Reflections on Mormon May Day

guest Government, LDS, liberal, Mormon, mormon, politics 34 Comments

by Jason B.

(Mormon May Day was an international response to recent statements by latter-day McCarthyist Glenn Beck that social justice was a code word for communism; and that anyone involved in a church that preached such a deceptive perversion of the Gospel should leave their congregation and find a new place to worship. Participants in Mormon May Day held teach-ins and discussions around the topic of Social Justice and the Gospel on May 1, participated in a fast, and then bore testimony on May 2 in wards around the country.)

Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: all is Well! (2 Nephi 28:24-25)

The reactions to Mormon May Day were overwhelmingly positive. People came out of the wood work to tell us how much they appreciated our efforts to assert a place in Mormon culture for liberals and radicals. Many people told me that had they known that there were people like us in the church they may not have left. While it became crystal clear to me that our work is sorely needed in the church, some members reacted with sincere curiosity. They had never noticed politics in church, and indeed many consider themselves ‘apolitical’. With these brothers and sisters in mind, the purpose of this post is to better articulate a deep frustration that many liberal and radical Mormons feel when they attend church. That frustration boils down to the fact that moral issues of the political right are constructed as moral absolutes, while the moral issues of the political left are either dismissed as misguided or minimized to the agency of an individual’s personal spirituality. This usually means they don’t get much air time in general conference, Sunday School or Priesthood/Relief Society. This leaves us with a problem: many Mormons feel that their interpretations of the Gospel are not valid because they do not fall within the contemporary orbit of conservative morality.

Here is what I mean.

Homosexuality and Protecting the Family

In the 2008 debate over gay marriage in California, the LDS church actively campaigned all over the state to defeat a California Supreme court ruling that legalized gay marriage. For many of us from California who sympathize with gay rights, we were horrified as testimony meetings and Sunday school lessons were filled to the brim with election slogans about protecting the family. The family, the rhetoric goes, is under attack from those who would expand the definition of marriage and it is our sacred duty to defeat this most recent affront. Using the civil rights struggles of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as a measure of the strength of families is an excellent example of how a seemingly politically neutral and core aspect of the Gospel such as the family is framed in the moral language of the political right.

Now, this is not a polemical retort against the erosion of family values. I too believe that the family is being weakened, but my worldview causes me to look for the cause in a very different place than those on the political right. It seems to me that if we want to talk seriously about protecting the family as the basic institution of society, then perhaps we should start with the historical impact that free market capitalism has had on the family over the past 200 years. The massive upheavals that occurred in Europe and America—which are being repeated all over the globe through the globalization of production—are a result of the need for a landless and mobile labor force. It is easy for former CEOs and bootstrap entrepreneurs to wax moral about spending more time with our families while their workers scrape by on 60 hours a week. In this sense France is a more family friendly country than ours! Their workers fought for and won generous vacations with pay, universal healthcare, childcare, a 35 work week and living wages. If we are serious about protecting the family why not address issues that allow families to be together more rather than scapegoat the gay community.

Socialism

Glenn Beck follows a long line of Mormon cold warriors. But depending on who you talk to, Mormon radicals may agree with the sentiment that we need to limit the government’s role in our lives. Indeed, many of us at the Mormon Worker would like to eliminate it completely in favor of United Order style communes in every watershed.

While there is a spectrum of opinions on the Mormon left with respect to the proper role of the federal government, many of use see the words of 5 time socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs as representing the true spirit of socialism; not as an absolutist political ideology but as a powerful call to live as Christ taught. While being tried for sedition, Debs, in response to his charges defiantly said:

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence. Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free” (Sept. 18th 1918).

Deb’s stirring words are unmistakably inspired by the Sermon on the Mount, and when some of us proclaim sympathy with socialism, that is what we mean. None of us are suggesting that the Gospel is socialist, but there are certainly legitimate overlaps in the call for a classless society and an end to exploitation and Christ’s message of equality and love. Rather than mythologizing the cold war in pre-mortal rhetoric about free agency which implies God’s divine sanction of capitalism, perhaps we should take the words of Catholic Worker founder, Peter Maurin more seriously:

“Christianity has nothing to do

with either modern capitalism

or modern Communism,

for Christianity has

a capitalism of its own

and a communism of its own.

Modern capitalism

is based on property without responsibility,

while Christian capitalism is based on property with responsibility.

Modern communism

is based on poverty through force

while Christian communism

is based on poverty through choice.

For a Christian,

voluntary poverty is the ideal

as exemplified by St. Francis of Assisi,

while private property

is not an absolute right, but a gift

which as such can not be wasted,

but must be administered

for the benefit of God’s children.”

Ecology

We learn in D & C 58:16-20 that the good things of the earth are made to “please the eye, gladden the heart” in addition to the more utilitarian “food and raiment”; and despite being granted full access to the abundance of the earth, we are not to use it “to excess, neither by extortion.” It is significant to me that Joseph Smith’s vision took place in a forest which to us is now a Sacred Grove. What an inspiring refutation of the colonial Christian ambivalence toward nature and the “dark woods” to begin the last dispensation in a grove of trees; a stark rebuke to the Western world when that grove was filled with light on that morning in 1820. Soon thereafter nature would be reenchanted by the transcendentalist, wilderness and environmental movements.

For these reasons, it seems clear that the environmental crisis is a moral crisis; perhaps the most serious our civilization has ever faced. It will not be solved through legislation or adjustments to our consumption habits. So, when I attend church and don’t hear it addressed with unequivocal condemnation I feel confused. Isn’t our duty to care for the earth and each other as important as protecting the family, paying tithing, reading the scriptures, avoiding rated-R movies, family prayer, etc.? While policy prescriptions may be bitterly partisan, the fact remains that our stewardship over the earth’s bounty is a moral responsibility one that deserves the full attention of moral language.

War

Another area where liberal and radical members feel silenced and marginalized is around war and violence. Many church leaders grew up during an era of honorable war; of self-sacrifice for a national cause. However, many in the rising generation feel much more skeptical of leaders who proclaim just war. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan simply do not fit the narrative of an honorable war in defense of freedom. For many of us they were geopolitical maneuvering that had more to do with oil than bringing freedom to the downtrodden. Many of us were not only critical of the war, but participated in protests and other actions against the war. These actions were carried out not in spite of our religious conviction but because of them and are driven by the admonition in D&C 98:16 to “renounce war and proclaim peace.”

The invasion of Iraq especially, mirrors the kind of preemptive and unrighteous war that is harshly condemned in the Book of Mormon. For many of us, being a pacifist, or nearly so, is a core moral issue and to hear members of the church denounce those who would oppose the war as unpatriotic or worse bad Mormons is disconcerting. Let us be consistently pro-life; valuing not just the lives of unborn children, but also the lives of Iraqi men, women and children caught in the middle of an unjust and illegal occupation.

Healthcare

In Mosiah 4 we read that all the prayer and pious action in world mean nothing if we do not have charity and act upon it. One item on an oft repeated list of charitable to-do’s is “visiting the sick and administering to their relief.” We live in a country where over 40 million people do not have health insurance. Regardless of who you believe should administer healthcare, this is a massive failure on our part to live up to this Gospel commandment. Why, when we read that scripture do we not see the faces of those who cannot afford healthcare? We have allowed the polarizing rhetoric of big vs. small government obscure our duty to the sick.

