Stewardship v. Ownership


January 25, 2009 by J. Madson

A friend of mine asked me to read Bastiat lately. It was nice to remember the ideas I used to believe back in my Ayn Rand reading, Limbaugh listening youth before I saw poverty first hand. It reminded me of the story of the Russian KGB agent who on a quiet Moscow night heard the screams of a victim and his worldview changed in that instant. I wondered if Bastiat had ever heard the voice of a victim or if he even cared. It seemed to me that much of Bastiat and many philosophical arguments occur in the abstract. Even worse I had this nagging suspicion that those who parroted Bastiat and other’s ideas did so because at the end of the day they wanted things and they were damned if anyone would take them. but I digress.

Bastiat discusses his idea of “plunder.” Bastiat felt that a government or the “law” only had a right to protect life, liberty, and property rights. Yes property rights are that important, who knew?

In response to Bastiat, I have come to a conclusion: it is wrong to give property rights the same moral quality or value as life and liberty.

The philosopher Cohen argued that there is no reason we should endow people’s claims that they can legitimately acquire external resources with the same moral quality that belongs to people’s ownership of themselves. By making that radical jump we end up creating a world where inequalities arise from differences in external resources, but it does so because it assumes that the world is “up for grabs.”

I do not believe the world is or should be up for grabs. I do not believe that anything and everything can or should be justly appropriated as private property without restriction. I believe this world is a gift from God for all. I also believe that Adam was given stewardship not ownership.

Should this change how we see the economy if we believe we are stewards and not owners? It seems to me that the gospel espouses the values of life, liberty, and even equality, but not ownership. It also appears that much of the free market ideology is rooted in the conceit that things belong to us. It is a self-delusional conceit that seems to miss the gospel idea that all we have belongs to God. I tend to agree with King Benjamin that our substance does not belong to us:

if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God.

At a minimum I think the knowledge we are stewards should temper any allegation that the moral quality of acquiring and retaining stuff is on par with other values. It should also lead us to ask what God would have us do with the stuff. What is the moral thing to do? As far as I can tell the repeated message is to end inequality. Maybe we can finally stop pretending that the “right” to have stuff is a higher moral value than ending poverty even if it means spreading the wealth by the government.

28 thoughts on “Stewardship v. Ownership

  1. I certainly agree with the idea of stewardship vs. ownership. But I’m an atheist: I not only disagree that this principle is foundationally on God, I think a theistic justification is itself a Bad Idea. It’s your own business what you privately believe about God; the problem comes when you make God or scriptural support of an idea a public argument.

    The problem is that you’re making a circular argument: stewardship is a good idea, therefore God approves; since God approves, it’s a good idea. While I do agree that stewardship is a good idea, the circular argument is just as easily available to someone who disagrees, an your own employment of the circular argument reinforces and legitimatizes its use by those who disagree.

    Using the intermediary of scripture just compounds the problem. I presume you believe you can find scriptural support for stewardship, but only by imposing some exegesis on your scripture. Someone who believes in “up-for-grabs” exploitative ownership can, however, impose a different exegesis on scripture and find his own scriptural support. The dialectic, then, gets diverted from a direct examination of stewardship vs. ownership to who can best “sell” their exegesis of scripture.

    But why should we base our own beliefs on Joseph Smith’s beliefs, preferences and prejudices? It’s one thing if Smith says something agreeabke to a person of ordinary rationality and humanistic empathy, something that we believe is good because it has good content. It’s another thing to say that one side or another of a controversial principle is preferable because Smith supported it.

    The proper response to the assertion that God or scripture supports or opposes any idea is, “So what?” We should evaluate ideas by their content, not by their scriptural or divine support, since the former is irrelevant and we cannot independently determine the latter.

  2. Grégoire says:

    Dear Comrade BB,

    Please see inside text…

    I certainly agree with the idea of stewardship vs. ownership. But I’m an atheist: I not only disagree that this principle is foundationally on God, I think a theistic justification is itself a Bad Idea. It’s your own business what you privately believe about God; the problem comes when you make God or scriptural support of an idea a public argument.

    The problem is that you’re making a circular argument: stewardship is a good idea, therefore God approves; since God approves, it’s a good idea. While I do agree that stewardship is a good idea, the circular argument is just as easily available to someone who disagrees, an your own employment of the circular argument reinforces and legitimatizes its use by those who disagree.

    Like you, I don’t believe in any god, except perhaps as Rabbi Kaplan defined the term, as “the sum total of all those natural processes which lead mankind toward a more civilized existence…”. At the same time, we can go back to Trotsky, who encouraged socialists not to waste time attacking religion, except where absolutely necessary, since the end of superstition is the inevitable outcome of historical progress anyway. (I’m too rushed to give a reference for that, but I’ll try to find one later on if you’d like it).

