The Restoration of the Laborer, the Role of Government, and Michelle Obama

As I’ve been reading the first third of the Book of Mormon, I’ve been thinking about the “laborer in Zion.”

Here are a few scriptural passages that are on my mind:

And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes … and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor…. If they should have charity, they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish. But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish (2 Nephi 26:20, 30-31).

And what thank they [the Gentiles] for the Bible which they receive from them? … Do they remember the the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles? (2 Nephi 29:4)

The Lord of the vineyard sent his servant; and the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few. And the Lord of the vineyard said unto them: Go to, and labor in the vineyard, with might. For behold this is the last time that I shall nourish my vineyard; for the end is nigh at hand, and the season speedily cometh; and if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up unto myself against the time which will soon come. And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them. (Jacob 5:70-72)

“There was a strict command throughout all the churches that there should be no persecutions among them, that there should be equality among all men; … that every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support.” (Mosiah 27:3-4)

If I interpret the scriptures correctly, they call for (at least ideally) an equality of consecrated laborers, an equality which unfortunately is currently exemplified only in the temple (as far as I know). This would mean, I take it, that the bricklayer is as esteemed as the scientist, the full-time mother as valued as the engineer.

In Zion, laborers would not be alienated from their work, nor from each other. Rather, all labor would be consecrated for Zion, and all laborers would be intricately connected with each other’s work. The businessman would converse with the stonemason on an economic strategy, while rolling up his sleeves to assist with the cuts of today’s stones. No hand would be uncalloused and no mind would be unrefined.

There would be no more blue collars and white collars. Only “willing men [and women] who wear the worker’s seal” (hymn 252). No more bosses. Simply servants. No occupation would be denigrated or ignoble. Rather, all laborers would be worthy of their hire.

Of course, such a condition will only come about — in time — through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Certainly government programs will not be sufficient. The love of God must “dwell in the hearts of the people” (4 Nephi 1:15).

However, this does not mean that we should not strive, as dual citizens of the kingdom of God and the nations of this world, to labor — right here and now — with all our heart, might, mind, and strength to strive closer to equalized labor in our nations and communities. In doing so, let us not forget this declaration of Latter-day Saint belief:

We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. (D&C 134:1)

In considering the causes we stand for and the government officials we elect, I hope we consider the future dignity of the laborer as one of our most important “issues” (just my opinion). We are living in a world in which the wealth of the world is held in a few hands, and which it is harder and harder for many to make ends meet. Fathers and mothers are working harder than ever to put food on the table, pay the rent, and have adequate health care benefits.

Some will justify this inequality by assuming that such wealth will “trickle down” to the masses. But it doesn’t take an economist to see this philosophy as a king-pauper state in new clothes. Such a position is all the more striking when we consider the way that many U.S. corporations grind upon the face of the poor in third-world countries (but that is another story — I’ll stick to the U.S. in this post). (Note: I do not intend to knock on free trade, merely today’s amoral, unrestrained, and empirialist free trade.)

I realize that we vote for presidents, not their spouses, but I just have to share that I was very impressed with a recent speech by Michelle Obama, which reminded me of some of the themes I have discussed above. (Yes, in the interest of honest disclosure, I am rooting for Obama right now.)

Here is an excerpt of Michelle’s speech, given at a campaign stop (not sure where) on April 15 — video is available here from CNN.

We are struggling like we’ve never struggled before in my lifetime… When I look at the life that I had growing up — things have gotten harder… I think about life from the lens of how I grew up. There’s a lot of people talking about elitism and all of that. But let me tell you who me and Barack are so that you are not confused…. I am the product of a working-class upbringing. I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a working class community. My father was a city worker, a stationary fireman — operated a pump for the water filtration plant — his entire life. That’s what he did. My mother stayed at home — because, see, way back then you could. You could raise a family of four on a single city-worker’s salary, way back then. I don’t know if you can do that now….

But, see, what my father knew is that the fact that he got up everyday and sacrificed allowed me and my brother to reach for dreams that he had to put aside for himself. Imagine a man like my father, a woman like my mother — neither of them went to college — being able to send not one, but two of us, to Princeton. But the beauty of my upbringing and why I share it everywhere I go — because first of all I’m proud of it — but second of all, one thing that is clear to me as I travel around the country is that most Americans are just like my parents: they don’t want much. People aren’t asking for much. They just want to know if they get up and go to work every day, like they are willing to do, that they’ll earn enough to take care of their families. You know, my father didn’t mind having a high bar. He just wanted the bar to be still. He just wanted it to be fair. He wanted to know that if he got sick he wouldn’t go bankrupt. He wanted to know that he could send his kids to some decent schools in the neighborhood and they’d get an education, maybe aspire to go to college, but at least get a good job and be able to take care of themselves….

That’s all my father wanted. That’s all that most Americans want. But we’re not there. And if I’m telling you something you don’t know, let me know. Maybe things are better, and I’m just missing the boat. Maybe I’m out of touch. But here’s what I see … I am seeing life getting harder and harder for regular folks. Those jobs that my father had — those solid blue-collar jobs are dwindling all over this country. Jobs moving overseas, plants closing … and if you’re lucky enough to have a job, nine times out of ten your salary’s not keeping up with the cost of living, so everybody’s gotta work.

Now, I know, of course, that the vision of Michelle Obama here is not (necessarily) Zion. However, she describes the plight of the laborer in America rather well. Moreover, her description of her father and mother is very similar to my own — a blue-collar worker and (nearly) full-time mother, without college educations, who struggled to make ends meet in order to make things better for their six children, all of which have graduated from universities (or will in the next year), and several of which have received, or will receive, advanced degrees. And I know I am not alone. But I pray that I never forget the labored sacrifice of my parents and ancestors — that I never forget the backs that my blessings have been carried on (speaking of this, please check out Candice’s post on Mayan weaving and remembering suffering through narratives). And that I strive to labor — with my hands and my heart — for the next generation. But I worry for today’s laborers and parents. I worry that their respect has dwindled (along with their benefits), and that their work is alienated from the community. I worry that they can no longer have a stay-at-home parent. I worry that their jobs are not at all secure. And, most of all, I worry that those who are comfortable don’t care. Talk about alienation.

