Why I'm a Mormon and Support President Obama, Part 4/6: Economics
We’re in the home stretch! November 6 will be a relief, I think, to everybody. But before things end I’d like to post three more times, which will hopefully be interesting to any LDS voters who somehow aren’t decided yet. (Share! Share! Share!)
I was working on this post when Joseph went ahead and wrote a lot of what I wanted to say. So I’d like to build on his thoughts and try to explain how my beliefs about the gospel shape my view of economic principles and, accordingly, the best economic policies for governments to pursue. As I mentioned last time, I’m doing so in an attempt to explore a poetics of Mormon political theology separate and apart from any political ideology—although admittedly the general result is that I support progressive economic policies over conservative ones. With economics, I think it’s quite a long road from what the scriptures say to what’s happening in the world right now, but if space allows I’ll try to get into specifics about things like tax rates, government spending, deficits, trickle down theory, etc. My main goal, however, will be to explore what the scriptures say about money, what we do with it, and what it does to us, because our position toward money on an individual level effects how we think it should be handled in the national sphere.
I began this series by discussing how the Lord is above political parties and partisanship. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). I believe this applies to economics as much as to party politics, and that remembering this can help Latter-day Saints who otherwise separate down party lines find common ground.
So, God doesn’t ascribe to any of mankind’s economic theories. Feudalism, capitalism, socialism, Marxism, communism, et al. are all equally irrelevant to the gospel and the Lord’s management of the universe. Knowing that allows us to start from a blank slate, look at what the Lord says, and build from there. As I’ve gone through the scriptures looking at economic teachings, I’ve been surprised and engaged by, first, just how many there are and, second, how deeply and fundamentally they differ from any of mankind’s economic systems, capitalism and socialism included.
I’m not an economist—the closest I can say is that I met my wife in an economics class at BYU—and I can’t really give a full treatise here, just a few thoughts. But let’s look, for instance, at the most fundamental principle of all economic principles: scarcity of resources. As far as I know this is the only thing every economist agrees on: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Jean-Baptiste Say, Nassau William Senior, David Ricardo, John Maynard Keynes, Alfred Marshall, John Locke, Milton Friedman, and on up to contemporaries like Paul Krugman and last week’s Nobel laureates Alvin E. Roth and Lloyd S. Shapley—I’m not aware of a single one of them who would argue against scarcity as the driving force behind all economic decisions; since there are limited resources we must make decisions regarding the most efficient allocation of those resources.
But it’s a proposition the scriptures seem to refute, both in direct teaching and by example. I cited one of the most prominent examples, from an 1834 revelation, in my last post: “For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves” (D&C 104:17). The preceding sixteen verses make very clear the Lord is talking about economic resources—both natural resources (as implied by v. 14) and financial ones as well. But what does he mean when he says “there is enough and to spare”? Scarcity is so ubiquitously recognized that it’s incredibly hard, even for me as I’m writing this, to take this statement unabashedly at face value, assuming the Lord really meant what he said. But a little reflection eases the doubts: the Lord is omnipotent and is able to supply as many resources of any type as needed at any moment’s notice. Verses 14 and 15 help in this regard: “I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine. And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.” If he could build the earth, he can take care of us too.
In fact, if the Lord wanted to provide cash he could do it, as he admirably demonstrated in instructing Peter how to pay tribute with a coin taken from a fish (Matt. 17:24-27). If he wanted to provide fine wine when only water was present, he could do that (John 2:6-11). If he desired to feed fish and bread to a few people (John 21:9) or a multitude (Matt. 14:15-21; Mark 8:1-9) he could do that, even when no food was brought at all (3 Ne. 20:3-7). He empowered Elijah to bless a widow’s meal and oil to last during at least three years of famine (1 Kings 17:8-16) and Elisha to multiply another widow’s oil enough to pay off her creditors (2 Kings 4:1-7); Elisha also fed a multitude on a bit of bread and corn (2 Kings 4:42-44). The Lord gave children to the barren Sarah (Gen. 21:1-3), Hannah (1 Sam. 1:20), and Elisabeth (Luke 1:13, 36)—as well as to Mary, “for with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). He gave the brother of Jared light out of cold rocks (Eth. 6:3) and Moses power to call water from a dry stone (Num. 20:7-11)—and, perhaps most tellingly, he fed the multitude of Israel, possibly as many as two million people, on manna every single day for forty years—over 14,600 days (Exo. 16). It was a free gift from heaven and all they had to do was obey. Even the devil knew Christ’s ability to create resources like bread out of nothing and attempted to use it to defeat him in the desert (Matt. 4:3-4). No limitation of resources—natural or otherwise—is a limitation to the Lord. As the Psalmist says: “…He had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven. And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven. Man did eat angels’ food: he sent them meat to the full . . . He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea . . . So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire” (Psa. 78:23-29).
If the world thinks things are scarce, the Lord makes them abundant. And because he has this capacity for unlimited giving—“there shall not be room enough to receive it,” he told Malachi (Mal. 3:10)—it removes us from the restraint that limited resources traditionally impose. It’s not a license to be wanton, as the rest of Doctrine and Covenants 104 and other sections about stewardship make clear, but it does remove that onus of taking needed resources away from one person in order to give to another. There can be enough for everyone without breaking the bank because the Lord doesn’t play zero-sum games: he is willing to give liberally to everyone. As I noted last time, at present not everyone has equal blessings--where we hit problems is with people hoarding the manna, as we'll get to--but that’s our responsibility to rectify (see the severity of D&C 104:18, for instance).
As Hugh Nibley points out in Approaching Zion, if we realize that the Lord is willing to give so liberally to everybody on earth regardless of what they do to deserve it, then we’ll also realize that everything in this world is a free gift; as he says, the truism that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” is one of Satan’s greatest lies: it’s all a free lunch, in fact, because the Lord has given it to us without condition. Work we must, but lunch is free. After his warning in the Sermon on the Mount about not being a slave to cold hard cash (Matt. 6:24), Jesus continued:
“…Your heavenly Father will provide for you whatsoever things ye need for food, what ye shall eat; and for raiment, what ye shall wear or put on. Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he not provide for you, if ye are not of little faith. Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matt. 6:25-34, JST)
Jesus here is saying that money and even financial planning, to an extent, are unnecessary—because we are not in control of that. We cannot think and make ourselves light haired or dark haired, young or old, rich or poor. Only the Lord can. We go to work, we get a paycheck, and that money didn’t come from our boss, but from our heavenly Father. The recent Republican rallying cry of “We built that” just doesn’t sit right with me when seen in this context. Not only do the government and society create an infrastructure and otherwise help support all entrepreneurs and businessmen, but the Lord himself—not some non-sentient invisible hand—is sustaining all our commercial efforts day by day. It's like Orson Whitney's response to "Invictus": we're not entirely the captains of our own souls.