    Like Uncle Leo, I honestly believe that in 200 years there will still be Christians, Jews, Mormons, etc; just like there are still Nordics, Romans and the like. The difference today is that the Nordics and the Romans don’t dance around idols of Wotan, Thor or Minerva. They’re at a different stage of their historical development today, just as our descendants will be in the future. Mormons in 200 years will not believe in God the way many Mormons of today do. Politics will not bring this about (repression just increases superstition – they call it ‘retro-culture’) it will simply happen in the natural course of things.

    Using the intermediary of scripture just compounds the problem. I presume you believe you can find scriptural support for stewardship, but only by imposing some exegesis on your scripture. Someone who believes in “up-for-grabs” exploitative ownership can, however, impose a different exegesis on scripture and find his own scriptural support. The dialectic, then, gets diverted from a direct examination of stewardship vs. ownership to who can best “sell” their exegesis of scripture.

    But why should we base our own beliefs on Joseph Smith’s beliefs, preferences and prejudices? It’s one thing if Smith says something agreeabke to a person of ordinary rationality and humanistic empathy, something that we believe is good because it has good content. It’s another thing to say that one side or another of a controversial principle is preferable because Smith supported it.

    The proper response to the assertion that God or scripture supports or opposes any idea is, “So what?” We should evaluate ideas by their content, not by their scriptural or divine support, since the former is irrelevant and we cannot independently determine the latter.

    We can see Joseph Smith as the instigator of a religious movement, and that’s an accurate view. We can also see him as the theorist of a national liberation movement. Mormons have spent so much time in relative seclusion that they’ve begun to develop their own art, architecture and culture. They are, for all practical purposes, a distinct nationality, with their own internal class-struggle. When one sees the social structure of Mormonism it becomes natural to frame an attempt to build class-consciousness within Mormon terms.

    I don’t agree with much of Mormon theology. Mormons aren’t allowed on our property, for the most part, largely because of the way my extended family has treated my wife and children. I’m married to the grand-daughter of a union organizer from NYC, so she’s fine with socialism but thinks Mormons are weird and very frightening.

    The people at The Mormon Worker are somewhat ahead of their time, I think; which is why I try to support them. There’s also a pragmatic element to it all. We (leftish types) are so fragmented at this point that it’s silly to fight over religion. I really don’t care what motivates these people, in the same way I don’t care what motivated the people who published the Freiheit or Catholic Worker (other newspapers with religious themes). I’m just glad someone, somewhere, is bothering to think about pertinent issues.

    That doesn’t mean I disagree with your main point. I don’t. I guess I just prioritize things a bit differently.

    So glad to see you here, by the way…


  3. Forest Simmons says:

    I don’t think we have to hide our path to truth just because it is not the same as someone else’s. If you have a different path that isn’t too personal to share, I’m sure that it will inspire us too, as Brother Madson’s has.

    I have thought of the problem of adapting the “law of consecration and stewardship” to a secular setting. Specifically what takes the place of the year end stewardship accountability interview where the inspired bishop acting as a “judge in Israel” appoints each family their adjusted stewardship for the next year?

    Here’s one idea that might approximate the effect by different means in the same spirit:

    A maximum allowable annual income is pegged to the minimum wage, so that nobody can keep for himself more than twenty times the yearly income of a 40 hour per week minimum wage job. If that minimum wage amount is fifty thousand grickles per year, then anybody making more than a million grickles per year is taxed at 100 percent on all increase above one million grickles.

    This surplus becomes the secular equivalent to the bishop’s storehouse, but instead of being administered by bishops it is administered democratically. The exact democratic institutions are to be determined, but the more local the better.

    Anybody that thinks his needs exceed by a factor of twenty those of his minimum wage full time working brother would be free to present his case before the council.


  4. Grégoire says:

    Dear J,

    Thanks so much for posting this article. I was intrigued by your use of the term ‘usufruct’ yesterday, but haven’t done my homework. The one thing it reminded me of was camping out at Mustang Island for a week when I was 19, and stealing citrus fruit from a nearby orchard. There is (or was) a Texas custom that if you went in and picked and ate the grapefruits within sight of the road, that the owner had to allow it. fruct – fruit… that’s the best connection I could make.

    I think property rights have a place. A person who saves his money to buy a car or a suit of clothes shouldn’t have his property taken or destroyed. I think that Bastiat’s arguments break down when we start ascribing property rights to real property.

    I “own” real property in two countries (jointly in one case with my spouse). Neither of us “owners” have or expect to be able to store nuclear waste on “our” property, or store high explosives there, or run a drug lab, or anything else. When we look at the concept of ownership this way, it’s clear that we are using a word which is misleading.

