One of the great benefits of having Nate Oman and Frank McIntyre as regular bloggers here at T&S is that they can rapidly and thoroughly devastate the flakey assumptions which underlie my repetetive calls for social arrangements which prioritize public goods and community maintenance over individual choice and economic growth. This is a good thing: it’s good to be corrected by people who have more knowledge than you, and it’s good to be humbled. I’m confident this post will continue in that tradition.
The title of this post imitates a recent post of Greg’s, which–along with another post from Ryan Bell–asked hard questions about class, merit, and education, and what perspective, if any, Mormonism could bring to bear on that thorny mix of issues. It’s worth imitating, because the reasons why socialism (or social democracy, if you prefer) is a good fit with Mormon doctrine and thought–if not practice, at least in the U.S.–have very little to do with narrow economic concerns and have, instead, almost everything to do with the sort of broad social matters which Greg brought up. Of course, most people (or, again, most Americans at least) associate socialism with the former, rather than the latter: socialism equals state socialism which equals a restrictive, narrow, oppressive, bureaucratic tyranny over human economic behavior, right? Wrong. But socialists themselves deserve most of the blame for this state of affairs.
Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto, at its heart, is a profoundly conservative complaint. The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century had resulted in wrenching and often horrifying changes in the fabric of European society, and the then-dominant ideology of classical liberalism made political room for viciously individualistic and Darwinistic arguments which treated the social consequences of this revolution–the impoverishment of the countryside, the crowded and deadly conditions of the cities, the corruption and immense wealth of the fortunate few–as negligible, or even laudable. Socialism began then, as did modern conservatism and a host of other reformist and utopian movements, as an attempt to preserve something under attack, a way of life wherein social status was recognized, but also held fast within a constrained and more mutualistic world. In other words, an attempt to prevent “economics” from being changed from a larger, more comprehensive set of moral concerns, and into a dry and impersonal set of priorities:
The bourgeoisie . . . has put an end to all fuedal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left remaining not other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment.” It has drowned the most heavenly ecstacies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy waters of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom, Free Trade. . . . The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-laborers. The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation. . . . All fixed relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
Edmund Burke couldn’t have put it better (and, indeed, he didn’t). There were costs to the emergence of the modern marketplace, costs that were collective, historical, affective, aesthetic, and thus not easily reduced to issues of property or right, which meant they by and large had no traction in the liberal economic world. Of course, as the above passage makes clear, it’s not as though Marx had any real attachment to the older world that was being lost; on the contrary, he thought that world was a similarly materialistic achievement, and its passing was inevitable given the historical laws which he believed held all human behavior in its grip. Nonetheless, he still acknowledged that such a world–and any possible material world, for that matter–constituted something more than just a random set of personal preferences which could be changed, expanded, abandoned, traded, bought, maximized, or bargained away; it was, rather, a lifeworld which sustained and enabled and embedded the construction and recognition of human meaning. Losing it meant being alienated, being lost oneself. In this sense, Marx and every other socialist or conservative or anarchist who has ever challenged liberal political and economics has simply been following in the footsteps of Rousseau, who correctly identified modern alienation as an insurmountable obstacle to both personal virtue or political legitimacy; if either are desired, than somehow “the social” has to be recreated. People who complain about the dismissiveness with which tradition, public religion, common sense, and communal concern is treated in the competitive and legally exacting ethos of modern society, but are unwilling to follow through on Rousseau’s diagnosis of what liberalism hath wrought, are untrue to their convictions. Despise the direction which Marx pushed socialism all you want, but it can’t be said that he wasn’t serious about change.
As have been the modern prophets, like, for example, Lorenzo Snow:
Zion cannot be built except on the principles of union required by celestial law. It is high time for us to enter into these things. It is more pleasant and agreeable for the Latter-day Saints to enter into this work and build up Zion, than to build up ourselves and have this great competition which is destroying us. Now let things go on in our midst in our Gentile fashion, and you would see an aristocracy growing amongst us, whose language to the poor would be, “we do not require your company; we are going to have things very fine; we are quite busy now, please call some other time.” Your would have classes established here, some very poor and some very rich. Now, the Lord is not going to have anything of that kind. There has to be an equality; and we have to observe these principles that are designed to giver every one the privilege of gathering around him the comforts and conveniences of life. The Lord, in his economy of spiritual things, has fixed that every man, according to his preserverance and faithfulness, will receive exaltation and glory in the eternal worlds–a fullness of the Priesthood, and a fullness of the glory of God. This is the economy of God’s system by which men and women can be exalted spiritually. The same with regard to temporal affairs.
This is as fine a condemnation of alienation as one is likely to ever find outside the philosophical literature: not just that those who lose their place in society lack in comforts and conveniences (though they almost invariably do), but more importantly are excluded, marginalized, distinguished as less interesting, less worthy of the company of society’s winners, less needful of their (our?) time. This is why Marx condemn those early capitalist reformers who assumed that the problems of capitalism–including, perhaps, violent retribution by poor–could best be satisfied through various progressive tricks, setting up welfare schemes, minimum-wage laws, redistributing taxes and so forth. Buying off the proletariat can only work for so long, Marx believed; in the end, the deep and profoundly condescending noneconomic cost of being wrenched out of one’s material social world and sent forth, a solitary agent, to go to work for some man, in some place, doing some job, for some wage, will be too much; no matter how solictious or open-minded one’s employers, in the end the contradictions in the system will bring it all down.
Of course, it didn’t come down. Marx never imagined that there could be a middle class, and that the affective as well as financial benefits of property could actually someday fall into workers’ hands. The simple truth that the individual accumulation of wealth could make possible a little bit of home-creation, or at least enough to minimize the pain of humankind’s larger social condition, was utterly beyond him. Tragically, it was beyond most of Marx’s followers as well, who–once they realized that the revolution wasn’t going to happen by itself–decided that they’d just have to jump-start some revolutions of their own, complete with a “vanguard” (the intellectuals, in Russia; the peasants, in China and Cambodia) that would help “purify” things (to the tune of tens of millions of deaths) for the communism which they believed would invariably follow. So, Marx’s economic imagination was limited and wrong, so wrong that it has tragically poisoned the deeper truth of socialist thinking: that growth isn’t enough, and distribution isn’t enough–what matters is socio-economic belonging. Which is, as far as I can tell, the Mormon position as well. The equality which President Snow vigorously defended didn’t depend upon a dole which would make certain that everyone had more or less the same amount of stuff; as anyone familiar with the history of the United Order can tell you, the prophets constantly rejected communism, insisted on individual stewardships, and condemned economic “leveling.” Despite Orderville and a few other exceptions, the basic goal had never been to embrace the abolition of private property. But that did not make the economic aims of the 19th-century church any less socialistic, properly speaking, despite what some later general authorities insisted. The very idea of consecrated property joined in cooperative enterprises–or, in a more contemporary context, the establishment of protective conditions of production, education, employment and trade that make possible the extension of a labor-centered, participatory market where none are excluded because of their schooling or neighborhood or profession or social habits . . . that is a socially democratic economic practice; or in other words, the sort of capitalism which is not alienating. It is also, of course, profoundly, even ruinously, inefficient, especially as the wider economic world becomes less and less interested in drawing upon the particularities of persons and their places, and more and more dominated by borderless, infinitely pliable and socially transparent movements of wealth. But then, families–those constrained, conservative, embedded entities, with their traditions and limitations–are inefficient too; and either way, inefficiency doesn’t seem to come in for much condemnation in the scriptures.
In Europe and Latin America, where social democratic parties that survived the wreckage of Marxism have long had a beneficial influence, it’s understood that socialism has meaning separate from the totalitarian, anti-religious, warped historical determinism which captured the collectivist response to liberalism and turned into a vehicle of death and destruction. While such an understanding of the personal and morally comprehensive roots socialism is pretty rare in the U.S., you can still find it–in Dorothy Day’s Catholic “transformation of work,” in the “distributionism” (actually regionalism) of the Southern Agrarians, and in the Midwestern populism and progressivism of any number of political leaders from William Jennings Bryant to Robert LaFollette. And you can find it in Mormonism, whose prophets called for policies of full employment through public works and cooperative enterprise in Nauvoo and again later in Utah, decades before John Maynard Keynes was born. I can understand the desire to dump the socialist label of course (I rarely use it myself, preferring “social democrat” or “Christian socialist”), given the fact that many actually existing socialist parties aren’t friends of religion, or religious freedom for that matter. Still, the connection isn’t worth ignoring, because the power and rightness of connecting Mormonism with social justice and democracy is too strong, as Arthur Henry King once noted: “I read Marx almost exactly fifty years ago. If it had not been for Marx, I should not yet be in this Church, if any at all.” No, Marx doesn’t have the key to Zion, and there is likely no single economic measure in the social democratic toolkit (whether regarding taxes, trade, schooling, or anything else) that will get us anywhere near it. Zion will require a purity of heart, not of policy. But in the meantime, if the ideal is there, I don’t see why it isn’t worth fighting for. Indeed, I think all Mormons should.
I have always found it odd that aside from Hugh Nibley and some of Neal Maxwell’s railings against consumerism and the culture of desire, there hasn’t been much of a critique of capitalism among Mormon thinkers and leaders.
Of course, that isn’t the same thing, necessarily, as endorsing socialism. I think some of the critiques Marxism makes are valid — it’s the correctives that I’m not so sure about.
Russell, you have identified a central dilemma of being a capitalist and being a Latter-day Saint: how do you justify living in and supporting a system that does not bring the equality all true Christians believe is the eventual ideal?
I have lived in a socialist country (Nicaragua during the 1980s). I have lived in a social democratic country (Brazil until recently). Redistributionist and government interventionist policies simply don’t work. That’s the bottom line. These policies make more people poor and miserable, with ruinous societal results in broken families, government corruption, alcoholism, cynicism and disillusionment. “Capitalist” policies (low taxes, low government intervention and free trade) do work. Poor people become wealthier and noticeably happier. Middle class people build businesses and have greater levels of freedom. Wealthy people are more willing to contribute to charity and are less likely to be corrupt and evade taxes. If you compare the last 25 years of economic growth in Brazil (a social democratic country) and Chile (a relatively free market country) you will discover that Chileans are ahead in every single important social and economic measure. And they are happier, less corrupt and more likely as a portion of the population to become Latter-day Saints.
This is a worldwide phenomenon. There is no contesting that Asians are better off today than they were 25 years ago — precisely because they adopted free market economics that helped their countries grow. In the last 25 years, nearly a billion Asians have been sucked from miserable poverty into the relatively comfortable middle class in India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia the Philippines and elsewhere precisely because governments rejected government controls on the economy and allowed the markets to flourish.
Well, what about Europe? What about it? Europe has over the last three decades built a social construct along social democratic lines. People are becoming satisfied in their riches and less and less interested in helping the poor and certainly less and less interested in religion. In the average European country, 10 percent of the population goes to church on every given Sunday, compared to about 55 percent in the United States. (Latin America is much closer to the US level). There are many causes for this, but certainly one is the fact that people have become dependent on the government rather than dependent on God. The government — and a welfare system that is unsustainable long-term in an aging population where the number of workers vs. retirees decreases every year — has become their idol.
I do believe in the Zion that Lorenzo Snow discusses. I do believe that some day I will be asked to turn all of my worldly goods over to the bishop, and he will apportion them out to my neighbors, each according to his need. I will have, in the words of three famous gentlemen who once visited Adam, “sufficient for my needs.” But that time is not today. Now, we are expected to tithe, give fast offerings and give other offerings as needed and guided by the Spirit. We are expected to give of our time to others. We are expected to work and to save. But we are also expected to look at how the world truly operates and choose governmental systems that will truly benefit the majority — not utopian ideals that never work in practice.
“Can a Good Mormon Be a Socialist?”
You tell me Russell. Are you a good Mormon? :)
Russell, one main problem with comparison’s with Fourth-Nephi-type communitarian LDS doctrine with socialism or social market economies is precisely the notion of redistribution. The redistribution aspect of those systems render them both necessarily totalitarian and unjust. In a Zion society towards which we in the Gospel are hopefully striving, I would think there won’t be redistribution imposed on people. A Fourth-Nephi lifestyle is built on the voluntary choices of each individual as a member of society to turn over his or her excess for the benefit of the whole. It is true that such a system, like the United Order, might need a redistributive organ to facilitate this voluntary turn-over. But our own United Order failed because the people weren’t ready as individuals to live a Fourth-Nephi life.
“comparisons” not “comparison’s” (sheesh, that is one of my own major pet peeves and there I go, committing it in an effort to type out a comment at lightening speed).
If the distinction is between forced and voluntary redistribution of wealth, the real question becomes not whether a good Mormon can be a socialist, but whether any of us are, in fact, good Mormons.
I don’t think many of us (and I include myself) take seriously the Lord’s statement in D&C 49:20:
But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.
Under those rules some of the Brethern would not have been called to the Quorum.
When the time is here for the establishment of Zion, I have no doubts but that the majority of Latter-day Saints will rise to the occasion.
I think Russell is talking about democratic socialism, not Stalinism. I think the kind of society that President Snow envisioned needn’t be qualitatively more coercive than our current redistributive and regulatory policies.
“When the time is here for the establishment of Zion. . .”
What leads you to believe we are not living in that time?
Why do we have to wait upon some “united order” to bring about the of equality that Pres. Snow was calling for? I think we’re much better equiped to do that sort of thing today with the corporate church. It’s just a matter of the saints taking care of one another. And I think, by and large, most are quite willing to do that to the extent that they are able. Aside from the few “Zions” that we read about, when have things been better than they are now? I agree with Russell that the kind of equality that we’re looking for includes an acceptance of one another into a common social context. What more do we need to do than live the Gospel in order to bring about such conditions?
I lost my job this week; and you know what? I know that I’m not going under because of the community of family and saints of which I’m a part.
The establishment of Zion will be clear and unequivocal. The preparation time is here but the establishment of it is not.
Sorry to hear of your loss. You are a “Saint” with that attitude.
Larry, I agree that the body of the Saints will indeed rise to the occasion even though I also agree with Mark B. that we need to really examine ourselves (even people like Russell) and see if we are really willing to live in a Fourth Nephi society. In that society, I posit, not only will there be no poor or no (economic) distinctions/divisions, but people’s entire mindset and paradigm will have changed and materialism–even Marxist materialism–will be irrelevant. Thus, I would think that it will be fundamentally different than either the socialism or Stalinism mentioned by Greg.
Stalinism, with its totalitarian and forced redistribution (and built-in cronyism), certainly won’t be what happens where every individual voluntarily brings their excess to the bishop’s storehouse and noone thinks (on their own) about buying a better car than their neighbor. For its part, socialism, with its tendency to reduce everyone to a lowest common denominator of standard of living (eliminating the level of abject poverty but also forcing, by its redistributive nature, the vast majority onto the same LCD level when a higher standard of living might be possible for a greater number), still seems like a mere counterfeit of a truly realized United Order or Fourth-Nephi society.
I am all for alleviating suffering whereever possible and might even be convinced to be a socialist if I hadn’t observed first hand, like Geoff B., the fruits of social market economies. Since they don’t do the work they claim to do, then I don’t see them as a viable option in the current telestial world. (Might as well go with what works better, even if it is not optimal.) I don’t think, however, that it is possible for a Fourth-Nephi society to exist absent a common acceptance of certain foundational principles to which all adhere voluntarily as individuals. In other words, the individual is not lost in visions of Fourth-Nephi communal living. I doubt, however, that such an atmosphere can exist before the Millenium, when natural emnity will be eased and Christ will reign (and those left living will be living in harmony with the foundational principles that are pre-requisites for such a communal effort).
I still think you should go back to school. You have too much talent. Are there not schoarships and grants available that will make it less onerous for you and your family?
I am in total agreement with you. I served in England when the favourite phrase was (please excuse the appearancre of blasphemy) “Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be thy name”, in reference to Harold Wilson, then British Prime Minister. If Margaret Thatcher had not come along I hate to think of what would have happened to those terrific people.
Marion G. Romney gave an excellent speech showing the differences between socialism and the United Order. Socialism is not synonymous with the United Order but is in fact the antithesis of it, as I believe you have amply pointed out already.
I think this is an excellent post!
A hearty Amen to Geoff B’s comment, as well!
MDS & Jack, as to the question of when we will know the time has come to live the United Order, well, that I would have thought obvious….
The Lord has not left us without guidance! He says whether it be by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same. When He wants us to enter into such an order, He will tell us by the voice of His servant, the Prophet. We don’t have to wander in darkness, wondering. He has left us a beacon of light. We will know because the Prophet will tell us so, in no uncertain terms!
Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be preparing ourselves NOW. Are we stripped of pride, do we count all men as our brothers? Do we earnestly strive to cleanse the inner vessel, and all the other wonderful, wonderful lessons that His servants keep teaching? I know for myself personally, that I have a very long way to go at becoming fit for His Kingdom. But I am trying, earnestly trying, and will be delighted to have the Prophet announce that the time has come to live the Law of Consecration fully.
Socialism/communism/Marxism/Leninism, whatever name you put on it, will never work when the people involved are not righteous. History has shown, and is still showing, that it usually amounts to trading in one’s faith in God for government-granted bread and circuses (or cradle-to-grave welfare, whatever). If we allow the state to control our personal welfare, the state WILL control our personal welfare, and we will be giving up much of the precious agency that we fought to have.
Great post, and sorely needed. Thank you.
I imagine quite a few of us have entered into a covenant to live the law of consecration already. Nothing in that covenant seemed to indicate that it was temporally limited to a later date when a prophet says “Okay, you can live your covenants now!” Am I missing something?!
Jack, I’m not exactly sure how I would go about setting up my own United Order in Miami. My nearest LDS neighbor is 20 blocks away. My ward has 160 active members and is 40 miles long by 10 miles wide. There are probably 500,000 non-Mormons (as well as several hundred Mormons) in my ward boundaries. Do I start selling my worldly goods and give them to my non-LDS neighbors? Not quite enough to go around. Even if I were to just give my goods to the bishop to let him deal with them, I’m not sure how my LDS neighbors would benefit. I’m not sure how I would get to my job or where I would live with my family. It’s quite a dilemma.
But more seriously, I have been unemployed and it was the toughest time of my life. I believe in the Church’s welfare system and I have been a member of the bishopric and seen it work in people’s lives. It is truly inspiring. It is good to know that if I were at the end of my rope the Church would be there to help me get back on my feet.
Just one more comment for context: Americans have no idea how easy they have it in terms of finding a new job once they lose one. In my ward in Brazil, unemployment approached 50 percent. Because of high taxes, regulation and lack of incentives to invest because of corruption and lack of respect for private property, few new businesses ever opened. The ones that did open were taxed at some of the highest rates in the world. So, in the end, there were (and are today) very few real jobs with real salaries. Most people who lost their jobs got three months’ severance and then headed to the street to sell candy on the sidewalks because there simply were no employers offering jobs. Be very, very thankful for our 5.4 percent national unemployment rate in the U.S. It could be much, more worse.
Geoff B., I should let Frank do the talking on this one, but I’m not totally convinced of the correlation/causation of the employment situation in Brazil. The only foreign country I’ve spent substantial time in is Switzerland, which heavily regulates business, and has far more generous social welfare benefits than the US. Yet the unemployment rate there has been under 4% for most of the 20th century.
Greg, you may have visited France (unemployment rate above 12 percent for most of the last 20 years) or Spain (same thing) during your trip. Switzerland is a special case with harsh restrictions on immigration, a well-educated and motivated work force and unique economic advantages in specific industries. I have helped run businesses in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. The general rule is the more government interference the more unemployment. I’m not against some regulation. I don’t want companies dumping toxic waste in rivers and I’m in favor of reasonable minimum wages and severance packages, for example, as well as reasonable taxation. There is a point, however, where taxation levels stifle investment or force companies into gray market or black market areas where they don’t pay taxes. (Example in Brazil: An official retail outlet must pay 40 percent taxes and a wide variety of benefits to its employees. But street vendors don’t have to pay anything because they’re gray or black market. Guess which sector is growing and which is dying? The official retail outlets are being put out of business by the illegal ones. And try stopping the illegal retail outlets. It’s easier to stop the waves with your hands).
Read Marion G. Romney!
I would like to suggest that the fact that the practice of the United Order as a comprehensive economic system is not currently implemented by the Church does NOT mean that all of the moral teachings of the United Order scriptures are inoperative. For example, the condemnations of pride from riches contained in the BoM and D&C are currently applicable to us now even if the ideal societies there described can not presently be implemented.
If I am reading Russell’s post correctly, I think that what he is commending in Marxist thought is not the use of state coercion to achieve economic equality. What he is commending is not the economic analysis in socialism, but rather the social analysis, in which we observe how materialistic capitalist society produces breaches between the classes and how our consumer society values status and goods over community feeling. It is on these kinds of points that LDS scripture and prophets can find much commonality with many socialists’ analysis of society.
One question is whether and what kinds of state action might effectively remedy some of these defects without an abusive cost in freedom. However, that debate often overshadows other valuable questions. Even the most ardent LDS advocate of the free market will I think concede the need to help the poor improve their condition and to condemn social snobbery. Is there any defender of the free market who contends that it eliminates all poverty, or does not facilitate the prideful glorification of the ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’?
If we don’t like dealing with these issues through state action, do we ignore them? If not, I would like to ask how free market advocates among the Latter-day Saints would suggest that we deal with these matters which the scriptures and the prophets have said are matters with which we must concern ourselves?
Russell: “There were costs to the emergence of the modern marketplace, costs that were collective, historical, affective, aesthetic, and thus not easily reduced to issues of property or right, which meant they by and large had no traction in the liberal economic world.”