God’s Politics

Christianity is supposed to transcend party politics, but that does not mean the Gospel is apolitical. Christ did not join Judas and the Zealots or the Essenes in the desert, but he adamantly critiqued the Sadducees and Pharisees for their blatant hypocrisy and priest craft. And while communism may very well have been Satan’s counterfeit, his real genius may have been setting it up as a straw man so that capitalism could slip in the back door. The Gospel is a worldview, not a hobby and I reject any neat delineation of my life as a citizen and my life as a Latter-day Saint. By decontextualizing the scriptures and church history and de-politicizing religious-right moral issues, contemporary Latter-day Saints have (whether they intended to or not) marginalized those who would interpret the Gospel through a distinct political worldview. To argue that the way the Gospel in talked about in church is apolitical or neutral is naïve and disingenuous at best.

Now, let me be clear, I am not calling for an extension of the cultural divide between American liberals and conservatives into the church; as should be clear I am opposed to using the Gospel to justify any political ideology. But as reverend Jim Wallis points out in his amazing book God’s Politics, the separation of church and state, does not mean the separation of our faith from our public life. As Wallis points out, there needs to be a coming together of moral issues on the left and right framed in religious language. This kind of politics, God’s Politics, “would not be an endless argument between personal and social responsibility, but a weaving of the two together in search of the common good” (76). While, it has been my purpose to expose the political bias of some seemingly apolitical aspects of Mormon culture, I am in agreement with Wallis that the Gospel is not republican or democrat, but a call to radical charity that includes both individual ethics and social justice.

Mormon May Day was meant to bring attention to a problem within Mormon culture. It was not about confrontation or criticism of Church leaders. When liberal and radical Mormons leave the Church we all loose a unique and valid perspective on the Gospel. I am pleading with Mormon culture to recognize many of the above issues as equally important to our salvation. I am also calling on liberal and radical Mormons to step out of their comfort zones and begin to open our mouths in church settings on topics that we feel passionately about and which are central to Christ’s message.

Comments

comments

Comments 34

  1. “In this sense France is a more family friendly country than ours! Their workers fought for and won generous vacations with pay, universal healthcare, childcare, a 35 work week and living wages. If we are serious about protecting the family why not address issues that allow families to be together more…”

    Except that the record doesn’t bear out your thesis: In Europe, where the Left created a more ponderous welfare state (which it is now having to dial back, having run out of other people’s money), the birth rate crashed. In America, which has never had an effective Left movement (thank heaven), the birth rate remains (barely) above replacement rate.

    The problem with “cradle to grave” systems, it seems, is that it causes people to lose any interest in filling the cradles. Unfortunately, that results in what Margaret Thatcher identified as the fatal flaw of socialism — that eventually you run out of other people’s money — because eventually, you run out of other people.

    Socialism breeds secularism, and secularism doesn’t breed anything — which leads to a demographic crash, an unsustainably aging population, and the collapse of socialism.

    BTW, you say “latter-day McCarthyite” as if it’s a bad thing….

  2. “Now, let me be clear, I am not calling for an extension of the cultural divide between American liberals and conservatives into the church; as should be clear I am opposed to using the Gospel to justify any political ideology.”

    Really? And yet your entire post up to that point consists of using the Gospel to justify liberal ideology. Irony? Every section says, in summary, “liberal position = consistent with Gospel; conservative position = not consistent with gospel”. Conservatives can rattle off a list of how their positions (and only their positions) are consistent with the gospel just as easily as you can.

    I’m going to make an easy prediction that this post will do nothing to close the “cultural divide between American liberals and conservatives”, but in fact extend it.

    Perhaps someday both conservatives AND liberals will understand that treating the other side as wicked individuals who don’t follow the gospel because they don’t accept the ‘correct’ position on social policy is not helpful for meaningful communication.

  3. I would no more celebrate May Day (other than by dancing around a maypole, pagan-style) than I would display a swastika: Even though the holiday and the symbol may have predated the tyrannies that appropriated them, the appropriation was so thoroughgoing as to render them off-limits to anybody who gave a damn about basic human decency.

  4. In America, which has never had an effective Left movement (thank heaven), the birth rate remains (barely) above replacement rate.

    Thanks, overwhelmingly, to immigrants–the darlings of the (ineffective) Left.

    you say “latter-day McCarthyite” as if it’s a bad thing….

    Why not go all in and lionize Roy Cohn, the power behind McCarthy’s throne?

  5. #4 — Oh, McCarthy was an opportunistic, self-aggrandizing non-ideological (his pre-anti-communist politics were relatively liberal, as fitting an operator in the mid-century Wisconsin Republican Party, which was dominated by Progressives in the school of LaFollette) jerk who did more to discredit the anti-Communist cause than any of its opponents. I just view “McCarthyite,” coming from a leftist, as a compliment — because it’s used far beyond its objective meaning, to try and tar anyone opposed to leftism. Same way I don’t mind being called “racist” by the same bunch. “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

    Re: immigrants’ effect on the American birth rate, that’s a fair point — although to be fair, you’d also have to note that the elevated birth rates of (frequently Muslim) immigrants in Europe is keeping their death-spiral birth rates from being even lower. There are basically two (often overlapping) demographic contingents in the United States keeping the population barely growing — Hispanics and religious people. American secular liberals basically act like European or Asian secular liberals. And why not? When you basically embrace the Marxist dictum that economics is everything, then in modern society, not having children is economically rational. Outside an agrarian society, children are overhead, not profit centers. Religion is one of the few things that alters that cold calculus.

    One of the reasons biasing leftists in favor of mass society-altering immigration (which provides them with a ready-made supply of low-income clients for the welfare state and the victimology plantation), is because without it, those icky oogedy-boogedy religious boobs will be the only ones having new little voters — and in a generation or so, the whole country will be Draper. Nooooo!

  6. I tend to agre that this post is pretty divisive. Pitting liberal members against conservatives.

    I also think that Western style leftism as currently practiced is on a path to nowhere demographically. Eventually you run out of other peoples money and babies.

  7. Jason,

    As a socialist myself I am am always torn by these kinds of posts. I see your post as thoughtful, well written and providing some good and positive descriptions of aspects of socialist thought today. On the other hand it really looks like you are intentionally making the some of the same mistakes (at least I think of them as mistakes) that conservatives in the church make. The notion of the political in relation to Christianity needs to be critiqued. This critique is not a matter of holding a certain political position within, or alongside Christianity; rather, its a matter of being open to the structural contrast between the political and Christianity. What the political seeks is a formulas in which one can match up specific ideological views with certain readings of a narrow range of scriptural texts. There is a violence in this, there is tragedy in this, no matter what political point of view it is done from.

    While pretty much all of us allow ourselves to synthesize our politics and our Christianity in one form of another, this synthesis represents a certain kind of slippage, a lack of discipleship and a lack of discipline. I can only think that its main features is to allow the individual to feel more comfortable, to lead a thoughtless, suburban, middle class existence that is invested in avoiding the cognitive dissonance that Christianity so readily provides for anyone who is even only marginally insightful. This desire for comfort is equally present in all forms of political discourse.