    Supposedly we can rent our property out to tenants, and make the proverbial money for nothing, provided we continue to pay rent (property taxes) to the actual owner – which is the municipality. It would be more honest to simply restructure everything so that the municipality has de-facto ownership of real property, with every citizen of the municipality having a share (a vote) of control over the management.

    I don’t pretend to be an economist or an urban planner, so I’m interested in what you and others have to say. I do think that rent is, in practice, identical to the usury which is condemned in religious texts, so like you I don’t know how people reconcile the concepts.

  5. Ron Madson says:

    Gregoire & Comrade BB:
    I must say that I am somewhat intrigued by your comments in regard to your professed “atheism.” I confess that I can no more define you than you could define I suppose any particular believer without further investigation. I will also confess that I can see how one could find “believing Mormons” weird or we would use the word “peculiar”—for that matter I find christian fundamentalists and moslem nutjobs also weird and frightening. I have studied, for example, “pacifism” for a few years (Josh M and I are writing a book on the topic together) and have learned to my surprise that there are many different types of pacifism so I can only assume there are many types of “atheism” other than the one stereotype I grew up with that said essentially “atheists” assert with great faith that their having no personal experience with seeing, hearing or sensing any physical evidence of God or a creator means there is no god or gods. In other words, absence of proof for the believing atheist is the proof. I can only surmise that atheism as a creed is much more intelligent and reasoned out than I would have supposed and makes perfect sense when understood and appreciated. That is why I have been so intrigued by having you and others as intellectual bedfellow in this blog—a Mormon blog. I find your contribution invaluable in bridging the thoughts of weird believers with rational non-believers—and finding some common purposes such as opposition to violence in the name of theology, etc. I do not say this to be vain, I hope, nor to create a distance, but I could see myself gravitating more and more towards atheism and/or non God believing given the lunacy of much in religion in the light of rational thought, but for the reality of my personal mantic and spiritual experiences, which for me to deny in any form would be equivalent to my saying it was night when the sun was shining. For me Christ is the Son of God and is as real and living as my own flesh… That is why I seek to reconcile and bridge my theology and faith with what I consider the progressive causes discussed here.
    I could not agree more with Gregoire that we must as a faith continue to grow, repent, evolve and discard all the nonsense and man made parts of our theology which prevent us as Paul would say from “reaching the full stature of Christ.” Anyway, I really do appreciate and have learned from your input and what I perceive to be sincere integrity of communication and willingness to be patient with our mormon weirdness— which I am the first to confess bothers me also…

  6. J. Madson says:


    I should clarify. I readily admit that my argument holds less weight with an atheist. I was purposefully framing my argument towards the LDS community. As much as you might feel scriptures, God, etc create more problems than they are worth, there is the reality that many people believe in these things and find secular arguments less persuasive. You speak to people in their own language. To religious people, religious arguments matter. I think there are many good secular arguments for my position but I also know that many LDS will not accept them unless they comport to a good exegetical reading of the scriptures.

    I agree with you on your broad criticism of exegesis but I think there is nothing wrong with competing interpretations of scriptures. Some are more reasonable and logical than others. Its important to show which scriptural arguments are weak and the ones that are strong. I believe that bad theology leads to bad morality. It is for this reason I argue that the theology in the scriptures matters. If we end up with scriptures teaching a bad morality, then we may need to reconsider our belief in them. However, as you can assume, I think Christianity in the figure of Christ is very ethical and was far ahead of its time even today.

    I would also add that my argument is not circular in the sense that I did not decide to believe in stewardship and then read that onto God and scriptures. I actually was quite the libertarian right winger to begin with. It was through discovering that the argument for ownership and many capitalist ideas are very weak and even condemned in the scriptures that contributed to my own intellectual odyssey

    but thanks for your comments anyways

  7. Grégoire says:

    Dear Ron,

    Mormonism is indeed weird from an outsider’s perspective; but so is Judaism, Catholicism and other traditions. I’m related (at least by marriage) to people who actually believe in these other brands of weirdnesses. The _First Vision_ story really isn’t any more or less rational than the story of Moses lowering his staff and drowning a thousand screaming Egyptians, nor is there any more or less historical evidence to suggest one transpired. To me, these are metaphors which teach higher truths than mere history anyhow.

    My main point was to try and impress upon BB that there are different kinds of Mormons. I’m a Mormon who agrees with nearly everything BB wrote, and I’m an atheist, but I’m still a Mormon, and it is possible to take some inspiration from religious texts without taking everything literally. Salman Rushdie is a Muslim, but he’s an atheist too. etc.

    Most people have a tradition they feel comfortable with. My kids have never been to a Mormon meeting, but they’ve grown up with family home evening and we’ve started having a “secular sabbath” when we can (where we turn off all the televisions and go on walks, etc.)

    This one is old enough to learn a little bit about Mormonism, and this is the way it is being introduced to her.