Well put. But it seems a bit of hyperbole to call the Communist Manifesto, for this reason, “at its heart…a profoundly conservative complaint”. It’s like calling Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the death of God, a “profoundly religious complaint” simply because he understood the former as a great loss. Both Nietzsche and Marx saw in the pre-modern world many things of great spiritual worth, things which have now been lost. But they also saw these losses as opportunities for humanity–through our its native powers–to move on toward a post-historical or post-human existence. This is fundamental to the Communist Manifesto and diametrically opposed to conservatism.
It seems likely to me that socialism seems conservative merely because American political ideology, unlike nearly every other every ideology in human history, is quite blind to the question of the common good and the ethical and spiritual effects of the economic system. Witness Nate’s frustrating refusal to use the word “capitalism” for this reason (an old discussion)–that the economic system shouldn’t be associated with the mentalities, moral habits, and social relations it promotes, only with its explicit insitutional and legal characteristics. These issues are almost impossible to talk about in an American idiom, and even remarkably intelligent Americans fall prey to some shockingly vulgar libertarian notions. A T&S contributor once joked that taxation is theft, and that the state is no better than a band of thieves. It was a joke because it was a claim that was seriously meant but merely asserted in an amusing way rather than defended. A few other T&S posters, liberal and conservative I recall, tried to rebut these ideas, perceiving correctly that the joke had serious anarchist implications for political obligation generally. But the joke won the day and the T&S left went back to more important matters, like arguing the case for gay marriage.
“I have lived in a socialist country (Nicaragua during the 1980s). I have lived in a social democratic country (Brazil until recently). Redistributionist and government interventionist policies simply donâ€™t work. Thatâ€™s the bottom line. These policies make more people poor and miserable, with ruinous societal results in broken families, government corruption, alcoholism, cynicism and disillusionment.”
“I [have] seen, like Geoff B., the fruits of social market economies. Since they donâ€™t do the work they claim to do, then I donâ€™t see them as a viable option in the current telestial world”
Russell, who on T&S is going to “rapidly and thorougly devastate” these flaky testimonials? If history is any guide, no one. Never do we get to hear what counts as “redistributionist and government interventionist policies” (Universal health care? American social security? Public education? Unemployment insurance? Tort liability? Tax credits for child care and mortgage interest?). Nor do we ever get to hear what counts as a ‘redistributionist or interventionist’ policy “working” (all but eliminating poverty among the elderly in the case of social security? I guess not.).
Economic growth is important in the modern world. The disagreement lies in how best to secure growth, and how to make growth promote to true human well-being. And there *is* a real disagreement about ‘redistributionist and interventionist’ policies, though pure socialist economists are admittedly rare. Unfortunately, we hear little about this disagreement among intelligent Mormons like those on T&S, even those who seem to understand the current state of economic theory.
“The redistribution aspect of those systems render them both necessarily totalitarian and unjust.”
Why? Are you saying redistribution is, by definition, totalitarian and unjust? Any redistribution? Is the public school system a totalitarian imposition upon your individual rights? Is the Social Security program?
“A Fourth-Nephi lifestyle is built on the voluntary choices of each individual as a member of society to turn over his or her excess for the benefit of the whole. It is true that such a system, like the United Order, might need a redistributive organ to facilitate this voluntary turn-over. But our own United Order failed because the people werenâ€™t ready as individuals to live a Fourth-Nephi life.”
So…does that mean that redistribution isn’t, by definition, totalitarian? You have me a little confused. If, say, everyone in a given community agreed that they would contribute to building a park, and came up with a progressive taxation scheme to determine how much each person would contribute, and then they appointed someone to collect that money and “facilitate” the redistribution of funds to those doing the park construction, would that be okay? If so, then it seems to me that the problem isn’t redistribution at all; it’s simply a matter of determining exactly how much redistribution we as individuals are righteous enough to accept being “facilitated,” and working to bring that level up to gospel standards. In other words, it isn’t the socialist economics which are at issue, but rather the moral and political question of our support of such. In which case, all we can do is aim high, right?
“I lost my job this week; and you know what? I know that Iâ€™m not going under because of the community of family and saints of which Iâ€™m a part.”
Good luck to you! You have what, according to what I understand all the prophets, both ancient and modern, to have said, all of us are supposed to have: a loving and supportive social network to make sure that economic happenstance cannot fundamentally affect either our well-being or our place in the social order. It should be noted that simple welfare isn’t enough, and really isn’t even the right tool, for this to be accomplished, as important as welfare is; what is required is a concerned effort to shape economies and communities so that we can live shelted from economic consequences beyond our control.
“Marion G. Romney gave an excellent speech showing the differences between socialism and the United Order. Socialism is not synonymous with the United Order but is in fact the antithesis of it, as I believe you have amply pointed out already.”
Elder Romney gave several such sermons, as did President Benson, Elder J. Reuben Clark, and many others. Reading those sermons make it pretty clear that they were deeply concerned, during a time of global conflict with the Soviet Union, that nothing in the church’s past interpreted as possible reason to suspect the patriotism of the American church. Obviously these sermons didn’t necessarily have any normative consequences for the contemporary political beliefs, since during this same era (the 1950s through the 70s) members of the Quorum of the Twelve were in regular discussions with the communist leaders of East Germany, Poland, and other Eastern European nations about local congregations, and always these leaders were assured that there was nothing in Mormon doctrine that would turn these saints into agitators or revolutionaries. More generally, in regards to the point about socialism I wanted to make in this post, when Elder Romney said that the United Order wasn’t socialism he plainly must have meant that the United Order wasn’t the socialism then being practiced in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, which is completely true. If, on the other hand, Elder Romney genuinely believed that there was nothing socialistic about the United Order whatsoever, then he was simply wrong.
“Nothing in that covenant seemed to indicate that it was temporally limited to a later date when a prophet says ‘Okay, you can live your covenants now!’ Am I missing something?!”
I think you’re absolutely correct to believe that, in having made covenants to bring forth Zion, we should reshape our immediate economic and political preferences and practices according, at least so much as we personally can and the political systems we inhabit allow. Which means, in this country at least, experimenting with social democratic and egalitarian alternatives, defending whatever extent arrangements reduce economic alienation and dependency, and trying at every opportunity to expand such.
“Switzerland is a special case with harsh restrictions on immigration, a well-educated and motivated work force and unique economic advantages in specific industries.”
A planned economy which works closely with key industries, provides extensive and universal education, and responds to popular wishes to maintain a degree of uniformity in the identity, values and expectations of the national community. Sounds like good social democratic practice to me. Also sounds a little like the State of Deseret, which wasn’t too shabby an economic experiment either.
“If I am reading Russellâ€™s post correctly, I think that what he is commending in Marxist thought is not the use of state coercion to achieve economic equality. What he is commending is not the economic analysis in socialism, but rather the social analysis, in which we observe how materialistic capitalist society produces breaches between the classes and how our consumer society values status and goods over community feeling. It is on these kinds of points that LDS scripture and prophets can find much commonality with many socialistsâ€™ analysis of society.”
Exactly, and very well put. Thank you.
“It seems likely to me that socialism seems conservative merely because American political ideology…is quite blind to the question of the common good and the ethical and spiritual effects of the economic system. Witness Nateâ€™s frustrating refusal to use the word â€œcapitalismâ€? for this reason (an old discussion)â€“that the economic system shouldnâ€™t be associated with the mentalities, moral habits, and social relations it promotes, only with its explicit insitutional and legal characteristics. These issues are almost impossible to talk about in an American idiom, and even remarkably intelligent Americans fall prey to some shockingly vulgar libertarian notions.”
I agree that I’m reaching when I describe Marx as a conservative, if what you mean by conservative is “traditionalist.” But the fact is that Burke and Marx were basically starting from the same place: a concern for or recognition of the older understanding of economic materiality, what you very rightly called “mentalities, moral habits, and social relations.” This is what traditionalists want to talk about, and this is what socialists want to talk about. In my view, Mormons ought to be able to properly recognize that we are called to speak that language where those two overlap.
I think that it is a terribly dangerous thing to suppose that some day we will have to be serious about our covenants of consecration, our obligation to care for the poor, or the Lord’s clear and unequivocal statement about inequality of wealth being a cause for the world lying in sin, but that until there’s some specific “announcement” from the Brethren, we can simply live like the world and gather for ourselves as much of the world’s goods as we can, consequences to the poor be damned.
What about the wage gap between CEO’s and the lowest level employees in their companies? Is there not something grossly immoral about the head of the company taking home millions of dollars a year while the men and women on the factory floor are making a fraction of that? We have seen, sadly, the direction this nation is going in this respect. Shouldn’t LDS business executives be different? If not, then what good is the gospel doing us?
Is there not something grossly immoral about the head of the company taking home millions of dollars a year while the men and women on the factory floor are making a fraction of that?
Also, the widening gap between rich and poor in this country sets up the terms of the debate in a polemically uneven way — because then any movement towards equality requires redistribution rather than a less uneven distribution in the first place (i.e., living wage). And the word “redistribution,” especially in the Grover Norquist world we live in, takes on a euphemistic and conspiratorial timbre.
Shouldnâ€™t LDS business executives be different?
Some are. For example, while so many CEOs pull down huge salaries despite running their companies dismally (especiall in the airline industry), Dave Neeleman, the Mormon CEO of Jet Blue, accepts a salary in the low six figures (around $200k, as I recall). I read that his family recently moved to a smaller home because his wife wanted something easier to keep clean, and that his kids have all been informed that they’re not getting a cent of his money (he’s quite well off from pre-JetBlue ventures).
Also, the company is run in such a way that socioeconomic stratification doesn’t imply cultural stratification: to facilitate a fast turnaround, the pilots help the cabin crew pick up trash, etc.
On the other hand, he does seem to have some anti-union attitudes, but partly because he thinks a well-run company should treat its employees well enough to eliminate the need.
Larry & Russell,
Thanks for your encouragement.
I think what I’m saying is that you don’t have to go about setting up your own “united order”. How is running our goods down to the nearest store house going to be better than what we have in place right now?
I’m not sure I agree with the idea that only “millennial” conditions will permit the establishment of a “4th Nephi” community. (who knows but what it might be the other way around) I don’t think there’s any difference (in principle) between the society that Alma the elder set up and that which prevailed after the Savior’s visit. In fact, we commit to live that way right now don’t we? (as some have already suggested on this thread)
Russell: I agree with you here that there is an overlap. But my point was that American free-market liberalism is practically the only ideology which doesn’t also overlap with these others to some degree. This makes the overlap, in one sense, less significant. Kirk was probably as exemplary of a modern Burkean as they come, and he seemed to recognize some of the problems in the relation between “capital and labor”, but his conclusion seemed to be that capitalist elites could take the place of traditional aristocracy, and that the left formulation of the problem only made the problem worse. Reconciling classes was a conservative goal, but not through attempts at ‘social justice’–rather the way to reconciliation is by pointing out all the blessings of inquality. Today we seem to have the ripening of this persepective, since the approach among conservatives today is largely to act like class doesn’t exist.
This is one of the fascinating aspects of conservatism–it focuses most directly on the most recent attempts at reform and innovation. Thus Burke’s critiques of commercial culture should be read very differently from those of modern traditionalists. Since conservatism doesn’t really try to separate the good and rational parts of our heritage and the bad and irrational parts (indeed their point is precisely that this distinction is very hard to make, especially in the abstract), what was once a morally destructive, abstract-right based innovation–modern commercial society–is now the fount of many of our social virtues. There’s nothing ideologically necessary about a traditonalist critique of commercial society, since conservatism really isn’t ideological at it’s core anyway. An old system, things being equal, is better than a new or proposed system. This is the historicism of conservatism. Hence the problem of finding common cause with conservatism on the discontents of consumerism, commercialism and economic acquisitiveness: these are now seen by many conservatives as part of a heritage to be preserved.
The relation of this traditionalism and the gospel is very sticky, though I don’t want to deny that you may be onto something. As I’ve seen in the work for the conference paper, Mormon political thought has relatively little of the Lutheran attitude toward temporal authority–quietism has been practically embraced in our history from time to time but rarely explicitly endorsed from a theological standpoint. The clearest Mormon endorsement of political order–the comments on the Constitution–seems based on a conception of human rights rather a view of political order as primarily the suppression of wrongdoing. Moreover, Mormonism’s critique of political authority–in the Book of Mormon, as well as stuff from Brigham and Joseph, is at times quite cutting in its condemnation of class distinctions, the pride of political and social elites, and of the exaltation of the martial spirit–none of which are far from the traditionalisms to be found in world history. The socialist implications of Mormonism are clear, though how these might be put into contemporary practice is obviously a problem. On the other hand, American Mormons have found a certain kind of right-wing politics suited to their tastes, at least given the range of alternatives. But this politics in my mind is different from a thoroughgoing traditionalism. But that’s another thread.
Sorry to get a bit snarky in my first comment. Your post was great, I was just frustrated with some dogmatic claims that get repeated over and over, unchecked, on T&S, whenever I find the time to pop my head in on some political discussion.
The comment above about how capitalistic economic methods work where socialistic ones don’t, put me in mind of Covey’s 7 Habits, wherein the 7 habits expounded on in his book lead us first from a state of dependence to a state of independence and then to a state of interdependence. Is it not possible that capitalism is a rough equivalent of the first 3 habits that lead to independence, and that only once we have achieved that level of independence, more socialistic economic models can then come into play that will lead us to the interdependent Zion we’re all hoping to see someday?
Just a thought.
Jeremiah, you wrote:
“Russell, who on T&S is going to â€œrapidly and thorougly devastateâ€? these flaky testimonials? If history is any guide, no one. Never do we get to hear what counts as â€œredistributionist and government interventionist policiesâ€? (Universal health care? American social security? Public education? Unemployment insurance? Tort liability? Tax credits for child care and mortgage interest?). Nor do we ever get to hear what counts as a â€˜redistributionist or interventionistâ€™ policy â€œworkingâ€? (all but eliminating poverty among the elderly in the case of social security? I guess not.).”
You have a point that is worth clarifying. I think most conservative promoters of business growth and economic freedom like myself have accepted some form of government intervention. For example, I mentioned I don’t want a world where businesses are free to dump toxic waste in rivers and where there is not some kind of minimum wage. These are interventionist policies that are acceptable. To drill down to the issue at hand, we need to find an acceptable tipping point where government intervention is too intrusive. This is the point of my Brazil examples. In my humble opinion, most social democratic countries have adopted policies that have sacrificed economic growth for a social safety net that creates a disincentive for work and investment. And they are not sustainable.
Russell has professed a love for the Switzerland model. It’s a wonderful country, and its people are inarguably among the wealthiest and most successful around. But again it is a unique case. Did you know that any asylum seeker in Switzerland is put in a special home incommunicado from any friends and family, not allowed to work, monitored and watched and followed all day and night, until he makes the decision of his own “free will” to leave (rather than join Swiss society)? This is how Switzerland protects its relatively low unemployment rate. If anybody were to propose a similar police-state type of solution to illegal immigration in the United States, there would be an uproar that would make the opposition to the Patriot Act seem rather tame.
Most of the rest of Europe has unemployment that is much higher than in the United States. They have accepted double-digit unemployment as the norm. I would argue that this is an inhumane policy. Human beings want most of all to be useful. The most degrading thing you can do to a man (or woman) trying to support himself or his family is to create barriers to work. And why is there not work? Because the government intervenes too far in business affairs and creates disincentives for entrepeneurial enterprises. Why start a new business when you have to visit 15 government agencies and get 15 different permits? Why start a new business when you will immediately pay 40 percent taxes on your business income as well as 50 percent taxes on your personal income? Might as well continue to work for the government-controlled factory pushing paper and hoping your union rep can blackmail the already harassed owners into a 10 percent pay raise.
And the worse thing about the European model is that it is unsustainable. When it was instituted there were 10 workers for every retiree, now there are three or four and in a few years there will be two workers for every retiree. Post-modern Europe (where 10 percent of the population goes to any church on a given Sunday) doesn’t see much use for having children. So, population growth has stagnated to the point where it is actually falling. Meanwhile, the population is aging. There is no way that Europe can sustain its welfare system without massive immigration — mostly from Muslim Africa or the Middle East, which is creating a whole new set of problems. I would hardly look to Europe as a model.
So, to answer Jeremiah, what are acceptable redistributionist polices?
–A minimum wage just about where it is now (much higher and you put more people out of work).
–Social security with appropriate reforms to take care of its coming insolvency.
–Strong incentives for private and religious welfare programs (which work much better than AFDC ever has).
–Some minimal regulations to make sure businesses are not polluting rivers, oceans and killing people with faulty products.
–Incentives for a market-based solution to health care rather than our current insurance racket, which is not sustainable.
–Continued support of public education but with incentives and vouchers that will allow private alternatives to flourish and create real competition in schools.
–I believe in unemployment benefits for people out of work but the benefits should probably not last more than 3 to 6 months (depending on the market).
–Tort reform to help lower health care costs.
I’m sure I’m missing something here, but you get the drift.
Under those rules some of the Brethern would not have been called to the Quorum.
I don’t believe that perfection is a requirement for a calling to serve in the church, in whatever calling. If it were, we’d all be released tomorrow. (That doesn’t sound too bad, actually!) There is danger is modeling ourselves after anyone except the one who “did no sin”–that includes the prophets and apostles, because they are men and are subject to the temptations of the flesh too.
And, who knows, maybe the wealthy ones repented!
Geoff B, Larry, etc. —
Let’s assume for a moment that we all agree that Geoff B’s proposals for government intervention in the economy are optimal for producing economic growth. Are Latter-day Saints thereby exempt from the need to be concerned about or commenting on:
(1) Corporate executives who pay themselves salaries that are hundreds of times greater than their average employees’ while at the same time engaging in massive lay-offs and trying to cut salaries through foreign outsourcing and union-busting?
(2) People who engage in ostentatious consumption (which can mean an extra-fancy SUV as well as a Ferrari)?
(3) Exclusionary social arrangements such as country clubs and gated communities?
(4) Those who for whatever reasons are left in poverty by the market economy (noting that all the wave of World Bank mandated market reforms in LDCs have still left huge parts of the populations in poverty)?
(5) Getting closer to home for Latter-day Saints, entire stakes-worth of members in the Philippines and Latin America with over-50% unemployment where the main occupation is scavenging garbage dumps (note here that the PEF is fine for those who have reached a point where advanced training is feasible but still does nothing for the poorest of the poor Saints who can’t pay for primary education)?
(6) How American Latter-day Saints have bought into the materialist culture — for example, how welcome are you at Church if you can’t afford a nice suit, white dress shirt and tie, or do LDS parents spend any less on games and toys for their kids at Christmas than non-LDS parents wrapped up in our acquisitive consumer culture?
(7) The practice of borrowing versus saving to finance our lifestyles on national, governmental and personal levels (noting that our fine conservative Republican President and Congress are running up deficits faster than any Democrat, and the fine conservative Republican Mormon state of Utah has a higher level of personal indebtedness and bankruptcy than almost any other state)?
Dang, JWL, your red undershorts are showing!
Well, I think capitalism is the best economic system available in our fallen state, and I still agree with JWLs points.
Actually, I think (to paraphrase Winston Churchill) capitalism is the worst economic system in the world – except for all the others.
Socialism is, at best, a failed system. At least capitalism has a real shot at relieving poverty – but, it is far too open to abuses of the kind JWL mentions.
“What are acceptable redistributionist polices?”
Just a note: “redistribution,” while certainly part of what I’m defending, isn’t the whole of it, and can frequently work against any kind of socialist/communitarian ideal. The utlimate end of “Money Liberalism” (to use the name Mickey Kaus gave to it) is an absolute leveling: making sure everyone has the same amount of stuff. Whereas the ultimate end of “Civic Liberalism” (a somewhat misleading term, but just to stick with Kaus’s again for the moment) isn’t a leveling so much as a sharing: making sure everyone has a part of the same stuff. The two are obviously similar–if you allow one party to exercise stewardship over a huge portion of communal stuff at the expense of another party, the fact that they are still “sharing” will be practically meaningless. So yes, there needs to be some leveling, some redistributing; as Lorenzo Snow said, it simply can’t be right that one group of people can be so exclusive, so separate, so empowered, over everyone else: such extremes are, by definition, incompatible with Zion. But the leveling itself isn’t the goal; the 19th-century prophets never denied that some people would be able to do better with certain stewardships than others might, and intelligent social democrats (like, for example, Michael Walzer) have long argued that the socialist argument isn’t so much about imposing an economic homogeneity between all communities as it is about constructing an egalitarian and open economy within each given community.
So, that being said, we need to look for a mixed economy, a marketplace structured so that extremes of wealth and poverty are prevented, but more importantly so that everyone can equally participate in and receive succor from each other’s industry and production. How does that apply to your list?
“A minimum wage just about where it is now (much higher and you put more people out of work).”
I disagree. Obviously, nothing serious can be done about wages on the low end of the scale so long as we are unwilling to think collectively about the costs of illegal immigration, globalization, and allowing key industries to invest their capital here, there, or wherever without regard to public priorities. Nonetheless, the minimum wage could be raised at least slightly without seriously hampering the current business economy.
“Social security with appropriate reforms to take care of its coming insolvency.”
The “coming insolvency” of Social Security has been a problem for decades, and will continue to be so for decades to come. It is not a self-perpetuating system, but a pay-as-you-go system; to present it as a government boondoggle that the government “can’t afford” is misleading in the extreme, and rhetoric which plays into the hands of privatizers, waxing lyrical about the emergence of an “ownership society.” Since when is “ownership” antithetical to an intergenerational compact, one which–by definition!–has to be worked and reworked by each generation? Social Security may seem like simple redistribution, but it isn’t; it’s a social arrangement whereby we posit, through payroll taxes, a reciprocal obligation between those who work and those who are too old to work. I’m suspicious of “reforms” that insist the central achievement of FDR’s New Deal, the single most successful and popular egalitarian program in American history, has to be entirely rethought. It doesn’t need to be, because Social Security isn’t what its opponents make it out to be.