So if 1) the Lord has access to unlimited resources, and 2) he knows our needs and will give us what we need, then it stands to reason that he can also take away those resources (blessings) at his discretion (Job 1:21). Your wealth certainly avails you nothing in the spirit world or resurrection; at least two parables directly contradict this: In Luke 12:13-21, when an evidently faithful man asked Jesus to help him get some money he thought rightfully belonged to him, Jesus responded by telling about a rich man who built himself a bank too big to fail (v. 19) but who, unsurprisingly, saw it fail immediately. (This is followed, by the way, by a repetition of those monetary teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, spoken to all “his disciples” [v. 22], which contradicts those who would use the 3 Nephi version to imply that Jesus was only speaking to apostles or those in the full-time ministry when discussing financial matters, as though the Sermon on the Mount itself didn’t have universal applicability.) A few chapters later, in Luke 16:13-31, the covetous Pharisees took issue with Jesus saying they couldn’t serve God and their bank accounts simultaneously (v. 13), so he responded with the parable of the rich man, who helped himself, and the beggar Lazarus, which means “helped of God.”
All of this is really getting at what Joseph wrote the other day and, I think, the amazing shift in national discourse where the wealthy are now portraying themselves as misunderstood victims. It’s no longer appropriate to call the rich rich; “job creators” has a much more socially beneficial ring to it, just like the business-minded Republican lobbyist Frank Luntz invented the term “climate change” to replace the more troubling “global warming.” It’s simply a scriptural fact that many people genuinely do want to serve God and mammon—they see wealth as a sign of divine approval—but Jesus really is asking us to pick sides. Take the rich man who wanted to become a disciple (Matt. 19:16-26): even when he had done everything else, he still couldn’t enter heaven without giving all his possessions to the poor. There’s no other way to do it; it’s like fitting a camel through a needle. Nibley points out that there was no postern gate to the city known as the “eye of the needle”; the disciples’ astonishment shows they’d never heard of such a thing. This was a fiction invented centuries later by men who also wanted to have it both ways. They also sometimes use that last verse, verse 26, which says that with God all things are possible, to point out that the Lord has the power to get a camel through a needle’s eye. True, but note how Joseph Smith corrected that verse so that it now says that if men “will forsake all things for my sake, with God whatsoever things I speak are possible.” You gotta forsake the cash.
Whenever I get into conversations about money and the scriptures with conservative friends or family members, it seems they always raise Jacob 2:19, which says, “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.” They then follow this with an argument like, “See, my father (or uncle, friend, etc.) has just bought a bigger house, or has a comfortable retirement portfolio, or just took the kids on a tour of Europe, but he pays a large monthly fast offering and gives to quite a few charities, beyond the ten percent he pays in tithing. So he feels like the Lord has given him this money and he’s using it to do good.”
My first response, which is sincere, is that that is wonderful. I am very pleased that this person has chosen to give freely of much of his financial blessings to in turn bless others—that is the first stage in the personal level of redistributing wealth to those who need it most. Furthermore, it’s not a sin, I don’t believe, to desire to care for your family’s wants. Indeed, it’s actually a commandment, and a pretty hefty one at that, to do so (1 Tim. 5:8). The law of consecration and United Orders as practiced early in this dispensation allowed for people’s wants, not just their basest needs, to be covered (D&C 42:33; 51:3; 70:7; 72:11; 82:17; and 84:112). (The problem, Brigham Young said, was when they wanted more than they should have wanted.)
So trying to earn a living for yourself and your family is agreeable to the Lord. But I think it’s a misreading of Jacob 2:19 to say that we are therefore justified in seeking after riches to expand our comfort above what is proper, especially when surrounded by others who have much greater need for it. There are diminishing returns as bank accounts get larger, and all of that increase, 100% of it, belongs to the Lord anyway—if it goes to someone else because they need it more that’s not really any violation of the giver’s property or agency. Just compare verse 19 with the seven that precede it, Jacob’s firm condemnation of the accumulation of wealth and its inevitably resulting inequality, pride, and persecution of the poor by the rich once they are economically enabled to do so. Here’s verse 17: “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.” And, continuing past 19, verse 21: “Do ye not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other….” Equality is the goal; anything less is an “iniquity and abomination” (v. 16).
My fear is that verses like Jacob 2:19 and 1 Tim. 5:8 are too frequently used as palliatives by Saints trying to justify their search for wealth. And I include myself in that category: my wife and I both work and scramble hard to earn enough to get by, to pay our New York City rent and our student loans. We always strive to improve our family’s comfort; we dream about vacations to Cape Cod or the gymnastics classes our eight-year-old keeps begging for—things that never seem to be in the budget. So any scriptural pronouncement that seems to say, ‘Hey, it’s okay to want to improve your financial position,’ can be really comforting and take unwitting precedence over the verses that surround it that say, ‘But really you’re supposed to share it with everyone else.’ That’s why President Benson, the most conservative of Church leaders, said that this pride is the great stumbling block to Zion. And while we must remember he warns against the pride of the poor aspiring upwards, the rich are equally or more frequently guilty of despising (1 Ne. 9:30 – Jacob again) and even “grind[ing] the faces of the poor” (1 Ne. 13:15) precisely because their financial power affords them the institutional means and societal approval to do so without repercussion (Hel. 7:5).
More than once someone has said to me it’s not money but the love of money that’s the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10), and that’s patently true. But what's the difference? Nibley, on page 237 of Approaching Zion, tells us that Paul’s actual Greek word there is philargyria, cash-loving, the desire for wealth. I’m just pointing out that the Greeks, at least, had a single word for this moneylust precisely because it’s so hard to divorce its two components, the money from the lust. I just think it’s incredibly hard to be blessed with the spoils of Egypt and not turn around and mold it into a golden calf.
Okay, that’s the ideal. But here we sit in this fallen world where Satan is ruling with cash, armies, blood, and horror. So what do we do with what the Lord has given us? In talking about foreign policy last time I introduced a little Hegelian dialectic that, as I said, guides a lot of my beliefs here as elsewhere.
1) We are all children of God, equally valued and equally valuable. His desire is to bless everyone on the earth equally.
2) People around the earth are not physically and temporally blessed equally; there is great inequality.
3) Therefore, it is incumbent on those of us who have been blessed abundantly to use the resources God has given us to bless others.
Thus far I’ve essentially been attempting to prove the first point. Point two is empirically self-evident, and it’s kind of the challenge the Lord is presenting us (or the results of Satan’s management of the accounting ledger). So now we’re at point three. And this assertion, that we’re required to help others by giving them what God has given us, is probably more contentious and controversial in economics than anywhere else because it takes us right to the topic of redistribution of wealth, which I’ve already touched on. The r-word. There’s no viler insult that can be hurled at a Democratic politician than saying that he or she wants to redistribute wealth. It’s socialism! That’s what communists do! It’s patently un-American! Even most Democrats would disavow financial redistribution. President Obama certainly has time and again, probably because Republicans keep hitting him with it. So I now want to ask not whether President Obama, or any government agency or program, currently is redistributing America’s wealth, but whether they should be.
The government’s role is the point of disagreement, I think, between conservative and liberal Mormons. I think we can all agree that we should throw out Korihor’s (and Ayn Rand’s) assertion that “every man fare[s] in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength” (Alma 30: 17). That kind of unmitigated free market is completely amoral, and to me that kind of amorality—that begets avoidable human suffering—is immoral. So we agree that whenever economic inequality exists it should be eliminated. What I believe is that if this can be done by the Church under inspired priesthood leadership, that is the best way; but if not that doesn’t mean that it is moral or ethical or even permissible to allow wealth and its attendant blessings like health, food, shelter, and education to accrue for one group or individual more than for any other, and we should use every means necessary—especially government—to achieve that end. For me this is a fundamental principle of the gospel and it’s so emphasized, so central to my conception of Mormonism that I cannot conceive of my faith without it; it’s no more peripheral than the atonement or resurrection.