But I am optimistic. And my optimism is rooted in the bright morning of the restored gospel, which offers the restoration of the dignity of the laborer. The restoration of a community of laborers, all of which are equal in the sight of the Lord — and, hopefully, in the sight of man as well.

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41 Responses

  1. 1. It is a shame that one cannot support a family of four on one workers salary. However, I’m not convinced the inequitable distribution of wealth is the cause of this. The feminist movement in the sixties and seventies significantly added to the supply of labor, and without an equal increase in the demand of labor, real wages decreased.

    2. Even in the temple, I doubt the guy working the door is as esteemed as his boss running the temple. Moreover, I doubt any women is as esteemed as any man in the temple excepting perhaps the matron.

    3. The united order was practiced dismally. Off the top of my head I can think of two times in the history of man where communism worked successfully, and I’m not even certain if it was actually being practiced in the City of Enoch. Considering the rarity of success, it seems a bit too idealistic to presume that any ground will be made in this respect. Self-interest is the best way of explaining economic behavior for a reason, that’s what controls an actors decisions. Till that self-interest is bridled and replaced at the forefront of our disposition with a deep sense of humility and love to the point of quasi-perfection, I have no hope for the success of any economic model that resembles the united order. If the Book of Mormon is any measure of when to trust to hope, we’ll have to wait for Jesus to inspire the necessary disposition for such egalitarian economics to succeed.

    4. I do, however, appreciate your optimism. My familiarity with the pleasures of the flesh does lead me to believe that such optimism borders on quixotic.

    5. You don’t intend to knock on free-trade, but your candidate of choice frequently does with his age-old and crudely uneconomic arguments against free-trade agreements like NAFTA. Something to consider in between gulps of his Kool-aid.

  2. It would be good for the Obamas to take a few Econ classes. The assumption that America is worse off economically today than it was in the stagflation of the 1970s is absolutely ridiculous. The reason the middle class is shrinking is upward mobility. Further, we’ve added 25 million jobs since NAFTA – at least 11 million of them associated with NAFTA. Finally, people in Michelle Obama’s family’s low tax bracket don’t even pay taxes. Of course there is more we can do to address inequality in America, but this kind of rhetoric won’t do it. Neither, ironically, will Obama’s protectionist ideas, which always result in pain for the lower class and increase income gaps (the rich can handle the straitjacket on growth; the poor cannot).

    The Obamas made $4.2 million last year (I contributed $8 of it when I bought his book). Of the three candidates, Obama donated the least to charity (McCain did most). I have a hard time swallowing the idea that the Obama’s are really in touch with America’s economics: they obviously know little about economics at a macro level, and they’re certainly not in the blue collar category.

    If the Obama’s really want to help the “American Worker” they can start voluntarily redistributing some of their own money instead of pushing for tax increases on people who make $4 million less than them. Further, they can start talking about solid economic policies that actually will bring sustainable growth to lower-class wages. They can teach their supporters about what really causes economic growth (hint: it’s not protectionism or eloquent speaking). Granted, Obama does a fantastic job of addressing the biggest part of the problem, education, but his other economic policies will hurt the lower class.

    Lifting the lower classes in this country requires government policy that will facilitate the shift to the service sector by training workers (some might have to move to the city as well). It requires reforming the unemployment system so that it facilitates retraining more and permanent dole less. It requires reforming the way we deal with unions, which cause insider-outsider problems (unemployment) – this is Obama’s weakest point. It requires addressing the problem of overpaid corporate America through carefully targeted legislation that is not based on John Edwards populist rhetoric (that kind of legislation does more harm than good; think Sarbanes-Oxley). It requires encouraging investment in physical capital (the number one factor in growth), not discouraging it by overtaxing the people Obama wants to overtax. It requires politicians like Obama to stop inciting economic panic and let the economic professionals do their job. It requires opening up trade to allow low value-added commodities to be imported, which benefits the lower class most. This is also a good way to handle inflation, which is going to be increasingly difficult to control in the coming decade. Inflation means that the discretionary income of the poor is reduced or eliminated. Free trade puts downward pressure on inflation. Protectionism and overtaxation of business do the opposite. In short, fixing America’s poverty problems requires leaders who (1) understand economics, (2) admit that they understand economics instead of pandering for votes and selling out to unions, or at least admit that they’re leaving it up to qualified economic advisers, (3) have the guts to work across the aisle to reform our crowding-out government entitlements programs which hinder growth, and (4) have the guts to stay above the tendency to tell everyone they are a victim of the system (or the white man). Obama might have #1 (we don’t know), but he’s grossly inadequate in the other three.

    There are a lot of good reasons to support Obama, as you have argued well before. However, the economy is not one of them. If he is able to carry out some of his policies, he will hurt the “American worker” that he is promising to help. When it comes to the ability of people to feed themselves, we can’t afford this kind of economic ignorance. Good politics = bad economics. I think he knows better.

  3. I should add, however, that I appreciate those scriptural insights. Right-wing Mormons who try to use the scriptures to justify greed and unregulated capitalism are committing what Nibley called a “perversion.” There is overwhelming scriptural evidence that the Lord cares deeply about poverty. I’ve always found the American Right to be very paradoxical on this: they claim to believe in the sanctity of life, but when it comes to the lives of millions of Americans and billions in the world who can hardly feed themselves, the Mormon Right doesn’t seem too concerned.

  4. Anselmo,

    1. Interesting point about feminism. I admit some ignorance in these areas, but I’m not sure what I think about this being a big part of the problem, especially when we consider that women likely spend much more discretionary income since the feminist movement as well. But I could be wrong here. I think a big part of the problem is simply the fact that the number one way for corporations to increase profit is to lower human resources expenses. Number one argument against unbridled capitalism, if you ask me.

    2. I’ll let others speak for themselves. As for me, when I worked as a gardener at the temple, I felt like a laborer among equals. My wife vouches for herself as feeling like an equal among the men.