That doesn’t mean, by the way, that I’m opposed to the idea of Social Security being means-tested. That would be an important correction. But Bush’s proposed reforms go far beyond that.
“Strong incentives for private and religious welfare programs (which work much better than AFDC ever has).”
I couldn’t agree more. Bush’s faith-based initiatives have been his greatest accomplishments; all of the evidence suggests that a more decentralized and religiously-guided welfare program is going to do a better job of delivering needed aid, and perhaps (though the data here is less clear) even a better job at addressing the conditions which put people in need of welfare in the first place. Welfare payments, which really are a simple matter of redistribution, ought to be kept as local, limited (in time and criteria, not necessarily in overall amounts) and “moral” as possible.
“Some minimal regulations to make sure businesses are not polluting rivers, oceans and killing people with faulty products.”
Agreed. Of course, we probably wouldn’t agree how what the appropriate “minimum” should be, though I confess I am, generally speaking, a lot more interest in jobs than I am in trees.
“Incentives for a market-based solution to health care rather than our current insurance racket, which is not sustainable.”
Sorry–one of my closest friends works pretty high up in the Ontario Health Ministry, and while I am quite familiar with all of the failures and gaps in Canada’s health care system, it is so obviously superior, at least insofar as the needs of your average working family is concerned, to the current American system or any proposed market-based alternative that it’s hard to know where to begin.
“Continued support of public education but with incentives and vouchers that will allow private alternatives to flourish and create real competition in schools.”
I’ve written before that I’m pretty intrigued by the charter school movement and certain voucher programs, especially those which are religiously oriented. But the bottom-line financial commitment to universal public education can’t be compromised–especially not in the name of “competition”–by anyone who wants to take seriously basic social obligations.
“I believe in unemployment benefits for people out of work but the benefits should probably not last more than 3 to 6 months (depending on the market).”
Making a commitment to full employment, through select acts of industrial protection, and more especially through the strengthening of unions, will always work better than an unemployment dole, though the latter will probably always be necessary. But to put too much emphasis on dealing with the unemployed in to put the cart before the horse: the best sort of welfare provision is an egalitarian and publicly driven employment scheme, not a comprehensive social insurance program.
“Tort reform to help lower health care costs.”
I confess that this is one I still struggle with. The over-legalization of America, with the proliferation of lawsuits and tort costs, has broken apart of uncountable civic spaces and opportunities and undermined common-sensical, voluntary projects all across the country. Doctors can’t do their jobs the way they’d like to, educators can’t police and improve themselves as they ought to, because of the abundance of rules, regulations, and threats which so often oppress what happens in classrooms, operating rooms, playgrounds, etc. At the same time, torts are an essential populist tool against the powerful, and too much of the rhetoric of tort reform (like much of what I hear coming from the Bush administration) is far more about making corporations less accountable to the public than about restoring a sense of community and compromise to our legal environment. (The organization Common Good is a blessed exception to this, perhaps because they’re all a bunch of chastened lawyers themselves.)
Anyway, maybe this all helps make clearer where I’m coming from.
Russell, I am really busy today at work so I don’t know if I’ll be able to give detailed responses to your points, but I am very interested in continuing this discussion with you. For now I’d just like to make a couple of points:
First, you wrote Soâ€¦does that mean that redistribution isnâ€™t, by definition, totalitarian? You have me a little confused. If, say, everyone in a given community agreed that they would contribute to building a park, and came up with a progressive taxation scheme to determine how much each person would contribute, and then they appointed someone to collect that money and â€œfacilitateâ€? the redistribution of funds to those doing the park construction, would that be okay? If so, then it seems to me that the problem isnâ€™t redistribution at all; itâ€™s simply a matter of determining exactly how much redistribution we as individuals are righteous enough to accept being â€œfacilitated,â€? and working to bring that level up to gospel standards. In other words, it isnâ€™t the socialist economics which are at issue, but rather the moral and political question of our support of such. In which case, all we can do is aim high, right?
I was disappointed, Russell, by your use of this tactic. I would bet you understand the point I was making despite your sarcastic assertion that “you have me a little confused.” You know exactly what I was saying about redistribution, as indicated by everything you wrote after that sentence about being confused about a supposed contradiction in my statements on the totalitarian and unjust nature of redistribution.
Second, a lot of this boils down to economics, Russell. Geoff B. has been saying some very sensible things. They cannot be ignored out of an academic enthusiasm for making everyone’s life easier and a Marxist interest in redistributing property away from the “haves.”
You have experience in Germany, that much I have gathered from your participation in the Bloggernacle. Germany is a wonderful place to live. Life is very comfortable there right now. Under the surface, however, it suffers from the exact same problems that plague Brazil, as observed by Geoff B.
Initially, Germany had a mandate from its people to engage in the kind of redistributionism that you describe in your supposed refutation of my views of redistribution. This came at a time (after the war) when the entire society was united by a common and justified vision: rebuilding an utterly destroyed country and regaining some respect in the world. At that time, despite certain redistributional aspects of the constitutional order set up after the war, and the choice for a social market economy, wages were determined by the market and were very low. The economic miracle ensued that propelled Germany to the world’s third largest economy–miraculous precisely because of the entire destruction of the country and economy in the war. (This all happened with huge and, frankly, altruistic, expenditures from the United States in the Marshall Plan. Let’s devote some time later to a comparison of the progress of West Germany and East Germany after the war; money poured in by the capitalist, free-market-touting victor in the case of the former; whole factories shipped to Russia and police-state oppression coupled with socialist/communist/Stalinist central planning introduced in the case of the latter.)
But by the 1970s the economic miracle stagnated and Germany, although it has maintained its economic position in the world since that time, has had difficulty growing its economy and creating jobs in the last two and a half decades (well, the mid-1980s might be an exception). Now, a large portion of the German population is “on the dole”–workers who will not allow sensible reform to free the economy to begin to grow again. This is the ultimate fruit of telestial socialism. A German worker will not condescend to work for less than approx. 12-15 Euros an hour. Great, you say, they are insisting on a high and equitable wage. What they are actually doing is rendering the German economy disfunctional. These workers do not care, however, because the state has guaranteed them a generous welfare paradigm if their jobs go away because the economy just simply cannot afford them anymore. But the effect of this welfare paradigm is that it is astronomically expensive to hire anyone. So the result is a disastrously low number of new jobs created each year. Germany’s unemployment rate hovers near France’s, which Geoff B. noted (it’s actually at 10% in Germany).
In the former East Germany, that number, on average, jumps to around 20%. In some East German cities (thanks to the legacy of communism) unemployment is around 60-70%. This is because, in a city like, say, Schwedt-an-der-Oder, a single steel mill the size of Geneva steel, which employed 1,500 people in its glory days, employed ten times than number in Schwedt. When that steel mill was actually forced to compete (i.e. create a product that was actually worth something), it had to cut many thousands of jobs. Those people cannot now be reemployed (even 15 years after the fall of the wall) because of the exorbitant expense of employing someone in Germany. A company would rather pay an illegal Turkish or Southeastern-European immigrant in cash and avoid the double cost (in Germany’s social market economy, a worker who makes 25,000 euros a year actually costs the employer 50,000 euros a year, and that worker is taxed on the 25K at between 40 and 50%.) Also, Germany’s constitutional system of co-determination and labor relations (Betriebsverfassung und Mitbestimmung) forces an employer to deal with a “works council/councilor” (Betriebsrat) any time it needs to fire someone because of economic pressure. This works councilor has to give a stamp of approval before the company can fire a worker, even out of completely legitimate and necessary reasons. Furthermore, the works councilor can file a lawsuit before the Arbeitsgericht for any action taken by the employer against the worker. Yes, this is great for the workers in the short term. I am not arguing with that. But the result is a cumbersome and uncompetitive economy that now only survives at its current level because of the infra-structure and momentum built during the earlier days before things in the labor market became so rigidly socialized and redistributive. Companies just do not hire new people in Germany. The state can barely afford its socialized education and medical systems. And things are only looking darker in a future where there will be two or three retirees, who are expecting a fully socialized pension, for every worker (in an economy where jobs are getting scarcer precisely because of the socialization of the economy).
This brings us back to one of my original points: I donâ€™t think, however, that it is possible for a Fourth-Nephi society to exist absent a common acceptance of certain foundational principles to which all adhere voluntarily as individuals. that secular humanistic (and thus irreligious or downright anti-religious). This is the source of my comments questioning the appropriateness of a state-mandated redistribution of property. The redistribution is morally and ethically necessary, we agree on this principle, Russell, but it must be the result of people, as individuals, rejecting the dog-eat-dog paradigm out of a common vision of the common good. If that is not possible pre-Millenium, then it is, in my view, better to support a regulated free market economy (as opposed to democratic socialism or Marxism or communism) while being personally generous with your means. That way, you, as an individual, are able to make redistributive choices with your own means in a system that lets those choices have the most impact. The capitalist system has its faults but seems, from my perspective, to preserve the greatest level of freedom at the current stage of human development (in Gospel terms, a telestial stage of development) to allow personal choices that effect voluntary redistribution. If you or your stake president are hoarding wealth, then that is a blemish on their record, not on the capitalist system.
JWL, bravo to all your comments. I agree with them all, especially 1-6 (number 7 is, I think, perhaps a tad too partisan; while correct in this and many other particular cases, I think it’s correct to say that, in general, the Democratic party hasn’t been any better a friend to the social democratic, anti-materialist, communal provision crusade than the Republican party for quite a while now).
It looks like the majority of a sentence between the second bolded part and the sentence following it was somehow deleted while I typed. So there is a sentence fragment that ends rather dramatically but, unfortunately, I can’t remember how it began.
John, that is a great comment regardless…
JWL, the only conditions under which that kind of stratification does NOT exist is, perhaps, in Antarctica.
I really wish I had enough time to do this post justice. But I don’t. So let me ignore (for today!) social security, the evils of the Republicans, Jeremiah’s hatred of my post on taxation, minimum wage, CEO salaries, the disempowerment inherent in “capitalism”, the word capitalism, the stagnation of Europe, environmental protection, the movement of capital for the social good, the great quote at the top from the Communist manifesto, Marion G. Romney, the “inefficiency” of the family, and a half dozen wonderful entry points for a discussion.
I think that if you, Jeremiah, and JWL wish to give all you have to the Bishop in Fast Offerings, that is fine. Voting among you to give my money to fast offerings would, on the other hand, be wrong and evil. If you wish to enter into a compact where each person gives to the other two based on some equality of consumption, power to you. You are free to consecrate whatever you wish to the Church or to one another or to any person with whom you make such a covenant.
What I find problematic is the following:
God wishes us to give of ourselves, not give of others. I find endless mandates in the scriptures about how each person should give of their own stewardship to help the poor. I find no indication that my stewardship extends into other people’s property. As best I can tell, my stewardship is pretty much over my property, time, talents, etc..
Inasmuch as Socialism is about forced charity from people who do not wish to give it is not so much like God’s plan as like another alternative God dismissed. Consecration must be voluntary to save us, because grudging gifts are not valuable. Giving to the poor is very much about saving and changing us. King Benjamin makes that crystal clear.
That said, I am not opposed to all redistribution. Some redistribution can potentially enhance productivity and a certain amount can be justified for other reasons. There are other issues, such as inefficiency, discouraging work ethics, encouraging nepotism and corruption, the concentration of power in the hands of the rulers and so forth, about which we hopefully can talk some other time.
This discussion of macro economics has been very interesting and informative. It all seems to illustrate that we indeed do live in spiritual Babylon. And since we know Babylon is destined to fall, the earlier discussions of when we need to start living the law of consecration and establishing Zion seems like a crucial topic. (Since Covey was evoked earlier, the merits of Babylonian socialism vs. Babylonian capitalism seem to fall into Covey’s “Circle of Concern”, whereas when and how we start consecrating falls squarely into his “Circle of Influence”.)
I think JWL and MDS and others are on to something when they caution against somehow thinking we are exempt from living the law of consecration because the prophet hasn’t told us to turn all of our stuff over to the Bishop.
Geoff B wrote: “Do I start selling my worldly goods and give them to my non-LDS neighbors? Not quite enough to go around.”
This is a commonly held sentiment. “Since everyone else won’t do it I can’t do it.” That is true on a macro level, but it doesn’t mean we can’t live the law of consecration ourselves. The basic concept (which is horrifyingly spelled out in many essays by brother Nibley — I say horrifying because he makes sense and that means he’s probably right and that means I might have to exercise faith and change…) is that we should keep what we need and give the rest to the poor. The giving the rest to the poor is easy enough in the church today — we call that the offerings portion of our donations. Fast offerings, the PEF, etc. all apply.
The more difficult question is determining how much we need. Since we have all been thoroughly conditioned by Babylon this becomes a very sticky point and I’m still too scared to open that can of worms in my own life quite yet, though the day is coming… But brother Nibley is fond of saying “more than enough is more than enough”. So perhaps the question those trying to literally keep their covenants can ask is “how much is enough?” How much house is enough, how much car is enough, how much of an entertainment center is enough and when is it more than enough?
Wherever our decision ends up, we can at least buy ourselves some time by focusing most of our excess money into paying off all debts — we have the Lord’s instructions on that. But what about when debts all get paid off? Who will be willing to actually give up all the excess to the poor? Perhaps that is going too far off topic.
BTW â€“ It is hard to disagree with the notion that theoretical socialism look more like the economic structure of Zion than capitalism does, but I must agree that in the meantime capitalism in general has proven to be a lesser evil than Babylonian socialismâ€¦
I appreciate your lengthy response to my lengthy response. Glad to see some points of agreement (we big, bad capitalists are not entirely evil, are we?)
At the end of the day, I believe your analysis is suffering from real-world experience. There are two points that need repeating: there is no free lunch, and there is no way to get from here (where we are today) to there (where we would like to be) without lots of free lunches.
Case in point: anytime you raise the minimum wage, jobs are lost. It may not be very many jobs, and the people whose jobs are lost may not be important to you, but they nonetheless lose their jobs. If you are the owner of the neighborhood Burger King and you are paying your workers minimum wage, and you have 20 employees making $5.85 an hour, and suddenly the wonderful people in Congress decide to raise the minimum wage to $6.80 an hour (sounds reasonable to me — that’s not even a living wage), it’s not as if you can simply pay this raise without it having a cost. The cost to the owner has just gone up. The owner can try to raise prices to compensate, but the reality is that there’s a McDonald’s on every corner with 99 cent specials, so the Burger King owner can’t raise prices. So, he has to cut costs. He fires two people and tries to make do (probably working more hours himself to make up the difference). This is how it works in the real world: without an increase in the minimum wage, you had 20 people employed. With a higher minimum wage, you have eighteen people employed. Them’s the breaks.
So, how about social security? We could go on and on about this, but here’s the bottom line: what’s so bad about voluntarily allowing younger workers to put part of their income into market-based funds? Over the last 40 years, the return on market-based funds has been much higher than the return on the Social Security trust fund. In Chile, all people are required to put their social security funds in the market, and it has created a wonderful ownership-based society where everybody has a stake in the stock market and everybody feels proud of their citizenship and everybody feels secure about their social security pensions in the future. I can’t say I have much security about ever seeing anything close to the money I have put into social security — unless something is done to change the system.
As for our health system, the reality about the Canadian system is that for routine checkups it seems to work great. For many surgeries, there are often year-long waiting lists, and Canadians have the escape valve of simply crossing the border to get this done in a place where the market works. Having said that, I am in favor of lowering health costs and I do think there is something wrong with a system where tens of millions are without insurance. I would submit that, absent a huge government-based program that will never be passed in the United States because of its incredible cost, the solution is once again the market. Most people don’t know how much health care costs because their insurance pays for it. Therefore, the market is not working — people are not forcing their doctors to charge less. Market-based health savings accounts would be a solution to that. In addition, if we had tort reform doctors would not be spending an increasingly large portion of their income on health insurance. And their costs might be able to go down.
It’s a wonderful thing to talk about bringing equality to everybody and giving everybody a piece of the pie. But at the end of the day, it can’t be done without redistribution. And often the redistribution doesn’t work.
Frank, you have said succinctly what I tried to say in three or four lengthy comments. Thank you.
By the way, in answer to Russell’s title question, “Can a good Mormon be a socialist?”, I would answer: I don’t see why not. That is, if “being” a socialist ends with giving your own property away and not taking it away from others who are not willing to “be” socialists.
I believe research has shown that the cost of insurance premiums is more closely tied to how the insurance companies are faring in their investments than the size of tort awards. States that have passed tort reforms — such as damages caps — have seen no real decrease in the cost of premiums or savings for consumers.
Yes, tort reform is the red herring of current healthcare woes. See this article; also, this blog.
I consider myself socialistic in my economic tendencies-however I think the United Order would be completely unworkable because the man digging the ditch is just going to hate …HATE…the philosopher.
Even if they are both getting â€œpaidâ€? the same amount the man digging the ditch is physically working. The philosopher is just thinking. The inequality is inherently built into the labor.
The United Order seems to be code for a complete agrarian society (no cities, towns, stores, trade). As soon as you introduce any sort of barter system then you immediately open up the society to capitalistic or entrepernurial influences.
Socialism to me does not equal United Order.
Totalitarian Communism seems more like the United Order.
Could there be such a thing as Democratic Capitalistic Socialism â€“ itâ€™s seems incredulous that we have a federally mandated minimum wage that equals a total of $15,000 a year.
If the church was really serious about women staying home with their children then they would be releasing PR statements about the importance of a living wage instead of being hoodwinked by the red herring of â€œdefending the sanctity of marriageâ€?.
Thatâ€™s just me though
cje asked Could there be such a thing as Democratic Capitalistic Socialism
Yes, it’s called the Social Market Economy at work in Germany, France, and other European countries.
Whooowheee! CJE is getting us into juicy territory now.
The United Order just can’t work? Does that mean true living of the law of consecration can’t work? Does that mean Enoch’s city of Zion or post-Christ society in 4 Nephi are just fairy tales?
If you simply mean that the United Order can’t work in today’s world then you will find little argument. We live in Babylon and Zion is the opposite of that. But when Christ returns Babylon will be gone — destroyed. It really will be the end of the world as we know it. It will be Bizarro world to put it in comic book terms. You don’t mean that the United Order would be completely unworkable even then do you?
John Fowles, if you need a second witness: I also didn’t get what you were saying about totalitarianism. I don’t think Russell was being sarcastic or pedantic.
John, I don’t want to get into a contest about who knows more about Germany, but I might point out that your perspective is not the only way to look at the situation. The Germans and their government are quite aware of the need for some reform, and have been engaged in an ongoing reform process for some time now. However, the majority of Germans are not interested in abandoning the solidarity principle. There are, as you point out, costs associated with it, but social solidarity is one of the things–one of the really important things–that make Germany a nice place to live.
To respond to the discussion in general, I don’t think it’s an unspeakable heresy to believe that our own system–not just the economy, but the whole thing–could use a good dose of solidarity. For example, I live in a place where full civic participation–access to recreation, shopping, higher education, employment, the public square, and church attendance–requires a substantial one-time fee of several thousand dollars and the constant ongoing costs associated with purchasing and owning a car. Without a car, you can’t get anywhere in this metropolitan area of 500,000 or so. Other cities lower the cost of civic participation by implementing mass transit; a bus ticket gets you where you need to go. Often those transit systems don’t pay for themselves and have to be paid for out of tax revenue, but they provide a service that’s important to everybody even if it’s used disproportionately by the less wealthy. This kind of solidarity–or the lack of it–gets hard-wired in all over the place, from how we lay out streets and design buildings to our legal system. You can still be a capitalist and believe that people shouldn’t have to bear as much of the risk of unemployment, medical emergency, or retiring just after a market crash as they do in the US.
I would love to participate in this discussion, with so many things said about Europe… But it’s exam week. Just a quick item: â€œCan a good Mormon be a socialist?” Well, research showed that in Belgium the majority of the members are “socialists”, inasmuch as they are members of the socialist party, or members of a socialist union or socialist health care fund (in Belgium these are tied to party or ideology). And I can confirm they are “good Mormons”.
Of course, what does it mean to be “a socialist” in a country like Belgium and in many other West-European countries? It may be partially defined by personal social concerns, but much more often it is… to be part of a lineage of anti-Catholic parents, grandparents… going back to a strong “anti-clerical” attitude, not against “religion” as such, but against the social abuses that tied the Catholic Church to capitalistic exploitation. When Americans assess a “lack of religiosity” in Europe, they may confuse it with the rejection of an “apostate”, exploitative system. And it is precisely that rejection that helped some of these “socialists” accept the Church.
The ONLY thing we need in order to live “after the manner of happiness” (Zion) is a change of heart. In Zion everyone seeks the welfare of their neighbor. The “philosopher” will not be happy watching his brother do all the manual labor. People will give of themselves to lessen one anothers burdens.
Oh, on Nibley. It’s kinda funny to visualize an old man criticizing members of the church for not living up to the law of consecration while the tithing funds of the church have been the main-staple of his support. (I’m assuming so, as he is employed by BYU)
You obviously don’t like Hugh. Did you read his daughter’s book, I think it is called “Searching for Adam”.
Jonathan, my use of Germany was to show the difficulties of socialism in maintaining a vibrant economy. The Germans have chosen their path and I don’t disparage them their decision. I am conscious of the many failed attempts at reform in Germany over the last five years to try to make the German market attractive to companies wary of the difficulties of firing someone according to economic needs, etc. And of course, I am familiar with the current debates over funding education and social security in the German system. That is actually beside the point, however.