  8. Brooke says:

    I stumbled across this today. Interesting thoughts.

    Here are a few of mine. I do not value my property as I value my life, but I still think it ought to be protected. We work at jobs giving up some of our life for pay. The money we earn is a storage unit for the life we have spent. Taxing all income at 100% when it is over a certain limit is akin to indentured servitude.

    You argue that because God is the owner of all that I have and He has only given it to me as a stewardship. If God has given it to me to be the steward of it, what right does the government have to take my stewardship away from me? If I am a good steward, I will wisely judge what I need and give the excess to those who have need. The cries of victims will not reach me in vain. If I am a bad steward, I will lose not only my stewardship but what is more precious than property.

    God has decreed that we should be equal, but it must be voluntary or it will not accomplish His purposes.

  9. J. Madson says:


    thanks for stopping by.

    couple of thoughts to consider. While I certainly think we are stewards over the earth, I am not sure we are stewards in an individual sense. Especially when we apply it to things like land. Stewardship, at least in terms of our natural resources and the very land seems to be collective and not individual. I have yet to hear a convincing argument of why individuals should be allowed to acquire large areas of land.

    As to the issue of property. Lets agree that property can be possessed by individuals. And lets even agree it merits a certain level of protection. Im not sure why protecting it is a higher moral value than using it, even through the govt, for alleviating poverty, building schools, parks, roads, etc. Im not sure why taxing money over a certain amount is akin to indentured servitude, maybe you can explain?

    I also see nothing wrong in a democratic society with taxing money and then using it to make a better society. This is both constitutional and in my view a moral thing to do. We can argue about what it should be used for. I personally have real issues with it being used for the military and think there are far better uses for our money. I can certainly conceive of utopian schemes were there is no coercion and people voluntarily do good, but absent that utopia I still believe using taxes for the general welfare of the nation is preferable to protecting “property” at all costs.

  10. J. Madson says:


    I agree that property should have some protection. Now we of course need to define what is property. Like you mentioned, there is a problem with real property. Its not a good thing that individuals can acquire vast amounts of land. Isaiah, who I believe was prophetic in that he understood society and humanity and could tell the future just as a sociologist without equal could, foresaw the time when house would be joined to house and one individual would control houses and lands. This was a curse as he saw it.

    In ancient Israel it was forbidden to buy or sale land. But people would lose their land through the corrupt government or debt. The year of the jubilee was meant as a corrective where the land would return to the family. I like the idea of usufruct property because it maintains that individuals “own” land that they use. I cannot be an absent landlord. If I use land thats great but if I abandon it then there is no reason someone else cannot use it. If there is enough land for everyone, which I believe, this would create a situation much more egalitarian.

    I also think it makes much more sense to have things like natural resources owned by the community than individuals. Certainly its a discussion worth having. Im convinced that there are better more equitable ways to see property than done currently in the US.

  11. Comrade Ron, et al.

    Please understand I was criticizing the specific argument, not the person or the religion in general, in the spirit of mutually beneficial dialectic.

    I do not share Gregoire’s view of religion: I consider religion an enormous barrier to communism and socialism, but that’s a discussion for another day.

    Millions of Mormons (as well as of every other religion) have no problem reconciling their scripture with imperialism and capitalism. (30 years ago I worked for Mormons who sold tax shelters… some of them quite dodgy.) They’re reading the same scriptures you are, yet they’re coming to a completely different conclusion. I can only surmise that the difference is in the reader, not the text.

    Your own experience shows that what the reader brings to scripture may be subtle, but the wide variation in conclusions and interpretation argues too strongly against objectively determinable meaning in the text.

    When we allow exegesis to determine meaning, we hand the bourgeoisie too potent a weapon: they have far more resources than socialists to sell and normalize a capitalist-friendly exegesis. (And religious scripture, especially J-C-I scripture, is extremely reactionary in its literal meaning.)

  12. Subscribing to comments

  13. Forest Simmons says:

    Dear Brooke,

    Your concern is one of social security, which (as you intimate) under capitalism is achieved by storing up property in the form of bank accounts, real estate, etc. You are concerned that if a limit were placed on this accumulation, even a limit of twenty times the reach of the full time minimum wage earner, the needs of your family might not be fulfilled.

    Do you see how far capitalism has taken us into the realm of “every man for himself?”

    Don’t you think that if the upper limit were tied to the minimum wage that the minimum would soon be raised to a level at which every family could be secure?

    Don’t you think that the democratically managed surplus would go to community projects and services that would benefit your family as well as the less fortunate?
    Isn’t their security as important as yours?

    A big problem of actually existing capitalism is that the more one gets, the more one feels a need to retreat into a fortress that we oxymoronically call a “gated community.”