    3. I agree and disagree. I certainly made it clear that only a change in people’s hearts will bring about a consecrated society. However, I would hope to hearten you to more optimism. Certainly YOU can do things, right here and right now, to work towards a more equalized society. Simply esteeming the blue-collar workers and full-time mothers around you is a step in the right direction. Certainly we can hope for some progress in the right direction, and we can fight current inequities in the market. The problem is not just selfishness, it is people not doing anything about it. Another problem is the dissolution of community.

    4. Optimism does not mean being out of touch. My familiarities with the untapped goodness of so-called selfish mortals leads me to believe that such optimism (perhaps) borders on faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

    5. You are entitled to say what you want, but honestly, can’t we leave the “Kool-Aid” comments in the cupboard? If you think that I’m duped (which is interesting, considering that you don’t know me), then you should reason with me as to why rather than insult me (as though I’ve never heard the Kool-Aid remark before). At any rate, I don’t need Obama’s “Kool-Aid” to distrust an unbridled and dehumanizing free market. I guess you could say I’ve been drinking this Kool-Aid for a long time.

  5. 1. There are a number of reasons that explains the inequitable distribution of wealth in the US. I think you’ve pointed out one of these.

    2. There are those, such as you and your wife, that instill a sense of egalitarianism. However, like every institution, its run via a hierarchy. And, of course, power, prestige, pride, and vanity are closely attached to one’s position within that hierarchy. Ultimately, this corrodes at the ideals of egalitarianism and mutual respect. I think that’s why Joseph preferred to have people refer to him as Brother Joseph rather than President or Elder Smith. It was his unwritten order of things, I suppose. Do you disagree?

    3. I agree, if we’re talking about making an individual change, I have much room to improve upon. Esteeming the blue collar worker and especially the full-time mom is a great place to start (the mom part could easily justify an entire conversation).

    If we’re talking about a world with no bosses and an economic model along the lines of communism, I think we’re far off. The restored Gospel of Jesus Christ will have to restore the part about the law of consecration to get people to start living it again, and even then, we’d likely fail at it (for the second time). Again, if the Book of Mormon is any indicator, we’ll have to wait for Jesus’ Second Coming in order to create the near universal change of heart necessary for such a Utopia to exist. Until then, I’ll stick with loving my neighbors.

    4. Of course optimism doesn’t. But neither does it mean being in touch. That’s why I made the remark about being quixotic; to point out that a world without bosses is unrealistic. There are many very good people that do many great things, but I don’t think that means there’s hope in our world’s ability to institutionalize such utopian ideals. Nonetheless, though I don’t trust to hope for such things, I find admiration that you do.

    5. You don’t know Obama and you’re obviously familiar with his ideas enough to warrant supporting his cause. Perhaps this is the case with me. After all, I am having a conversation with you on your own blog containing an archive of your own political beliefs including a political endorsement page with two articles on Obama.

    I’m sorry that I insulted you. I was trying to point out what I found paradoxical: not wanting to knock free trade, presumable because you don’t take issue with it per say, while simultaneously supporting Obama.

    Let’s reason together. Do you believe the things Obama says (new type of politician, non-partisan, etc.) because you’ve investigated his record and rhetoric or did you take what he said at face value?

  6. I just wanted to add one thing. Ryan said McCain donated the most to charity. However, those figures were based on his income alone which was just under $500,000. This does not include Cindy McCain’s income, as they file taxes separately and she chooses not to release her tax returns. I have a feeling that she probably supplements John McCain’s income considerably since she’s worth about $100 million. Unless you know what percent they donate combined I don’t think it’s worth bringing up.

  7. We can still compare Obama to Clinton, who also donated more. The point is that Obama talks big about equality, but he plans to increase taxes on people making $200,000 a year. That’s $4 million less than him. He seems happy to spend others’ money on his big dreams, but I would like to see some significant willingness to spend his own.

  8. Ryan,

    Well, Obama wouldn’t be exempt from the tax increases, would he? So he’s very happy to spend his own.

    About Clinton vs. Obama on taxes: The Obamas made $4.2 million last year (less than 1 million the year before that) and donated about 240K to charity (6%). The Clintons made over $20 million last year and paid about 3 million to charity (15%). So, yes the Clintons have paid a higher percentage.

    However, you have to see these statistics within a larger context. First, the Clintons have WAY more money than the Obamas. They made over $109 million between 2001-2007. Because they have made megamillions for years, it is easy for them to budget for big spending to charity. The big spike in Obama’s pay, however, surged in the past year (in book sales due to the publicity of his campaign), and this spike is perhaps not yet reflected in the Obamas’ charity spending. At any rate, you can hardly even compare. If and when the Obamas make over $100 million within a 7 year period, then we can compare charitable donations. Let us not also forget that the Obamas raise two daughters and the Clintons are empty-nesters (though I wonder whether Chelsea’s cord is cut).

    So, NO, Ryan, we can’t really compare Clinton with Obama on this one.

    And Cindy, I’m glad you brought up that precious little point of information regarding McCain and his wife. I was thinking the same thing.

    Regardless, I don’t think that this has to do with how much money the candidate makes or how much they donate to charity (though the latter is important). If any candidate is “closest” to “the people,” it’s Obama. This is evident in the upbringing of he and his wife (though, yes, I recognize that Barack had a more affluent upbringing than Michelle), his community organizing in Chicago, and in his policies.

    I want to respond to some of your other remarks, Ryan, as well as your latest, Anselmo, but it will have to be later.

  9. Anselmo,

    The Church’s use of hierarchical structures to operate temples doesn’t mean that prestige and pride are a part of one’s role or that there is not a genuine spirit of equality.

    Remember that Church organization is different than the Lord’s family organizations. Temples center on eternal families, not the necessary jobs and responsibilities people are willing to fill to allow temples to fulfill infinitely greater purposes.

    If there is pride and prestige in Church callings, that is the fault of individuals. The scriptures challenge and overturn the ego-centric ways of the world’s hierarchies. The greatest is the servant of all. Leaders are laborers.