I stated earlier but will repeat, largely in response to Wilfried and Jonathan that I think most rational people could answer “yes” to Russell’s title question. As long as one is living the principles of the Gospel, one can be a good Latter-day Saint and a socialist or whatever else one chooses to be that is not contrary to the principles of the Gospel. But Russell’s decision to be a socialist has to stop with himself. He can give his substance away and can expect others to do so to the extent that they have also signed onto the same paradigm. If Russell believes that socialism is the proper way for the United States, following in the footsteps of Europe, then the appropriate approach, it seems to me, is to campaign for it and try to convince other people that it is the right thing and to voluntarily give of their substance; that is, voluntarily socialize their property. Other societies might have chosen redistributive socialism and that is fine for them except for the fact that it really doesn’t seem to work in the long run (at least when they are competing with other free market systems).
Russell, I would be interested in some more detail as to your motivations for wishing socialism on us all pre-Millenium. Is it because you wants security for your family as to issues of welfare and sustenance? Is it because you wants your job as a professor to be perceived as being as socially valuable as e.g. the business magnate whose ideas and ambition (possible in this telestial world because of the possibility for pecuniary gain) have created thousands of jobs for the “workers” who are the principle beneficiaries of “socialism” (indeed the magnate really only stands to lose from socialism from a telestial point of view)? Or is it not personal but rather other-focused–a concern for the welfare of the workers and a goal of making sure they all have health care and a retirement? Maybe it is all three; or maybe it is far more complex than any of these possibilities imply. But, Russell, what makes you see a Fourth-Nephi society as a possibility in the current world? Absent some unifying, solidarity-evoking event, such as the visit of Christ to the Nephites in the BoM, which made them “all of one mind” on these matters, how can society enter into a Fourth-Nephi lifestyle without falling prey to all of the ills of socialism listed by Frank?
“The â€œphilosopherâ€? will not be happy watching his brother do all the manual labor. People will give of themselves to lessen one anothers burdens.”
I like that.
“Love they nieghbor as thyself”–what more of a socialist manifesto could you want.
Give your friend Chomsky a call and see what he says. A good socialist should be a true believer in your mind.
Why do I detect a disconnect between socialists and the Gospel. Hmm.
Regarding supposed hypocrisy by Nibley, I have it on eye-witness testimony that he has for decades lives a Spartan lifestyle while turning over all extra funds to the church and poor. The same eyewitness watched with his own eyes as Nibley signed over a royalty check from his publisher to the Church. The reported amount on the check: $70,000.
So no, I don’t believe Nibley is a hypocrite as you imply. I believe he practices what he preaches and will be (and probably has been) appropriately rewarded from on high for that integrity. Is he a socialist? Judged on his writings, he seems to think of himself as simply a consecrator…
(Perhaps his daughter resents not getting that new pair of shoes?)
I agree with you regarding Hugh. I have known that about him for years. I just thought that Jack might have read the book and altered his perspective of him.
I would be interested in getting your take on Paul Krugman’s editorial today in the NY Times.
He has had quite a bit to say about the privatization of our social security program and specifically mentions Chile’s. I think he might take issue with your assessment. I have not been able to see much real data about it so I can’t say I agree or disagree with him.
I would say, however, that I disagree that Social Democracy is to blame for the continued poverty in Brazil. There are many other factors at work here (including the blatant anti-free market policies of the U.S. Government towards developing countries). Sure the business climate in Brazil is bad relative to the rich countries, but how much of that has to do with the Social Democracy versus a history of elite control and the continuation of a feudal society? Should the far-right military dictatorship still be in control? Would that have improved things? After all, the economy grew leaps and bounds, right? Or should the Brazilians elect a leader that sucks up to Bush and Co. while getting hosed in nearly every aspect of globalization’s effects? Of course my questions are rhetorical, but to suggest that social democracy has failed Brazil requires wishing away a great deal of uncomfortable facts about Brazilian history and U.S. influence in Latin America.
It is interesting that you used the last 25 years as the timespan. A civilian government didnâ€™t take over in Brazil until around 1985. Looking at the current situation, Cardoso wasn’t exactly handed a thriving economy to work with, but he made serious improvements. Now Lula is presiding over an economy that by nearly all measures is steaming along quite well and the fiscal policies imposed by the IMF are being honored and then some.
As far as Chile is concerned, they do seem to have a good thing going. So much so that they felt it necessary to elect a Socialist as head of state.
There is no denying that violence, corruption, poverty, etc. are growing issues in Brazil, but to blame that on Social Democracy is a bit like crediting Pinochet for the current success of Chile’s economy (unless of course far-right dictatorships that engage in genocide are considered a good way to “jump-start” an economy). Considering you have lived (or are living) there I’m sure you would agree that there are many other issues that contribute.
With regards to Asia. Most countries in Asia are a very poor example of free market economics and capitalism. You mention Malaysia (Capital Controls) and China (Currency Controls, Capital Controls and massive state intervention). Was this an oversight? We mustnâ€™t forget that during the recent Asian economic crisis, the country that controlled capital flows was the one that was the least affected by it (Malaysia). Certainly a more liberal approach to their economic policies has helped, but corruption is rife, poverty widespread, and labor standards are deplorable.
Bottome lineâ€¦A few statistics in isolation donâ€™t paint a very accurate picture.
Larry & Geoff Johnston,
I love Nibley and will read and reread his works until the day I die. Reading “Approaching Zion” was a life changer for me. It slapped me upside the head and caused me to reconsider my social views. However, during the 15 years since I first read AZ I’ve come to disagree with much of Nibley’s social ideology. My snarky comment wasn’t intended to impugn bro. Nibley with hypocracy so much as it was intended to vent my frustrations with the blind spots of such an influencial figure. I sometimes wonder if he has ever truely ventured outside of the realm of the university and learned what it really takes for the average schmoe to make a living. I think it can be all too easy to critcize the masses for lacking the faith to accept God’s “free lunches” when one has tenure.
Frank and John,
What I find puzzling about your defenses of capitalism is the idea that what we possess actually belongs to us. I’m sure I will be pounced on by lawyers and social scientists (is there an Oman in the house?) but why should we view individuals as the fundamental units of humanity, and ascribe to them material stuff? We’re too imbued with 17th century British political philosophy. We are not atoms.
There are no individual human beings, we are irreducibly social… a single human raised by wolves in the forest would fail to acquire language, thought, or any worthwhile material stuff. The nice things that I have are largely consequences of my parents having nice things. So I got a good education, paid for by the public, a good college education, paid for by the public, a good graduate education, paid for by the public, and I now live off tithing funds. The science that I do depends on and builds on the science of others. It is funded by your tax dollars (thanks!). Without such a community there could be no science. I think that you will find, if you examine yourselves, that even if your case is not as obvious as mine, without the social structures that we enjoy, you would have nothing also.
In light of these contributions of our society to my development, is it so unjust for the church or the state to ask me to share some of it with someone who wasn’t so lucky? Of course, in a Mormon context, all the things we possess come from God and remain His, and we are merely stewards. If we horde God’s belongings and don’t share them with his suffering children, what kind of people are we? How’s that for justice?
I apologize in advance for my naivete. Skewer away.
Thanks for the clarification, Jack.
I suppose it is pretty hard to apply the “more than enough is more than enough” principle in our lives when we never reach the point of having more than enough. Nibley does seem to encourage us to go to the edge of financial suicide and take a flying leap. Perhaps because it worked for him and he believes it will work for anyone… Feeling pressured to make that kind of move causes a lot of frustration.
But I think we can work at becoming economic Zionists (which look a lot like individualized textbook-style socialists, Russell) by living modestly, giving generously but prudently to the poor, getting out of debt, and then when we are out of debt using our excess to give even more generously to the poor. Maybe I’m naive but it seems like our faith will gradually increase on that path as well and perhaps the Lord will even grant us more income along the way as we prove we won’t consume it all ourselves(?). Jacob seemed to think that would happen:
“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 goodâ€”to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”
Russell and Jeremiah: I don’t have time to respond here to any of the excellent points and issues that you have raised. I am too busy working away for the community destroying forces of capitalism. I will try to post some related thoughts in the next couple of days.
I do have one point, however, in response to Jeremiah’s comments regarding my distaste for the word capitalism. I do not think that it is accurate to suggest that my distaste for the word comes from the fact that I am “quite blind to the question of the common good and the ethical and spiritual effects of the economic system.” This, I think, is a grossly unfair characterization of my views. My distaste for the phrase capitalism comes first from its Marxist provenance, which I think, prejudges the issue because it carries with a host of contestable assumptions. Second, it comes from the fact that capitalism in my opinion tends to conjure up images of social relationships that are frequently at odds with actual practices in the world. The first objection is to terminology that prejudges the question. The second objection is to terminology that misleads or obfuscates.
I am willing to discuss the possiblity of the common good or the spiritual effects of the economic system. I would rather not do so using terms that poison the well and prejudge the issue.
Allen B., I’m not so much defending capitalism as showing that it facilitates more vibrant economies which create more real jobs. I view capitalism as a lesser evil to socialism until all people can be communally minded such that socialism in its true form of United-Orderism (or Fourth-Nephi/Zion-type living) can be achieved as the result of the free agency of each individual that makes up the collective that will exist at that time. That state of things seems like the premise upon which such an order can work. That is why Frank’s comment is very cogent: nothing is stopping Russell from moving to a place with a group of other like-minded individuals and living socialism with those people, all of whom agree that it should be done.
Yes! It really boils down to individuals just plain doing it. (and three cheers (!) for Nibley’s commitment to do so) I think there are many who are striving to do the same in the best way they know how.
I will try to make one substantive point before I go off to catch my plane. I think that it is probably a mistake to speak of “The United Order.” In reality, what we have are various “United Orders” consisting of different systems of property and management. Even during the 19th century, when Mormonism was more adventurous in experimenting with economic utopianism, the United Order was a moving target at the level of institutional detail. Let me suggest that this point may be important. The concrete evolution of rules and procedures can have as much to tell us as the fate of abstractions and isms. Of course, there is a disciplinary difference here. I am a lawyer and I study rules and procedures. Russell is a philosopher and he studies theories and isms. I suspect that we both tend to see a world in which everything is an nail for our chosen intellectual hammer. No doubt the truth lies in an integration of differing and competing perspectives. Still, it is worth remembering that abstracting from detail frequently conceals as much as it explains.
You are right when you suggest he might have some blind spot. That is why I asked if you had read his daughter’s book and that had somehow jaundiced your opinion. She doesn’t speak very glowingly about him.
Well, Frank, you hit the nail on the head. To forcibly take people’s resources away and give them to others will never make anyone a better person.
And this statement:
“Totalitarian Communism seems more like the United Order.”
It was Lucifer who believed that giving us a choice was bad. How can a government which takes away choice, and forces people to do its will ever be of God? God will not force His children to do right, because forced goodness is no goodness at all. Socialist governments take away the initiative not only of those who are on the dole, but also of those who are more fortunate. As Scrooge said his taxes paid for the poorhouses, that’s how he helped the poor. But he, individually could have done so much more. Have you seen the charts showing how the very poorest states are the ones who give the most to charity?
I actually do believe we need to have a good social net, but socialism is not the answer. It simply doesn’t work, as can be seen not only in Canada (my husband is Canadian & I lived there 2 years) or in Europe. People are encouraged NOT to work and business cannot flourish in that environ.
Someone mentioned that Switzerland is wealthy. That is true, compared to the other European nations, but a recent Swedish study showed that “If the European Union were a state in the USA it would belong to the poorest group of states. France, Italy, Great Britain and Germany have lower GDP per capita than all but four of the states in the United States. In fact, GDP per capita is lower in the vast majority of the EU-countries (EU 15) than in most of the individual American states. This puts Europeans at a level of prosperity on par with states such as Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia.”
Yes, we need to live the Law of Consecration as individuals, and God will hold us accountable. But a godless government forcing redistribution is not the answer.
According to Kent Huff (the author “Joseph Smith’s United Order and “Brigham Young’s United Order) the United Order was indeed a “moving target” inasmuch as it adapted itself to meet the specific needs of the saints as well as the demands of the concurrent business requirements of the times.
No I haven’t read his daughter’s book and I don’t think I will. I am, however, aware of some of her more henious accusations, which in and of themselves cause me to believe that she’s a maladjusted mystical twit with no real handle on reality.
Nate and Jack, I won’t argue with the fact that the United Order is a “moving target”; that is certainly true. Still, I needed some word to use as a place-holder for what I mean. Maybe sticking with Fourth Nephi is the best approach since we know nothing about their “rules and procedures” and thus the system described there remains at the level of “abstraction and isms.”
I can’t speak for Russell or others, but in your #42 I think you missed the point of my posts. Plenty of scriptures enjoin us to address poverty and inequality without regard to whether a “United Order” or “4 Nephi” society can now exist. If you say that democratic peoples ought not to choose to address these issues through their elected governments, then what should Latter-day Saints do about them?
And as for Jack’s comment in #41, I would point out that the same would apply to sin in general, an empty Antartica may be the only continent where there is no sin. However, that does not mean that Latter-day Saints can ignore the problems of sin just because they are ubiquitous.
Again I put the question again to the free marketers here: what do we do about poverty and inequality if the people can not address these matters through their democratically elected governments? This is intended as a sincere question, not a rhetorical defense of social democracy, so please do not go back to your critique of government action. A standard leftist criticism of free marketers is that their hearts are on their goods rather the good of others as shown by the fact that they devote their energy to defending their property rights far more than trying to figure out how to help the poor. Will Latter-day Saint defenders of the free market refute that criticsm?
I hear you. I would be interested in hearing what Nate might conjure up in place of “capitalism” as a “place holder”. Because IMO, what ever it is I can’t imagine it looking much different than what you and Geoff B have been driving at – that is if the intent is to place individuals in conditions wherein they may freely consecrate. I believe those conditions exist right here where you and I live regardless of the temptations associated with them.
I was merely suggesting that criticizing capitalism because of the “inequality” that immoral capitalists may generate doesn’t hold up as a valid criticism on a thread dealing with the virtues of socialism. All social systems where ever they may be found produce poverty or a mixture of poverty and wealth.
JWL asked what do we do about poverty and inequality if the people can not address these matters through their democratically elected governments?
People can address these matter through their democratically elected governments. The people of the USA have chosen not to use the vehicle of democratic socialism to do so thus far. That is their prerogative. It is not without good reason either since people in America are free to give of their substance to the poor (if they choose to do so) but America is not encumbered with the problems of a social market economy (see my comment # 38 on Germany or Geoff B.’s words on Brazil for examples of these problems). In reality, nothing is stopping any of us from full consecration right now.
Nate: Perhaps I am being unfair to your position; our discussion on the use of capitalism was a while ago. I believe my answer to your complaint was that sociology and economics have found thoroughy non-Marxist, and quite useful, ways of using the term. Schumpeter and Weber are sufficient examples.
I do want to clarify that my point was that American political ideology, and not specifically you Nate, is “quite blind” (“relatively blind” might have been a better way to put it) to “questions of the common good and the ethical and spiritual effects of the economic system.” I was trying to say that your beef with “captialism” was similar, but not that you are blind to certain issues, in the sense that your position is rooted in mere prejudice.
“Inasmuch as Socialism is about forced charity from people who do not wish to give it is not so much like Godâ€™s plan as like another alternative God dismissed.”
I realize that we are likely at an intellectual impasse here which could only be resolved by addressing fundamental ontological issues. That being, for the record, let me emphasize once again: socialism is NOT all about, or even necessarily about, “forced charity”. Rather, socialism is about the incorporation of economic transations into a SOCIAL GOAL. Public education is “socialistic.” So is Social Security, and a hundred other policies which go beyond mere “redistribution”–that is, moving money around, as important as that sometimes may be–and seek instead to actually affect the structure of economic opportunity and life.
Now, I don’t know how you feel about payroll taxes being used to support the Social Security program, but let’s say you loathe it. You think SS is a terrible waste, an utterly flawed attempt to address a non-existent problem, a subsidy to a bunch of fat cat retirees, and nothing more, etc. Well, you have two choices: refuse to pay your payroll taxes (by, I don’t know, taking the BYU payroll office hostage and threatening to kill them off one by one until your payroll deduction is transfered back to your account), or pay your payroll taxes. You will probably take the second route: grudgingly, unhappily, complainingly, but you’ll take it.
Question: in what sense, according to your own definition, has the Social Security program, by “forcing” you (through existing law and the police powers behind it) to give “charity” to the elderly, made you an accomplice in a Satanic plot? If you think, “to a pretty significant extent,” well, I’d strongly disagree, but at least I’d know where you’re coming from–namely, the all-taxation-is-theft/collective-action-is-an-illusion school. However, you don’t sound like you’re from that school; on the contrary, you clearly allow that some redistributionary programs are justified, which must mean you don’t find all of them Satanic. So…to repeat what I wrote to John Fowles, what am I missing here? How is it that a social democratic policy which attempts to structure charitable provision ex ante into the economic system through the force of law, is “forced charity” and devilishly bad, when the some other forms of ex post charitable redistribution, similarly backed up by the law, aren’t necessarily so, however much you may not like them?
My complaint is that by dropping the word “socialism” into the equation, you and some others seem to assume that I am wanting to force some wholly oppressive category into our range of economic options; why? I admit Marx and those who followed him were utterly, horrifyingly wrong about revolutionary socialism. I also admit that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of legitimate practical arguments against socialism; through this whole thread I have emphasized that, like what I understand the prophets to have told us, there is probably no single stable formula or tool which will create social democracy, and that anything that actually gets us closer to it will have to involve a mixture of elements. But I think this follows from any serious engagement with socialist thought. Unless I am completely misunderstanding you (which I may be), you seem to suggest that a socialist interpretation of the call to provide for the poor and eliminate class distinctions is, by definition, beyond the gospel pale. Why?
“For example, I live in a place where full civic participationâ€“access to recreation, shopping, higher education, employment, the public square, and church attendanceâ€“requires a substantial one-time fee of several thousand dollars and the constant ongoing costs associated with purchasing and owning a car.”
A superb example, and one of Melissa’s and my greatest complaints about American society (and Jonesboro, Arkansas, for that matter); thank you for bringing it up. Thinking “socialistically” is in so many ways a pretty basic and humble enterprise: like, for example, providing extensive and well-funded public transportation. By structuring the life of a community around public transporation as much as possible, you enable the equalization and sharing of so much of daily life–people end up riding the bus, the train, the subway together. It opens up the infrastructure of the city. It reduces the financial and psychological obstacles in the way of finding a new job, joining a new church, balancing home and work, etc. If physical mobility is a function of relative wealth and status, then you have opened up a small yet devastating deep gap between the haves and the have-nots in a community. The United States, being a big country with a whole lot of empty space, faces challenges in the providing of public transportation that a lot of smaller, more socially unified countries do not; but nonetheless, we could do a far, far better job than we are at present.
JWL asked “what do we do about poverty and inequality if the people can not address these matters through their democratically elected governments?”
Isn’t the law of consecration the only good answer to this question? I outlined one method in #64. The difference between this solution and macro solutions, like socialism, is that we focus only on how we personally are stopping poverty and inequality. The macro solutions discussed all focus on how we can change goverments and regulations to get society to fix things (or in other words, other people are forced to chip in whether they want to or not).
Of course we can address these matters through our democratically elected governments as well — we just may not have as much luck through that method because we’d have difficulty finding enough votes.
In response to JWL’s question regarding free-marketeers and poverty, let me point to what I see as interesting and promising approaches:
The work of the Institute for Justice in Washington DC, a public interest law firm that has been active in suing on behalf of inner-city entrepreneurers who have been stymied by protectionist liscencing laws and the like.
The work of the Gramene Bank which operates for profit micro-lending in the developing world.
The work of Hernando de Soto of Peru who has been devising titling systems for the poorest of the poor in places like Haiti and Cairo. The absence of simple, honest, public titles makes it impossible for the poor to use their assets to better their condition in some circumstaces, eg using property as security for a loan, having property that can be attached in the event of a breach of contract, which allows for contracting with strangers.
The elimination of trade barriers in the developed world, which frequently deprive those in poorer countries of a lucrative market for their goods.
Contra Frank and other free-marketers I do not regard government redistribution as theft, nor do I believe that government’s role in development is limited to getting out of the way.
Frequently, however, philosophers and policy analysists are fixated on law as a mechanism of regulation or wealth transfer. This focus, I think, has the unfortunate effect of making law’s role as an enabler invisible. In large part I think that is simply the result of the general ignorance about the shape and function of private law among political intellectuals. Most political theorists are fairly familiar with issues in constitutional law such as freedom of speech or due process of law. They are much less likely to be familiar with issues such as negotiability, securitization, mortgages, sales law etc. Yet these are frequently the key institutions in the economic success of differering countries and they are institutions that are often sorely lacking in the developing world.
“Just a quick item: ‘Can a good Mormon be a socialist?’ Well, research showed that in Belgium the majority of the members are ‘socialists,’ inasmuch as they are members of the socialist party, or members of a socialist union or socialist health care fund (in Belgium these are tied to party or ideology). And I can confirm they are ‘good Mormons.'”
Thank you, Wilfried, for making the obvious yet necessary point that the hang-up with socialism fairly common to free-market-supporting American Mormons has more to do with being free-market-supporting Americans than with Mormonism itself.
Interesting, your connection of Catholicism with economic exploitation, and anti-clericalism with social concern. I don’t know anything about eh history of the Catholic Church in Belgium and the Low Countries. From my reading of things Catholicism, particularly in Latin America, has been one of the foremost contributors to social democratic thought; the principle of subsidiarity and the “third way” between capitalism and communism has been strongly associated with the Catholic Church for decades, or so I thought. But maybe that comes from listening to American Catholics and Catholic theologians, rather than the lived experience of Belgians.