I know I’m probably overdoing it and my posts are likely too long for anyone to read, but this is very important to me so I’d like to present just a few more scriptures that, to me, support this view of the centrality of the Lord’s economic system of wealth redistribution. The frequency and intensity of scriptures like these are what makes me see moving wealth from the rich to the poor as not just a feature of the United Order, but a litmus test of our humanity in any condition. Here’s a quick sample of a very large population of scriptures:
* Mosiah 18:27: “And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.”
* D&C 104:16: “…Behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.”
* D&C 78:5-6: “That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things…”
* D&C 70:14: “Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.”
* D&C 51:3: “Wherefore, let my servant Edward Partridge, and those whom he has chosen, in whom I am well pleased, appoint unto this people their portions every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs.”
* D&C 51:9: “And let every man deal honestly, and be alike among this people, and receive alike, that ye may be one, even as I have commanded you.”
* D&C 82:17: “And you are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just.”
And so on. Economic inequality and man’s love of money are, in fact, evidently the greatest sin on the earth today: “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin” (D&C 49:20). That wherefore holds a world of meaning.
I’m attempting to prove, just in case it needs proving, that the Lord wants us to bless the poor, to mitigate suffering, and to be equal in worldly things according to what we need and justly want. Now I’d like to add to that and assert that the Lord wants us to do that through any means possible, and that government intervention in the free market can be an incredibly powerful tool given to us by the Lord to do so. Listen to Doctrine and Covenants 134:1: “We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.” Those are my italics, of course, but I’m emphasizing those phrases because for me that means anything but a limited government in a Jacksonian or a libertarian or a Tea Party sense. God instituted our government and expects us to use it for the benefit of all men, which the free market just doesn’t always do on its own. That’s not just a license, but a directive to employ an activist government that seeks out society’s ills and tries to remedy them. Government is not an autonomous sentient entity any more than the free market is sentient or a corporation is a person: it’s just an organization we the people have put together, with rules to make it run fairly and efficiently, that we can use to help members of our society who haven’t had the same advantages as the rest of us (or to accomplish any other goal, for that matter). It’s a tool from the Lord we can use to help accomplish his designs, including the “temporal” blessing of all his children.
Zion has an internal and an external component. On the one hand, it’s the pure in heart (D&C 97:21), a description echoed in describing Enoch’s city: “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness,” but now listen how the sentence turns to include the external component, “and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). We are seeking for the internal component of Zion, the purity in heart, in our missionary work, our service, our teaching, our counseling, raising our families, and even—hopefully—in our discussing religious issues in online forums like this. But that doesn’t preclude us from seeking the temporal equality—that complete eradication of poverty—that is the external measure of Zion. Hence within the Church we pay our fast and other offerings, we tithe, we serve, and we provide humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and other measures to our neighbors of any faith—thus attempting to be inclusionary of everybody, as much like the Good Samaritan as possible. Why then, if we will send trucks of aid to victims of poverty regardless of their religion, do we sometimes complain bitterly when the government uses some of our money to aid the very same people?
It comes down to agency. I quoted Mosiah 18:27, about a progressive fast offering program, above. This is the next verse: “And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.” Alma was setting up a civil government here, but it was a theocracy or perhaps what Joseph Smith fleetingly called a theodemocracy, based on religious principles and a willing populace. So Alma’s goal, like Enoch’s, was that his citizens would be pure in heart. I don’t know when we gave up on that being a goal for American society, but many in the Church seem to think that that kind of giving program should not be carried out at the national level, generally through taxes and spending, because each and every citizen has not approved of the ways the government is going to spend the money it taxes. They claim—and I’m not trying to be vindictive or sarcastic in describing this—that a government taking your money and using it on programs you don’t approve of is somehow a violation of your agency.
Here’s an example, a review of Approaching Zion by Duance Boyce for the Maxwell Institute. In sum, Boyce claims that Nibley has a reductionist view of the law of consecration and that it is the will of the people in how their money is given and distributed that is paramount to forming Zion; the relief of the poor and the suffering is secondary to the protection of the agency of the givers. (I realize I’m being reductionist too; please read it if you want his full argument—but please read Approaching Zion in its entirety as well.)
Here’s another one, a blogger commenting on a now removed YouTube video of President Benson talking about how “‘redistribution of wealth’ is socialism,” with the connotation, in case we missed it, that socialism is bad and capitalism good. Again, I’m not trying to sound snarky: under capitalism individuals are supposed to have control over their private property, and under the worst abuses of communism—not so much socialism, I’d say—that right is taken away. (The United Order, by the way, retains private property even while redistributing it; check out Jim Lucas and Warner Woodworth’s Working Toward Zion for a great comparison of all these systems.) But listen to what this blogger says, in his own boldfaced type: “Today’s socialists—who call themselves egalitarians—are using the federal government to redistribute wealth in our society [he’s been talking about all federal taxes], not as a matter of voluntary charity, but as a so-called matter of right.” (Read the comments too, where someone says, “The kind of socialism we are talking about is forced charity in an attempt to equalize economic differences in a population. Taking wealth from one individual and giving it to another is a violation of liberty. The government should not have the right to take money from one person in order to give it to another.”)
So the emphasis is on the voluntary nature of the giving, not on the benefit the gift will give to the recipient. Given the importance of agency in our mortal experience and its potential vulnerability in the war in premortality, it makes sense that it receives so much attention in LDS thought; that President Benson and others spoke so much about it during the Cold War, followed by the general cessation of political statements by Church leaders (meaning that Elders Benson, McConkie, etc. essentially had the last doctrinal word vis-à-vis political philosophy) shows why it remains such an important topic for many Latter-day Saints today.
But in 1999, when I was a student at BYU, I heard Dallin H. Oaks give a great talk about agency and abortion in which he said this:
“Few concepts have more potential to mislead us than the idea that choice or agency is an ultimate goal. For Latter-day Saints, this potential confusion is partly a product of the fact that moral agency—the right to choose—is a fundamental condition of mortal life. Without this precious gift of God, the purpose of mortal life could not be realized. To secure our agency in mortality we fought a mighty contest the book of Revelation calls a ‘war in heave.’ This premortal contest ended with the devil and his angels being cast out of heaven and being denied the opportunity of having a body in mortal life.
“But our war to secure agency was won. The test in this postwar mortal estate is not to secure choice but to use it—to choose good instead of evil so that we can achieve our eternal goals. In mortality, choice is a method, not a goal.”
In terms of economics and charity, this shows something important to me. Yes, agency is important, but no one is violating your agency by using some of your money allegedly without your consent. First, I include “allegedly” because it is with your consent, at least if you consent to the contractual relationship the Constitution and Declaration of Independence set up with the American people. Without looking at individual clauses, which is where we start to bicker, the overall contract is that we agree to live here in this country and uphold its laws as long as they remain in force, and in return we receive the protection and the benefit of an organized society as administered through the government. We receive the benefits of the society/infrastructure/economy that this type of government can help create, but we do so by agreeing to remain part of that society.