  10. I will look forward to your response to my other claims about economics. I do feel that if we’re going to talk about poverty, we have a moral obligation to be informed about the economics of it. Obama’s rhetoric indicates that he’s not (or that he is, but is pandering for votes)

    I will concede the point about Obama’s income and charity, although I find your comment about him having two kids somehow significantly affecting a $4.2 million salary (and $1 million the year before) to be quite comical. There is a major difference between taxing people who make $4.2 million and people who make $0.2 million, however, and his promises to raise taxes on those people will certainly hurt them more than it hurts him.

    I am curious about your claim that Obama is the closest to the people. You cite as evidence his upbringing. How does his and his wife’s upbringing compare to that of both of the Clintons? Also, how do his policies differ from Clinton’s in terms of being close to the people? In reality, I see little difference on either count.

  11. Candice,

    thats my point – individuals frequently fall victim to the temptation that comes along with hierarchies (I think that’s why Dennis was advocating a bossless society). I’m merely pointing out that our susceptibility to this temptation permeates all institutions, even religious societies like that in the temple. The scriptures makes this very point:

    “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

  12. I don’t see a noticeable difference between Obama and Clinton when it comes to being ‘close to the people.’ If we’re talking about upbringing, I hardly see a difference. Hillary was a daughter of middle-class parents, a girl scout, and a student of a public high school famous for its diversity. That sounds like a fairly typical upbringing.

    Lets not forget McCain either. He spent 5 years as a POW despite being offered early release by the North Vietnamese upon discovering his father was the highest ranking US military official in Vietnam. McCain’s refused. His reasoning? He was no better nor any different than the other POWs. Sounds pretty close to the people to me.

    There are nice anecdotes about all the candidates upbringing and just how close to the common man they are. But the truth is, these sort of stories don’t really matter much. Being ‘close to the people’ is neither sufficient nor necessary criteria to be an effective president. Some of our best presidents have been elitists and some of our worst have been lovers of the common man. What ‘being close to the people’ will do for a candidate is get him elected. Beyond that there’s little to indicate that it affects the variance of a presidents success.

  13. What I see in Michelle Obama’s speech is as culturally focused as it is economically. American culture does not perceive people who perform ordinary labor the same as they used to. We teach kids to aspire far beyond these kinds of jobs to live successful lives. And such jobs don’t let people buy the gigantic houses that are popular now. And yet our communities depend upon the service of these ordinary jobs.

    Maybe the Obamas aren’t the most informed about the details of American economics, but I think they are more culturally saavy than the Clintons or McCains. Obama, for example understands that adults need choices even when kids don’t sometimes, unlike Clinton (with health insurance). He also understands that alluding to or drawing on different movements or past ideas (“yes we can”) is something that adds meaning and depth to his campaign message. Hilary told him his ideas should be completely his own. Individuals in Western culture have always alluded to the past to add depth and context of the present. These are not big issues, but to me they indicated that Obama has cultural judgment and understanding that Clinton doesn’t.

    Sometimes the best leaders are not necessarily the best “managers.” I think instead of expecting the next president to be a jack of all trades (inevitably a master of none), we should focus more on his moral judgment. The president will be surrounded by economics experts, but will he respond wisely and ethically to their advice? Will he be people-centered, culturally-centered, morally-centered, or money and power focused?

    Even though Obama might not be a perfect candidate, as far as I can tell, he seems the most intelligent, discerning, conscientious, and genuine candidate we have.

  14. That’s an area specific issue. I don’t think Clinton’s policy demanding universal health care coverage for everyone indicates that she doesn’t believe adults need choices. That’s preposterous.

    Obama has a great understanding of culture and it really seems to have benefited his ability to relate to Americans. Ultimately, however, that ability has little to do with his policy proposal and much more to do with his marketing strategy. Its why he has such a strong, cult following. He relates to people. This is a strength that will get him elected, but not one that will make him a good president (we’re electing a president, not a best friend).

    Now, one’s moral judgment is something that will determine variance in a president’s effectiveness. Being a jack of all trades, too, is important. One cannot sort through the expert advice of economists, legal counsel, political theorists, foreign policy specialists without a sound understanding of these fields. That’s why experience is so crucial; it develops that understanding. This is something doesn’t have.

    Regarding moral judgment, I really don’t see much of any in the three remaining candidates.

  15. this is unrelated to the current discussion, but i wanted to throw in my two cents.

    penny #1: i have a hard time envisioning any society wherein “the businessman would converse with the stonemason on an economic strategy, while rolling up his sleeves to assist with the cuts of today’s stones,” as you put it. all men and women are blessed with different talents, and i imagine even in a zion society, the Lord would expect us to use and improve our talents as we gain others. those who are good at and enjoy masonry will probably cut stones. those who have a head for numbers will keep the books (assuming we even need them…). my point here is that while i am sure we will be equals in such a society, i don’t believe that means we all can do the same jobs and contribute the same things. trust me: you do not want me to be the engineer in your zion, but i’d be happy to run the bakery.

    penny #2: this post might interest you. http://thmazing.blogspot.com/2008/04/vithe.html#links

  16. Jen,

    I certainly wasn’t suggesting that all people would have the same talents. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a need to specify one as the “businessman” and the other as the “stonemason.” But I do not envision a Zion community as consisting of the alienated specialization that we see in modern society. The businessman knows something about stonemasonry simply because he is in a healthy relationship with the stonemason, and vice-versa. It’s about relationships and community, rather than individualized specialization. The stonemason is not lower than the businessman, because the stonemason is the businessman’s friend — and the businessman shows this, as a gesture of his friendship and interest in the stonemason, by rolling up his sleeve and pitching in. The stonemason does the same, conversing about the latest economic strategy. Perhaps all it takes for you to be more interested in engineering is for you to be in relationship with engineers who would actually value what you have to say.

  17. Oh, and Jen, thanks for turning the conversation back to where it SHOULD be — at least in terms of the actual content of the article.