    Granted, most folks have had their native insights trained out of them. I am always shocked at how the most radical scriptures can be read in Sunday School and no one recognizes the challenge there in. We just don’t take the scriptures seriously enough to see in then anything other than the received meanings that circulate in our culture. I bring this up because one can not transcend the political, or comprehend the native critique of the political in the Christian tradition as long as one relies on cultural norms of interpretation and ideology.

    I think it should also be mentioned that the critique of conservative Mormonism is easy enough: its tribalism, its superficial engagement with scripture, its reliance on an economics of salvation, its completely uncritical engagement with ideology, and so on make it one heck of an easy target. We don’t need to construct an elaborate counter structure that makes the case for a synthesis of leftist politics and Mormon thought.

    You use the phrase:
    “Another area where liberal and radical members feel silenced and marginalized is . . .” Well, so what if people feel silenced and marginalized? I don’t mean this with any hostility at all because I too am on the margin, but the truth is that the margin is a place of power. Art Critic Hal Foster reminds us that modern avant guard art was very much at the margin of artistic production (except for a few notable moments)and the work was often scoffed at and the subject of hostile scorn. Yet what do people remember today? The artistic and intellectual output of the avant-guard -of the margin- has come to be understood as definitive of modernity itself. As for silence, saying that we feel silenced can only mean that we are silencing ourselves, or we have not yet learned to speak the language of our hearts or that we are afraid to be authentic. I admit that I was silent for a long time, and silence is a place where fear and frustration grow but we are fools if we ever expect others to give us permission to speak or to make it safe for us to speak. We must do this ourselves. But with speaking comes responsibility, while there is an overwhelming about of talk in the world the kind of speech I am thinking of is only for those who have something to say. In that we must seek out our own prophetic voices: radical, uncomfortable, marginal, critical, loving, poetic, beautify and seeking the divine.

  8. Jason B, Wonderful Blog. I showed it to my Wife who agreed it described our experience of the Church too. How can we be informed about such events before they happen and have the support of like minded members?

    Very disapointed with the responses so far, but have to accept that this is not your experience of the Church because you are part of the comfortable majority, so do not feel excluded, unacceptabe, and unable to express your opinions in Church meetings. (I’ve actually been told by the Sunday School teacher that she (bishops wife) is teaching what the Prophet and the Lord want, and unless I can agree with her it would be better if I didn’t contribute. Her big picture view is that we are here on earth to learn strict obedience and be tried, mine, that we are here to learn to be joyfull, caring, loving, charitable and uplifting, with obedience in the background.

    The responses above completely ignore the main point of the blog, which is that the Church has become, to it’s detriment, exclusively conservative, where non consevatives feel uncomfortable, and you each express your conservative biases about some of the supporting details.

    Thomas.1,3, Are you saying that the US wouldn’t be a more family friendly country if it had universal health care, child care, living wage, and 6 to 8 weeks annual leave? I live in Australia where all of these apply too, and we could add to this list paid maternity leave for either parent for 16 weeks, and a number of others. You infer that this in some way saps the energy inventiveness and wealth of such societies, and even affects the birth rate. Some of the “social democracies” do have a lower birth rate than the US but others like Aus have a substantially higher one, perhaps something else causes this. You also infer that this form of government is self bankrupting. At the end of the Bush era US national debt was a similar % of GDP to France & Germany, without the services for the people that they provide. Canadas debt is 10% less and Aus is 50% less. Doesn’t look like you can sustain that argument.

    KMB.2 & Thomas 5. One of the conservative ideas that has become part of the Church is the idea that we are under attack if someone puts a different point of view to ours. Jason is putting another point of view. He is saying there can be more than one acceptable view, he is saying he has to live his Church life with the conservative view ever present, ane he is not attacking that, just asking for respect for, hence the supporting arguments, an alternative which we feel fits at least as well within the Gospel teachings.

    Last Lemming. You might want to considder you sarcasm/wit in the light of Matt 5:21-22 where the Lord says he expects his members to not only, not kill people but not be sarcastic either.

    Thomas 5. Immigration is a difficult issue for all sides of politics and is not a plot by the left.

    bbell 6 please see above. Part of the conservative ideology that Jason is concerned about is it’s exclusive nature. If you say universal health care is of the devil, you have already told me what you think of my opinion, that it has benifits worth considering (of the devil). Liberals tend to be more accepting and therefore more inclusive. Jason is putting forward his views, (and mine) which we feel fit within the Gospel teachings. We are saying we can co-exist with other views if we can respect each other, that respect is not evident in the church at present.

    Now I would like to add that having a conservative culture also affects the leadership style. Generalization of course, but liberal leaders tend to be more consultative and conservatives more autocratic. Conservatives judgemental Liberals inclusive. Conservatives feel they need to support the perceived party line, and that questioning is disloyal or even, in the Church case, Apostate. I have had a conservative Bishop attempt to excommunicate me for Apostasy after a political discussion on the way home from a Stake HP meeting.

    Even when the Ensign has a story about dealing with children born out of wedlock (lovely word) adoption is the only option approved. We don’t discuss in the Ensign, we preach the conservative line. Last year I sent an article to the Ensign with a similar message to Jasons post. I didn’t really expect it to be published but they had run surveys asking how we thought the magazine could be improved.

    There are many other ways that the conservative culture of the church affect us as members. We could be presenting wonderful, spiritually uplifting sex within marriage as the goal for our youth instead of the total negative picture at present. There are many other areas, such as the different emphasis on obedience and sacrifice, verses to Joy and Love, as our purpose here.

    I am very concerned that unless this conservative culture changes, the culture is such a powerfull deterrent that the Gospel message, for many potential members and inactives,
    can not be heard.

  9. Jason, thank you for your post and Geoff, thank you for your thoughtful response. As I read the first responses, I couldn’t help thinking that this is just what happens in church meetings whenever anyone puts forth a thought that doesn’t match the party line of the religious right . Speakers are often personally attacked and their ideas dismissed as unworthy of consideration.

  10. Well, Geoff, that was impressive. I only have three things to add to your rather wonderful point by point decimation of the rabble on the Right.

    First, I have a scriptural quibble (and not just because Lemming seems to be a lefty). First, I think you were a wee bit sarcastic quoting Matt 5:21-22. What is more sarcastic than using a scripture to tell someone not to be sarcastic? And throwing the whole killing thing in there, was, dare I say it, overkill. I’ll give you a couple of versions of 5:22, since we all know the whole thing about correct translation.

    King James:

    But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

    NIV:

    But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[b]will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,[c]’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

    NAS:

    “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before (D)the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘[b]You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before [c](E)the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the [d](F)fiery hell.

    BofM:

    But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

    The translations show the problem with using scripture out of historical context to make a political ideological point. Political and religious propaganda from about 2000 years ago can be difficult to translate into modern political discourse — as evidenced by this post and accompanying comments. I agree that some fundamental moral principals should guide our political judgments. I kind of like the utilitarian/Machiavellian ideas of Matt 5:25 — which is all about making nice to infiltrate and conquer, but I’m not sure if that is a right or left philosophy, but Jesus was a canny politico, kind of a Karl Rove in robes apparently, although it ended sort of badly for him.