The whole thing is a choice, subject to agency, and we can, if we so choose, use our agency to rebel or emigrate if we no longer approve of the contract. But my point is that income tax and a great many government programs are now part of the contract, and we receive the overall benefit of all the government’s activities, even if we don’t agree with all of them. And how could we ever agree with all of them? Who among the founding fathers or ancient Greeks would ever expect a democracy to please all the people all the time? That’s not the point; the point is that we receive great blessings for living in this country with its protections and infrastructure and political process, even if we don’t think subsidies should go to Planned Parenthood or Solydra—or Blackwater or General Electric.
Besides, even beyond the fact that we are all choosing to be part of this society, money has never equaled agency. The Supreme Court recently ruled that money is speech, which is nonsense. If money were speech we could buy groceries by reciting poetry in the checkout line. And we can’t. Money can purchase time on television in which speech may be disseminated to mass audiences, but if you take away my money you don’t take away my ability to speak. And if you take away my money—through legitimate taxation or outright theft—you haven’t taken my agency. Money is just a thing, and the Lord, as we’ve seen, is urging us to get rid of it all the time. Look at Elie Wiesel: he’s written that no matter how bad things got in the Jewish concentration camps, no matter how many possessions or family members or how much human dignity the Nazis stole from him, they could not take away his spirit, his ability to choose who he was and how he would lead his life. As Elder Oaks said, the battle for agency was won, and even in the most depraved of conditions, even when all our physical freedoms have been stripped away, we still maintain that agency to choose who we are, what we believe, what we stand for, and who we will follow through mortality. And that, not 20% of our income, is what Satan was vying so strongly to destroy.
So I simply cannot believe that my money going to government programs I disagree with is a violation of my agency (and I wish I didn't have to agree with Eric R.'s earlier assessment that so many conservatives are only interested in agency when it concerns their pocketbook, not their fellow citizens' ability to live free from pollution or free to make their own medical decisions). “Forced consecration” may not be true consecration in the Zionistic sense, but it not only doesn’t harm any of us one single bit, it can actually help us get a little bit of the spirit of the giver in us. It is not now and never has been a violation of liberty; you’re nowhere near that until the government takes away your vote or habeas corpus rights. And we’re nowhere near a 1984 or a Soviet or a Cultural Revolution society; the federal government has never considered anything remotely similar to taking away all our possessions and spreading them out even-Steven, or re-educating us, or setting up death panels, or anything like that. It’s not on the table, so why make such a bugbear out of it? It's just progressive taxation that we're talking about, often just the closing of loopholes or end of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest and most able to give. President Eisenhower maintained the marginal tax rates for the highest earners above 92% (compared to the less than 14% capital gains tax Governor Romney paid in 2010) and even Alma the Elder knew those who had been blessed more should give more—and that there should be a base, maybe up to 47%, that shouldn’t be required to give at all.
So not only is it not a violation of agency to be compelled to give cash toward the maintenance of a stable society or the leveling of the playing field for the disadvantaged, but I’d like to point out that sometimes—often—the potential good that can be achieved through “forced” redistribution of wealth far outweighs the damage it does to the givers—remember those diminishing returns. The Lord sometimes compels us to do things we don’t want to do—and it turns out much better for us for having done it. That’s why Alma says, “because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed” (Alma 32:14), for instance, and even the grumbling Israelites were better off under Moses than back in Egypt, as he repeatedly had to remind them. Laman and Lemuel were compelled to leave Jerusalem, and they lived long and healthy lives because of it. What of the government? No one is complaining that it compels us not to kill each other, or dump nuclear waste in the reservoirs, or even drive on the wrong side of the road (that one’s from an old seminary video explaining the necessity of laws for agency to even exist, by the way). So it stands to reason that the government can require things for the greater good. That means it can tax and it can spend, and we are all better off because of that, regardless of the Solyndras or other programs (Iraq, for instance), that go awry. And if we always wait for the market or generous individuals to step in, a lot of needs will go unmet--more than now--with very real consequences for real people. I know Obama's extension of unemployment benefits kept a roof over our heads a couple years ago, and I wouldn't have been able to receive that much assistance from family or Church.
So that’s a very long way to answer whether governments should have the ability to redistribute wealth. Yes they can and yes they should. We live in a country where that’s already the rule. We have the opportunity, through government spending and programs like Medicaid and Medicare to combine our resources and give a gift that otherwise might never materialize because it doesn’t have a direct commercial value. We are already the givers, so it’s barking up the wrong tree to remain evil or grudging givers; “wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God” (Moro. 7:8).
I haven’t spoken much about the free market alternative, so I’ll just add that no one’s trying to get rid of that either. Joseph Smith kept it, Brigham Young kept, Franklin Roosevelt kept it, and President Obama really wants to keep it. Neither it nor private charity are disappearing. The invisible hand just needs some guidance every once in a while because power and wealth tend to aggregate around where they already are; it’s okay for a government to break up feedback loops like that, as a trust-busting Republican like Theodore Roosevelt proved. (Would that the banks that are too big to fail today would receive the same treatment as the railroads that were too big to fail during his administration.)
So that’s my religious philosophy on economic principles, or at least the most important points. Where does that put us in this election? Although none of the Church’s warnings against unnecessary debt are meant to apply to businesses or governments (where liabilities have to balance some of the assets), we are in a long-term situation where too much deficit spending can lead to a fiscal situation that’s untenable. Democrats aren’t denying this any more than Republicans, and President Obama’s helped get our total debt to a six-year low, even in a recession, besides strategically shrinking government employment and spending. Of course, we’re still in a recession so worrying about long-term debt is not the right concern; deficit spending is on order and in this case Obama and Congress haven’t done nearly enough, although stimulus spending has helped and intervention in the auto and energy industries has been in cases remarkably successful. Governor Romney is proposing less stimulus—just like he proposed a managed bankruptcy for Detroit before taking credit for how President Obama ignored his advice and saved it—an austerity program akin to the UK, Germany, and other EU countries, which could be compared to LDS teachings about living within our means, teachings which are intended for families and individuals only, not governments. As Nicholas Kristof pointed out in the New York Times earlier this week, since Europe represents exactly the kind of program Republicans including Romney and Ryan have been advocating for, we can look at what kind of results Europe--and New Jersey--have had to judge how the Republican plan will work out here. (Spoiler: not nearly as good as America under President Obama; we're the only ones growing instead of stagnating.) Romney has proposed nothing to really differentiate himself from Bush or Reagan or any of the deregulatory tactics of his predecessors that created the recession, and he’s been famously vague, even in the debates, about how he’s going to make all of his proposals add up. President Obama should be clearer about some of his economic policies in a second term, but we’ve already seen his policies do wonders over the past four years. We’re not out of the hole yet, but we never fell as far in as we could have had an austerity program been put in place instead of stimulus.