  18. Dennis: the “content of the article” included a plug for the Obamas, indicating that they would be better at helping the “American worker.” This claim deserves scrutiny, just like the others you made. I agreed with the religious points you made, so I chose to discuss the area where we disagree. If you wanted to talk about something else, you shouldn’t have inserted a plug for the candidate you have endorsed. This was an unfortunate topic for you to choose when plugging for the Obamas, because the Obama’s aren’t pushing sound economic ideas.

    Candice: I agree with Dennis and you that the ‘working class’ is important. Of course we need to do things to help them, and of course moral judgment is important. What I am arguing is this: there are good ways to help the working class, and there are bad ways (which hurt them). Those who are in a position of authority have a moral responsibility to do the right things the right way. Obama talks like he wants to do the right things, but his plans are the wrong way to accomplish these things. If he really wants to help the working class, as he claims, he will employ sound economic principles that will actually help the working class. He is currently surrounded by economic experts, as you say, who disagree with his economic ideas, partly on health care and taxes, and completely on trade. He chooses not to listen to them. Why? Because protectionism wins votes, even though it is the wrong way to help the working class (it actually hurts them, as I said before). This puts his economists in awkward situations, resulting in Obama’s need to try to lie about the meeting between his senior economist and the Canadian consul.

    If he really wants to help the working class, why isn’t he pushing sound economic policy that will help them? Is it a coincidence that the policy he actually is pushing, while wrong, just happens to be the best way to get votes in a recession year? Is this something we should expect from a candidate who claims to rise above the political fray? I don’t think so. This is pandering for votes. If he really wanted to rise about politics, he would tell the voters the truth about the economy and what is needed to fix it. Either he doesn’t know the truth (scary) or he is lying about it (scarier).

    Obama doesn’t deserve the praise you give him for wanting to help the workers, because his rhetoric and ideas indicate that he is only paying lip service to this goal. When he starts promising to help them using policies that actually will help them, then he will deserve our respect on that count.

    This is typical of Obama. People listen only to his rhetoric without questioning the claims he makes (some people call this “drinking the kool-aid”). Dennis, your post, and some of the comments on it, indicate that you and others haven’t actually examined his economic policies to see if they are effective and proven. Instead, you have believed his rhetoric about helping the working class, not knowing that his policies will actually hurt the working class.

  19. dennis,

    you’re welcome. and thanks for clearing that up. i agree that the relationships are more important than the specializations. i just wanted to point out that “differences” will still exist in a society wherein all are “equal.” one can–and should–maintain one’s unique identity without being seen as less than or better than any other.

    for the record, my husband is an engineer. :-)

    that is all.

  20. Ryan,

    I’m finally getting around to responding (with finals and everything). As always, you raise very good points.

    First, technically, the post was not a plug for the Obamas. If anything, it was an implicit aside. However, I was praising Michelle Obama’s words concerning the broader topic of what I consider to be the “restoration of the laborer.” Not exactly the same as a political endorsement (at least in terms of what the actual post was about). But, at any rate, my comment to Jen was not meant to discourage the points that you raised, but rather to encourage more talk about what I considered to be the primary purpose of the post.

    Second — and you may not like this — I am going to postpone talk on Obama’s economic policies until after the Democratic nomination. This is for several reasons. First, I admit that I am not an economic expert. I do want to look into Obama’s economic policies more seriously, and especially in a comparative sense to the other candidates. I will feel best prepared to do this, as a voter with limited time and resources, in the context of Obama vs. McCain (assuming Obama is the nominee), where I think the similarities and differences between the two will be more clear and emphasized. This discussion will need to be grounded, in my mind, in terms of the present economic context which includes the health care crisis, the “recession,” and the war in Iraq. The same goes for talk of Obama’s bipartisanship. We will really see where Obama lines up on the matter in the context of appealing to the general public. All Obama is doing right now is essentially trying to wait out the nomination, and one can hardly blame him. (And all Clinton is doing is trying to bloody up Obama.)

    So, Ryan, let’s wait and talk more about Obama’s economic policies and bipartisanship in the context of the general election. Let’s see what Obama (and McCain) do and say in terms of clarifying their positions and making the argument about how they will be the best leader. And then let’s talk about who is better, even if one or both of us wants to argue that both are politicians as usual. (I don’t know about you, but I will almost certainly be voting for one of the two, though I always hold open the possibility of voting on principle for a third-party or write-in non-contender.)

    Now, of course, my position in this regard is not going to be very satisfying to a Clinton supporter. In regards to Obama vs. Clinton, I wouldn’t care if Clinton has the soundest economic policy in the world and Obama did not (though this is not the case). I simply do not trust Clinton. And I do not think that our leaders should be sound economists without moral scruples. So, I have no problem endorsing Obama over Clinton even without taking into account some of the fine economic points that you raise. I’m not saying that I haven’t considered those things, of course; it’s simply to say that there is no way in the world that I can see myself supporting Clinton, and I like the promise that Obama brings, so I’m cheering hard for Obama — for now. As the recent NY Times editorial has rightfully argued, Clinton has proved herself to be incredibly negative (and I will admit that Obama has become more so in the past two months, but to even compare him with being the same as Clinton in this regard is laughable to me). Moreover, I am convinced that Clinton really does not care about the Democratic candidate for president if it is not herself, nor does she care about undermining the democratic ideals that her party supposedly stands for (don’t even get me started about how ironic it is that the Democratic party, but not the GOP, relies on superdelegates). For Clinton, it’s her way or the highway. I think she figures that if Obama wins the nomination, she wants him to lose in the general election anyway, because that would allow her to run again in four years — with Obama either out of the way or with the stain of a previous loss against McCain. If Obama wins, however, then it would be 8 years before Hillary could run again. And she would be 69 — it’s hard enough being a female presidential candidate, but a 70-year old one …? No way (right or wrong). So since Clinton MUST be president, she will do anything to make it happen either now or in four years. This woman is a megalomaniac who cares only for herself. (I didn’t always feel this way; in fact, I formerly considered voting for Clinton if she was the Democratic nominee.)

    Sorry, long soap box. Bottom line: Obama is better than Clinton. When the general election rolls around, let’s see if he is better than McCain.