    Second, on to Matthew 5:21 and that whole “not killing” thing. Any commentary on the state of the United States economy and debt is woefully incomplete if you don’t at least notice that blowing things up doesn’t exactly create a great return on your investment, even if it is other people’s countries you are blowing up. Hard to fund the widows and orphans in your country when you are busy spending the largest portion of the national budget making widows and orphans for other countries and creating head injured or traumatic shocked zombies out of your soldiers.

    (I know that Social Security payments were actually $20 or so billion more than Defense Department spending, but I threw in the Department of Veteran Affairs to put it over the top. My point is that our budget for helping widows and orphans is running neck and neck with our budget for creating them and that seems to me to be a moral discussion, not a political one.)

    Finally, and then I’ll shut up, the “angry” tone of Jason B’s post is the anger of the unheard, the unrepresented and the ignored — a little like a kid throwing a tantrum and saying, look at me, pay attention to me. As a commentator on Mormon Matters who utilizes this tone frequently, I find that it usually ends up getting me ignored, rather than listened to. In much the same way that I completely ignore Sean Hannity. I’m not sure how to shift the nature of the discourse so that the left and right simply don’t live in their own echo chambers of self-righteous indignation, but my experience has been that self-interest is the best entrance into meaningful discussion and self-interest does not easily manifest itself in group think or group discussion. Humans like their group or tribe, which is paradoxically a big part of their individual self-interest. (Two classic examples of this hypocrisy in action is the guy shouting, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” or the Mormon equivalent of “Despite what those misinformed, un-Christian Born Agains say, Mormons are Christians, too.”) Attack the group, you might as well be attacking the individual member.

  11. Jason- great article! I participated in Mormon May Day & it was an amazing experience for me and for all in our congregation who participated with me.

    One woman’s husband said to her about our thoughts in sacrament meeting, “you sure wouldn’t like it if all the conservative members got up one Sunday to speak their minds freely, would you?”

    She replied, “they don’t need one Sunday. They have EVERY other Sunday. At least now I hope they know how we feel!”

  12. If we could all feel safe in this type of discussion process… Wouldn’t that be wonderful? This is where we can each take personal responsibility. I’m still trying to find ways of politely raising my hand and disagreeing in meetings. It’s very difficult. But I have grown a lot when others are successful in doing this.

  13. I think it is waste of time to classy ourselves and others as being politically on the left or the right. I don’t entirely agree with either group. I find my thinking scripturaly based, and mingled with current political thought along the whole spectrum.

    Both systems (American and European) are currently showing what happens when the excesses of there system becomes corrupted.

    In Europe they can’t find a way to pay for all the social welfare programs they have developed since WWII. They haven’t had to pay the equivalent of what America has spent on the military–they’ve had a free ride on the American system, and still they’re ready to collapse.

    In America we are currently observing what greed and selfishness can do to the capitalist system. The concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of comparatively few is corrupting our system and it is on the verge of collapse. Now we have a President who wants to move us towards world government by using the European model for the redistribution of wealth (Constitution hanging by a thread).

    Meanwhile, the revealed work of God tells us that the time is coming when Babylon will fallen and great will be the fall thereof–consumption decree (D&C 87:6).

    The churches system is designed to help those who are baptized acquire the gift of the Holy Ghost (a true panacea), but it doesn’t appear as those that subject is on the minds of those who write in the ‘nacle. Mormon Matters doesn’t even have a category for the term “Holy Ghost”.

    I hope to see more interest in the “gospel” among the ‘naclers, but I think that will only come about through the horrors described in Helaman 12.

    The following link might be of interest to those who have read this post.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/world/europe/23europe.html?hp

  14. Jared, not to go completely off-topic, but as a non-LDS poster on this blog, I do find the possible tags and categories somewhat confusing when I go to use them, but I guess that’s what happens in a group blog over several years. Once the lists start to grow, it’s just easier to check everything that you think applies from the current list to your post than to notice something that isn’t there but should be.

  15. @Ulysses

    As a commentator on Mormon Matters who utilizes this tone frequently, I find that it usually ends up getting me ignored, rather than listened to.

    I think your comments over the past few days/weeks have been very well done. This is me NOT ignoring you! I think you bring up some great points.

    One thing I would like to point out is to resist the urge to classify based on your perception of the position of others.

    I agree with Thomas with regard to most things political/economic. Yet, anyone who has read this blog for more than a week would know that I am most definitely not part of the majority at church. Thomas (I think) wants economic liberty (as do I). Socialism, corporatism have proven that they inhibit economic liberty and lead to poor economies overall (we’re seeing the comeuppance in Europe right now).

  16. I very much appreciate this post. While I don’t agree 100% with all of it, I do agree with most of it and bemoan the fact the level of discourse on these type of subject is so harsh.

    I also think that Satan has been hard at work on both side of the aisle corrupting true principles. And if, United States of America was set up by God, as many members believe, to foster the growth of the gospel and the ushering in of the last days, we are very much off the track, except perhaps with the last days part.

    It is the work of Satan to divide and conquer. And that is clearly the case of the Church members in the US.

  17. #9 — Critique and rebuttal aren’t “attack.” Or — if they are — then we need more attacking. Because too much deference leads to slipshod thinking.

    You can certainly be a radical leftist and be a good Mormon. At least 80% of “being a good Mormon” consists of nothing more or less than attending church, paying tithing, keeping the Word of Wisdom, remaining chaste, and having and using a temple recommend. If you do those things, you’re a good Mormon, even if your thinking in matters of baseball, art, architecture, or politics is different from other Mormons’, or even objectively flawed.

    The term “social justice” is not found in the Bible. The word “justice” is. There are plenty of “radical” scriptures that underscore our duty to care for the poor, but there are few or no scriptures that can even come close to being capable of interpretation in favor of Marxian leftism, with its outmoded concepts like the labor theory of value and the “crisis of capitalism,” and its fundamental doctrine of class struggle.

    Caring for the poor (who, as Scripture reminds us, will always be with us) is one aspect of the biblical virtue of (unhyphenated) Justice. Justice also includes (to the best of my understanding) the principles of noncoercion (“be not many masters”), and “that which is hateful to you, do not to others.” Leftists often gloss over the first clause of Leviticus 19:15: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. Leftism is all about respecting the interests of one class at the expense (and without the consent) of another. As much as I often resent people who are wealthier than I am, I can’t square with the overall Biblical teaching of justice, the idea that I therefore have a right to take a gun and take as much of the other guy’s stuff as I think I ought to have.

    But of course I could be wrong, and maybe I’m supposed to take the “help the poor” scriptures as overruling the “do righteousness in judgment” passages. This is why the “you can’t be a good Mormon and a Democrat” garbage has no place in Mormon culture. Just as I would hate to have to put up with an Episcopalian priest spouting all kinds of leftist idiocy, I would hate to be a left-wing Mormon and have to put up with what I considered foolishness in a context where I was supposed to be obtaining and sharing spiritual strength.