    Do we think that heaven operates on the principle of “every man for himself?”

    Then why should we think that’s fine here, when we pray, “on earth as it is in heaven?”

    Some Christians think that the appurtenances of heaven are magically supplied so that there is no need for an “economy of heaven.”

    But this idea is not supported by the scriptures that claim that god works by means, and economical means are better than extravagant ones. Just as a lying god would cease to be god, a god that squandered the resources of heaven (as Bush did the supposedly infinite resources of the USA) would cease to be god. If you are faithful over a few things you may become a steward over many. Why do heavenly resources need wise stewards? Partly because time, energy, and attention devoted to one purpose preclude their use for other purposes. And of course, partly because great power wrongly used can cause great harm.

    These same principles apply to earthly stewardships as to heavenly ones.

    Less harm is apt to come by the voice of the people than by power (through unbounded wealth) concentrated in the hands of a few.

    “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men that when they are given a little bit of authority as they suppose they begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

    That’s Brother Joseph quoting the Lord. When did the Lord have those experiences?

  14. Brooke says:

    My concern is not for social security but for freedom and agency. I do not think it is right for a government filled by humans to take so much power in controlling resources. Just as you are wary of people who control to much wealth exercising unrighteous dominion, I am wary of government – democratic or otherwise – doing the same thing with the power of redistribution.

    I know that we must be wise stewards here so that we can be wise stewards in eternity. I reserve that right to myself and all others instead of delegating my stewardship to the government. I don’t think operating on “every man for himself” is proper, and if you could see my family’s economic operation, you would know that we do not live that way. But I have no right to force others to live the way I do.

    My political philosophy is rooted in Ezra Taft Benson’s “The Proper Role of Government.” The text can be found here. You may have read it already, but I ‘ll include it anyway for reference.

  15. J. Madson says:


    Im still not sure I see how you see your agency or freedom being taken away by using taxes to help alleviate social ills. Maybe you can elaborate. It seems they are taking, through democratic and constitutional means, an excess or portion of your property not your individual freedom or agency. At a certain level all governments use coercion or force. It seems to me its a matter of people choosing to live in a society where the government can use force and then deciding what the proper uses of that force are. Benson would argue force should be used to protect life, liberty, and property.

    As I mentioned earlier, Im not willing to make the leap and put property on the same moral level as personal freedom or agency. I think there is something much more immoral about poverty, starvation, etc than the “immorality” of a government like Finland, Sweden, or even the US having forms of democratic socialism.

    Benson quotes liberally from Bastiat, who I cited initially, and I believe Benson was just wrong on economics. Part of my issue with Benson is that he condemns Soviet style communism but then somehow equates that with democratic forms of socialism occurring in free societies.

    I am curious though. Do you believe the government should have any taxes at all? and if so what should they be used for?

  16. Forest Simmons says:

    Other emboldened lurkers here (smile) have expressed the opinion that right wingers probably justify capitalism with the same scriptures that liberal believers use to condemn economic injustice. I will grant them that point when it comes to matters of war and peace; most members of our gospel doctrine class compare the American troops in Iraq with Captain Moroni’s army, while I always thought that Moroni’s army was resisting a foreign invasion of his own land, like the Iraqi resistance fighters.

    But when it comes to economics, rather than try to make their own point from the scriptures they generally ignore them or dismiss them as impractical for the modern world, or so it seems to me.

    Not too many years ago I was in a priesthood meeting in which the stake president, who happened to be a wealthy businessman, was reading an announcement about a Deseret Industry donation drive that prefaced the specifics with a quote from D&C 104 “And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.”

    Before he finished the last phrase he started sputtering, and said, “This doesn’t make sense,” and then skipped to the next paragraph in the announcement. Those not familiar with the passage were left to wonder how it concluded.

    As far as I am aware all serious attempts at scriptural justification for laissez-faire capitalism are rooted in the primacy of agency or “free agency,” the right of uncoerced choice, that was vouchsafed for man by god before the foundation of the world. Lucifer and his followers were cast out precisely because of their disregard for this sacred principle. This was the foundational axiom of the economic ideology built up by H. Verlan Andersen, Cleon Skousen, President Benson, and others, who steered me to reading Bastiat back in my Young Americans For Freedom, John Birch Society, and Goldwater supporting days in the sixties.

    It took NIbley, Nephi, his brother Jacob, Brother Joseph, Alma, Alma the Younger, Brigham Young, Mormon, Moroni, Spencer W. Kimball, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Carlos Fonseca,Tomás Borges, and others to convince me that there was more to economic justice than this one principle, which I still consider prime among all laws governing human nature and human progress.

