle…instead only adding an average 20k in debt.

    Yes we are much better off than rural Africa, but that sure is setting the standard pretty low for a country we (and much of the world) hold to be a bastian of opportunity. I would hope our government sets the bar a little higher.

  27. I would argue that never before have we seen so much economic prosperity as we have now. Check with Frank at T&C.

  28. So what? Does that make the suffering of the many poor that still are in our midst any less? Does our economic prosperity not make us even more responsible to lift the poor among us?

    And how much of that economic prosperity has affected a very small percentage of Americans, while the number in poverty has actually increased?

    I’m not really interested in macro-economics as much as I am in indivual suffering, and I think that is the whole point of this post.

  29. and it might be added that the gap between rich and poor in America is growing. So more people are slipping into poverty as we get richer as a country. I can not believe that it is all because of poor decision making–and there is little if any evidence of this. (that is not to say that poor individuals do not often make poor decisions that keep them in poverty, or put them there)

    As church members, I think all too often we are more likely to help someone return to fellowship who has committed a grievous sin than we are to have mercy on those who have put themselves into a financial disaster. Both require our ehlp.

  30. Spending their money on my family and education, I am benefitting from the choices and opportunities of my great grandparents.

    In 1918, there was one high school in Maryland that would admit African Americans. That did not change until the 1950s. As we are speaking, children all over the United States are getting lead poisoned. We are living in a country where people were lynched during our life time.

    Less dramatic, what would happen to any of our children if we were killed in a car accident tomorrow? What will it mean to them if sickness bankrupts our family next year? What does it mean to grow up in one of more than ten million American families that do not have enough food.

    Was it my choice that I got to live in West instead of East Germany? Did I pick my parents’ level of education? Was it my choice to speak standard English or Ebonics?

    Responsibility is important but it is only half the equation. There is a reason why Jesus commanded us not to judge, especially not the poor.

  31. If I am wrong in your view then what do you make of the Church Welfare program? I have spent lots of time working in it. It really takes a tough stand on accountability. Which is essentially my view. Help the poor but make them accountable in order to teach them to fish not just feed them. Its the Lords program so I am confident that my views are in line and very mainstream in the LDS world I always like to add.

    I refuse to make excuses for people and believe that on average each individual has in them the ability to provide for themselves and their families. Left wing programs as highlighted by the Great Scoiety programs of the mid 1960’s are generally a failure.

    You gotta do what works. Welfare reform works as does the LDS Welfare system.

  32. BBell
    No one said the church welfare system did not work. But
    But note everyone has the church welfare system. No one condemned welfare reform either. We are simply sauing people need help. Not everyone can just make it. Even wlefare reform would not do much for a man who is illiterate andd grew up in poverty with dysfunctional parents.
    You have to be able to get a job in the first place.

    Of course the average person does have the ability to take care of themselves and make good decisions. But theri are a a lot of non-average people who need extra help.

    If someone had any problem like alcohol, drugs, sex, etc–we would continue to try and help them stomp and change their lives for as long as it takes. Yet it seems that you are saying that financial poor decision making is unforgivable, and we can help a little–but then tehy are on their own. Shouldn’t we be jsut as compassionate towards this kind of “sin” too?

  33. bbell,

    As one who has been on church welfare and been actively involved in Church welfare with my callings: This idea that we make the poor accountable or that we “make them work” is foreign to my experience. The bishop helps people according to their needs and situation. It is the spirit of love, not the punitive spirit, that guides the program. That is why it works.

    As for the ridiculous fish statement (not worth repeating): THE BISHOPS STOREHOUSE IS GIVING THE FOOD AWAY TO POOR PEOPLE WITHOUT GUILT AND IN ABUNDANT QUANTITIES. Maybe they are stupid Great Society types too. Again Mosiah Chapter 4, and not Ronald Reagan, is the guide here.

  34. Mami, you suggested that bbell’s attitude is from not knowing enough people. Could I suggest that perhaps it is you that don’t know enough people?

    Here in S. California I am surrounded by people that started much worse off than your hypothetically poor, uneducated Ozark American. People that grew up in war ravaged countries, spent years in relocation camps before arriving in the US with nothing; people who sneaked across the border with no education and little prospects. Yet many of those people have been able to prosper in the US through scrimping, saving, working and having the courage to go out and start a business. It happens, bbell isn’t making things up.

  35. KLC,

    My experience in So Cal (in particular with Vietnamese immigrants as a missionary) showed me a mixed picture. While many refugees/immigrants are succeeding, the number being left behind and struggling is large and increasing. Maybe the issue is more complex than a blog can fully address.

  36. Chris, I would be the first to agree that the immigrant story is full of those left behind. But I think it is important to acknowledge that there are more than a few success stories, and they achieved their success in spite of tremendous odds.

  37. What I (and I think Mami) were trying to point out is that there are a million circumstances that people are in that make it so they are not able to work and scrimp and save. Maybe its mental illness, injury, or not being able to read. Maybe its just bad luck – cars that break down, illness in the family, damage to property (the poor can rarely afford insurance), being laid off… These people need OUR help in order to live that ‘american dream’ of overcoming their situation.

  38. KLC,
    You are correct–I certainly should not have said something like BBell does not know enough people. It has little, if anything to do with her? understanding of poverty.

    And I think it also has little to do with my own understanding. Of course there are people who make it–but having worked extensively with refugees–those stories are definately, and unforutanely the exception.
    As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in poverty, by which I mean I grew-up on welfare–and everyone in my family has climbed out, including my parents. So I certainly recognize it is possible.

    I think sometimes the mainstream in the church is to consider poverty a huge—for back of a better workd–sin. Somehow the meaning of being righteous and prosper gets conveluded to mean if you are poor, you are bad.

    I am also wondering how people would reconcile not taking care of the poor when they have children. Their children have nos say in the matter. Surely what they really need, besides better off parents, is a hand out.

  39. My attitude on this manner can be aptly summed up by:,11664,5155-1,00.html

    And specifically…

    1. Members have the primary responsibility for their own spiritual, material, and social well-being. President Spencer W. Kimball taught: “No true Latter-day Saint, while physically or emotionally able will voluntarily shift the burden of his own or his family’s well-being to someone else. So long as he can, under the inspiration of the Lord and with his own labors, he will supply himself and his family with the spiritual and temporal necessities of life” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1977, 124; or Ensign, Nov. 1977, 77–78).

    2. When helping members in need, we should not remove the responsibility they have to solve their own problems. Elder Marvin J. Ashton gave this counsel to those who would help others: “One who really understands and practices empathy doesn’t solve another’s problems, doesn’t argue, doesn’t top his story, make accusations, or take away [his] agency. He merely helps the person build his self-reliance and self-image so he can try to find his own solutions” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1981, 128–29; or Ensign, Nov. 1981, 91).

    3. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught: “The [individual] growth required by the gospel plan occurs only in a culture of individual effort and responsibility. It cannot occur in a culture of dependency. Whatever causes us to be dependent on someone else for decisions or resources we could provide for ourselves weakens us spiritually and retards our growth toward what the gospel plan intends us to be” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2003, 42; or Ensign, Nov. 2003, 40).

    I think essentially y’all are mis-characterizing my position as something that it is not.

  40. bbell—thanks. Maybe it is just that as we all must certainly understand, the internet with all its great qualities, can not foster perfect understanding person to person. Maybe we all agree–and aren’t communicationg very well.