  18. #10 Ulysses: “Two classic examples of this hypocrisy in action is the guy shouting, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”

    Actually, the “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” phrase (something yelled by one guy, and ridiculously taken as emblematic of the entire limited government movement), isn’t quite as “hypocritical” as it’s made out to be. Medicare is a government program, yes — but it was also, in another sense, a bargain between government and private citizens. The “Keep your government hands off…” guy paid into Medicare all his life with the understanding that, in return for those payments, he would receive a certain level of medical care. Now comes “health care reform,” with various proposals (express or hidden — the latter coming more and more to light now that the bill was passed) to alter the terms of that bargain, after the “hands off” geezer, as he saw it, had fulfilled his part of the bargain. So even though Medicare is a government program, and Rule #1 of government is that it gets to do whatever it damned well pleases, Medicare (like Social Security) was originally sold as sufficiently close to something with aspects of a private contractual bargain, that a person could legitimately be miffed that government should arbitrarily change the rules late in the game.

    “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” wasn’t the formulation I would’ve used, but to treat the underlying sentiment as illegitimate or “hypocritical” isn’t justified.

  19. #8:

    Thomas.1,3, Are you saying that the US wouldn’t be a more family friendly country if it had universal health care, child care, living wage, and 6 to 8 weeks annual leave? I live in Australia where all of these apply too, and we could add to this list paid maternity leave for either parent for 16 weeks, and a number of others. You infer that this in some way saps the energy inventiveness and wealth of such societies, and even affects the birth rate. Some of the “social democracies” do have a lower birth rate than the US but others like Aus have a substantially higher one, perhaps something else causes this. You also infer that this form of government is self bankrupting. At the end of the Bush era US national debt was a similar % of GDP to France & Germany, without the services for the people that they provide. Canadas debt is 10% less and Aus is 50% less. Doesn’t look like you can sustain that argument.

    First, Australia does not have a substantially higher birth rate than the U.S. The U.S. total fertility rate (TFR = children per woman) is 2.06. Australia is 1.78 — right down there with Norway, Denmark, etc., and well below France (which has lots of Muslims keeping the French end up). (See https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2127rank.html.) I’m frankly surprised at you guys — I mean, Aussies are supposed to have something of a reputation for enthusiastic concupiscence. Time to get back on the wagon. “With courage let us all combine, To Advance Australia Fair.”

    And yes — the correlation between social democracy, secularism, and childlessness is pronounced enough that I think it’s reasonable to presume at least some causative relationship.

    Re: debt/GDP ratios — wrong again. At end of Bush administration, the U.S. ratio was 52% — bad enough, but less than the global average. (This, mind you, with the U.S. subsidizing Europe’s military defense — which may or may not be an optional expense, depending on your geopolitical perspective.) France’s was 79%, and Germany’s was 77%. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_public_debt.) Australia — a small, underpopulated, relatively homogeneous country absolutely jam-packed with exportable natural resources — is a bit of an outlier. But good on you keeping the debt manageable. N.B., if you thought the debt at the end of the “Bush era,” with its deficits in the few-hundred-billion range, was bad, take a look at what it’s expected to be after eight years (from which Heaven preserve us!) of President Obama.

    Contrary to liberal fantasies, the United States could certainly not simply adopt European-style social democracy, and get its supposedly wonderful results. (I say “supposedly,” because the European model, having proven unsustainable, is rapidly being dialed back in an Anglo-Saxon direction; headline from just today was that France is about to raise its age-60 retirement age.) The U.S. is demographically, structurally, and culturally different. We already spend as much public money on health care as countries to that provide universal health care, just to insure the elderly and poor. I just spent $3,000 I didn’t have on two root canals for my wife, so I’m not thrilled with this — but I have absolutely no confidence that a system administered by the American government (with its machine politics and inability to cope with hordes of Gadiantons robbing the system blind — more than a tenth of Medicare billings are estimated to be fraudulent, for instance) would do any better. So I grumble, and make sure I floss.

  20. Dear Brothers and Sisters!

    Thank you all for you insightful and for the most part courteous remarks. Sorry for the late response my folks were in town for my graduation. I always get nervous posting on blogs because some people can be so callous and hateful. So thank you to those who kept the dialogue intelligent and respectful, which was most of you. I want to respond to a few of the points and arguments made in the last 18 comments.

    First @ KMB and BBell. You both seem to think that my post was divisive and hypocrisy. I think that is a fair observation, but like Geoff of Australia was able to see, the post was intended to flesh out conservative bias in the church and to demonstrate liberal alternatives. I am not debunking the conservative views, simply making them clear and showing that there are other ways to interpret these issues as faithful members.

    What I want is not a liberal latter-saints, but to find a more faithful, and admittedly more radical synthesis of our worldview. But this isn’t a case of I’m ok you’re ok. I feel that actual moral issues relevant to our eternal and temporal happiness are being ignored because of the unhealthy correspondence between Mormonism and American conservatism. My post was meant to highlight these issues and beg that we begin to consider them as important especially with respect to the environment. The church is already moving in a good direction by declaring care for the poor as a fourth mission of the church, but again, I want to see poverty addressed at a structural not superficial level that fulfills our needs more than theirs. But thank you for your thoughts! I’ll try harder to be less divisive!

    @ Douglas Hunter Thank you for your thoughtful comments! But I am curious, could you elaborate on “We don’t need to construct an elaborate counter structure that makes the case for a synthesis of leftist politics and Mormon thought.” Did you mean we do? Synthesis is exactly what I am interested in, despite what some may think. I think you have some good points, but I am not satisfied with what you propose as the solution. Help me understand how we can move toward a more authentic practice of the Gospel while not letting political dogmas narrow our focus or corrupt the Gospel.

    @ Geoff of Australia, thanks for sharing your experiences with church culture! Keep up the good work!

    @ Ulysseus Thanks for your comments, but I am sort of wondering why you see my legitimate concerns over church politics as a tantrum. Again, I suppose I could do better at making my case, but do not apologize for speaking up about what I and many others view as a serious problem in the church.

    Lastly, @ Thomas “Leftism is all about respecting the interests of one class at the expense (and without the consent) of another.” Sorry but I hope you can see the irony in that statement, it’s just the reverse of what we would say about capitalism. But in all thank you for your insightful critiques and even tone. I really appreciate your perspective and think that you are getting very close to the kind of synthesis I am looking for, even though I disagree that the implications of the scriptures are not easily interpreted as Marxist.

    Perhaps now the comments could consider ways in which to move forward? Please share your throughts about how we as members of the church can address this problem.

  21. An LDS Stake President (a friend,and a Conservative Republican) told me recently of a conversation in which a current LDS Apostle was having a personal conversation with some regional Church leaaders who were complaining about Liberalism and Socialism in current US politics. The Apostle pointed out to them that currently most LDS Church members live outside of the US in country’s whose governments and policies are clearly more Socialist than any thing currently found in the US.
    This Apostle made this observation: “Brethren, today the majority of the Church members are Socialists.”
    While Mormonism is an American religion –even “THE American Religion”–the LDS Church is now an international church with a majority of NON-American members.