  21. I think you make great points, Dennis.

    I will say this: the recent pandering by Clinton and McCain about gas taxes is ridiculous, and Obama deserves tremendous credit for not pandering to this populist trend. Kudos to Obama. The gas tax thing is a temporary fix that will actually exacerbate the long-term energy problem, for various reasons, but it’s a great way to get votes and Clinton/McCain have sold out to it. Obama has impressed me by staying out of it.

    Also, I agree with your assessment of Clinton. I have a really hard time trusting her motives. That matters.

  22. I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I don’t know how I feel about the use of scriptural references to support a political argument on either side. Actually, I’m not really a big fan of that approach. . . .

    Some of the responses you have gotten so far a pretty funny, especially the one about the feminist movement somehow being responsible for lower over-all wages. That’s probably the most rediculous thing I’ve ever heard.

    Anyway, you might appreciate this:

    http://katzscommentary.blogspot.com/2008/06/progressionhow-does-mormon-end-up-as.html

  23. Why is the feminist comment ridiculous? Anselmo said, “The feminist movement in the sixties and seventies significantly added to the supply of labor, and without an equal increase in the demand of labor, real wages decreased.” Labor has a market just like any other good. Rather than writing it off as ridiculous, perhaps you should explain why.

    Did the feminist movement bring more women into the labor market? If so, it certainly would have pushed wages down (unless an exogenous increase supply accompanies the increase in demand). This is not ridiculous – this is econ 101.

    – explain why an increasing supply of labor with constant demand would do anything other than push wages down.

  24. I am disturbed when advocates of the free market are told they do not care about the poor; I believe in the free market, and I do care about the poor. Caring for the poor is my responsibility, my neighbors responsibility, etc. We want the citizens of this nation to shoulder this responsibility, rather than pawn that responsibility off onto the government. Forced charity is not charity, and cannot be moral or right in God’s eyes. Stealing from some to give to others is wrong, despite the intentions.

    Let’s take upon ourselves the responsibility to take care of the poor, rather than ask Big Brother to do it for us. Socialism is shifting responsibility, not shouldering it. It is forcing my neighbor to be charitable, rather than inviting and persuading him to, and taking that responsibility upon my self.

  25. Hi Jeff,

    I certainly agree with what you are saying here.

    I’m wondering how much your comment is responding to things that you perceive me as saying (telling advocates of the free market that they don’t care for the poor, and advocating for socialism). Maybe not, but I just thought I’d clarify that I’m not saying these things. But maybe you’re just giving a general commentary.

  26. Jeff,

    Are you consistent in your belief about government compulsion and poverty reduction? If forcing people to do the right thing “cannot be moral or right in God’s eyes”, can I assume that you are also against legislation restricting abortion or gay marriage?

  27. Ryan,

    I don’t see those views as inconsistent, and I can certainly explain why; I actually just wrote a blog series on the subject of proper government authority. This link will take you to the first post in the six-post series (I would read the entire series before commenting, as many have discovered their questions answered in future posts): http://ldsphilosopher.wordpress.com/2008/06/23/ecclesiastical-and-government-authority-nathan-can-you-think-of-a-better-title/

    I could explain more here, but I do not wish to deviate too much from the topic at hand. Send me an email, or comment on my blog, and we could talk more!

  28. Dennis,

    A little of both. I was responding more the attitude I felt coming from other commenters; but also because, while Obama may certainly see legitimate problems in today’s economy, all of his proposed solution get the government involved even more, and are all based to some extent in socialistic philosophy. Thus, I have a hard time voting for someone who plans on using forced taxation and government intervention as a means of wealth redistribution.

  29. Ryan,

    One further clarification: I don’t think we are denying anybody any rights by preserving marriage the way God defined it. Just as we don’t have the right to take another’s property, except in self-defense (despite the perceived social benefit), we don’t have the right to redefine an institution that God ordained.

  30. Jeff, I encourage you to take part in our weekly forums regarding Obama and McCain. We recently had an excellent conversation about the economy.

    Unfortunately, I think that there’s not an easy answer for the economy. I can appreciate your concerns about Obama, but I have just as much concern about McCain’s tax philosophy which will only serve to widen the gap between rich and poor (something we ought to be really worried about). In any case, I don’t see how one side or the other is automatically more correct in terms of responsibility, charity, and agency.

    Certainly it is plausible that the most responsible, charitable, and agentic thing to do — in some circumstances — is to support some kind of wealth distribution. Can you honestly say that it NEVER is? I would worry very much about this view because that would mean, in my opinion, that we’re informed more by an acontextual philosophy than we are by the contextual needs of society.

    Also, regarding how much government should be involved, let us not forget that “governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man . . . for the good and safety of society” (D&C 134:1). Less government or more government thus is not the fundamental issue — the issue is whether it will be for the good and safety of society. Again, it is plausible, at least in some circumstances, that some kind of wealth distribution could be helpful in this regard (really, unless you favor a flat tax, you’re technically in favor of “forced taxation and government intervention as a means of wealth distribution”).

    One last thing — I think it’s important to be clear that things are not fair in America. The notions that anyone can be economically successful if they work hard enough are simply not true (in many cases). In my opinion, most people who are in poverty are not lazy or unmotivated. To continue to support a status quo that is rolling in dough when so many hard-working Americans are barely making ends meet is, in my opinion, uncharitable. I don’t see wealth distribution as “forced charity” at all. I see it, in some circumstances such as the present one, as a charitable response to an increasing divided society in which the scales are not at all even. Whether we will be more or less charitable in the future is an open question, but we have every right as a democracy, if things are unfair and unworkable by a certain type of status quo economics, to do something about it.

  31. Dennis,

    In other words, when you told me you agreed with my earlier comment, you were being dishonest. You actually disagree completely.

    Simply put, our government has only the power we give it. I believe what Ezra Taft Benson said, and that is that we cannot delegate to our government more power than we already have. God has not given us permission to take our neighbor’s property to give to the poor. We can persuade them to give it to the poor, but we cannot forcibly take it without God’s permission, and he has not given it. I’m sure you’ve read Ezra Taft Benson’s “The Proper Role of Government.”