I think that how we handle money and other natural resources are central to the gospel and that we can find a lot of common ground between conservative and liberal Latter-day Saints when discussing it. Right now on the ground, I think that a progressive Keynesian approach to handling our current economic crisis, with an eye toward long-term sustainability through reform (not elimination) of programs like Social Security, is the right way to go, because I'm most concerned about what the government as the agent of the people can do to benefit the most vulnerable--and I see that not as the government violating our rights but as part of our God-given stewardship over the government, for which we'll one day be answerable to him. Thus on economic issues more than anything else, my beliefs as a Mormon make me support the Democratic party and President Obama.
Does Romney Believe Laziness Causing High Unemployment?
Remarks that Mitt Romney made to wealthy donors back in May 2012, have put Romney in an awkward position. Romney denigrated nearly half of the population of the U.S. and erroneously claimed that Obama supporters were all dependent on government assistance. After receiving a question about how Romney would be able to win the election, Romney remarked:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax… My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.Read more
That "47%" includes lots of Mormons
Post by Rob T.
One of my lengthiest discussions about Mormonism happened with a high school friend who had just finished his first year at a top-25 dental school.
It started with his question: "Why do so many of you become dentists? Half of my class is Mormon: they're all from Utah, they're all married, and they all have two or three kids."
While I never answered that particular question, I've had many Mormon friends go to dental school. My wife completed professional school, I'm almost done with a doctoral program. We Mormons are told to get married, have children, and get all the education we can. This leads to a simple fact: despite the fact that we've settled down, we're raising the next generation, and we're working very hard to secure a stable future, we fall into Governor Romney's 47% who pay no income tax, who can't be convinced to "take personal responsibility and care for [our] lives."
There are two broad reasons we pay no income tax (though, of course, we still pay sales, gas, and payroll taxes). First, as Ezra Klein lays out, Republican tax cuts have reduced the income tax liability for poor and middle-income Americans, even as that reduced liability is now being used as a reason to cut services to pay for new tax cuts for our wealthier fellow citizens. Second, as FactCheck.org explains, over the last few decades, presidents from both parties have supported and expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. This is because they've believed that it was good to encourage people to work and to have children. There's that personal responsibility again.
We don't consider ourselves victims for choosing to marry young, go to graduate school, and have a daughter. We've had incredible opportunities, and done our best to only use as much of the social safety net as we needed, and not begrudging others who used more. (If anyone out there doubts the general eligibility of young Mormon student families for government benefits, check out this thread from Mormon Mentality in 2007. It's one of the most epic discussions that has ever graced the Bloggernacle.) We do our best to take responsibility for our lives, both in the here and now and in planning for the future.
Four years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to hear Michelle Obama speak at a rally in North Carolina. She talked about how she and Barack only managed to finish paying off their student loans in 2004, as sales of Dreams From My Father started to take off. The President's also talked about this. Sitting in those bleachers back in May of 2008, listening to the future First Lady as we faced graduate school and having kids, we said to one another, "She and Barack get it. They know what we're going through. They're going to pursue policies that help young families who are just starting out." And so they have.
We Mormons are taught to take responsibility, to make choices that can lead to getting an education, to marriage, to children. Many of us are part of the 47%, and many of us are voting for President Obama, because we know he's got our backs.
Post by Eric R -
In recent weeks I have been part of several discussions with conservative Mormons about how the proper role of government should intersect with Christ’s commandment to take care of one another. A common point that keeps coming up is “free agency”. More precisely, my friends object to the federal government requiring citizens to contribute to social programs, as they feel that it is a violation of their free agency to choose how they will (or will not) contribute to the temporal wellbeing of their brothers and sisters in need. Yes, we need to help take care of the sick and afflicted, they agree, but the government shouldn’t force us to do it, rather it should be a matter of individual initiative and obligation.
What I found most frustrating was the fact that I knew these people support the government restricting our individual agency in hundreds of other ways each and every day, because they recognize that it is for the public good, and often in support of a larger moral imperative. Speed limits, bans on indoor smoking, age limits for alcohol consumption, mandatory education for minors, and the list goes on and on (much to Ron Paul’s dismay, I’m sure). Most Republicans support these types of common-sense regulations that all have one thing in common: they restrict individuals’ free agency in the name of the common greater good.
And then there are more controversial restrictions of individual free agency that many conservative Mormons support: a ban on same-sex marriage; public decency laws limiting the display of pornography; keeping personal drug use illegal; and changing current law to make abortion illegal even in the case of “legitimate” rape. ‘Yes, these are restrictions to free agency,’ conservatives would agree, ‘but they are necessary on moral grounds!’
I understand the ‘moral imperative’ argument, and unlike many other liberals, I do believe that it is appropriate to acknowledge the role of personal morals when discussing public policy. What I cannot understand, however, is why so many conservative Mormons fail to see poverty, hunger and homelessness as being worthy of morally-anchored government action. For some reason many conservatives believe that it is appropriate to arrest an individual for using drugs in their own home (requiring tax payers to pay for their incarceration), but it is not appropriate to require citizens to contribute to poverty alleviation programs that address hunger and homelessness.
This selective defense of free agency by conservative Mormons is particularly baffling given what I know of our common faith. The scriptures commanding us to take care of one another are too numerous to mention. So why is taking care of each other less worthy of a government mandate than, say, not allowing two men to get married? Both are issues with a moral component, both are relevant to our larger society, both include an element of the government deciding what individuals may or may not do. It seems like many conservatives are only concerned about the government limiting our freedom to choose when it has to do with their wallets.
Do the freedoms that Republicans hold so dear include the freedom to pursue an education if you were brought to this country by your parents illegally as a child? Not so much. The freedom to have safe drinking water if you live in coal mining or natural gas country? Well, maybe not that. The freedom to worship in a mosque without being spied on by law enforcement, when no illegal behavior was ever detected, or even alleged? Now that is going too far!
The hypocrisy and selective nature of the freedoms and rights that Conservatives choose to idealize is mystifying. But alas, none of this is new, as the GOP has been at it for decades. It is just disheartening to see Romney and other conservative Mormons, with whom I share a common gospel centered on loving your neighbor, buying into it so wholeheartedly.
Myth Romney and the Real Truth about Obamacare
Myth 1: Obamacare is being partially funded by a $700 billion cut to Medicare. (FALSE)
Reality: Funding for Medicare will actually increase over the next 10 years. However, the rate of increase will drop, partially due to more aggressive prosecution of fraud and a reduction in overpayments to insurance companies.
Myth 2: Obamacare will introduce "death panels" that will severely ration care and will force elderly patients to commit suicide or submit to euthanasia. (FALSE)
Reality: There have been several versions of this claim; the most recent is that the Independent Payment Advisory Board will ration care and will make end-of-life decisions for patients. In truth, the IPAB is basically powerless. Ironically, death panels existed before health care reform -- they were run by your insurance company. Insurers have regularly denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, canceled policies on sick patients, refused to pay for vital, life-saving operations, and otherwise made financially-based decisions about who would get to live and who would be left to die. According to one congressional report, three insurance companies -- UnitedHealth (UNH), WellPoint (WLP) and Assurant (AIZ) -- saved $300 million by canceling policies on over 20,000 sick people over a five-year period.