“a socialist interpretation of the call to provide for the poor and eliminate class distinctions”
I’m having a hard time engaging this debate for the obvious reason (my brains are made of pumice) but also for a less obvious reason: I’m not sure what Russell Fox means when he says ‘socialism’ or ‘socialist.’ In common use the term seems to refer to a nationalized, state-run economy, but at some points Russell Fox seems to be saying that such is just a means, but that ‘socialism’ is an ends. But if ‘socialism’ is just an ends–if ‘socialism’ means wanting to provide for the poor and eliminate class distinctions–then I don’t get how there could be “*a* socialist interpretation” of that ends. All interpretations would be by definition socialist.
So, for understanding’s sake, a question: are ‘compassionate conservatives’ like Nate and I who wish to end poverty and eliminate class distinctions, and who aren’t too hung up on using the government to do it, are we socialists, though we generally favor free market means of doing it? Or are we not ‘socialists’ because we have other goals besides those two and sometimes give them priority; or because we’re not very sanguine about the possibilities of achieving them wholesale and thus are pretty restrained in what we advocate that the government do; or because we think in this fallen world that those two goals are largely incompatible?
“Russellâ€™s decision to be a socialist has to stop with himself. He can give his substance away and can expect others to do so to the extent that they have also signed onto the same paradigm. If Russell believes that socialism is the proper way for the United States, following in the footsteps of Europe, then the appropriate approach, it seems to me, is to campaign for it and try to convince other people that it is the right thing and to voluntarily give of their substance; that is, voluntarily socialize their property.”
I find this comment kind of funny; is there anything in my post which in any suggests anything other than this? I’m making an argument as to why I think Mormonism ought to understood as compatible with, even supportive of, socialistic policies, with the implication that I think, therefore, that Mormons ought to support the establishment of social democratic practices. That’s my “campaign,” in other words. Now, if you mean John, that my campaign ought never go beyond the personally voluntary–that I can’t, for example, urge the passage of laws through democratic means–then I can see why my original post might have bothered you, because I’m clearly not just talking about me and, perhaps, you acting socialistically–I’m talking about me and you being subject, through the force of law, to certain socialistic principles. I’ll reiterate my question to Frank (in #79)–why is that politically or morally beyond the pale? (Or is it?)
(You kind of repeat this point in #66, when you write: “nothing is stopping Russell from moving to a place with a group of other like-minded individuals and living socialism with those people, all of whom agree that it should be done.” I do not dispute that the easiest way to live in accordance with communitarian principles is by splitting off from existing society, moving someplace uninhabited, and establishing a separate, protected, agrarian or Amish-style community. That said, what if I moved someplace else–say, Utah–and started urging the people there to live socialistically. And let’s say that I somehow convinced, say, 59% percent of them that such was a good idea, and they voted me into the governorship on a socialistic platform. Could I legitimately attempt to socialistically restructure certain elements of the Utah economy then? If not, why not? What is it about the Christian socialist ideal that makes it uniquely inapplicable and not worth experimenting with? You have frequently emphasized that the realization of a fully Zion-like egalitarian community will require a change of heart so dramatic that you can’t imagine anything less that Christ-visits-the-Americas-type devastation producing it. I agree. However, I respond: I suspect that pornography will only be fully eradicated from society when a change of heart dramatically reshapes our public notions of gender and sexuality, and I don’t think anything less than the Second Coming will be sufficiently dramatic. Does that mean that, until the Second Coming, I shouldn’t do anything to try to outlaw porn?)
I know you’re pretty passionate about making equality and community and social justice serious parts of the public sphere. You’ve also got some serious emotional attachments to the socialist tradition and so forth. I think the latter gets in the way of the former. That is, when you insist on talking about socialism and Karl Marx and what not, you lose people you might persuade if you just approached them talking about loving your neighbor and being equal children of God and so on and then tied it to your political objectives.
John (#56 again),
“Russell, I would be interested in some more detail as to your motivations for wishing socialism on us all pre-Millenium….[W]hat makes you see a Fourth-Nephi society as a possibility in the current world? Absent some unifying, solidarity-evoking event, such as the visit of Christ to the Nephites in the BoM, which made them ‘all of one mind’ on these matters, how can society enter into a Fourth-Nephi lifestyle without falling prey to all of the ills of socialism listed by Frank?”
These are two different questions. Why do I find truth in Christian socialism or social democracy? For the same reason Arthur Henry King said he found truth in Marx, truth that made him, a least in part, prepared to receive the gospel. Socialism is a comprehensive attempt to make a better world, or more specifically, a world which lacks alienation and replaces it with solidarity. I think the God doesn’t want His children to be separated from one another, materially or emotionally. I don’t think it’s right, to hearken back to what was probably my single most affecting and revelatory socio-political moment, that crazy starving Korean women are to eat garbage on street corners while well-dressed missionaries climb into buses and leave them behind because that’s the way things work. I think we have the obligation to change the way things work; I think we have the responsibility to change how we define what “works.” It’s happened before–capitalism is no natural law; it’s a construct, a set of habits and expectations, like any other economy–and it can happen again. As Marx wrote in his Theses on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”
As for the second question, which seems to me to be primarily a theological or eschatological one, my answer is simple: I don’t think we can achieve Zion on our own. I don’t think we can achieve anything on our own. All social democracies, all Christian utopias, all communities, will fail. But so will all economies, or any stripe. No possible change will avoid that end. Capitalism will ruin things, as will all of the alternatives, because ruin is our lot in a fallen world. Still, we’re called to work, to live, to endure, and–in the meantime, according to Lorenzo Snow, anyway–try to avoid letting the rich get too rich and the poor get too poor while we’re at it. Social democracy seems like an honorable way to try to manage the world until the end.
“I think we can work at becoming economic Zionists (which look a lot like individualized textbook-style socialists, Russell) by living modestly, giving generously but prudently to the poor, getting out of debt, and then when we are out of debt using our excess to give even more generously to the poor.”
I think that’s absolutely right, and an important point. There is a limit to what an individual can do on behalf of a social good, but one of the great faults of Marx’s determination to hang his argument up on impersonal historical laws (which later communist thinkers grafted onto the state) was that he failed to acknowledge how personal styles of life can importantly impact the level of alienation in the world, and thereby slow or even reverse the loss of social goods. Living a simple, circumscribed, rooted, debt-free, generous, service-and-work oriented life is the key to the recovery of solidarity; everything else I talk about as part of the “social democratic toolkit” is secondary to all that.
“[I]f â€™socialismâ€™ is just an endsâ€“if â€™socialismâ€™ means wanting to provide for the poor and eliminate class distinctionsâ€“then I donâ€™t get how there could be ‘*a* socialist interpretation’ of that ends. All interpretations would be by definition socialist. So, for understandingâ€™s sake, a question: are â€˜compassionate conservativesâ€™ like Nate and I who wish to end poverty and eliminate class distinctions, and who arenâ€™t too hung up on using the government to do it, are we socialists, though we generally favor free market means of doing it?”
An important question. As I’ve presented it (for example, in #79), socialism means the comprehensive incorporation of economic transations into the pursuit of a non-alienating, egalitarian social goal. The “compassionate conservative” agenda isn’t socialist, because it isn’t comprehensive, to say the least. Still, Bush deserves some very important credit for framing his conservatism in the way he has; libertarian-minded Republicans deride Bush as a “big government conservative,” but what he is actually doing is chipping away at the post-Reagan (think David Frum, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, etc.) Republican refusal to consider social obligations as the people’s business. To talk about the moral purposes of government, align the state with churches and other spiritual institutions to deliver welfare, to fund big public projects, etc.: that’s Christian socialism, or at least a movement in that direction. I don’t think Bush as asked for anywhere near the amount of sacrifice (particularly of the wealthy) that his rhetoric demands, but at least the rhetoric has been there.
How can you say that. She graduated from Harvard, if my memory serves me right. :) Beyond that, though, there were a couple of points she did make that are his blind spot – particularly his point about idiots.
“[W]hen you insist on talking about socialism and Karl Marx and whatnot, you lose people you might persuade if you just approached them talking about loving your neighbor and being equal children of God and so on and then tied it to your political objectives.”
You’re probably right; talking about socialism simply opens up a can of worms. Part of this whole thread (which I think I’m done with, after tonight; I’ve exhausted myself, so Frank and John and everyone should feel free to pick over my carcass–perhaps I’ll check back in tomorrow evening, to see if there’s anything substantive left of my remains) has been terminological. That is, I want to make an argument about words, as well as ideas, because (as Jeremiah very ably argued, way back up in #23) our inability to use this language affects our sense of what is possible, and what isn’t.
Still, the real world is the real world, and we’re both in it. Several weeks back, when I was on my post-election “why-can’t-progressives-recognize-and-align-themselves-with-religious-and-socially-conservative-egalitarian-movements” tear, Nate dropped me an e-mail which said, pretty plainly, that I was barking up the wrong tree. Progressives are never going to accept religion, because social libertines are too much a part of their base. But via “compassionate conservatism,” it’s possible that some social and moral conservatives could be brought around to egalitarianism. So maybe I should put away Marx, and keep emphasizing how genuinely “conservative” it is to make sure every husband and father has job security and medical coverage. (Not that either route is truly likely to go anywhere: as much as I think Mormon social thought is very much at home where Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader overlap, it’s not like that small space will give birth to electoral majorities anytime soon.)
As you enter into this non-alienating, egalitarian society, what is the principle that keeps it together beyond a half a generation? Inequality inevitably creeps up when someone gets fed up with his/her choices (say in home style) and covets the style of home that someone else designed. It’s a silly example, I know, but little things grow into bigger things over time in any society where freedom of choice does not exist and the greater good becomes what is dictated by society (or a bureaucrat). The net results are feelings that cannot be dictated or arbitrated and those lead to jealousy, frustration, and ultimately rebellion.
Human nature has a way of always interceding in attempts to create a socialist society.
Even though the Danes might be content with their way of life, it is almost totally devoid of religion. Girls actually hang up nude pictures of themselves, with phone numbers attached, in their high schools. In Sweden girls will pick fathers for their children that will not be the man they want to marry.
When rights are not connected with responsibilities, as socialist societies are doomed to inculcate, everything goes to Hades in a handbasket.
My reference to the talk by Marion G. Romney was his conference address in April 1966 where he talked about the similarities and differences of Socialism and the United Order.
His point #3 on the differences was: ” In harmony with D&C 134:2, the United Order is operated upon the principle of private ownership and individual management. Thus in both implementation and ownership and management of property, the United Order preserves to men their God-given agency, while socialism deprives them of it.”
Point #4 was: “The United Order is non-political. Socialism is political, both in theory and in practice. It is thus exposed to, and riddled by, the corruption that plagues and finally destroys all political governments that undertake to abridge man’s agency.”
Point #5 was: ” A righteous people is a prerequisite to the United Order. Socialism argues that it, as a system, will eliminate the evils of the profit motive.”
I think he understood socialism outside the political realities of the day.
Nate: “Frequently, however, philosophers and policy analysts are fixated on law as a mechanism of regulation or wealth transfer. This focus, I think, has the unfortunate effect of making lawâ€™s role as an enabler invisible. In large part I think that is simply the result of the general ignorance about the shape and function of private law among political intellectuals. Most political theorists are fairly familiar with issues in constitutional law such as freedom of speech or due process of law. They are much less likely to be familiar with issues such as negotiability, securitization, mortgages, sales law etc. Yet these are frequently the key institutions in the economic success of differering countries and they are institutions that are often sorely lacking in the developing world.”
Excellent, much needed point. We start a discussion about socialism and immediately everyone jumps on the familiar mechanisms of state redistribution and social insurance. ‘Socialism=high percentage of GDP controlled by the state, etc.’ Western Marxists, notiably Habermas, have criticized this kind of discussion; hence they have critiques of the soviet socialism and the welfare state to go along with their critique of the culture of capitalism. Habermas in Between Facts and Norms argues that the main problem of the so-called people’s democracies was that they confused a concrete kind of political regime with the project of socialism itself. This confusion blinded them to the evils of Bolshevism since they regarded these evils as by definition external to the true “system” of socialism. I don’t call myself a socialist so the point is not indispensible for me; still, the distinction between one’s animating social vision and the dogmatic focus on certain kinds of concrete government functions is important.
There is a crippling gap in a movement which in its heart has certain ethical and spritual goals in mind (solidarity, fairness, satisfaction in work, ‘no poor among them’, etc.), but in practice equates these goals with a narrow range of government activities. The reverse problem, however, also equates desirable goals with “resdistributionist and interventionist” policies, but makes a blanket judgment that these policies “don’t work” and that for this reason the goals must be abandoned until some millenial future, or must be pursured privately or very incrementally.
But while most political intellectuals in the U.S. may indeed fall into this trap as you claim, those from the developing world seem to have a different view, at least in my experience. Guillermo O’Donnell, who is on my dissertation committee, has written extensively on the consolidation of the rule of law in Latin America (including private law). Then again he studied law before he got his doctorate in political science.
One more stab, since this has turned out to be a very interesting exchange:
Russell: Nate may be right about the particular committments of the Democratic party, and their inability to bring populism or religious faith together with economic leftism (though the history of parties in the U.S. seems to me to show how rapidly party coailitions, and even more, sources of funding, can change). But one should never confuse the fate of broad social movements with the fate of a party–that’s shown in the cases of abolition, prohibition, New Deal, and civil rights. It’s hard to think of a real, positive social change that originated in a party. Parties try to capture movements rather than hatch them. The latter is too costly and typically adds nothing to their power. Question is, which party would try harder to capture a Christian socialist movement (if either would)? In my mind, there is no question it is the Democratic party. The GOP has rarely if ever put anything on the line to get Christian votes, and the wealthy still vote more consistently GOP than do evangelicals.
On conservatism: I’m sympathetic to your overall idea (economic justice and conservatism), despite my perhaps excessive nit-picking with it. I’ve been brought up and educated in conservative environments and believe that those political values are still with me. And yet there reaches a point that our justified understanding of a term is so different from the prevailing one that the whole thing is hopeless. The election seemed to drive this home for me. The vast majority of self-identified conservatives supported Bush. Yet according to most decent definitions of conservatism I have, he doesn’t fit the bill (very little skepticism of centralized power and royal leadership; not much worry about the prospects for quick social and political change, especially when associated with violence; hardly any acknowledgement of original sin in those who currently hold power, etc.). Heck even if we place conservatism near principled libertarianism he gets poor marks (see the election year Economist poll). Most credible accounts of the decision-making process in the White House seem to indicate the only thing Cheney and Rove are intent on conserving is contined political power (which is understandable) and the private wealth of the most fortunate. This is the champion of “conservatism”, who just before the election had better support from conservative Republicans than any Republican in the history of these polls.
I’m all for finding common ground with Republicans, other Christians, heck anyone. Let’s find it on ‘fairness’, ‘family values’, ‘civic virtue’, etc. But finding it on “conservatism”–which frankly many Americans (both for and against) equate with an ideology of selfishness–seems fruitless at this point.
Jeremiah (I can make this comment without going against my promise to leave the main thread alone after last night’s marathon postings; this is a side issue),
You make some excellent points. The breadth and originality of Habermas’s critique is a good reminder of how much larger the socialist project is than the sort of simple command economy policies and justifications which most Americans automatically assume. And, as I wrote originally, socialists themselves are mostly to blame for this state of affairs; it’s not like there haven’t been culturally American “socialisms” (such as I listed at first) that could have made contributed to our conception of the whole movement, if Marx’s anti-religiousity and later Marxists’ authoritarianism hadn’t dominanted our and others’ understanding (and that includes the understanding of many general authorities).
As for “conservatism”–I think it’s a term worth fighting for, just like “social democracy.” A lot of bloggers and scholars I correspond with have spent much of the last year or two talking about the confusing nature of conservatism today; I’ve actually rounded some of them up, and proposed a panel about it for next year’s APSA. I’ll tell you all about it in New Orleans.
As for the strategic case for thinking Democrats will still respond better to Christian socialism than the Republicans–I agree with your analysis (as I wrote here, and as you know). But I recognize the practical obstacles, which is part of why I’m hoping to do my small part to keep “conservatism” and “social goods” intellectually compatible; like you say, you just never know how parties will evovle. In meantime, folks like me in the shadowy overlap space between social conservatives and social democrats are basically homeless. I loved the comment which “Charlie” left on a previous post of mine: “I consider myself to be a liberal in the tradition of Al Smith, Bob Casey and Hilaire Belloc. I am anti-libertarian to the core, and no fan of untrammeled capitalism. George Bush is not my man. It’s just a damn shame that the Democratic Party abandoned me about the time I was born, because now I’m politically homeless.” I wouldn’t put it the same way–I’m not that kind of liberal–but I feel the force of his point.
Paul H. (comment #61),
Chile’s social security system, which includes privatization, has been almost universally recognized as a success. Only the people most blinded by ideology (ie Krugman and his ilk) are incapable of acknowledging its success. Throughout most of Latin America, people don’t save and don’t participate on a large level in the stock market. This starves the country of home-grown capital — which is needed to fuel long-term growth. (Any country that relies only on foreign investment is doomed to failure because foreign investment can dry up for a variety of reasons.) Chile is the only country in Latin America that actually has a large amount of home-grown capital — precisely because just about everybody saves and invests in Chile because they have privatized social security. The Socialist government (which, btw, is socialist in name only and actually is probably a moderate Democrat party ideologically) has recognized this and done nothing to fool around with privatization because everybody except for the far left understands the source of Chile’s success.
As for Krugman, there is probably not a single economist in the last five years who has been more wrong on every major prediction he has made, precisely because he is completely blinded by his hatred of President Bush. He is nothing more than a schill for the Democratic party and is not taking seriously by anybody outside of liberal elites in the northeast and perhaps California. Citing anything he writes is laughable, imho. I could go on an on about this, but do yourself a favor and look back at his predictions in the last five years — every single one of them has been wrong. (btw, I oppose the Bush administration in some areas as well, but as Latter-day Saints we should understand the dangers of blind hatred).
As for Brazil, yes, the country has huge inequalities and problems that make it very unlike Europe. But the point is you have to start with what you have. Chile had nearly equal levels of inequality in the late 1970s. Both had military governments. Brazil had a huge number of advantages — more people, more territory, more foreign investment, more potential ability to develop internal markets and capital for investment. They went on divergent paths. Brazil nationalized its major industries out a of misguided desire to help “the Brazilian people.” Chile privatized its industry. Brazil instituted thousands of regulations and controls on industry, higher taxes and some of the most restrictive employment laws in Latin America. Brazil’s growth has been virtual stagnant since then and its real unemployment is probably around 30 percent. Why? Industry has not grown, and companies have not hired people, and if you drive around Brazil you are greeted with endless shantytowns, dirty water, no sewage and millions of people begging in the streets. Meanwhile, Chile has trusted the free market, has grown an average of 5-6 percent a year. There are virtually no shantytowns, clean water and virtually no beggars. The contrast could not be more clear.
Interestingly, two years ago Brazil elected its first Workers’ Party president, a nominal socialist known as Lula. And the first thing Lula did was the cut taxes and decrease regulation (that’s the type of socialist I like). Brazil went into shock in 2003 but then in 2004 the tax cuts took effect and the country will grow by 6 percent. Millions have benefited. There has been no clearer demonstration of the power of the market, imho.
As for Asia, I think the case of India is a great study in the power of the free market. India instituted socialist policies after independence and basically stagnated for 40 years. Finally, the government began to sell off government enterprises and trust in the market, and the country is growing at 7 to 8 percent levels. Literally hundreds of millions of people have benefited.
Russell, I have no doubt about the sincerity of your desire to help people and create a communitarian spirit. 20 years ago, I knew many academics in Nicaragua who had a similar desire to create a communitarian spirit in Nicaragua. They had developed their theories in their universities in the US and Europe. And they flooded into Nicaragua to “help the people.” They suggested that all private property be shared in common and that farmers create cooperatives. It must have looked beautiful when they drew it up in the libraries of their universities.
Of course, the only problem with their academic theories was that they hadn’t taken into account the human factor. Somebody, meaning an actual human being or group or human beings, had to implement their beautiful plans. And these actual human beings were middle class Nicaraguans who suddenly had unlimited power (Daniel and Humberto Ortega and Tomas Borge and several others). And these human beings would smile kindly at the academics and thank them for their theories. And then they would go kill people, bury their bodies, confiscate endless tracts of properties for themselves while they laughed merrily at the naivete of the academics. And some of the academics caught on to what was going on and spent many years justifying how people could say one thing and do another. Others left in disgust having learned a very important lesson about how the real world works (at least until the Milennium).
My advice: if you really want to help people, especially the poorest people who simply want a decent job and liberty, promote policies based on democracy, freedom and respect for private property and markets. Otherwise, you are simply promoting policies that hurt the people you are trying to help.
Allen B.: I am sorry I donâ€™t have time to do your post justice. Let me just note that the â€œraised by wolvesâ€? comparison is probably not the appropriate one. As a minimum, a more apt lower bound to oneâ€™s own property would be the marginal product that my work produces, beyond what would have been there without me. In addition, I own the marginal product of someone else which they choose to give to me. You seem to think that because we pay for education through taxes that all the proceeds of education belong to â€œthe stateâ€?. This is not normally how we consider trades. What we owe to the state is the _cost_ of the education, not the value we get from it. When I buy a product, I pay for its marginal or average cost. I donâ€™t have to turn over to the seller my entire value of the milk. That would be extortionary. There is lots more to be said so, like I said, a great conversation for another day.
We both agree that everything is Godâ€™s, and we are his stewards. So you say â€œIf we horde Godâ€™s belongings and donâ€™t share them with his suffering children, what kind of people are we?â€? I couldnâ€™t agree more. This is my point. But it is for me to use that stewardship to help others. I donâ€™t see how it justifies you taking things from me to give to others.