    I believe that when God has given us authority to forcibly redistribute wealth, then it is appropriate. Until then, we must oppose it as robbery and violation of God’s laws.

    Also, the constitution has forbidden the federal government from doing 90% of what Obama intends to, which shows that he is lawless and has no respect for the constitution. I cannot support a man who wants to further overturn the founding documents of our nation.

    You imply that I therefore support McCain, but that kind of dichotomous thinking is problematic. He has just as much disregard for the constitution as Obama does.

  32. I should clarify: yes, there are circumstances in which forced wealth is appropriate: When authorized by God, through divinely appointed leaders. Absent that, any government must necessarily have very limited powers. Read my blog series for more detail. :)

  33. Jeff,

    I am having a hard time seeing why you’re so sure that God has forbidden us from taking our neighbor’s wealth (and as you failed to mention: our wealth as well) and giving it to the poor. You seem open to the possiblity that it could be alright, why is it that you think this is wrong at the present moment?

    On another note, I am pretty sure America wouldn’t exist today if the constitution were always strictly interepted. America’s survival as any government’s survival depends at moments in its ability to innovate. For example, military drafts were a constituional impossiblity to the founders. But such drafts were crucial to victory in the Civil War and WWII. It’s true innovation can go too far or in bad directions, but so can an orthodoxical approach. I personally think Obama’s “90%” lawlessness will do more good than a libertarian agenda.

  34. Having trouble sleeping tonight….

    Jeff,

    I’m sorry you feel I was being dishonest. I simply don’t see what I was saying as “pawning off responsibility to the government, “stealing from others,” or using socialism to “shift responsibility.” I think that’s where we may disagree, Jeff. You perhaps are associating certain allegations into what I am saying that I do not agree with. I don’t associate what I am saying with these loaded negative terms. Perhaps in the future you can seek for clarification rather than calling me dishonest — honestly I would hope for better faith from one who I consider a friend. I may be mistaken, but not dishonest.

    Jeff, I hope I can simply disagree with you about your political philosophy without hard feelings. I think that Ezra Taft Benson, whose philosophy you heavily rely on in your blog series, for all of his wonderful virtues in the Church and as an apostle and prophet, was way too radically conservative in his political philosophy. N. Eldon Tanner, Hugh B. Brown, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Harold B. Lee felt this same way about Benson, as Ryan has recently written about.

    I also did not mean to imply that you support McCain, though I suppose I can see why you might have thought that. I was simply using McCain as a pragmatic counter-point regarding the simple political choices that we have to make. You apparently are not going to support either candidate, but some of us see one of the candidates as much better than the other and are going to use our God-given democratic principles to support that candidate.

    I should clarify: yes, there are circumstances in which forced wealth is appropriate: When authorized by God, through divinely appointed leaders. Absent that, any government must necessarily have very limited powers.

    Just to clarify, Jeff, are you saying, then, that no taxation is permissible unless it is authorized by God through divinely appointed leaders? Technically speaking, any taxation can be regarded as “forced wealth.”

  35. Sorry, politics brings out the worst in me.

    Simply put, we do not live in a democracy. I do not believe in popular sovereignty. If 80 percent of the people want the government to steal my money to give to someone else, it is still wrong. We cannot delegate authority to the government we do not have, nor can we manufacture authority out of thin air. Even you believe that – for example, despite how many people vote for it, you would agree that we couldn’t take away a Protestant’s right to vote. This is because we believe there are inherent moral limits on the powers of the government. Do you believe that the people can vote in whatever law they want, and if not, what limits are there?

    You quoted Doctrine and Covenants 134 – but not the whole thing. It says, “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual … the right and control of property.” Forced redistribution of wealth does not do this, but rather the government comes and says, “so and so needs your money more than you, so we will take it from you and give it to them.”

    Use whatever persuasive powers you want to get me to help the poor, but it is a violation of my right of property to take my money from me to do it. The Lord said, “As pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this [the Constitution], cometh of evil.” Thus, taxation for constitutionally allowed services is authorized by God; and also, none of the services offered in the Constitution are a redistribution of wealth.

  36. Jeff,

    I certainly agree that popularity does not equal right. And certainly there are limits to what people can do. But the people certainly can change those limits (for right or wrong). The Constitution can always be amended — there are limits regarding the process for amending the Constitution, but there are no clear limits to what these amendments can say — and even the limits regarding the process can themselves be amended.

    Regarding the Constitution, I would say that there simply are multiple views of interpretation. As a document, it has no power in itself. It only has power as something that is interpreted by active agents (people). I would simply say that in many respects there are multiple viable interpretations of what the Constitution is saying. Otherwise there would be no need for the Supreme Court. It is certainly possible that the Supreme Court could make an immoral move regarding their judgments, but whatever the Supreme Court says is, by definition, constitutional.

    All of this requires for a more nuanced look at what the Lord considers acceptable as far as constitutional law is concerned. For one thing, D&C 98:7, which you quoted, is not clearly referring to “the Constitution.” That is reading “more” into the text than is there. He is saying, “That law of the land which is constitutional [small c], supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.” Unless we take this as meaning that the Lord is saying that “all mankind” should live according to the specific Constitution of the United States, then the Constitution clearly is not being referred to here. Rather, it is a general constitutional law, which can be interpreted in many ways that the scriptures (i.e., God) do not adequately lay out. One could argue that dogmatically claiming a specific thing as against what the Lord has said here could itself be “more than this … and cometh of evil.” This is certainly not to say that certain things in fact would be contrary to the will of God — it is simply saying that it is not likely going to be dogmatic, narrow appeals to scripture or a document [i.e., the Constitution] or to Ezra Taft Benson that will determine this. It may be your opinion that Obama and McCain are contrary to God’s commands here, but practically speaking that must remain your opinion (right or wrong) and, I recommend, should not be used as a club to beat Latter-day Saints with. Please excuse my language here — I’m simply expressing a worry about your position relying on narrow scriptural appeals that you are seemingly acting as an expert on, when in fact (in my opinion) there are multiple interpretations that can be faithfully held by faithful Latter-day Saints. There are several Latter-day Saints who have essentially left the mainstream of the Church by advocating for radical views regarding the Constitution (not wholly unlike those you are expressing), and this worries me (and the Brethren) a great deal. (Certainly the same could be said about other political views, including more liberal ones.) The Brethren are much more moderate and flexible about these issues, and I think we would be wise to follow suit, whatever our opinions about what ideal constitutionality might entail.