  22. “Lastly, @ Thomas “Leftism is all about respecting the interests of one class at the expense (and without the consent) of another.” Sorry but I hope you can see the irony in that statement, it’s just the reverse of what we would say about capitalism.”

    I suppose “we” (i.e., you and your fellow radicals”) would say that. But it wouldn’t be accurate.

    “Capitalism,” or the free market, basically says to people, “go out and do your best to make money.” Because people naturally differ in their abilities, their circumstances, and the vagaries of chance, this will naturally result in unequal results. Government is meant to operate in this system essentially as a referee — preventing aggression and trying to ensure people get the benefits of their freely-negotiated bargains, but not taking a position for or against one party in a private transaction. This kind of government does not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty.

    Now, a radical socialist would argue that this isn’t fair, and that he hasn’t “consented” to the resulting unequal outcomes. The question is whether his “consent” is necessary, or relevant. Under classical social-compact theory, as succinctly expressed in the Declaration of Independence, people have natural rights including life, liberty, property/pursuit of happiness…in short, the right to be free from others’ aggression or coercion. However, in the hypothetized state of nature, human nature seems to be that the strong will coerce the weak — that is, force them to serve them, rather than freely competing and bargaining. Therefore “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That is, because natural liberty is inevitably threatened by bullying aggressors, we make a deal: We surrender a portion of our natural liberty to government, in the expectation that by so doing, we’ll prevent the bullies from taking it all.

    This theory is founded on a presumption that aggression and coercion are moral wrongs, and that coercion may justly be applied only with the consent of the person coerced. No consent, no coercion. The flip side of this is where there is no coercion, no consent is needed: It’s none of the putative consenter’s business.

    So a radical might say he has not “consented” to the state of nature, where unequal abilities and fortune yield unequal results. He has not “consented” to a situation where he is not allowed to engage in coercion to “spread the wealth around,” as somebody once told a certain persnickety plumber. But if consent is only required for coercion, then why should anyone if he says he hasn’t consented to non-coercion?

    To make “consent” relevant, the radical socialist has to abandon social-compact theory altogether, and basically take the position that a person who lacks is entitled to take from a person who has. The law of the jungle, in other words. I would warn that jungles, or the countries that have adopted this fundamental ethic of radicalism, tend not to be very healthy places, either for the evil rich (who are promptly eaten, or expropriated, or whatever), or for the poor for whose benefit the jungle law is supposedly reinstituted.

    Now, the other approach is for the default presumption to be free enterprise, which (being the only rational economic system, and therefore the only sustainable one) has proven to generate enough wealth that a portion of the surplus can be set aside, by common consent, for the relief of the poor. (One of the reasons the members of the electorate might do this would be faith in the Gospel, which commands care for the less fortunate. This, in my view, is the proper application of those passages.) Since unanimity in anything is impossible, consent has to be to some extent theoretical. Even if you don’t get the consenting vote of every single affluent person you propose to tax for public relief, within reason, it’s probably fair to consider the tax targets to have consented. However, as more and more of the electorate chooses to place the burden of the benefits it’s voting for on fewer and fewer people, it becomes harder and harder to sustain the fiction of “consent.” At that point, the people bearing the burden tend to lose any sense of voluntary allegiance to their extortioners, and they tend to opt out. Tax avoidance increases (as in Greece), and revenues decline, because no government can ever get compliance with the law based on enforcement alone; there must be broad-based voluntary compliance with the law. And suddenly the tax-eaters are left to throw rocks at random targets in the streets because they’re not getting what they’re used to. (Fat lot of good it does them.)

    Socialism is unsustainable because it is based on a fundamental moral confusion about the role of consent in legitimizing government action. Like all attempts to rationalize away natural law, it’s doomed to failure. The Gods of the Copybook Headings will not be mocked.

  23. Thomas!

    Thank for a most intelligent and well spoken response. Here are a few thoughts.

    With no disrespect or sarcasm intended I want to say that I have heard the mythology of the free market many times: “‘Capitalism’, or the free market, basically says to people, ‘go out and do your best to make money’. Because people naturally differ in their abilities, their circumstances, and the vagaries of chance, this will naturally result in unequal results. Government is meant to operate in this system essentially as a referee…” I say mythology because I feel that the appeal to a theoretical free market utopia where we compete on an even playing field is a fantasy, it simply does not exist, and those who proclaim its merit the loudest are usually the ones who benefit most (a few banks come to mind). If we look at American history, do you honestly believe that that is how we became the current super-power? Through elbow grease? It seems to me that an even handed look at American capitalism would reveal a very tidy and lucrative relationship between government and business. Indeed, many anthropologists (particularly anarchist anthropologists) would suggest that that is the role of government: the public subsidy of private wealth. The socialist reaction to the Wall Street collapse, or the BP oil spill is: business simply cannot stay out of trouble without public oversight. The reason most regulatory reforms come about is due to corporate abuses. What is your take on the modern corporation? Where do they fit into your free market model? And while a agree with an anti-government sentiment, I am curious what you would propose to balance the obsession with profits that trumps the earth, people, health, kindness.

    You also stated that “To make ‘consent’ relevant, the radical socialist has to abandon social-compact theory altogether, and basically take the position that a person who lacks is entitled to take from a person who has.” This is an interesting phrase; I would apply the law of the jungle to your articulation of the free market, the doctrine of Korihor which says that we prosper according to our genius. What distinction are you making between the free market and socialism in this context?

    Lastly, you call the sustainability of socialism into question. I think that is a wonderful consideration. But I would again counter by questioning the blatant disregard of both capitalism and socialism for the earth and her bounty.

    But Brother Thomas, beyond our philosophical disagreements over the nature and proper role of government, please tell me how you and I should proceed as members of the same holy religion. Are you and I both willing to admit that rather than arguing where the Gospel falls on an arbitrary political spectrum (between left and right) we should find the common ground that makes the Gospel truly unique and outside of the spectrum. What is the common ground upon which we can proceed as brothers? As neither capitalists nor socialists, but disciples of Christ.

  24. Thomas,

    You could try to be a bit more respectful of those with whom you differ. Your use of certain terms such as “radicals” as pejoratives is not nice.

    “Capitalism,” or the free market, basically says to people, “go out and do your best to make money.”

    I do not think so. It is about doing whatever one can to maximize profits no matter what. It does not speak to honesty, integrity, obeying the law, etc. It is a system about making the most money possible whether you are selling snowball to Eskimos or prescription drugs to senior citizens. It does not speak to being a good corporate citizen, giving back to the community or even good service.

    “Now, a radical socialist would argue that this isn’t fair, and that he hasn’t “consented” to the resulting unequal outcomes.”

    Where do you get this? I think a pure socialist would argue that there is enough wealth for everyone to share some portion of it and gain a benefit. That wealth does not have to be concentrated in a few because they have the power to do it.

    There is nothing that I have ever read in a socialist political theory that assume that someone gets something for nothing. Taking care of the Poor, that’s a Christian thing, not a socialist thing. Providing for the common good of society? That might be socialist, it certainly is not capitalist. In fact, the only thing that pure capitalism benefits are those with the money.

    And in reality, how much money does one really need to live a comfortable life?