Geoff quotes this great passage from Jacob, â€œAnd 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 goodâ€”to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.â€? Are we now arguing that â€œobtaining richesâ€? means voting them away from others? This passage seems to imply that God has heard of personal property does it not? Isnâ€™t this what it means to obtain riches? Why didnâ€™t the passage say, â€œand even if you have no riches, you shall take from those that have and give to those that do notâ€?. Where is that passage?
Nate et al. I am not opposed to all redistribution. I just find it to often be a rather costly and bad way to make the world a better place. There are often better ways to help people.
JWL: I am not saying we need a United Order to help the poor. I am saying that you do not get to decide my Fast Offering donation. I do. As for what we should do about these things if not through our elected government, I think that is painfully obvious. Earn lots of money and give it away. That was Jacobâ€™s counsel in the Book of Mormon. Who am I to argue with Jacob? I am unaware of much counsel in the scriptures to enforce charity through elected governments (although there must be something!). Iâ€™d be happy to learn of any you find. If some free marketers are too materialistic, this is too bad. We should teach them the Gospel so that they change. Of course, Communism and Socialism arenâ€™t exactly un-materialistic as implemented anywhere.
Jack, the standard placeholder for capitalism is the more descriptive term, â€œcompetitive marketsâ€? or â€œfree marketsâ€?. The phrase capitalism is pure propaganda. But Marx was always great at propaganda.
Russell, successfully incorporating economic transactions into a social goal as you envision requires an understanding of the economic transactions and a power over them the likes of which the earth has never seen. It is a much better idea to let the market produce lots of stuff and then redistribute the stuff afterwards. There are exceptions, but you donâ€™t appear to have any clue as to when they occur. The regulatory state you envision would be overwhelming, prone to corruption, and would not be as effective as ex post redistribution. Public education is government provision and production of a good. We agree that that is socialist. But someday weâ€™ll have to talk about why that is so good. And more to the point, if it is good, to what extent you wish to force the home-schoolers back into the school system.
I find your defense of Social Security bizarre. Social security is clearly a redistribution scheme couples with a not particularly good savings program. I agree that we should be mindful of the elderly. But why on earth do you defend Social Security as a means to do it? Social Security explicitly replaces familial bonds with impersonal non-bonds. Why would you be in favor of this? It also encourages the middle aged to impersonally defraud their young of future earnings by voting themselves higher benefits. This has been the reality of a broad-based Social Security program. We should argue about this more too sometime.
“How is it that a social democratic policy which attempts to structure charitable provision ex ante into the economic system through the force of law, is â€œforced charityâ€? and devilishly bad, when the some other forms of ex post charitable redistribution, similarly backed up by the law, arenâ€™t necessarily so, however much you may not like them?”
I donâ€™t see any difference between ex post and ex ante, except as I noted above, ex post is more efficient. When I say â€œtaking money from meâ€?, morally I couldnâ€™t care less if it is done through regulation, payroll taxes, or check at the end of each year. The regulation is clearly the worst because it is more costly, but no, I am not differentiating on the basis of whether the money is first allowed to hit my bank account. If the government regulates wages, this is just as much a type of redistribution as any other, even if it is less efficient.
I do not consider all redistribution to be theft. I am fine with some of it based on a theory of public goods (as I said, take a class in microeconomic theory). But as one moves to more redistribution, costs rise and benefits fall. Corruption becomes pervasive. Incentives to produce are destroyed, and the private giving that sanctifies us is crowded out.
Lastly, you should abandon socialism as the paradigm to achieve communatarianism. Free markets can achieve plenty of communtarianism, if that is what people value. All you need to do is convince them that that is what they should value and they will get there on their own. There is much more to say. But each of your and my points deserves its own thread and time and thought. Today, I fear we are both out of time.
Thanks so much for an interesting thread though, Russell. And to all the many excellent comments, most of which I read :)
Your penultimate comment, Frank, makes me wonder–what do we do about the free marketeers who supposedly have been taught the Gospel and are members of the church and yet are too materialistic, who apparently do not seek riches in order to do goodâ€”to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted–unless they consider themselves naked, hungry and captive?
Jacob’s statement is intriguing–he doesn’t say that the converted will become rich, but that they will seek riches for the purpose of doing good. Which suggests that those who obtain riches for the purpose of being rich are not converted after all.
By being citizens of a political entity larger than our family, we have consented to the confiscation of a portion of our property for the public good. To suggest that opposition to confiscation of our property is a principled reason to oppose government assistance to the poor seems a misplaced argument. You may argue that the uses are “inefficient”, that it sends the wrong economic signals, that you need the money more than the undeserving poor, but you cannot claim that confiscation of your property is beyond the power of the government–if the governed (and by that I mean a majority–we live in a democratic republic) chooses to do so.
It’s like the woman who purported agreed to sleep with Winston Churchill for 5,000 pounds, but was offended when he suggested reducing the fee to 10 quid. “Do you take me for a common whore?” He responded, “We’ve already established that. Now we’re just dickering over the price.”
“…what do we do about the free marketeers who supposedly have been taught the Gospel and are members of the church and yet are too materialistic, who apparently do not seek riches in order to do good…?”
We forgive them.
Mark, I doubt there are very many well-to-do LDS who give absolutely nothing to charity. If our concern is to help the poor, then lets have a sense of utility about it. If only 25% of the rich LDS gave generously to the poor, IMO the results would probably be prefered over a costly redistribution system that would force the remaining 75% to do so. I think we would see better results by continuing to preach the Gospel to the 75%.
“By being citizens of a political entity larger than our family, we have consented to the confiscation of a portion of our property for the public good. To suggest that opposition to confiscation of our property is a principled reason to oppose government assistance to the poor seems a misplaced argument.”
If the Lord’s house is a house of order, then the very last thing I believe He would consent to is a highly inefficient government agency that wastes the money, rather than distribute it efficiently, as His means of distribution. If you compare the amount of money that goes into the coffers to take care of the poor and the amount that actually reaches them you too would would oppose confiscation.
And don’t worry about the wealthy in the Church. Our Church does not have the resources it does because members horde their resources. If a call went out for more, more would come. In the private hands greater risks are taken and greater rewards are achieved. The Church is far wealthier than we can imagine – it’s just that some of it still remains under private stewardship. That can’t be a bad thing.
In the hands of a government bureaucracy we would have a huge deficit. It is an interesting thing to observe that the per capita spending on the poor has increased dramatically over the years, but there is no marked increase in their state of affairs.
I should mention that when I was in Liverpool on my mission, that Halewood was part of my area. And, if you recall, that was the great government experiment to get the poor out of the slums and into decent housing. Five years later it was a slum area. Governments can’t do the job because they can’t change people.
You said, speaking of the wealth of the church, that “some of it still remains under private stewardship. That canâ€™t be a bad thing.”
Au contraire. It certainly can, and in too many cases, is a bad thing. (Not in the sense that private stewards of wealth make choices about its use, and will therefore be accountable for those uses.) When you look at the ostentation of the homes on the east bench of SLC and Provo, and the conspicuous consumption of those people and their hopeful, but unrealistic, emulators, then it is clear that private stewardship is only a good thing when those private stewards make correct choices.
This doesn’t mean that government efforts to assist the poor are either efficient or effective. I don’t think that I was trying to make that point in my previous post, and I won’t argue it here either.
Russell, thank you. I am very satisfied with your answers to my points and have much to think about. I also don’t want anyone around here to think that I am some kind of robber-baron capitalist. Adam said that he has “socialist” goals in mind in his desire to alleviate/eliminate poverty and class distinctions. I share that view.
As to your example about the governorship of Utah, I agree with you there. If you have convinced the majority of people to freely vote for the socialistic platform, then you are fully justified in implementing it (see, I am a friend of democracy). Personally, I don’t think it would work too well economically, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done in the interest of the higher goals you are talking about. The key is that the individuals have chosen that path. As for the alienated 41% (you had posited that 59% were convinced of Christian socialism and voted for you), they will have to deal with it until the next election (which hopefully the socialists will allow to be free) when they can make their case against the policies that they have issues with. Such is democracy in the telestial world where people are not of one mind on these things.
Russell wrote Living a simple, circumscribed, rooted, debt-free, generous, service-and-work oriented life is the key to the recovery of solidarity; everything else I talk about as part of the â€œsocial democratic toolkitâ€? is secondary to all that.
Enter Hobbiton (minus the class distinctions. . . .).
If a call went out for more, more would come.
Don’t be so sure. A call went out just this year, from the First Presidency, to support Utah’s non-LDS food banks as they prepare for Christmas. Despite the specific ecclesiastical direction, those organizations are receiving drastically fewer donations than in years past.
Also, I was in a ward once in a very well-off neighborhood (despite the sharp downward tug on the median income after I moved in), and the Stake President, with an endorsement from Salt Lake, proposed a fund-raising effort to support a particular project. There were many many people, who, as they had on so many other occasions, donated generously. On the other hand, I was amazed at the amount of outright grousing that arose from many members of the ward in the meeting in which the idea was presented. Thereafter it was like pulling teeth, and after many weeks we were still far short of out fundraising goal.
Jeremy, your time frame is off. The Utah food bank was running out of food before the FP issued that request (that ward members each donate a sack of food to the Utah food bank). After that, the food bank had a huge influx of food.
I suspect that your moving into that ward had a more significant effect on the mean, rather than median, income.
If the ward had 150 families, all of whom made $150,000 per year, your family income of $15,000 would have no effect whatever on the median, since that represents the midpoint in a line where the number of families with incomes above that point equals the number of families with incomes below it.
On the other hand, there would be a small downward pull on the mean ward income, although not enough to make you feel any closer to the mean.
Yes, I meant mean.
Russell: What precisely do you mean when you talk about alienation and solidarity? In concrete terms, how do I determine whether or not alienation is a problem in society or not? How do I determine whether or not solidarity has been achieved? I suppose that part of my problem is related to Adam’s problem. At the level of policy prescriptions, I can understand your arguments. I think that some of them are good and I think that some of them are misguided. Hence, I think that it probably makes sense for the state to provide certain sorts of social insurance (Social Security, certain levels of health care) and it makes sense for the state to subsidize certain activities with large positive externalities or that are otherwise classic public goods (education, law enforcement, etc.). On free trade, for example, I think that you are wrong. I have difficulty, however, understanding how the language that you use to analyze these issues yields the determinate policy prescriptions that you adopt. You seem suspicious of economic analysis, although not, I think, for the right reasons. I don’t see, however, who solidarity or alienation get operationalized in such a way as to provide any intellectual traction.
I hadn’t been following the story during the last few days, but I’m glad to hear there’s been an uptick. The word from the FP went out before thanksgiving. The following Saturday’s drive pulled in only 4% of what it normally does. Only after repeated calls from the Brethren was there a surge; also, the Food Bank, I think with help from the Alliance for Unity, put bags in the newspaper for people to leave food in on their doorstep, which also helped. And perhaps my bringing this up veered from the topic anyway, since the point dealt with the wealthiest members stepping up to the bat financially in a time of need, rather than your average member donating food.
Jeremy, I think it’s still an interesting counterpoint to the voices calling for teaching the gospel as the best solution to problems of inequitable distribution. If in a community as Mormon as SLC, they can’t manage to keep the food pantries stocked, I think one has to at least gulp hard before asserting that we shouldn’t think about more coercive mechanisms of redistribution. I’m as optimistic as the next guy about human nature, but I’m awfully skeptical about the “wait for everyone to be more righteous” approach to dealing with poverty.
” If a call went out for more, more would come.”
The call has gone out. The scriptures are clear on this point, and have been for millenia. We do not need an offical proclamation from the First Presidency to tell us that people all around us are suffering and starving. If our faith does not make us more responsive to the needs of the destitute, then of what value is it? Why does the plight of the poor not get more air time in our meetings and our lessons than it does? Why does our Mormon culture seem no less materialistic than American culture in general? Although I am inclined to agree with much of what Frank and others have said about the efficacy of most socialist policies, I thank God for people like Russell who try so valiantly to keep these issues front and centre and to force people like me to confront our hypocrisy.
Let me reiterate (again!) thay I am not opposed to taxation, nor am I opposed to small scale, well-designed, redistribution. I am especially in favor of programs that are local enough and popular so as to really represent the will of the people.
Now we know King Benjamin strongly urged us, as part of our repentance, to give to the poor. But some people are curious about what we are to do when we ourselves lack the funds. Here’s King Benjamin:
24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.
No call for redistribution, just a concern with the heart being in the right place. Note that voting for a welfare scheme is not about voting to give your own money so much as voting to require other people to give. Insofar as this is a bargaining strategy to encourage giving (I’ll give if you give), it may be reasonable. But there are other ways to do the “I’ll give if you give” game without forcing charity.
As for the poor, Here is the Lord in the Doctrine and Covenants, after condemning the rich who give not:
17 Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other menâ€™s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!
So it would appear that we should not, as the poor, lay hands upon other men’s goods. So at the very least, perhaps we can agree that we should never vote to take from someone else and give to ourselves. Also, the Lord is noticeably concerned with attitudes of greed and laziness among the poor as well as the rich.
What is wrong with a beautiful, big home. If I were to make a heaven on earth I would certainly enjoy having the finest that the earth has to offer in decor, art and food etc. We do build our temples with only the finest of materials. Why not our homes if we are able?
Gary and Kristine,
So when we have decided that people will not do what is right, we must force them? In some cases this is perhaps the way to go.
But mandatory fast offerings seems like a bad plan. Why not require mandatory tithing too? Does not God deserve the money even more than the poor?
I am also grateful for those who dedicate their lives to helping the poor. I’m grateful for Russell’s encouragement to give to those in need. I’m all for that.
Frank, we *do* have mandatory tithing, at least for people who want to go to the temple (or work at BYU–but that’s a snark for another day).
And I don’t think the verse you cite really supports the idea that King Benjamin is making “no call for redistribution;” he’s merely exempting some people, who have just enough for their own needs and not a bit more, from having what they have redistributed. There’s nothing there that would argue against, say, a progressive tax on the wealthy to fund subsistence programs for the poor. Voting for a progressive welfare scheme may very well mean voting to give your own money, as you are able; it’s not a bargaining tactic so much as a recognition of the fact that those with more to give ought to give more.
Your reading of the D&C passage is similarly strained–it’s clear that God is requiring people to work for their own sustenance; there’s *nothing* there that suggests any equivalence between the greedy poor man who won’t work and the middle-class voter who votes for a progressive tax.
I didn’t strain the D&C verse. My interpretation was limited to the poor, just as the verse was. I suggested that it meant the poor should not vote for their own benefits. I am further noting that these passages about those who do not have, never push for redistribution. In short, I never find the scriptures advocating the importance of giving other people’s money. If you have found such a verse, I would be intereste din hearing it.
I am not suggesting that the scriptures are opposed to progressive taxation. I do not have a problem with progressive taxation in principle. I, in fact, never mentioned progressive taxation.
“heâ€™s merely exempting some people, who have just enough for their own needs and not a bit more, from having what they have redistributed.”
Oh! the verse actually is to prevent the state from taking away their meager food. Just because it never mentions the state or anything like forced redistribution must be some defect in Benjamin’s writing style.
There. Now we’ve both been snarky.
It’s true that there is very fine workmanship in the temples. The “art” there–well, perhaps you shouldn’t have brought that up. Most of it in the newer temples are reproductions, obtained from the Church equivalent of the art aisle at Wal-Mart.
Sort of reminds me of Cary Grant’s comment at the art auction in “North by Northwest”–“Twenty-two fifty for that chromo”?
Frank, I didn’t suggest there was any defect in King Benjamin’s writing style; I just said there was nothing in it that says what you want it to say.
I think the D&C verse is quite specifically chastising the poor who will not work; I think it’s a stretch to read it as saying that the poor (particularly the working poor) should not vote in their own self-interest. And there’s certainly nothing there to prevent me from voting to have the government help me take care of the poor.
This is a humdinger of a question…
What is the definition of a big, beautiful house? Is the big part based on absolutes like square footage or acreage or is big relative to the houses in the region? And is there an absolute or relative dollar figure associated with a house qualifying as beautiful or is beauty in the eyes of the beholder alone?
Depending on the definitions there may or may not be anything wrong with having a big, beautiful house, I guess.
â€œI think itâ€™s still an interesting counterpoint to the voices calling for teaching the gospel as the best solution to problems of inequitable distribution. If in a community as Mormon as SLC, they canâ€™t manage to keep the food pantries stocked, I think one has to at least gulp hard before asserting that we shouldnâ€™t think about more coercive mechanisms of redistribution.â€?
This sounds like a problem with the quality of gospel teaching to me. Alma said:
â€œAnd now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was justâ€”yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto themâ€”therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.â€?
Shouldnâ€™t we as Latter Day Saints utilize our God given advantages (like the ability to teach with great power if done correctly) rather than automatically falling back on man-made methods such as the â€œmore coercive mechanisms of redistributionâ€? you mentioned? Changing hearts will feed the poor and save the souls of the selfish rich, forcing the rich to feed the poor only achieves the first of those two goals. (Although I will readily admit that just feeding the poor is much better than neither goal happening.)
Powerfully teaching the scriptural truth about our need to care for the poor can be done one ward at a time and surely the people posting here are well equipped to move that effort alongâ€¦
Frank: It seems to me that the problem with your reading of King Benjamin and other scriptural injunctions to help the poor is that it rests on the implausible assumption that the sole purpose of those injunctions is to better the character of the giver, or at the very least that the improvement of the condition of the poor is of secondary concern to the cultivation of personal generosity, etc. However, I don’t see any reason to suppose that God is not in fact concerned with the material condition of the poor as an issue independent of the virtue of the giver.
Your analysis is correct, I think, in that it suggests that those who favor state redistribution are not especially virtuous or generous because of those beliefs. This, I think, is no small insight, since as an emperical matter, I suspect that most of those favoring such policies do in fact regard themselves as more virtuous than those who disagree with them. Witness, for example, the frequency with which those who disagree are labled as greedy, etc. This fact, however, does not mean that government assitance to the poor is not an mandated by God’s command that the poor be cared for.
One can still argue, of course, that the particular policies advocated by Kristine, Russell, and the rest of the pinkos are mistaken, counterproductive, etc. but I see these as essentially emperical rather than theological disputes.
“Your analysis is correct, I think, in that it suggests that those who favor state redistribution are not especially virtuous or generous because of those beliefs. This, I think, is no small insight, since as an empirical matter, I suspect that most of those favoring such policies do in fact regard themselves as more virtuous than those who disagree with them.”
Nate, I would like to be all pissy and defensive about this, but I think you may be right. Still, I think it’s important to understand the reasons that not favoring government redistribution sometimes looks like “greedy, etc.” to the not-economically-sophisticated among us. The government does not now redistribute wealth in such a way as to eliminate poverty, or even make the living conditions of many poor families bearable. Private charities trying to make up the shortfall are woefully underfunded, and just can’t fill the gaps. The Reagan-Bush I years, despite huge tax cuts for wealthy people and rhetoric about the city on a hill, the thousand points of light, etc., saw an enormous rise in the number of working poor and children living in poverty in the U.S. The Bush II tax cuts result in substantial cuts in aid. (Yes, I’m grossly oversimplifying, I know). To somebody like me, with little knowledge of complex modeling of incentives, etc., arguing that the government should be more concerned about protecting private property than redistributing wealth, and that somehow taking less money from rich people to give to poor people will make poor people better off, *looks* like greed, because what I’ve seen from the implementation of policies that seem similar to what you’re arguing for is rich people getting richer, poor people getting poorer, and the United Way going begging. It’s not that I think you, Nate, or Frank, are greedy, it’s just that I think many very rich people are, and I don’t understand what you mean when you suggest that not forcing them to do right by the poor will eventually result in better conditions for the poor. To someone dumb (me), it looks like favoring state redistribution means favoring doing *something* ,even if it’s less than a perfect something, for poor people, while opposing state redistribution means, in practice, that one favors doing nothing for poor people (or at least nothing better than what’s currently being done). I’m sure that your complex models can suggest something that would be better than AFDC over the long haul, but there are a lot of kids going to bed hungry NOW, and it’s hard not to think they’d be better off with more imperfect and corrupt food stamps than with a nice theoretical model that will help them out 25 years from now.
And I know that sometimes there’s nothing more practical than a really good theory; I’m just not smart enough to understand the theories you guys toss around, and it makes me want to feel virtuous about being a dumb bleeding heart pinko.
Since people have been “outing” themselves lately (on other threads), I might as well do the same.
We should be breaking ground any day on our new home, thanks to Habitat for Humanity. What a blessing. These are the kinds of things that can happen in a free society where there are enough concerned individuals.
Yu know the people of Limhi thought selves under the worst tyranny imaginable because they were “taxed the half” of their substance. I know of people (personally) who during the Clinton years were pulling down 80K a year and taking home 50 (and doing it with a good attitude bless their hearts) and if all that “redistribution” didn’t help the plight of the poor I’m not sure what will in terms of government involvement.