Myth 3: Obamacare will force the middle class to pay for health care for poor people and illegal immigrants. (FALSE)
Reality: Many health care reform critics have argued that America already has a universal health care option: emergency rooms. After all, the argument goes, when people without insurance find themselves in desperate need of medical attention, they can always find help in ERs, which are required by law to open their doors to anyone in need of care. Consequently, critics claim, poor people can get health care without passing the charges on to the middle class. But this health care isn't free -- in fact, standard treatment through a primary care physician is far cheaper than crisis care in an ER. Many hospitals aggressively bill emergency patients -- and their insurers -- to recoup the inflated costs of such care. Even so, they come up short. So who covers the shortfalls? Well, a significant source of hospital funding is taxes. For the rest, hospitals make up their ER losses by inflating the prices that insured customers pay -- and according to the Center for American Progress, this amounts to a $1,100 yearly "hidden tax" on health insurance. Put simply, emergency room care is already funded by taxpayers and the insured middle class. Granted, Obamacare will extend Medicaid to lower income families, and will subsidize health insurance for people who make up to 400% of the poverty line. On the other hand, it will also require people who can pay for health insurance do so, and will more aggressively prosecute Medicare fraud. More to the point, it will levy a 0.9% tax on households making more than $200,000 per year, and will increase taxes on medical machinery manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and insurers. Thus in all likelihood, it will actually reduce the burden on middle class families.
Myth 4: Obamacare is a socialist program. (FALSE)
Reality: Socialism is a system under which the government directly runs a nation's industries. Under this standard, New Deal programs like the Works Progress Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority could, arguably, be considered socialist. After all, they represented instances in which the government directly employed people to build and administer power plants and other public works that generated income. Obamacare, on the other hand, will work through private companies. Rather than directly providing health insurance, either through a national program or through some sort of public option, the government will require that people deal with private insurers. Far from competing with private industry, the health care law will likely give it a lot of new customers.
Myth 5: Obamacare will bankrupt small businesses by making them pay for their employees' health insurance. (FALSE)
Reality: The basis of this claim is a requirement that companies with more than 50 "full-time equivalent" employees must offer affordable health insurance to their workers. The insurance in question must not cost more than 9.5% of the employee's annual salary and must pay for at least 60% of covered health care costs. A big part of the disagreement over the impact of this requirement lies in how you define a "small business." According to the government, the cutoff line between a small and a large business is 50 "full-time equivalent" employees. In other words, if a company's weekly work load totals more than 1500 hours -- the equivalent of 50 employees working for 30 hours per week -- then it is, officially, a large business, and is required to provide a competitive health insurance option. As a side note, Obamacare contains a pretty significant tax break for businesses with up to 25 employees that offer health insurance.
FACT: Healthcare reform bill signed into law by President Obama will outlaw denial of insurance coverage to those with preexisting conditions.
In America, people with health problems but no health insurance long have struggled to find and afford coverage. To those with such preexisting conditions, America’s health system has seemed, at the least, capricious: Why has it been so hard to get insurance when you need it most? Insurers have seen this same problem from another viewpoint. Selling coverage to someone with a preexisting condition might be a bit like selling auto insurance to a driver who wants help with an already-dented car. Insurance is meant to protect someone against future events, not pay for things that have already occurred.
Mitt's Plan (http://www.mittromney.com/issues/health-care) - passing the buck to the (broke) states - (that's a plan to fail.)
On his first day in office, Mitt Romney will issue an executive order that paves the way for the federal government to issue Obamacare waivers to all fifty states. He will then work with Congress to repeal the full legislation as quickly as possible. In place of Obamacare, Mitt will pursue policies that give each state the power to craft a health care reform plan that is best for its own citizens.
The Worst Part of Obamacare:
A requirement that all Americans obtain health insurance or pay a fine. Republicans challenged it as an unconstitutional expansion of federal power. The Obama administration argued that it was needed to fix basic flaws in the insurance market and that it was crucial to provisions like the requirement that insurers accept all comers without regard to pre-existing health conditions. (TRUE)
Many people who cannot afford insurance and did not bother to get insurance, may find they qualify for medicaid or state insurance which will mitigate this problem. This may sound bad, but costs the tax payer less than the uninsured ER visits the tax payer pays today. And if they can afford it, why shouldn't they be insured? Instead of a fine, have them automatically enrolled in a low cost no frills default healthcare plan and send them the bill.
Thank God for Obama who followed through on his campaign promise; this is why I changed to Democrat and voted for him last time, because he promised to do something to improve health care, and I will not sit by and have Romney repeal excellent legislation. People first.... we show our love for one another by keeping and growing Obama Care!! It's humane and it's needed.
I am a proud Mormon, but I have to do what is right, let the consequence follow. The right thing is to get more people access to healthcare. Thanks Obama for keeping your campaign promise.
Talking with His Mouth Full
I am so happy that all this back and forth between the two Mormon political super-celebs (Mitt Romney and Harry Reid) officially ended today when Romney finally announced that after thumbing through his old tax forms, he discovered that he'd "never paid less than 13%" during the past ten years. He went on to report, "I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that." I say it's over because Reid, as far as I can tell, has not volleyed back at him yet.
But let me back up to the beginning and explain how this all went down: it started with a simple sit-down interview between Reid and the Huffington Post and turned into a three-week-long brawl between the two most recognizable Mormons in the American political arena. This battle is worthy of Brigham Young and Orson Pratt back in the day - only unlike Brigham, Reid hasn't told any of Romney's wives to divorce him yet; (one can only speculate what a fast and testimony meeting might look like with both of these men in attendance.)
In the interview, Harry Reid speculated that Mitt Romney didn't pay taxes for the ten years that he was at Bain - hence Romney's refusal to release the tax records. He even went so far as to say, "His poor father must be so embarrassed about his son," apparently in a reference to the elder Romney turning over 12 years of tax records during his bid for the presidency. This even provoked the ire of Jon Stewart, who told Harry Reid that he should "shut-up" while introducing the segment, "You, Harry Reid, are Terrible." (I guess I could pile on to Reid's accusations towards Romney by including the speculation we received from M.W. in the comment section of this website: "Wow! It just hit me – Romney doesn’t want to release his tax returns because he doesn’t want the church to find out that he has not been tithing his full 10%.") But Stewart is right, as well as the mass numbers of commenters on our website who took issue with M.W.'s comments - we shouldn't accuse Romney of dishonesty without any proof.
Governor Romney sure does agree - read this article from the LA Times to get more details of the squabbling between the two.
But Senator Reid isn't apologizing. This isn't the first time Reid has used "choice" words to describe a political foe. In fact, in addition to Harry Reid's statements about Romney a few weeks ago, the Huffington Post also reported that he'd had time to disparage fellow Democrat, Bill Magwood, calling him a "'treacherous, miserable liar' and 'first-class rat,'" (and he also used a word that would have cost me a severe licking if I'd said it as a child.) Harry Reid is not unacquainted with harsh words. In the first few pages of his memoir, The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from Searchlight to Washington, Reid writes about George W. Bush,
"I believe that the current President is an ideologue who has done incalculable damage to the government, reputation, and moral standing of the United Stakes of America. His vaunted "CEO Presidency" has...been incompetent in the face of grave challenge at home and abroad..."