    Socialism unsustainable. There are many countries in the world with socialist government that are doing just fine. The Scandinavian Countries in particular.

  25. Jeff, the term “radical” is descriptive here, not pejorative. Jason self-identifies as a radical socialist. In the context of a discussion that includes the term “latter-day McCarthyist,” I think calling a self-identified radical a radical is within the bounds of courtesy.

    Re: the definition of market capitalism, I heartily disagree. A well-connected corporation could maximize its profits by rent-seeking — by getting government to structure the rules in its favor, at the expense of others. That’s the opposite of free-market capitalism. “Crony capitalism” isn’t capitalism at all. It’s corporativism — the economic component of fascism — and the Wilson, Roosevelt and lately Obama administrations’ embrace of it frankly terrifies me. The Goldman Sachs pirates rigging the AIG bailout in their favor? Democrats all. “Liberals” have dominated Wall Street since at least the Clinton administration; New York finance and the Democratic Party have a nice revolving door going. Capitalism, schmaplitalism.

    “[Capitalism] is about doing whatever one can to maximize profits no matter what. It does not speak to honesty, integrity, obeying the law, etc.It is a system about making the most money possible whether you are selling snowball to Eskimos or prescription drugs to senior citizens. It does not speak to being a good corporate citizen, giving back to the community or even good service.”

    Capitalism is a fundamentally economic system. The goods you discuss are moral goods. Moral goods are only truly moral when they are freely chosen. More practically, businessmen who obtain reputations for dishonesty and lawlessness tend to do poorly over time. Their competitors, and a few million starving lawyers, are always in the wings salivating for a chance to pounce on the first sign of skeeziness. In contrast, economic systems that purport to be structured on the basis of morality, rather than rationality and efficiency, invariably end up administered by people who do well by doing good. And I include Brigham Young, with his utopian economic schemes existing side-by-side with his palatial Beehive House, in that category.

    Why is it that, if capitalism is such a morally ambiguous system, the English-speaking commercial republics have been so much more successful at avoiding corruption than so many officially “moral” socialist systems? (Scandinavia is an exception — I mean, they’re Scandinavians; integrity is wired into their DnA or something.) My experience is that the market punishes merchants for reputations for dishonesty far more effectively than politics punishes dishonest politicians.

    “Providing for the common good of society” is neither socialist nor capitalist. It’s simply politics. My judgment is that everybody is better off if capitalism is given its head of steam, and a portion of the resulting wealth diverted (by the effective consent of the people from whom it is diverted) to take care of the people for whose needs the market does not effectively provide. The alternative is to structure the entire economic system around the “public good,” which — in my observation, and according to my understanding of human behavior — is less likely to be efficient, and therefore results in less of a pie to divvy up.

    “Where do you get this? I think a pure socialist would argue that there is enough wealth for everyone to share some portion of it and gain a benefit. That wealth does not have to be concentrated in a few because they have the power to do it.”

    If a pure socialist were to argue that wealth simply “is,” there would be another line of critique. Wealth never just “is.” It has to be created. Socialism is essentially a theory that seeks to justify taking created wealth away from its creators. (Anyone tempted to respond with the Marxian argument that wealth is actually created by labor, and that capitalists are just parasites stealing a portion of the labor-created value, is welcome to read up on why the labor theory of value is all wet.)

    “And in reality, how much money does one really need to live a comfortable life?”

    That’s a great question for a late-night philosophical discussion — but when you hear it from someone in government, look out. That’s simply not a question a politician has any business asking — because the temptation for him to answer it (in a manner that maximizes his own advantage) is too great.

  26. “The socialist reaction to the Wall Street collapse, or the BP oil spill is: business simply cannot stay out of trouble without public oversight.”

    The capitalist reaction to the unfolding European financial collapse, is that government simply cannot stay out of trouble without market discipline.

    Re: the BP oil spill, there was plenty of public oversight. It didn’t work. What specific “oversight” do you think would have prevented the blowout on the BP rig? Do socialist economies ever have engineering failures? There’s a certain power plant about 50 miles north of Kiev that ought to factor into the answer.

    I’ve argued at length that whereas capitalist economies are cyclical, invariably resulting in cycles of boom, overinvestment, and bust, in order to get more than a garden-variety malinvestment-purging correction, you need the helpful hand of government. Nobody else is big enough to enable a truly systemic collapse; purely private players would implode under the weight of malinvestment long before they became systemically dangerous. Finance is one of the most heavily regulated sectors of the economy. Mortgage finance in particular is dominated by the two government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (again, run during the relevant time by Democratic retreads, who did well by doing good). Government set all kinds of rules about how much reserves banks had to retain against each kind of investment, and which ratings agencies they had to use. As it turned out, those one-size-fits-all rules were horribly wrong. Mortgage-backed securities weren’t as safe as the Recourse Rule assumed, and the AAA ratings the government-approved ratings agencies applied to them were inaccurate. The great advantage of a market is that it sets price information according to the “wisdom of large numbers,” as opposed to what a few self-appraisedly smart guys decide it ought to be (which is invariably wrong).

    “The reason most regulatory reforms come about is due to corporate abuses.”

    Well, yes. Unfortunately, the regulators are like generals: They always fight the last war. So when we imposed a massive, expensive new regulatory regime, including Sarbanes-Oxley, after the dot-com debacle, it protected us not at all from the real estate bubble. It’s like playing whack-a-mole.

    “This is an interesting phrase; I would apply the law of the jungle to your articulation of the free market, the doctrine of Korihor which says that we prosper according to our genius.”

    Well, we do. The problem with Korihor is in the next couple of clauses in Alma 30:17 — “and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.” Liberty is all about giving people leave to “prosper according to their genius.” What separates ordered liberty from the law of the jungle is that the strong are restrained from “conquering” — from coercing others. Because under natural law, it is absolutely untrue that “whatsoever a man did was no crime.” The first true sin in the Bible (apart from that curious business with the “transgressive” fruit) was a crime of aggression: Cain’s murder of his brother (in order to steal Abel’s flocks, according to the Pearl of Great Price.) That’s the law of the jungle: Hobbes’ “state of nature” — “that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man.”

    “Are you and I both willing to admit that rather than arguing where the Gospel falls on an arbitrary political spectrum (between left and right) we should find the common ground that makes the Gospel truly unique and outside of the spectrum.”

    Well, of course.

  27. Thomas, excellent discussion,

    A few observations,

    “A well-connected corporation could maximize its profits by rent-seeking — by getting government to structure the rules in its favor, at the expense of others. That’s the opposite of free-market capitalism. “Crony capitalism” isn’t capitalism at all. It’s corporativism — the economic component of fascism — and the Wilson, Roosevelt and lately Obama administrations’ embrace of it frankly terrifies me.

    Were you as afraid when Bush was in office, Bush one, Reagan? Because exactly the same thing happened then as well. Absolutely, no difference. It is the way our government and economy functions.

    “The Goldman Sachs pirates rigging the AIG bailout in their favor? Democrats all. “Liberals” have dominated Wall Street since at least the Clinton administration; New York finance and the Democratic Party have a nice revolving door going. Capitalism, schmaplitalism. ”

    Not buying it. These guys play both side of the street depending on who they need to influence when. Henry Paulsen was appointed by Bush and it was Bush and company that started the bailout.