Kristine: I am sorry to make you feel pissy. I am not a fan of how we handle poverty in this country. I would be in favor of more generous economic supports and transfer payments to the very poor. I certainly don’t claim to have any specialized knowledge about welfare policy. My sense is that we ought to spend more money on it now than we currently do, but that doing so in terms of Great Society style transfer payments is probably a mistake. It creates really rotten incentives and over the long term the incentives matter. The problem, of course, is that it is not clear to me that one can construct a set of government policies that both respond to immediate moral intutions (ie feed the hungry child) and also avoid creating long-term incentives that lead to equally unfortunate effects. As a result, I think that a bit less moral posturing all around and greater willingness to acknowledge the insights on the other side is probably a more productive option than confidently labeling the guys on the other side as moral nitwits. Of course, I don’t follow this advice consistently at all. Hence, if you will allow me to blow off steam from time to time about moral self-congratulations among the left, I will graciously over look your occasional accusations of greediness and heartlessness on the Right
Kristine: It is also worth pointing out that the actual social trends are frequently less clear than they appear in journalistic accounts. For example, it is frequently claimed that globally the gap between the rich and the poor has grown substantially over the last few decades. As I understand it (and I am perfectly willing to be shown that I am wrong by someone with more knowledge about this) this statement is based on global economic reports produced by the UN. In those reports the average income of people in vaious nations is compared by translating all of those incomes into a single currency (dollars I believe) and then showing the numerical trends. The problem with this is that it in effect compares the purchasing power of an American salary in America with the purchasing power of a Kenyan salary in America. Kenyan salaries, however, are generally spent in Kenya rather than in America. An alternative methodology is to figure out the relationship of an average income to some stable bundle of goods, which is then priced in each country. This gives you some sense of the relative purchasing power of incomes rather than simply their denomination in dollars. (Of course this methodology has problems in how one chooses the bundle of goods, etc.) My understanding is that when this methodology is employed the gap in terms of purchasing power between the rich countries and the poor countries has remained relatively stable since 1960 or so, with the real purchasing power of the poorest nations seeing a very slight climb vis a vis the developed nations. Of course, these numbers then need to be compared against the growth in purchasing power over time in nations to get a real sense of how things are developing.
I am not claiming that your basic claims about poverty in the US are incorrect. I am agnostic on this question. I do, however, think that it is a difficult question to answer emperically and the question of the actual situation of the poor is often more nuanced than what one might hear on NPR.
Russell: “In meantime, folks like me in the shadowy overlap space between social conservatives and social democrats are basically homeless.”
As you know I generally find myself in the same shadowy space. But what’s wrong with being homeless (in your figurative sense–I see the problem with literal homelessness)? The homeless get to sleep in a great many wonderful (if cold and wet) places, and they serve as a jarring reminder to those who think they have homes.
Jeremiah: I may also be worth remembering that the homeless are frequently those with severe mental illness who would be better served if they were living in an institution. I am not saying anything about you and Russell, you understand [imagine a charming, puckish grin here]….
Geoff B.: “As for Krugman, there is probably not a single economist in the last five years who has been more wrong on every major prediction he has made, precisely because he is completely blinded by his hatred of President Bush. He is nothing more than a schill for the Democratic party and is not taking seriously by anybody outside of liberal elites in the northeast and perhaps California. Citing anything he writes is laughable, imho.”
I agree that Krugman’s column is worse than average, though about on a par with what Will was putting out in the late 1990s. He has become since opining in the Times a very partisan and shrill voice. But your are dead wrong about his credentials as an economist. He’s the author of several important books and has jointly authored a very important textbook in international monetary economics. He is indeed taken seriously by people besides “liberal elites in the Northeast”. Honestly I don’t know what to believe except that you simply made that up. Perhaps you think he must be a discredited economist because most of the time he writes about economics in his column he’s on the left of the issue. But his academic writings also contain more right positions he has taken. E.g. he has written a very thorough attack on the living wage.
You can disagree with his arguments about Chilean case, and I’m sure there are social security experts who are and have. You chose not to, but rather just dismissed Krugman as an unreliable liberal. But what he has said about the current proposal is still more earnest in addressing the most pressing questions about the policy than just about anything that has come out of the White House or Congress on both sides of the isle, or on the pages of the nation’s biggest newspapers. If privatization is going to be done right, it has to get beyond this ‘privatization always good’ v. ‘privatization is always bad’ dogmatisms, which, no competent policy analyst, right or left, buys into.
Nate: Wonderful and appropriate extension of the metphor. It is right to point out that there is something screwy about refusing shelter for freedom’s sake, or even because of a contempt for all existing dwelling spaces…
A question to the homeless ones:
I feel that loyalty and community are great goods. You folks seem pretty strong advocates of forgotten virtues like these. But for me, at least, belonging to a party and supporting a candidate is one way that those virtues are instantiated in my life. Y’all, on the other hand, have defined yourselves out of any political grouping. I can think of some ways of reconciling this intellectually (though you can do a better job articulating than i, and I eagerly await hearing from you) but emotionally its hard for me to understand.
Okay, everybody is asleep at my house so I have a moment to write more carefully.
So let me first say that I am not trying to claim that King Benjamin (or any scripture) explicitly opposes government redistribution. Although the book of Mosiah does have a few negative things to say about taxation, it is largely silent about redistribution. So if one wishes to push redistribution, you can still be a perfectly good Mormon. Iâ€™m fine with that. My badly explained point was that the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants both take ample opportunity to talk about helping the poor, but they never endorse forced redistribution. As such, I feel fine in saying that voting to spend another personâ€™s money is not required to be a true Christian, and it may even be a bad idea (although I certainly donâ€™t know!). It may be justified and it may be the right thing to do sometimes, but one cannot justify it by appealing to the scriptures. If we get new scripture saying we should vote for massive transfers to the poor, Iâ€™ll be right in line casting my ballot for those transfers. Although Iâ€™ll still want to structure them to be as effective as possible.
I would be delighted to discuss any counterexamples from the scriptures people have found. I can think of some weak ones, but no compelling ones. As I recall, Alma the Elder does command some people to care for widows. Since he was also the high priest, this seems like a pretty weak case.
Kristine: Voluntary tithing is mandatory, as you suggest, to enter the temple or work at BYU. It is also mandatory for entrance to the Celestial Kingdom. But would I get to the Celestial Kingdom if someone took my money from me and used it to pay my tithing? No. Forced tithing is useless in fulfilling the primary purpose of tithing. Forced fast offerings would be the same.
You donâ€™t like my reading of King Benjamin. Going back I realize that I was sloppy in explaining what I was pulling from the passage. I tried to be clearer above. You may wish to re-read the talk though, because your post 120 suggests that you think KB has something to say about state redistribution. I found no such references to anything beyond individual requirements to help others.
â€œAnd thereâ€™s certainly nothing there to prevent me from voting to have the government help me take care of the poor.â€? — Let me reiterate, I have nothing against you having the government help you take care of the poor. This is not the argument. The argument is whether you should vote to have the state coercively take my stuff and give it to someone else. This is particularly problematic if the person to whom you are having the government give the stuff is, in fact, you. One of the nastiest acts of this I can think of is how the current generation has voted to themselves Social Security benefits far out of proportion to their contribution to the system. That is why we now face a SS problem.
You spoke about theory vs. â€œdoing somethingâ€?. Well now you know why I studied economics! Here are a couple casual examples of the importance of smart policy. In 1996 the nasty Republicans joined with that nasty Clinton to abolish AFDC and replace it with TANF, the new welfare program. Employment among single mothers skyrocketed. I have heard but not confirmed that there were noticeable climbs in marriage among the welfare prone groups. These are not models about 25 year later advantages. They are about immediate and obvious effects on people. Now this raises a host of new issues about childcare and so forth, but no, this stuff is not in the least ivory tower mumblings. It is painfully applicable. Another example: a recent paper on free trade argued that, as a best guess, opening free trade with all U.S. partners would provide an extra 450 Billion to 2 trillion dollars a year in GDP. Thatâ€™s $1,000 to $4,500 per family. If true, that would fund the entire social security system all by itself. It would swamp in size pretty much every welfare-type program currently used by the government. And that is not money coming out of otherâ€™s pockets, it is a purely bigger pie.
I understand the desire to â€œdo somethingâ€?. In public policy it is one of the most disastrous good impulses to arise. It is simply not enough to â€œdo somethingâ€? because you are very likely to shoot the poor in the foot, even as you wax philosophic about how glad you were to have â€œdone somethingâ€?. We can talk about that later too.
Nate: I think I agree with you more or less. But let me just note that if Godâ€™s primary interest were the welfare of the recipients, and not the state of the giver, why doesnâ€™t he just do the redistribution Himself? And you answer, because He gave us our moral agency and He wonâ€™t violate that. And so God wonâ€™t violate your moral agency over your stewardship but I should? Well, to some extent thatâ€™s okay, but at some point it isnâ€™t. If He is more worried about the poor then the souls of the givers, why all the agency?. I submit that He cares about both, but that He is willing to allow suffering to occur, in this lifetime, on a massive scale in order to perfect souls in the eternities. I donâ€™t see how you can deny that general point. As to how it applies in this case, well that is up to interpretation.
Another fact to add to oneâ€™s basket. Those in poverty are not suffering from starvation. They suffer from obesity. This is not to say that life for them is good, because it isnâ€™t. But I donâ€™t think _dying_ of starvation is a real big issue in the U.S. anymore. Perhaps someone has some numbers, because I donâ€™t. There is starvation outside the U.S., which is where things like opening up our trade barriers could be so beneficial, but thi sis not really a big U.S. problem.
Jack: Good for you.
Jeremiah, Krugman was a very good economist in the 1980â€™s. He did some pretty neat stuff in trade theory back then. I donâ€™t know that he is currently doing much that is groundbreaking. I can assure you though, that his time at the Times has painfully hurt his credentials among many academic economists. This is the period to which Geoff is presumably referring.
Let me inject a few factoids into the discussion:
1. There is no doubt that inequality has increased at the very top of the income/wealth distribtuion over the last couple of decades, with the very rich taking a significantly larger share of the income. The reasons for this are disputed, and it has happened to some extent across the developed world, not just in the U.S.
2. Just considering the lower 3/4 of the distribution, inequality probably hasn’t changed very much.
3. The federal tax burden for the lowest quartile has declined significantly over the past two decades, especially when you include the expansion in the EITC. This trend continued under both republican and democratic administrations. The payroll tax is by far the largest federal tax paid by working poor families.
4. It is true that the child poverty rate increased significantly during the Reagan-Bush years, continuing a trend going back a decade before that. The sharp decline in child (and overall) poverty rates seen during the Clinton years was not due to more generous welfare benefits, in fact the sharpest declines occured after the welfare reform act, which added work requirements among other things.
These facts may be useful in avoiding crude charicatures of the situation. Here are some good sources for this information:
(especially table H-4)
Adam: Very appropriate connection you make, between the animating spirit of the post and the more recent expression of rootlessness. I consider myself a member of political party, and yet I don’t feel so alienated as Russell seems to when it takes unwise or vicious positions. I guess that this is because I think that since the temptation of modern ideology is that you swallow it whole, some kind of distance is a good thing if one believes that the kingdom of God must be prior to everything in some sense. It seems like a basic and unavoidable Christian and, even moreso, Mormon idea that we might share ends with the citizens and institutions of the city of man, but only in a qualified sense.
On the other hand, side by side with this observation is my sense that party politics is a necessary part of modern democratic citizenship, and thus there may be a moral obligation to belong to a party. This may seem like a strange claim to make, but it is connected with the notion that since there are institutions which are necessary to moral development and moral expression there is a duty to embrace these insitutions where possible.
There is a serious tension there (as strong as that between the _Philosophy of Right_ and Revelation 12-13), perhaps even a contradiction. It’s a big headache, which is why I always try to keep my political theology and my political philosophy in separate bins. Bad for integrity and consistency, but probably necessary at this point given limitations on my time and native abilities.
Frank: “Jeremiah, Krugman was a very good economist in the 1980â€™s. He did some pretty neat stuff in trade theory back then. I donâ€™t know that he is currently doing much that is groundbreaking. I can assure you though, that his time at the Times has painfully hurt his credentials among many academic economists. This is the period to which Geoff is presumably referring.”
I can only speak from personal experience, but I pay more in FICA and state taxes than I do in federal taxes.
It might be helpful if we had (on this thread) a common understanding of what “poverty” means.
The Church Provident Living website has a set of lessons on Church Welfare. They are sort of relevant to the discussion. Here are some great quotes from those lessons on how important helping the poor is to our salvation, on how it changes us, and on the importance of self-reliance, free will, and so forth. No matter our politics, I think these are some great ideas.
â€œRemember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my discipleâ€? (D&C 52:40).
â€œVerily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousnessâ€? (D&C 58:27).
“The effort of lifting another brings an increase of charity in our own lives. Elder Marion G. Romney said, â€œI am persuaded. . . that one can [acquire] charity, the pure love of Christ, in building up the unfortunate, quicker than in any other wayâ€? (in F. Burton Howard, Marion G. Romney: His Life and Faith , 125).
Elder Gordon B. Hinckley taught, â€œIn remembering . . . the poor, the needy, and the oppressed, there is developed, unconsciously but realistically, a love for others above self, a respect for others, a desire to serve the needs of othersâ€? (in Conference Report, Apr. 1963, 127).”
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: â€œOne who really understands and practices empathy doesnâ€™t solve anotherâ€™s problems, doesnâ€™t argue, doesnâ€™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 solutionsâ€? (in Conference Report, Oct. 1981, 128â€“29; or Ensign, Nov. 1981, 91).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught: â€œThe [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 beâ€? (in Conference Report, Oct. 2003, 42; or Ensign, Nov. 2003, 40).
â€œWhen people give, they should do so freely and with a spirit of love, recognizing that Heavenly Father is the source of all blessings and that those blessings should be used to serve others. . . .”
â€œProviding in the Lordâ€™s way humbles the giver, exalts the receiver, and sanctifies both (see D&C 104:15â€“18). Both become more able to give as Christ givesâ€? (Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2: Priesthood and Auxiliary Leaders , 256).
â€œChurch members can show compassion for the poor and needy in many . . . ways. They can minister personally to those in need, giving of their time, talents, and spiritual and emotional strengthâ€? (Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2: Priesthood and Auxiliary Leaders , 256).
Here’s the link
I thought these verses from Mosiah 27 were interesting.
3 And there was a strict command throughout all the churches that there should be no persecutions among them, that there should be an equality among all men;
4 That they should let no pride nor haughtiness disturb their peace; that every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support.
5 Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the grace of God.
First of all, thanks for your thoughtful, challenging, and consistent contributions to this thread. My apologies for dragging it along even further.
“[S]uccessfully incorporating economic transactions into a social goal as you envision requires an understanding of the economic transactions and a power over them the likes of which the earth has never seen.”
Given that I said originally that the animating moral concern here is economic belonging rather than economic leveling, given that my stated aim was “the establishment of protective conditions of production, education, employment and trade that make possible the extension of a labor-centered, participatory market,â€? and given that I acknowledged (in #79) that “there is probably no single stable formula or tool which will create social democracy, and that anything that actually gets us closer to it will have to involve a mixture of elements,” I still don’t know when it was that I endorsed a complete command economy. I’m not a communist. I don’t advocate abolishing all private property. Is the sort of “understanding” which would be required for a total social re-orientation of our economic life beyond our grasp? Probably. But I do not see how that prevents us from expanding our reach as appropriate and as experience and experimentation makes possible. Funding public education, supporting public transportation, building open civic spaces, raising minimum wages, promoting unions, protecting select industries or socializing key utilities, extending public works programs, putting limits on pricing practices, limiting suburban development, policing immigration….the practical arguments against any or all of these are likely extensive, but I donâ€™t see how any of them depend upon a knowledge set which, be definition, has never and can never be approximated. Running a good public education program, for example, is hardly a no-brainerâ€“the complications and complaints are endless and legitimateâ€“but that doesnâ€™t seem to have prevented most observers from agreeing that itâ€™s not essentially impossible to pull off (and thank goodness weâ€™ve tried as hard as we have to do so!).
â€œI find your defense of Social Security bizarre. Social security is clearly a redistribution scheme coupled with a not particularly good savings program.â€?
Iâ€™ll allow that Social Security is a borderline case. Wealth is being redistributed in the form of Social Security checks. However, an important difference, in my view, is that Social Security never was particularly construed, except in the arguments of its opponents, as merely a simple transfer of wealth: rather, it was presented and implemented as an act of social insurance. Framing the issue in that way doesnâ€™t wash away the abuses of the system which you note, but given the programâ€™s immense success in ending the persistence of poverty amongst the elderly in a society which plainly is unwilling (and arguably unable in any case) to do whatâ€™s necessary to preserve the sort of socio-economic contexts which make it easier for working families to live near one another and continue to tend to one another (as is the case in more agrarian societies), Iâ€™m quite reluctant to see our national commitment to protecting the non-working elderly reduced to just another easily manipulated subsidy. Thereâ€™s more to the program than that.
â€œI donâ€™t see any difference between ex post and ex ante.”
I do, and a good example is one you bring up in #136, when you point out the important consequences which have followed from welfare reform in the 1990s. The strictly ex post redistributionist policies of AFDC created massive dislocations in the lives of the urban poor; moving money aroundâ€“view welfare checks, food stamps, and so much moreâ€“simply led to an over-reliance on (and an undue empowerment of) caseworkers, the abandonment of any sort of communal or familial responsibility, and the breakdown in the sort of discipline and tradition that makes civilized life possible. Since the reforms that Clinton and Gingrich introduced, weâ€™ve begun to see some real improvements in these areas. One conclusion which could be drawn from this experience is: â€œwell, I guess welfare doesnâ€™t work.â€? But another, better, conclusion is: â€œdonâ€™t put all your welfare eggs in the redistributionist basket.â€? Smart social democratic thinkersâ€“whether they called themselves that or notâ€“have made this argument for years (consider the work of William Julius Wilson, for example; he argued for years that the real cause of black urban poverty wasnâ€™t the lack of government support but the lack of public actionâ€“and he means WPA-level action–to keep and generate capital and jobs where they were most desperately needed). No honest person denies the downsides of the dole. It is necessary to some degree, but as I argued way back in #37, a program aimed at full employmentâ€“an explicitly ex ante intervention into the marketâ€“makes a hell of a lot more sense than simple redistribution. The prophets were right when the said the dole destroys the work ethic. Redistribution is an important tool, but a limited one too. Far better to attempt to structure the â€œinterestsâ€?â€“or the â€œstuff,â€? if you prefer–of the world you live in, than to reward and/or penalize people (both rich and poor) for responding to extant stuff as any self-interested person would.
â€œLastly, you should abandon socialism as the paradigm to achieve communatarianism. Free markets can achieve plenty of communtarianism, if that is what people value.â€?
Yes, communal virtues do arise under free market conditions. But even more communal virtues can arise in contexts where markets are (somewhat!) regulated, constrained, and subject (to a certain degree!) to the will and discipline of the people who operate within them. (The number of thriving local farmers markets and neighborhood associations per capita in the U.S., for example, simply canâ€™t compare to what exists Germany, from what Iâ€™ve observed.) Iâ€™m not saying by any means that the only source of communitarian affection is economic (there is religion, politics, leisure activities, and numerous other sources); but I am saying that if the economy is conducive to communitarian realization, then there will be that much more community to go around. (Iâ€™ve mentioned him before, but again: Alan Ehrenhaltâ€™s study of Chicago neighborhoods in the 1950sâ€“blue-collar, heavily unionized, relatively segregated, highly religious, tradition-bound neighborhoodsâ€“emphasized the degree to which their unity depended upon an environment in which people felt financially secure and trusting, and thus not constantly driven to improve, justify, re-examine, or change the socio-economic habits and choices.
â€œWhat precisely do you mean when you talk about alienation and solidarity?…I donâ€™t see how solidarity or alienation get operationalized in such a way as to provide any intellectual traction.â€?
Good question. My answer is â€œI donâ€™t know.â€? However, just because I donâ€™t know doesnâ€™t mean itâ€™s unknowable. (Thereâ€™s a great deal of social democratic economic argument which Iâ€™ve never read; likely more than a few people have tackled this question before.) By way of example, consider: judges and legal thinkers have, over a couple of centuries of precedent, argument, and scholarship, come to an â€œoperationalizationâ€? of the concept â€œunreasonable,â€? as in â€œunreasonable search and seizure.â€? Of course, that operationalization is constantly being challenged, contested and reshaped, but nonetheless it provides real traction to policymakers who wish to avoid anything â€œunreasonable.â€? I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s any reason to assume that assessments in light of a particular concern for â€œalienationâ€? couldnâ€™t find some sort of equivalent embodiment.
â€œBut for me, at least, belonging to a party and supporting a candidate is one way that those [communitarian] virtues are instantiated in my life. Yâ€™all, on the other hand, have defined yourselves out of any political grouping. I can think of some ways of reconciling this intellectually (though you can do a better job articulating than i, and I eagerly await hearing from you) but emotionally its hard for me to understand.â€?
Iâ€™m not a political activist, but in my own way I ended up supporting John Kerry pretty strongly in the last election. Iâ€™ve put up candidate signs on our lawn, donated money to campaigns, signed petitions and so forth. (Greens, Democrats, and Republicans, for whatever thatâ€™s worth.) No, Iâ€™m not a registered member of any political party, and itâ€™s true that I feel somewhat intellectually homeless as far as partisan politics is concerned. But that feeling of homelessness isnâ€™t total; really, the better metaphor is Jeremiahâ€™s, when he speaks of maintaining a certain distance from every modern ideologyâ€“and, even more importantly, from every group which claims to stand as a vehicle for that ideology. I was quite emotionally wrapped up in this election, despite the fact that neither candidate stood for much of anything that was especially close to my populist/social democratic/communitarian heart; that alone shows, I think, the falseness of the assumption that affectivity and fellow-feeling depend upon uniformity. No, I donâ€™t think I really fit anywhere along the dominant continuum of American politics, but Iâ€™m a member of diverse political collectivities nonetheless, and they have an at least partial claim on my enthusiasms and frustrations.
â€œ[S]ide by side with this observation is my sense that party politics is a necessary part of modern democratic citizenship, and thus there may be a moral obligation to belong to a party. This may seem like a strange claim to make, but it is connected with the notion that since there are institutions which are necessary to moral development and moral expression there is a duty to embrace these institutions where possible.â€?