    Brooke feels that her free agency would be violated if there were a limit placed on how much she could retain for herself of what she acquired. I do not doubt in the least her generosity. I believe that she would freely give of “her” surplus to the poor, and thus experience the joy of giving. Also I’m sure that whatever work she engaged in to acquire that wealth would be given freely and without begrudging the time and energy it required, knowing that it would be something valuable and beneficial for her fellow beings.

    But under the ecclesiastical version of the united order, all belongs to god, and she would be appointed a portion for her stewardship, and she would not think she had the right to “steady the ark” by commandeering the bishop’s storehouse, or anybody else’s stewardship so as to be more generous. “Shall a man rob god?” Ananias and Sapphira thought that they knew better than the “council on the disposition of tithes” how the Lord wanted his resources managed. President Kimball had a wealthy friend that bragged that he chose his own charities rather than pay tithing and offerings. Well, he was doling out stolen money in the estimation of Pres. Kimball.

    2 Ne. 28: 13 They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing …

    Why is it robbery? Because it belongs to god but is not turned over to his legal agents to administer to the needy.

    In the secular setting, we could ask, “Will a man rob the community?” In my twenty-times-minimum-rule version of the secular setting, all belongs to the community, but your stewardship is anything you legally acquire up to the twenty times limit. Anything over that is the stewardship of the community council, not your stewardship to administer or “delegate.”

    The twenty times minimum wage rule allows for ample giving:

    “For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.”

    If the minimum wage is a living wage, then a person with twenty times that would have an ample abundance from which to cast in his offering. Best of all, this freedom of action is not at the expense of the freedom of sweatshop slaves. Such slavery would not exist under any decent system, but will always exist under laissez-faire capitalism.

    Hording is one of those anti-human, alienating, inexorable race to the bottom coping features inspired by capitalism. No amount of hording can give us the security that capitalism robs us of. Luke 12: 20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?

  17. Ron Madson says:

    Barefoot Bum:

    I appreciate your thoughts and I could not agree more that religion/scriptures, etc. has been used, is being used and will continue to be used for all kinds of ugly purposes–Mormons being no exception. For me the taking the Lord’s name in vain would be applied by those of dark minds and hearts no matter the god and no matter the creed and they would make up one or adopt it if necessary for their ends. And yet the words of Christ and the gospel has had an undeniable influence in my life and what I observe historically and now in the lives of others to progressive reforms, charity and good works. What is so enjoyable is to find others without that same faith reach the same place and conclusions—but then again I read my faith as being far more inclusive , far more tolerant and embracing of humans that come from all different directions to what I call Zion: “for more are the children of the desolate then the married wife”—meaning Zion will be inhabited by all types, faiths, etc. IMHO. I do recognize that many in our faith do not see it this way but being a believer in more than this single probation I can wait….

  18. J. Madson says:


    Is the twenty ties minimum something of your own creation? I like the idea of individual stewardship up to a point and then community stewardship

  19. Brooke says:

    I’m still thinking about this. Perhaps in the end I will agree with you, but I still believe that a government of man with the power of man – secular government – can not rightfully have any power that an individual does not have. We rob God when we do not turn over what is His to His legal agents. The government is not his legal agent, it is our collective legal agent.

    I agree that “the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low,” but I disagree about who has the authority to make the rich low. The individuals have this power over themselves, God does (and will), but not other people.

    When we are sued for our coat, we are commanded to give our cloak also. But that is for us to give. He didn’t say it was right for the the person to sue in the first place.

    I don’t claim to have all the answers about taxation, but I think that sales taxes alone (without income and property taxes) would be a fair system. Texas and Tennessee do well without state income taxes.

  20. Forest Simmons says:

    As far as I know, the ancient Greeks were the first to tie a max income to a min income (but not counting slaves). I cannot remember if they used a factor of ten or a factor of twenty.

  21. Forest Simmons says:


    thanks for holding our feet to the fire. We’ll get to the bottom of this, yet!

    You wrote, “…I still believe that a government of man with the power of man – secular government – can not rightfully have any power that an individual does not have.” I agree with President Benson on this point, as well. Might does not make right. But individuals can make agreements with each other that on a large scale become social contracts that create legitimate governments for defense against evil and chaos. By evil I mean intentional harm, and by chaos I mean the ravages of mindless elements (think Katrina). In particular, it is legitimate to unite against hostile economic forces.

    We recognize the right of priesthood councils to sanction members for child abuse. Does this mean that the state does not have the right for a parallel system that judges and punishes child abusers?

    Secular social stewardships (parallel to ecclesiastical ones) can never fully take the place of our family and priesthood stewardships, but I believe that they will be more humane and successful to the degree that they are modeled on ours. The United Order would reduce the wiggle factor of twenty to a variable (and usually smaller) factor depending on the wants and needs of each family.