[caption id="attachment_1578" align="alignright" width="300"] Harry Reid's boyhood home in Searchlight[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1675" align="alignright" width="300"] Mitt Romney's boyhood home in Detroit[/caption]
Harry Reid grew up in Searchlight, Nevada, and although it may sound trite, his experience of coming "from a mining town" where "the leading industry...was no longer mining, (but) prostitution," might explain a something about this high-ranking Mormon politician. He is known for being soft-spoken, but even words of condemnation can be spoken softly (whether it's saying that the USA Olympic uniforms should be burned or repeating the call to release tax forms.) This of course is in stark contrast to Romney's upbringing. In fact, the two have little to nothing in common in that respect, and I'd guess that this speaks volumes to their different opinions, ideas, and presentation in regard to their politics.
But despite it all, Harry Reid seems to relish the criticism he's received for his attack on Mitt Romney. So I will do Senator Reid a favor and give him some criticism of my own. I don't know how much more time I would waste on this tax thing. Personally, I don't think it strange that Mitt Romney would refuse to release more taxes. With talk of tax shelters in the Cayman Islands and Swiss Bank accounts, America can't help but be reminded of a half-dozen James Bond movies and a recent episode of Breaking Bad. (And that can't break good for Romney.)
So instead of the intense scrutiny of the Romney taxes, let's consider the ridiculousness of Romney's statement today about his taxes: "I just have to say, given the challenges that America faces — 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty — the fascination with taxes I paid I find to be very small-minded."
Beyond Romney's taxes, (which only point to the inequities of our tax system,) I am troubled that Romney would point to poverty in America as something he is seriously concerned about. I appreciate the logic that if you give the wealthiest Americans a tax break that they will then invest that money, and this will spur job growth; inevitably these investments would trickle down like crumbs falling under the table of America for the one in six people in poverty to eat up. But I just don't believe it is true. Statistics do not back it up. If tax cuts for the wealthy really helped eliminate poverty or even created jobs, then why did the Bush tax cuts fail to do that? According to PolitiFact, job growth under Bush was a sluggish 4.5% while the previous Clinton administration posted double-digit job growth numbers.
In the article, Myth Romney: Tax Cuts Spur Growth, Ernest Dumas writes,
Not once has (a tax-cut spurred job growth), but the theory never loses its shine. Ronald Reagan cut lots of taxes in 1981, and it was followed by the deepest recession since the '30s — 10 straight months of double-digit unemployment and soaring deficits. When the economy began to recover, he raised taxes over and over until the big 1986 tax increase (revenue enhancement, they called it) was followed by the growth spurt that got him the reputation as the wizard of economic growth. George W. Bush passed successive tax cuts, which produced ballooning deficits, virtually no job growth and, finally, the longest doldrums since the Great Depression.>
So Senator Reid, if we are going to call out Romney on something let's bring it back to this: please don't discuss unemployment anymore. Please don't talk about poverty. It's like talking with your mouth full. Because in the end, Romney cannot honestly talk about poverty when the other words twisting and turning around his mouth leave no room for the American poor. Nothing in his (which really is Paul Ryan's) plan helps this particular group of people. And although we are only 80 plus days until the election, I am just getting started here. I am supporting Obama for very specific reasons, and issues of poverty and inequality are at the top of my list. More to come...
The Book of Mormon Takes a Stand - for Obama
We all know Mitt Romney is the Mormon in this year’s presidential race. Therefore, we ought to be safe in assuming that Book of Mormon teachings more closely align with his views than those of President Obama.
Alas, if we made that assumption, we’d be wrong.
Let’s examine what the book says and where the candidates stand.
When it comes to the Book of Mormon’s central message—that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Redeemer of the world—Obama, a member of the United Church of Christ, and Romney, who belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, agree.
On other key topics, however, they part ways.
For example, the book prominently features wars and other conflicts. The subject occupies around 170 of the book’s 531 pages. Prophets often admonish Book of Mormon peoples never to “go up” to war against their enemies. Instead, they must wait until their foes “come down” to their land. In other words, they may fight defensive wars but must never be aggressors. As LDS scholar Hugh Nibley wrote, righteous principles “rendered aggressive warfare impossible and preventive warfare utterly unthinkable.”
In the Iraq War, we saw the United States “go up” to attack a nation that hadn’t attacked us. Supporters of the war deemed it preventive or preemptive. Romney strongly supported the war, favored increased U.S. troop levels as it dragged on and criticized Obama’s decision to end it. Obama, on the other hand, opposed the war from the start. As president, he terminated U.S. troop involvement in December 2011.
The Book of Mormon also declares that righteous nations must treat prisoners of war humanely. In Alma 62:27-29, prisoners not only were freed, they were given land and were welcomed into the society. On another occasion, prisoners were allowed to depart promptly in peace after a bloody battle (Hel. 1:33). Centuries later, however, after both sides had rejected God, they abused and tortured their prisoners (Moroni 9:7-10).
In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the war on terror, U.S. soldiers and our agents have engaged in a variety of abuses and torture of prisoners, including waterboarding. Among the most infamous sites of prisoner abuse has been Guantanamo.
Romney declines to renounce waterboarding, and his aides have said that he does not view it as torture. His support of “enhanced interrogation techniques” has drawn strong criticism from 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Romney also has said, “Some people say we should close Guantanamo. My view is we ought to double Guantanamo.”
Shortly after taking office, President Obama issued an executive order halting harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. He has sought to close Guantanamo but has faced stiff resistance from Congress.
In terms of military spending, Nibley assures us that when the Nephites were righteous, their “military preparations were defensive—minimal—with God acting as their radar and warning system.” Rather than “minimal” defense spending, Romney wants to restore American power and has pledged to boost the military budget by close to $2 trillion over the next 10 years, adding 100,000 soldiers. (U.S. military spending is by far the world’s largest.) Obama favors significant cuts to the military budget.
Clearly, it is Obama, not Romney, who heeds the counsel of Book of Mormon prophets on war. His actions prove that he regards Christ as the Prince of Peace rather than the Prince of Preemptive War.
Another yardstick measuring the uprightness of Book of Mormon peoples is how they treat the poor.
During the longest peaceful era in Book of Mormon history, the people established economic equality—“they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor” (4 Nephi 1:3). Earlier, a prophet rebuked those who neglected the poor and who allowed great disparities to develop between the haves and the have-nots (Alma 4:11-13). The practice of “oppressing” wage earners was condemned (3 Nephi 24:5).
The Book of Mormon stresses equity. In Mosiah 18:27 we read that those with high incomes should give “more abundantly” and that for those with little, “little should be required” and “to him that had not should be given.” King Benjamin reminds his people that he has only sought to serve them “and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you.” Prophets denounced taxation that enriched the wealthy and those in power while burdening everyone else (Mosiah 11:3-6; Ether 10:5,6).
Romney deserves credit for leadership at Bain Capital that rescued some companies that might otherwise have gone out of business. But his actions widened the gap between the haves and have-nots, with people like himself and others at the top reaping multiple millions in income while many at the bottom lost jobs and saw jobs shipped overseas where it is legal to oppress wage earners by paying them below minimum U.S. wages. Romney favored a minimum-wage hike early in 2012 but then reversed his position. His proposed boost in the military budget would come at the expense of social programs that aid the needy. President Obama has supported hikes in the minimum wage and is often called a socialist for supporting programs that help lower-income and unemployed Americans.