    My personal opinion is that God is more flexible regarding what exactly can be done as part of constitutional law. D&C 98, for example was written in 1833, as was D&C 101, where the Lord states that he has “established this Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men.” It is clear, to me, however, that what is being referred to here is a general lawful system of government that respects certain rights and privileges, not a specific and sterile document. Unless we want to say that the Lord has no problem with slavery. Or civil rights to women and racial minorities. Rather, the Lord inspired a constitutional process that is amazingly flexible and open. There are certain standards that obviously lie at the foundation of the Constitution — but to say that these are violated by income tax brackets is unclear.

    I will simply appeal to one broad part of the Constitution:

    The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States (Article 1 Section 8).

    I realize that “general welfare” should not be confused to mean “welfare” in the sense of some kind of system of giving to the poor. However, the term is quite broad — constitutional definitions suggest that it means “health and happiness” in a broad sense. But the point is that the Constitution allows Congress to tax (that is, take your money) to pay for things that reflect the good of society. There is no clear Constitutional standard that limits the Congress in doing so for purposes related to certain services such as welfare, health care, etc., nor to do so in a way that is weighted by income.

  37. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and others subsequently clarified that the enumerated powers following the part of the Constitution are an exclusive list of the powers of the Federal Government, as indicated by the 10th Amendment.

    As far as clubbing other Latter-day Saints, that is not my intent. I believe Obama will destroy our nation and any semblance of constitutional law. I believe that any American citizen should tremble in face of many of the programs Obama is proposing. I believe that he has never learned what really makes America great, and that is small and limited federal government, not a centralized statist regime. I believe that the principles of limited government are based in gospel principles, and that we should be able to freely use them to justify our point of view. You have used scriptures and gospel doctrine to support your view, but when I use the same for mine you say I am “clubbing” other Latter-day Saints.

  38. As far as Benson’s libertarian arguments, I’ve never heard anybody actually argue against his specific arguments. I’ve only heard Latter-day Saints say, “Well, other apostles disagreed.” I’ve never heard anybody actually take a gander in critiquing his actual point of view or showing any fallacy in his argument. Care to try?

  39. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and others subsequently clarified that the enumerated powers following the part of the Constitution are an exclusive list of the powers of the Federal Government, as indicated by the 10th Amendment.

    Exclusive, yes; exhaustively defined, no (again, “general welfare” is one of the things on the list).

    I believe that the principles of limited government are based in gospel principles, and that we should be able to freely use them to justify our point of view. You have used scriptures and gospel doctrine to support your view, but when I use the same for mine you say I am “clubbing” other Latter-day Saints.

    Limited, yes; how limited, unclear.

    Jeff I have no problem with using scriptures to justify your point of view. I am simply cautioning you regarding what can be seen as “clubbing” Latter-day Saints with a narrow interpretation of scripture. Neither you or I are general authorities of the Church, and so we need to be careful when making specific claims regarding scripture (especially when there are clear ambiguities and what we are saying is not clearly supported by the Brethren). I am relying on scriptures, but I have done so simply to show that there are multiple interpretations, not to provide one. I am simply arguing in favor of a pluralism of views here. That is all.

    As far as Benson’s libertarian arguments, I’ve never heard anybody actually argue against his specific arguments. I’ve only heard Latter-day Saints say, “Well, other apostles disagreed.” I’ve never heard anybody actually take a gander in critiquing his actual point of view or showing any fallacy in his argument.

    I understand your concern here, Jeff, but I think the reason for this is because people often use Benson as a “trump card” authority because he was an apostle who later became the prophet (as Ryan has discussed). So when people do what you are saying, they are simply dismissing that Benson can be used as a trump card. You are not necessarily using him as a trump card, but let’s be clear that his ideas would have far less sway among Latter-day Saints were it not for Benson’s position in the Church.

    In fact, when you say,

    God has not given us permission to take our neighbor’s property to give to the poor. We can persuade them to give it to the poor, but we cannot forcibly take it without God’s permission, and he has not given it. I’m sure you’ve read Ezra Taft Benson’s “The Proper Role of Government”

    you can be seen as making an implicit appeal to Benson’s Church authority (i.e., mingled with a discussion of what God has given permission to do, you throw in a reference to Ezra Taft Benson, which surely I have read, presumably because I’m a Latter-day Saint). But this is not important; you do have a point that his views should be taken seriously in their own right.

    Care to try?

    Honestly, I don’t see it as the most important thing in the world for me to do. Having a tentative subscription to a more liberal interpretation of the Constitution, Benson and I are going to part ways from the beginning. His views rely on an assumption that the Constitution must be interpreted very narrowly. I see no a priori philosophical, Constitutional, or scriptural basis for this premise. Hence, we will part ways from the beginning. If Benson’s premise is correct, however, then I presume his argument is quite sound.

  40. Hopefully I haven’t come across as verbally assaulting you… I do consider you a friend, and hope to always be able to. (your brother is awesome by the way)

    I have some strong opinions, as you can tell, and I can get way too dogmatic at times. I apologize. We’ll have to disagree on these issues, but we can certainly talk more about them and I promise I’ll be more civil.

    I hope for input on some of my posts on my blog! What do you think of my “Hebrew and Greek” post, for example?

  41. Jeff,

    I certainly understand regarding strong opinions and getting too dogmatic at times. I’m often the same way. I apologize as well for any ways I have done this, and apologies accepted.

    I only recently discovered your blog, but I do really like what I have seen. (As you can probably tell, I’m not the biggest fan of some of the political stuff — though I do think they were interesting and well written.) I like what I have seen regarding the other posts, but haven’t had a whole lot of time to read them carefully. I also like the resources pages that you’re doing. That is a great idea.

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