    “More practically, businessmen who obtain reputations for dishonesty and lawlessness tend to do poorly over time. Their competitors, and a few million starving lawyers, are always in the wings salivating for a chance to pounce on the first sign of skeeziness.”

    That is true in some cases, But I am referring to those who skirt the truth, practice shady and unfair business practices, etc. Most of them do not get caught. AIG is a perfect example of that. No criminal charges!

    “Why is it that, if capitalism is such a morally ambiguous system, the English-speaking commercial republics have been so much more successful at avoiding corruption than so many officially “moral” socialist systems?’

    Avoiding corruption, like who? the US? UK?

    “My experience is that the market punishes merchants for reputations for dishonesty far more effectively than politics punishes dishonest politicians.”

    I would agree with this,but not enough of either!

    “Wealth never just “is.” It has to be created.” Actually, it really isn’t, it’s re-distributed from one person to other based on demand. I suppose the government can print more money, but it’s basically one entity giving their money to other.

  28. ““Wealth never just “is.” It has to be created.” Actually, it really isn’t, it’s re-distributed from one person to other based on demand. I suppose the government can print more money, but it’s basically one entity giving their money to other.”

    I’m hesitant to respond, since I’m pretty sure I’m not understanding what you’re saying here.

    The gallon of gas I just spent $2.94 for wasn’t “wealth” until somebody discovered it, pumped it out of the ground, refined it, transported it, and stored it until I needed it. Until that time, it was worth exactly as much as a gallon of gas sitting undiscovered under somebody’s West Texas ranch: Zero. The building whose construction I helped facilitate was worth a lot less as bare land and loose building materials, until a bunch of people took that “matter unorganized” and (with an tiny insignificant bit of help from a pale-faced guy in a back office dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on the contracts) put them together and created something worth more than just the value of the sum of the parts.

    Money is just a store of exchange, standing proxy for all the actual wealth that’s actually been created and still exists at a given time. When you try to have money without actually creating wealth, you get Zimbabwe, with trillion-dollar banknotes buying a loaf of bread. Or, on a fortunately not-quite-so-catastrophic scale (yet), you have banks originating loans that can’t possibly be paid back, and (with the encouragement of a government which is desperately trying to paper over the weakness of its hand) holding them on their books at face value.

    “Avoiding corruption, like who? the US? UK?” Well, yes — as compared to, say, Mexico, or Zimbabwe, or Greece, or China, or the old East Bloc, or pretty much every socialist country in the history of the world that didn’t speak a language descended from Old Norse. (Who needs grimy old corruption when you can just get in your longship and do some good honest pillaging?)

    “Were you as afraid when Bush was in office, Bush one, Reagan? Because exactly the same thing happened then as well. Absolutely, no difference. It is the way our government and economy functions.”

    I wasn’t happy with the Bush bailout, no — largely because I knew that John McCain, a horrible candidate, was going to lose, and I knew a left-liberal would take that precedent and run with it miles beyond anything that had ever been tried before. Which they did. It’s simply not true that what’s happening now is “exactly the same thing” as what happened before. The scale of the bailouts and the gross favoritism towards well-connected entities is absolutely unprecedented.

  29. Thomas,

    “The gallon of gas I just spent $2.94 for wasn’t “wealth” until somebody discovered it, pumped it out of the ground, refined it, transported it, and stored it until I needed it. Until that time, it was worth exactly as much as a gallon of gas sitting undiscovered under somebody’s West Texas ranch: Zero.

    Actually, it starts when someone invests to find and pump out that oil. Funds are “distributed” to get equipment, people and resources to get the oil and transport it to a gas station. You “distribute” your money to the gas station to buy the gas. The Oil company then “distributes” that money either to a shareholder or to a overpaid bigwig executive. Who then “distributes” it to his pool guy who cleans the pool at one of his many mansions in exchange for the pool guy’s labor.

    The only wealth that was created was the initial value of the money used. After that it is basic economics, the purchase of goods and services using the distributed wealth that transfers from one person or entity to the next. The oil in the ground had no value until someone wanted it. Then it was only worth what someone else was willing to pay for it.

    “The scale of the bailouts and the gross favoritism towards well-connected entities is absolutely unprecedented.”

    Really, Haliburton. To name one. But, I would have preferred to see most of those financial institutions go out of business rather than bail them out, but I’m not sure what would have happened to the economic system since it is a house of cards built and maintained on highly leveraged money and legalized Ponzi schemes.

    “as compared to, say, Mexico, or Zimbabwe, or Greece, or China, or the old East Bloc.” Mexico, yes, no question, Zimbabwe, Socialist or dictatorship? Either way it is also a mess. China and East Bloc? Not socialist, but communist totalitarianism. So those don’t count.

    US and UK have their share of corruption. No more than some but much worse than others.

    BTW, the bailout is not turning out to be the mess ya’ll thought it was. Most of the money has been returned with interest. Some still outstanding, mainly AIG.

  30. Re: Halliburton, I practice public-contracting and False Claims Act law. The claims of favoritism and corruption have some merit, but are mostly overblown. The bottom line is that KBR was and is about the only logistics company remotely capable of performing the contracts it was awarded. In any event, we’re talking about a billion here or there — hardly real money.

    “But, I would have preferred to see most of those financial institutions go out of business rather than bail them out, but I’m not sure what would have happened to the economic system since it is a house of cards built and maintained on highly leveraged money and legalized Ponzi schemes.”

    Me, too. We obviously need a banking system — but it’s less obvious that the banking system has to include B of A, Wells, Citi, and all the other giants that loaded up their balance sheets with bad assets. I would have let those guys fail, if they were going to fail, and taken up the slack by capitalizing banks (like JP Morgan, and a host of regional banks) that weren’t insolvent. We have one of the most efficient bankruptcy systems in the world. It should have been used, and would have been, except that too many of the stakeholders were too politically connected.

    As it is, we’ve officially adopted “extend and pretend” as our financial strategy: Pretend bad loans aren’t bad, drag out liquidation, and basically eat Japanese-style yakisoba for a Lost Decade (or more) until we finally inflate away the bad debt. Meanwhile, tons of houses sit empty with ridiculous price tags sitting out front (or held off the market altogether), because the insolvent banks are being granted permission to hold those assets on their books at values not remotely connected to reality.

    The problem with TARP isn’t its cost — it’s the distortion of the market, which is still keeping SoCal house prices too high. The single greatest virtue of the free market is that it’s the most efficient mechanism for price discovery. The corporatism and crony “capitalism” being practice today is actively working against this.

    The guys that haven’t returned the bailout money, incidentally, are the ones with the best political connections: Fannie, Freddie, AIG (which was bailed out basically to benefit its counterparty, Goldman Sachs, which has its squid tentacles all throughout the Democratic establishment and the present administration), and GM, aka the UAW pension program that happens to make a few cars on the side.

    Goldman delenda est.

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  33. You know, they do some amazing things in Hawaiian cuisine with Spam.

    And I’ve heard they do some amazing thing in Solomon Islands cuisine with spammers. You just need a bigger pot.

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