Although both candidates can be viewed as wealthy, Romney’s 2010 tax forms, the latest he has released, show income of $21.7 million, 13 times greater than Obama’s $1.7 million. But Romney paid federal taxes of only 13.9 percent while Obama’s federal tax rate was 26 percent. In order to reduce the gap between the haves and have-nots and help cut the deficit, Obama favors allowing the tax cut for people making more than $250,000 annually to expire. Romney would extend the tax cut for the wealthy, making it easier for high-income Americans to continue paying lower overall rates than those of modest income.
Another prominent Book of Mormon message is to beware of pride while remembering “your own nothingness . . . and humble yourselves, even in the depths of humility” (Mosiah 4:11). Prophets rebuke those who feel they deserve their riches and who claim “every man prospered according to his genius” (Alma 30:17). Part of this pride among the Nephites also manifested itself in feelings of national superiority and boastfulness after military victories.
In his 2010 book “No Apology,” Romney lays out the case for American greatness. He vows to “never again apologize for America.” He has reminded critics of his income that America's capitalistic system allows some to accumulate great wealth (“I’ve been extraordinarily successful”) and that those who are less successful should avoid “the politics of envy.” President Obama has apologized for American mistakes that have offended other countries, such as the burning of a Koran at a U.S. military base. He has stated that no one achieves success alone but instead receives help every step of the way.
On immigration, the Book of Mormon offers a limited “open door” policy. If people are willing to be good citizens, the attitude is “y’all come.” For example, when believers among the Zoramites found themselves expelled from their country, they entered the land of Jershon. The people of Jershon, being righteous, did not say, “You don’t have proper papers, so self-deport yourselves back to where you came from.” Instead, Jershon “did receive all the poor of the Zoramites that came over unto them; and they did nourish them, and did clothe them, and did give unto them lands for their inheritance” (Alma 35:9).
Mitt Romney coined the phrase “self-deport” in saying those who lack citizenship papers should leave the country. He has opposed the DREAM Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for those brought to the United States as children. He also supports making English the country’s official language and has said Arizona and other states should be allowed to enact their own immigration laws. Obama halted deportation of young undocumented immigrants in June 2012 and supports the DREAM Act. He also directed the Justice Department to pursue its successful challenge of Arizona’s “show me your papers” anti-immigration law.
With Mitt Romney’s positions so often contrary to the Book of Mormon, what shall we say to Mormons who support him? Perhaps a one-word answer is best. It’s a word that repeatedly pops up in the Book of Mormon: Repent!
A Minimum Living Standard in the World’s Wealthiest Country
In the last post, I illustrated how the positive right to an education is essential to a modern economy. Most Americans do not question the right to a public education, perhaps because it has been a fact of American life for over a century. Other positive rights adopted to some extent by American society, which are unfortunately more controversial, include the right of the disabled to a dignified existence, the right to food and shelter, and the right to life-saving emergency care. Most recently, through the 2010 Affordable Care Act, we adopted in principle the right to adequate comprehensive health care.Read more
Class Warfare? You bet.
I realize that a posting on class warfare may seem about 6 months behind the times. Accusations of “Class Warfare” reached a fever pitch some months back amidst calls for a “millionaires tax,” the headline-grabbing “we are the 99%!” cry of the Occupy movement and Warren Buffet’s disclosure that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. The best synthesis of the discourse that I saw was provided, of course, by Jon Stewart .
The topic was brought to mind again recently when I read a NY Times article on the increasing number of conservative, middle-class Americans who receive some sort of government assistance .
In the article I learned that not only does the lowest income quintile receive 36% of all forms of government aid (down from 54% in 1980), but also that the top quintile actually took home about 12% of all aid. Additionally, a survey referenced in the article found that a plurality of respondents incorrectly named “programs for the poor” as the fastest-growing benefits program in the U.S.
I bring up these two points specifically because they are important in the larger context of the national debate surrounding topics like income inequality, budgets for social programs and class. The article illustrates what all poor people already know, which is that the answers to questions like who gets what from the government, and where should we be looking to make cuts, are seriously obscured by misinformation.
When imagery of animals digging through garbage, and terms like “welfare queen” and “parasite” are used on national television to describe those receiving government assistance (watch the Stewart clip!), it is clear that there is actually a concerted effort by some on the right to frame the debate in falsehoods.
While the right would have you believe that those receiving government assistance are lazy, greedy, black single mothers of 6, the numbers tell a different story. First, the large majority of all recipients of social programs are either children or the elderly. In FY 2011 nearly 75% of those receiving federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits were children . Medicare and Social Security, which together make up the government’s largest expenditure, are both only available to the elderly.
Okay, so most aid money goes to children and the poor (not counting the billions in tax breaks for big companies), but I bet the rest of them are just lazy, right? As mentioned above, almost 65% of all government aid goes to those above the lowest income quintile. Believe it or not rich folks, you can work hard and still have trouble making ends meet.
The TANF program, for example, contains employment requirements . And there are millions of working Americans who have seen their real wages decrease for decades, making government assistance necessary for things like health care, education, energy and housing. The price tags for these necessities have all skyrocketed, especially compared to most consumer goods, making the Heritage Foundation’s attacks on the poor for having televisions and microwaves seem particularly disgusting .
From 1970 to 2010 real wages for American workers declined by 28%, while national GDP nearly doubled . So who saw the gains from the growth in GDP? Over the same time period the top 0.1% of earners saw their share of national income rise by 385% !
The dishonest discourse fomented by the right has very serious consequences for all of us, and particularly the most vulnerable in our society. When the millionaires in Washington DC decide to ignore our woefully underfunded schools, choose to prioritize prisons over housing, and do nothing to fix healthcare, there are serious consequences. Over 46 million Americans live below the poverty line, the highest rate in the 52 years that the Census Bureau has published statistics on it , the U.S., with over 2.3 million people in prison, has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world , and an estimated 45,000 premature deaths occur each year because of lack of access to health care .
But despite reality, the right continues to ignore these problems and dismiss those who raise issue of equality as 'divisive'. Rick Santorum (a millionaire) even criticized Mitt Romney (a multi-millionaire) for using the term “middle class,” because he believes it is a Democratic term used to divide society . Which society is he is living in that he doesn’t see how very much divided we already are?
Yes, there is certainly a Class War raging, and I’ll give you one guess as to who is winning it.
The 28% figure takes into account the (non)wages received from the unemployed as well. Real wages over this period for only employed individuals dropped by a smaller, but still alarming, amount.
A Pivotal Moment for President Obama and America
President Barack Obama visited Osawatomie, Kansas last week to speak about the danger of the growing economic inequality in America and the threat this currently poses to the middle class and our country as a whole. I thought this was the most important speech of his Presidency thus far because it clearly illustrated the monumental challenges we face in dealing with a weak economy, high unemployment, and an eroding middle class. He emphatically connected the success of the middle class with the success of America and described how investments in education, infrastructure, and science and technology along with tax and financial industry reform are critical to our economic recovery. The speech was 55 minutes long, so I highlighted what I thought were his key points:Read more