I strongly agree with this point in general, but not its particular application. That is, I disagree that political parties are necessary to â€œmoral development and moral expressionâ€?; while parties are an important route to such, I donâ€™t believe that other institutions canâ€™t play similar roles. Youâ€™re familiar with Sheldon Wolin, I assume? Iâ€™ve been strongly influenced by his Arendtian reading of democracy as both participatory and â€œfugitiveâ€?â€“that is, always and necessarily escaping or appearing outside the boundaries of institutions and habits which have become entrenched or powerful. Thatâ€™s part of what makes socialist and populist economics so important to the democratic project. Under liberal capitalism, a great amount of â€œsocial lifeâ€? is framed as a â€œnaturalâ€? and therefore uncontestable byproduct or concomitant of certain economic verities: property will arise, private pleasures will be pursued, etc. This divides the political realm from the social and greatly narrows the former, meaning political action (including democracy) is legitimated and made effective in increasingly limited ways. The more the economy incorporates the social priorities of our collective livelihood, the more likely it is that meaningful democracy can unpredictably emerge across a broader range of socio-economic spaces (in the workplace, for example).
Planning and zoning is an area where the power of government is wielded to oppress the poor through minimum lot and building sizes. The purpose of most residential planning is to keep the poor people far away, preferably in another town. As one Californian told me of his feeling in some Orange County communities, “It’s a planned community. You’re not part of the plan.”
Fans of central management will see this problem and think the answer is better planning; less planning would suit me better. There are probably also many who dislike government wealth transfers, but are really glad that the power of the state keeps the riff-raff off their streets.
As far me, I am just ticked off that zoning makes it so hard to keep and slaughter chickens in the backyard.
I don’t differentiate between ex post and ex ante in terms of their violation of a person’s stewardship. I have no problem whatsoever differentiating them in terms of their effects on individuals and incentives. We can (over the next year or so) take each one on a case by case basis. If you envision fairly modest interventions then that may be beneficial. More statist interventions usually create more opportinites for corruption, require more extreme restrictions on individual activity, and create more poverty than anybody would be thrilled about.
Remember, it will not be the honest Russell Fox who runs these programs. It will be those who get elected and appointed. As a group, those people have obvious limitations. Not all of them are particularly bright and not all of them are particularly honest, to say the least.
I am guessing that we agree that Social Security should be modified, though we might come up with different ways to do it! But note that what I object to is not “Social Security as originally implemented”, which is what you defend. I object to Social Security as it became. This is something worth keeping in mind. Also, you may wish to think about how Social Security breaks down familial intergenerational bonds. Programs don’t always stay nice. They often explode into something completely different.
I don’t think job creation programs have a very good history. I also am curious how much consumption we should forcibly take from Mr. Ehrenhart’s sample in order to encourage their unity. Certainly I am happy to let them give up money for unity, but how much money should the government take from them, regulation-wise, for more unity?
And to do this, we need to measure unity. In a free market we don”t have to measure non-financials because people’s actions reveal the value of non-finacials to them personally, and their preferences are supreme. How are you going to do it? This is absolutely crucial in order to do “experimentation and evaluation”, and perhaps worthy of its own later post, where I’d be happy to help you brainstorm. It is one example of the prohibitive amount of knowledge that intervention requires. It is not enough to know that community has increased. You need to know if the increase was worth the costs. You could just guess, I suppose. But that seems problematic :). Especially since you will not be doing the guessing. A self-interested public official will. As Mosiah noted, strong government is fine with a good king, but devastatingly bad with a bad one.
I have no doubt that the government can try to use regulation and its police power to enforce more community. But I am extremely hesitant to say that the government can do very much of this at a cost worth bearing. Obviously the costs are more than financial. You seem perfectly willing to try some things out and then see what works. That is wonderful. But how are you going to know if it works?
History suggests that programs that don’t work can be very hard to get rid of or even modify, especially when there is a sizable minority of people who do benefit financially. Protectionism and Social Security come to mind.
I leave for Vegas in a few hours, so maybe we can hash some of these issues out later.
“Under liberal capitalism, a great amount of â€œsocial lifeâ€? is framed as a â€œnaturalâ€? and therefore uncontestable byproduct or concomitant of certain economic verities: property will arise, private pleasures will be pursued, etc.”
Russell: Let me suggest that this view of liberalism is unfortunately distorted because it implicitly assumes that political philosophy is the proper place at which to examine the justification for particular social institutions. I think that your example of property is particularlly instructive here. Modern capitalism (I am being so nice to use your nasy word ;-> ) depends to a large extent on the institution of private property. Many liberal philosophers — e.g. Locke or for that matter Nozick — talk of property as though it arises “naturally” and is a relatively simple institution. This is not true. Making the institution of private property workable requires a hugely complex system of rules and institutional arrangments. These rules are not “natural” and no one that I am aware of who seriously studies them (ie scholars of property law) talks as though they are. The jurists who actually created the institution of private property as it exists in the capitalist west were keanly aware that they were dealing with a created institution. Lord Coke perhaps best captured this insight in his disputes with James I. James facied himself as something of a political philosopher and insisted on the sufficiency of natural reason to resolve legal disputes (questions of institutional design, if you will). Coke responded by insisting that the reason of the law was an artificial reason, a made thing that could only be understood by attention to history and precedent, in other words, by an understanding of the countless ways in which the law had been forced to make decisions between this or that interest, rule, or decision, always with an eye on the social and cultural context in which it developed.
One of the reasons that I dislike “capitalism” and even phrases like “unregulated markets” is that it requires that I remain blind to this development and reality. I don’t believe in unregulated markets because I believe that markets presuppose some functioning legal regime and because I think that the private law is regulatory in the sense that it represents concrete choices between competing values and concerns. It is precisely because I am so skeptical about the efficacy of command and control style regulation and ambitious forms of centralized planning that I think it makes sense to study and think carefully about the institutions and practices of the market and the law that makes it possible. It is precisely because I do not believe that capitalism is natural that I regard its considerable accomplishments as contingent and fragile. It is possible to severely, severely mess things up precisely because markets are “artificial” entities in Coke’s sense.
Oddly, I suppose that at some level I agree with your criticisms of liberal thinkers. Russia seems like a good example here. Obviously, the failure of liberal capitalism to emerge in Russia is a hugely complicated story, but here is one way of telling it: Importing liberal capitalism into Russia was seen as consisting of essentially two things. The first was the creation of democratic political institutions. The second was the creation of free markets. By and large, political intellectuals in the west and their allies in Russia viewed the first task as the one requiring the most deliberate design. Hence, we lavished attention on things like election procedures, the reality of judicial review, etc. etc. The economic transformation, on the other hand, was viewed largely as an exercise in mere privatization. The question was how we transfer assets from state ownership to private ownership and wait out the resulting (and hopefully temporary) dislocation that follows. From my admittedly ignorant point of view, it looks as though lost in this party of political theorists, constitutional lawyers, and macroeconomists was close attention to the legal preconditions of properly functioning markets. For example, the Delaware corporation code was essentially dropped — with little revision or modification — into the laws of Armenia, despite the fact that that code assumes a complex set of institutions like thick and essentially transparent securities markets, a highly sophisticated corporate law bar, a system of highly specialized courts with a huge body of nuanced interpretation of that code, etc. etc. In short, it was the assumption that properly functioning markets are the natural by product of the absence of state intervention and that the fundamental “constitutional” (in the sense of constitutive) issues of the polity centered primarily on the shape of “public” institutions was responsible, at least in part, in my view for the failure of Russia. (And again, I realize that this story grossly simplifies things.)
This thread may be over, but let me chime in and say that I like Nate’s last comment very much. I agree that private property is largely a created institution. I also agree with Frank about the need to take economic realities into account, and I applaud his reminders to consider the possibilities of corruption and incompetence. However, I mostly disagree with Frank to the extent that he sees protection of private property as being a moral issue. I don’t quite understand how he can say that some redistribution is good, but then sometimes it’s “wrong and evil” (comment 42).
I think it would be interesting if Russell would propose one or two specific changes in institutions that he would like to see. It would be much easier to debate specifics than to debate everything at once.
Sorry, Russell, for not answering yet to your comment 83 (I was traveling this past weekend, and am now writing from Belgium). You mentioned:
“Interesting, your connection of Catholicism with economic exploitation, and anti-clericalism with social concern. I donâ€™t know anything about the history of the Catholic Church in Belgium and the Low Countries. From my reading of things Catholicism, particularly in Latin America, has been one of the foremost contributors to social democratic thought; the principle of subsidiarity and the â€œthird wayâ€? between capitalism and communism has been strongly associated with the Catholic Church for decades, or so I thought. But maybe that comes from listening to American Catholics and Catholic theologians, rather than the lived experience of Belgians.”
Thanks for the nuances. Right, one must pinpoint the places but also the periods we’re referring to. I’m basing my knowledge on what I was taught in school, from readings, but also from personal experience — realizing the matter is of course complex. In my comment 53 I was talking about present-day anti-Catholic “socialists” who are so because of generations-long family traditions, sometimes going back to the late 18th century, the time of strong pre-socialist reactions against the established order. The French Revolution typifies this clash against the “rich” AND “the Catholic Church”, as both were strongly associated with each other in the power structure. During the 19th century and well into the 20th century, at least in West-European countries, but I would imagine also elsewhere, anti-clerical sentiment followed the lines of the socialist movement, as the Catholic Church was perceived as part of the wealthy establishment, keeping peasants and workmen in ignorance and siding with royalty and aristocracy (compare also the Russian revolution of 1917 and their perception of the Orthodox Church).
In Western-Europe there were exceptions. “Priests for the poor” did align themselves with socialists, but by so doing got into conflict with the Catholic hierarchy (“Priest Daens” is a wonderful example of this). I would say that, generally speaking, only in the 2nd third of the 20th century and especially after Vatican II did a more generalized “social Catholicism” arise. As you mentioned, “particularly in Latin America, one of the foremost contributors to social democratic thought”. It has shaped a different image of Catholicism for the present generation. At the same time, it has also continued to engender conflicts between “too progressive” priests and Catholic hierarchy. The bottom line is that Catholicism has many faces.
I’m doing my best to keep on contributing to this link so it will make the “most popular” list.
In answer to Jeremiah (#133), you can read for yourself from some interesting sources about privatizing social security in Chile and elsewhere. It turns out it’s not just the big bad capitalists who are looking to the market: it’s also the social democratic governments of some European countries. Some interesting stuff attached.
Also, Frank M as always expressed better than I did the intent of my comment about Krugman. Thanks Frank.
Since the 19th century on, the Catholic Church has been heavily involved in attacks against “Manchester Liberalism,” which was essentially laissez faire capitalism (or, if Nate Oman prefers, the free market). However, until after World War II, their defense of redistribution/social justice was connected with a defense of an aristocratic organic order and the existence of natural elites.
Since Geoff B suggested that keeping the post alive may actually not be a bad thing, I’ll do my part.
Kudos to Frank for providing a wealth of fascinating information and (in my opinion) the most convincing arguments. Frank even managed to pull in the most scriptural and modern day prophetic support for his case.
I found the most startling assertion in the string, though, to be his use of D&C 56:17 to say that poor people voting for their own benefit was an act of greed and thus sinful (#116, 121).
Frank wrote: â€œSo it would appear that we should not, as the poor, lay hands upon other menâ€™s goods. So at the very least, perhaps we can agree that we should never vote to take from someone else and give to ourselves.â€? And later â€œI suggested that it meant the poor should not vote for their own benefits.â€?
I imagine Russell and like-minded folks could counter that employers voting to keep minimum wage at near poverty levels are in fact voting for their own benefit and taking from someone else to give to themselves.
Perhaps that example is not what Frank meant, but such strong statements beg some questions. Maybe he just meant it was wrong to vote to tax rich or middle-class people in order to receive a dole â€“ that would be much easier to defend.
I donâ€™t know if Frank will be back, but Iâ€™d be curious to hear his (or anyoneâ€™s) take on this subject.
I had decided to jump off this thread for good, but Nate’s comment forces me get back on:
“One of the reasons that I dislike â€œcapitalismâ€? and even phrases like â€œunregulated marketsâ€? is that it requires that I remain blind to this development and reality. I donâ€™t believe in unregulated markets because I believe that markets presuppose some functioning legal regime and because I think that the private law is regulatory in the sense that it represents concrete choices between competing values and concerns.”
Now this makes sense to me–honesly I must conclude I simply and carelessly misunderstood your previous formulations of this point. Funny, though–this point, made most recently by Sunstein, I think, is usually not made in a libertarian or classic-liberal context. Indeed it’s often invoked to show that the distinction between the naturally functioning harmony of the market and the naive meddling of regulation is a false one. Law and market are not opposed, but market is created, or at least made possible, by law.
Fair enough. It’s also fair to say that the modern state itself presents the possiblity of “severely, severely” messing things up. Plenty of evidence for that–the “ambitious forms of centralized planning” you seem to be getting at are clear examples but not the worst examples. Still, given quality of life measures, etc., your way of framing the issue doesn’t seem to give one strong reason to prefer, say, the American style of private law, regulation and social insurance to the European one (though as you know the latter isn’t heavier on regulation in every aspect). I don’t have *very* strong reasons to choose one over the other, either, though I do think that American values on the issue of fairness and equality are more screwed up than European values are.
I haven’t read all of Frank’s comments, but remarkably I’m largely in agreement–with the values, not with how they seem to be applied. For example, “the idler shall not eat the bread of the laborer”. A very important value, one without which you can’t understand the critiques of capitalism in Marxism and Catholic social teaching. But it is curious to me that when we think of the idler we always think of the poor.
I read a perfect peice of right-wing ideology a few years ago: the first in the “Rich Dad Poor Dad” series of books. The main point is that only fools work for their living–the people with smarts (and moral superiority, it turns out), find a way to live off wealth. That’s because, among other things–and this is said quite frankly–the government taxes you less if you live off wealth. So the key to success is to find some way to become “independent”, and make others work for you. When the discussion turns to government redistribution, the author starts, without any sense of irony, railing against the idle poor stealing his money.
When we talk about dependency and striving for independence, we are again invoking an important value. But dependency–when we are talking of the bad kind, not of the good kind which accompanies every kind of healthy social life–appears in many different places. It appears in the two-bit job which doesn’t pay the rent as well as the welfare check. In most cases we’re dealing with a matter of degree, but different kinds of dependencies. When I hear people glorify the ‘job’, any job, as if it’s a ticket straight to social fulfillment, and demonize the dole as if it’s a form of slavery, I begin to suspect that’s it’s because there are people who pay for the dole but have never worked the job, or at least not those jobs. Getting past this kind of dogmatism might not make us better policy makers, but it might help us minister to the poor a bit better.
A similar kind of one-sidedness goes along with the idea that economic justice can be brought about through charity. We sometimes forget that charity (in the sense of almsgiving) can reinforce the very thing we are trying to combat–the sense of dependence, the lack of security and the inability to plan for the future, and the assertion of moral superiority which the rich have inevitably made against the poor throughout history, witnessed most forcefully in the Book of Mormon. Recognizing these problems doesn’t force us to accept any pariticular alternative to charity, but it should prevent us from naively thinking of charity as socialism, just without the coercion, without the selfishness and without all the inefficiencies.
Saints, to speak somewhat presumpuously, should be a little more discerning and clear-eyed than that. And more inventive, so that we don’t have to conclude that we must arrive at Zion always on Babylonian principles–or just stick with the Babylonian principles until something better comes along.
“Funny, thoughâ€“this point, made most recently by Sunstein, I think, is usually not made in a libertarian or classic-liberal context. Indeed itâ€™s often invoked to show that the distinction between the naturally functioning harmony of the market and the naive meddling of regulation is a false one. Law and market are not opposed, but market is created, or at least made possible, by law.”
Jeremiah: I really have no business continuing to post here, but I did just want to make one or two points. First, Sunstien’s point, when offered against classical liberal legal scholars as opposed to libertarian philosophers and the like, is largely an argument against a straw man. He most famously made the argument in an article entitled “Lochner’s Legacy.” I think that David Bernstein has persuasively demonstrated on this point that Sunstien’s account of the legal history and the legal arguments that he purports to be addressing is painfully shallow. See generally Bernstein’s recent articles in the Georgtown L.J. and the Tex. L. Rev. For example, the notion that 19th century classical liberal jurists regarded the common law as an immutable, natural order of things or as a neutral baseline is not really sustainable. One of the central problems is that all too often the crit tradition that Sunstein draws on to make his point has a badly distorted view of the legal past. They offer up a caricture of Christopher Columbus Langdell as the paradigm of liberal legal thought and then accuse (implicitly or explicitly) all of their ideological opponents of being crypto-Langdellians. The problem is that it is not entirely clear that Langdell was a Langdellian and claiming that all of classical liberal jurisprudence is Langdellian is a stretch to say the least. Bernstein, of course, is an arch-libertarian. Indeed, libertarian legal scholars, such as Richard Epstien, have offered very nuanced accounts of private law.
Second, the fact that I think that private law is inherently regulatory does not mean that I believe that all forms of regulation are equally legitimate or that there is no significant difference between using traditional private law categories to get at problems and using other regulatory paradigms, e.g. New Deal style regulatory agencies, socialist style nationalization, etc. My only point was to insist that Russell’s argument — which is quite common among critics of liberalism — that classical liberalism takes property and other institutions of the market as being “natural” and classical liberals are hence conceptually unable to to see or address the value choices inherent in such arrangments may or may not be true when directed against liberal philosophers but is not a fair criticism of jurisprudential approaches to classical liberalism.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, here is a direct response to Krugman’s NY Times piece. I think it pretty much destroys Krugman’s arguments (although I don’t like the way Luskin continually accuses Krugman of lying — there are better rhetorical devices than that). But if you put aside Luskin’s language, his arguments are quite good.
Is it possible to be a good LDS and be a socialist?
Well, it certainly is possible to be a good RLDS and be a socialist! ;)
As a Christian Democrat with libertarian socialist leanings (wish I could vote that way in USAmerica!) I find few of the comments of socialism’s detractors of any relevance at all.
Let’s start with Marion G. Romney. Let’s have a little honesty here. Marion G. Romney compared and constrasted “socialism” with the United Order. Whose socialism? Marxist socialism? Libertarian socialism? Utopian Socialism? Christian Socialism? Guild Socialism? The honest reviewer of Romney’s comments will realize that Romney’s critique is aimed at Stalinism and the modern keynesian welfare state as operated in capitalist countries. We can safely exclude libertarian and guild socialisms from the list of socialist schools of thought that he may have been critiqueing.
N. Eldon Tanner would probably have had a beef or two with a blanket condemnation of ‘socialism’….seeing how he was a Social Credit member of Alberta’s legislature and served as a Social Credit government minister. Social Credit has its origins in guild socialism…you know, the non-statist kind of socialism that never gets talked anymore about by ordinary Americans and especially not by Joe Mormon. The kind of socialism that Marion G. Romney was definitely NOT criticising in anyway.
Radical Latter Day Saint
Economic Democracy for the Americas
Per reading the thread on modesty on children, aren’t these things supposed to be turned off at the 100th post? What’s up with that? Where are the post police?
The post police chose to let this one go one extra long, annegb, because they figured I needed an especially thorough chastisement for having brought it up.
:) I never pay attention to the dates on these things.
And evidently, neither does yours truly! ;)
Ezra Taft Benson, God – Family – Country – Our Three Great Loyalties, pp. 256-57
Let us consider some of the precepts of men that may and do cause some of the humble followers of Christ to err.
Christ taught us that we should be in the world but not of it. Yet there are some in our midst who are not so much concerned about taking the gospel into the world as they are about bringing worldliness into the gospel. They want us to be in the world and of it. They want us to be popular with the world even though a prophet and said that this is impossible, for all hell would want to join us.
Through their own reasoning and a few misapplied scriptures, they try to sell us the precepts and philosophies of men. They do not feel the Church is progressive enough — they say that it should embrace the social and socialist gospel of apostate Christendom.
They are bothered that the first presidency believes that “the social side of the Restored Gospel is only an incident of it; it is not the end thereof.” (Letter of the First Presidency to Dr. Lowery Nelson, July 17, 1947.)
They attack the Church for not being in the forefront of the so-called civil rights movement. They are embarrassed over some Church doctrine, and as Lehi foretold, the scoffing of the world over this and other matters will cause some of them to be shamed and fall away. (See 1 Nephi 8: 28.)
Unauthorized to receive revelation for the Church, but I fear still anxious to redirect the Church in the way they think it should go, some of them have taken to publishing their differences with the Church, in order to give their heretical views a broader and, they hope, a more respectable platform.
Along this line it would be well for all of us to remember these words of President George Q. Cannon:
A friend … wished to know whether we … considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities of the Church was apostasy…. We replied that we had not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities constituted apostasy, for we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry, and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and the counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term. (Gospel Truth, Deseret Book Co., 1974, vol. 2, pp. 276-77.)
If we are to understand the term Socialism in the context of Marxist ideology, then there is no way that a Mormon can be a Socialist. Ultimately, Marx based the revolution on a violent, forcible overthrow of the powers that be, which immediately negates everything that the ideal society is built upon. The real revolution is based on love and compassion, which is as foreign a concept to the worldly mind as fighting is to the pure in heart.
29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
Capitalism is a system that fosters pride. As we all know, pride is the great stumbling block to Zion. The words of Korihor offer a description of capitalist mentality in that he taught:
“every man fared 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”
Pride is the all-encompassing vice, just as love is the all-encompassing virtue. Only a Babylonian would think that happiness can be achieved through capitalist measures. If we as Latter-Day Saints are to build Zion, we must first go out of Babylon.