    Most bishops would be happy to have a democratic council make these kinds of decisions so that they could devote more time to their primary responsibility, the youth of the ward. It seems to me that currently the only good reason for keeping the administration of the fast offering funds strictly in the hands of the bishop (with help from the RS presidency) is confidentiality. Asking for assistance is embarrassing. The twenty times rule would make it so that the wealthy are the ones that have to beg for money, to fund some pet personal project (perhaps neglected by the community) beyond the level of twenty times the living wage. Relatively little social stigma can accrue from this kind of begging.

    In general, free agency does not justify the economic wickedness of men. Many an unholy and impure practice has been wrongly excused in the name of freedom. In the sexual context we recognize it as “libertine or promiscuous.” The economic commodification of everything is another kind of unholy promiscuity. This commodification of everything is why the great and abominable church, aka Babylon, is referred to as “the whore of all the earth.”

    Most people recognize that the right of freedom of speech does not give you license for libel, perjury, false advertising, or shouting “fire” in a crowded building when you know there is no fire. Another well known moderating principle is that, “your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” This principle applies to economic freedom as well. Protection from economic bullies is just as important as protection from swinging fists.

    If you have never had your eyes opened to the pervasiveness of the economic bullying that has been justified in the name of “free enterprise,” for starters try reading “Nickel and Dimed,” by Barbara Ehrenreich and “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” by John Perkins, which give us a glimpse of the status quo at the end of the twentieth century. For a couple of similar snapshots of the end of the 19th century, try “The Late Victorian Holocaust,” by Mike Davis, and “The People of the Abyss,” by Jack London. A century apart Ehrenreich and London each condescended to temporarily put aside their economic advantages and live incognito among the poor. The other two books give a glimpse at the macroscopic level. Howard Zinn’s “People’s History” helps connect the dots. After you read these, whether or not you like the twenty times rule, you will know that lassez-faire capitalism is not the answer.

    If men can coin money, why cannot they put bounds and limitations on its use?

    Consider, for example, the seven year release in the law of Moses: Deut15:1,2&9 “At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the Lord’s release. …Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee.”

    A secular society that agreed to this law would be far in advance of ours.

    A jubilee debt release would solve the present financial and economic meltdown crisis more fairly, completely, and simply than any of the proposed bailout schemes that take tax payer money and give it to the rich financial gamblers that made bad bets. This rule is so simple that any secular judge could oversee it as easily as the Lord himself, and neither of them would be insulting your free agency by doing so, any more than would a parent who required a child that ended up with more than his share of the candy to give some to the little kids at the end of the Easter egg hunt.

    The seven year release is a perfectly logical response to the dynamics of market driven economics that are similar to those of the Parker Brothers’ game of “Monopoly.” It doesn’t matter that everybody starts out with equal chances, and that the rules are totally impartial, someone with enough luck in the early stages garners greater and greater advantage until, after about seven minutes, one player controls everything. At that point all debts are released and the game starts over, at least in the Parker Brother version.

    When was this law of release rescinded? Like the ten commandments, never. True, it was superceded by the Law of Consecration and Stewardship which eliminated all debts at all times, not just every seven years, but our failure to live the higher law does not justify our failure to observe the lesser standard. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Compare the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:23-35) with King Benjamin’s observation in Mosiah 4:19&20 “For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have … And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain?”

    In the US we have a token democracy which acts like the cross walk light button. When you push it, you think that it has some effect on when the light will turn in your favor. In reality, under capitalism economic forces swamp democratic influences.

    Under capitalism, the strength of influence of your affinity group on policies that affect the quality of your life is directly proportional to the total wealth of your group. Under democracy, your influence would be proportional to the number of people (demos) in your group. In any attempted hybrid version, the influence of wealth on the media and the politicians soon gets state forces protecting the interest of the wealthy. Can you blame people who recognize the historicity of this dynamic for thinking that some form of anarchy is the only way to avoid it?

  22. theradicalmormon says:

    Question. Was the Jubilee debt forgiveness thing a law that carried a punishment? or was it a suggestion as to how we ought to act, but not binding as a punishable offense if one chose not to hearken to it?

  23. Forest Simmons says:

    The beauty of the law is that it is self enforcing. If you owe me a thousand dollars before the release, and I sue you for the money after the release, the court simply says, “What Debt?”

  24. Forest Simmons says:


    am I to undrstand that you believe that a system of stewardship (in place of ownership) can only be implemented legitimately in an ecclesiastical setting?

  25. Joseph says:

    First thanks to all for this discussion. I’ve been wrestling with Bastiat and others for some time and this is exactly the setting (type of people) I want input from.

