Many people remember then Elder Benson stating that "it would be difficult" to be a liberal mormon, but few remember then President Brown stated that a mormon "can be a Democrat or a Socialist and still be a good church member." President Hugh B. Brown was a liberal and served in the 1st Presidency with his nephew N. Eldon Tanner who served in the Alberta legislature in the Social Credit Party which advocated the “alleviation of poverty” through “redistribution of income” and government establishment of “a just price for all goods.”
This section is here to address concerns some might have about the compatibility of mormonism and liberalism. You can click here for a collection of quotes dealing with economic issues (taxes, income inequality, etc.) and here for a variety of extended counterarguments in blog post form.
Or keep on reading for some shorter discussions of common counterarguments:
Government redistribution of wealth removes agency
- Free agency (the moral freedom to choose between right and wrong) is necessary. But that battle's already been fought. We have free agency. No amount of legislation can take that away, right? In other words, you can put me in a straight jacket in prison and I would still have free agency--I could still choose between moral issues of right and wrong. Now, I wouldn't have a lot of freedom, but that's different.
Forced charity isn't charity at all.
- Who is forcing us? In our constitutional system, the government = We the People, doesn't it? So is it really that uncharitable if We the People force We the People to help the poor?
- What makes it "our" substance in the first place? What I mean by that is how can we determine what we earned all by ourselves and what we owe at least one other person thanks for? Every hard worker has teachers, farmers, police officers, researchers, parents, scientists, doctors, construction workers, neighbors, and strangers to thank for every dollar they earn. Not to mention God's role in it all. So to say that it's "our" substance suggests that no one else has any claim on it. It seems to me that the issue is a little more complicated than me giving my hard-earned cash to someone who didn't earn it--acknowledging the benefits we all get from each other in a community might prompt us to "pay it forward" to those who need as much help as we've already gotten.
Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is still stealing.
- If you're going to say that taxation is "stealing," because not all the benefit goes directly to the individual being taxed, then you're saying it is robbery regardless of what it is used for, right? So, taxation is stealing when the money goes toward the military, roads, bridges, schools, libraries, police, fire, etc. If that's really what you're saying, it seems like you're going against the US Constitution, which clearly stipulates that the government is allowed to tax its citizens.
- On the other hand, if you're suggesting that redistributive taxation is stealing, then we've got another problem on our hands: there is no system of taxation that does not redistribute wealth, that doesn't move it from one place to another. That is the very definition of taxation, isn't it? So even if we were all taxed at Herman Cain's flat 9% rate, we'd still be putting our own money in and watching it be redistributed.
Why should we trust the government?
- The alternative is a bunch of flawed, self-interested individuals in a corporate headquarters or in a mansion. Either way, we're left relying on humans. I'd rather rely on humans with an outward public service motive rather than an inwardl profit motive for at least some of our important decisions.
The poor are just lazy
This one comes in many forms. Some of its others use the phrase "personal responsibility," "agency," "self-reliance," etc.
- This article goes into great detail about life as a worker in a warehouse for online retailers. Read this and tell me these people are poor because they don't work hard/smart enough. Explain to me how we can expect these people to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps": http://motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/mac-mcclelland-free-online-shipping-warehouses-labor?page=1
- "It is better to feed ten impostors than to run the risk of turning away one honest petition." Joseph Smith (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 9, ch. 8, p. 226) "Suppose that in this community there are ten beggars who beg from door to door for something to eat, and that nine of them are impostors who beg to escape work....[What is your choice?] To give food to the ten,...or to repulse the ten because you don't know which is the worthy one? You will all say, administer charitable gifts to the ten, rather than turn away the only truly worthy ....person among them. If you do this, it will make no difference in your blessings, whether you administer to worthy or unworthy persons, inasmuch as you give alms with a single eye to assist the truly needy." Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 8:12as quoted in John A. Widtsoe, ed., Discourses of Brigham Young (Salt Lake: Deseret Book Company, 1941), p. 274.
Taxes are bad
14 And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be claden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day.
- This is just saying that as the leader of the government he works to sustain himself. Joseph Smith couldn't even say as much as our church president; he received his living for much of his adult life from the church. Plus this is in the lead-up to teaching that serving your fellow man is serving God, and sets him up to say "Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?"
15 For behold, we are in bondage to the Lamanites, and are taxed with a tax which is grievous to be borne. And now, behold, our brethren will deliver us out of our bondage, or out of the hands of the Lamanites, and we will be their slaves; for it is better that we be slaves to the Nephites than to pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites.
- This is closer to taxation without representation or without receiving any aid from said taxes. Certainly we can agree that being told that you have to stay and pay or die is a bad thing. Again, nothing said at all about the morality of taxes.
3 And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain.
4 And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom.
5 For he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts.
6 Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.
- Look at what the taxes are being used for. This is oppressive because the taxes are being directly used to pay for women, alcohol, palaces, etc. of the royalty.
15 And it came to pass that Riplakish did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many wives and concubines, and did lay that upon men’s shoulders which was grievous to be borne; yea, he did tax them with heavy taxes; and with the taxes he did build many spacious buildings.
- Again, what are the taxes being used for? To help the poor? Nope, he used them to build himself palaces. If we keep reading we learn even more. "And he did erect him an exceedingly beautiful throne; and he did build many prisons, and whoso would not be subject unto taxes he did cast into prison; and whoso was not able to pay taxes he did cast into prison; and he did cause that they should labor continually for their support; and whoso refused to labor he did cause to be put to death. Wherefore he did obtain all his fine work, yea, even his fine gold he did cause to be refined in prison; and all manner of fine workmanship he did cause to be wrought in prison. And it came to pass that he did afflict the people with his whoredoms and abominations." So the common theme here is taxes being used to subsidize the rich at the expense of the poor. In this case it hits close to home with the many prisons being built and filled by the poor.