    I find myself thinking like Brooke. I feel the gov shouldn’t use legal plunder to “do good” in their usual ways because in my mind that involves coercive methods, akin to the Devil’s premortal plan to take away agency and ensure no sin.(the gov would love to plunder and ensure no poor. social security. imagine if the Lord redistributed income or in this case our good works wages, we’d all end up in Hell cuz there isn’t enough to go around.) I feel we must be socially responsible, but voluntarily so. Isn’t that what the MWorker is about? Anarchism? voluntary works? Doesn’t the BoM say something about “if a man giveth a gift grudgingly it is counted unto him as sin”, and is that not what the gov claims: we’re going to force you to be charitable.

    I agree with what Brooke says about private property etc. Just because in our modern times we obviously equate the wages of life with money I don’t think it is necessarily evil to think of things in monetary terms, if that makes sense. I have to exchange life every day for a wage so that my family can live on. Those moneys are a reflection of my life. I care about what happens to that extension of my life, and I believe God does too and that I’m justified in trying to protect it. It is up to me to voluntarily give my excess, I don’t think God would have it any other way.

    Now I had to hastily type this up so please go easy on the comments, but do comment and fill me in on where i need correction. Also I plan on taking more time to read the above comments so if you’ve already made a point just tell me to read above.

  26. Forest Simmons says:


    nobody is proposing to confiscate your property or the property of anybody like you.

    The question is whether men can organize our economic activity like the Lord has asked us to organize, but instead of under priesthood direction, under democratic auspices.

    Can a man appoint a steward over some of his property?

    Yes. For example, if you own an apartment complex, you can hire a manager who runs the whole thing. He doesn’t own it, but he runs it and is accountable to you. By definition he is your steward, and the apartment complex is his stewardship. That doesn’t stop him from having another stewardship as a Young Men’s President in his ward.

    If one man can legitimately appoint a steward over his property, then according to Pres. Benson, a group of men can appoint stewards over their property.

    If a group of men can do this legitimately, then citizens of a country can agree to organize their economic activity on the same principles.

    It seems to me that the main justification for any kind of government is to protect the weak and powerless from the strong and powerful. The powerful don’t need protection from the weak, unless the weak get so fed up with the way they are being treated and so desperate that they are willing to resort to suicide attacks to throw off their oppressors.

    The catch-22 is that whenever strong central governments are formed in the name of protection of anybody, soon the wealthy interests buy control, so that before long the foxes are “protecting” the henhouse.

    Better to have no government, or to have a way to keep in check the power of concentrated wealth.

    We have been discussing how use of the Lord’s system as a template might ameliorate, if not solve, this dilemma.

    Personally, I believe that the inhabitants of heaven (call them gods) are people, and that they govern themselves by common consent. Since they are people and using common consent, they form a democracy. We are here on earth to learn how to do the same. That is why we were sent here, and the gods are pleased when we learn anything or make any progress in that direction.

    The book of Alma gives us a type of the war in heaven. The wealthy “king men” of high birth wanted to overthrow democracy. Captain Moroni, a type of Michael the Archangel (or even Christ) pulls down their illegitimate power.

    Nevertheless, around chapter 9 of third Nephi their democracy falls from internal corruption, a cause of great lamentation.

    Capitalists belive that Capitalism trumps Democracy. I think they are gravely mistaken.


  27. J. Madson says:


    I want to echo Forest’s comments as they pertain to democracy because I think he makes a very good point about whether we can democratically choose to create economic systems that address social ills.

    It would certainly be an ideal world where everyone voluntarily chose to act in a Zion like manner. However, short of that utopian scheme which I think echoes the anarchist principles that other contributors aspire to, what do we do in the real world in the meantime?

    It seems to me that while we may never reach a complete unison or oneness of heart and mind on all issues, that a democratic government with constitutional safeguards is a great vehicle for the people to voluntarily choose to use their time, talents, and even money to do good. So long as we have consented to have the government tax us (see US constitution) then it seems we should likewise choose what the money should go towards.

  28. Forest Simmons says:

    Continuing with the idea of public ownership, there are, as Ralph Nader points out in an open letter to Rush Limbaugh, certain public commons like the “airwaves” (really Electromagnetic Radio Frequency Bands), the actual air, the national forests, the water ways, the oceans, etc. that must be protected by regulation to prevent the dynamic that is known variously as “The Tragedy of the Commons,” “The Race to the Bottom,” or the multiplayer version of “Prisoners’ Dilemma.”

    My father-in-law, a retired air force pilot, is as economically conservative as they come, but, as a sportsman, he still recognizes the need for hunting and fishing licenses, and the limits on how many fish you can keep. Instinctively he knows that otherwise all valuable game animals would soon be as extinct as the passenger pigeon, once the most abundant game bird in North America.

    In general “the tragedy of the commons” refers to any situation where people pursuing their own immediate best interest make things worse for everybody, including themselves in the long run.

    Many businesses can save lots of money in the short run by dumping poison into the air and water, but when many people do this in their immediate self interest, they create a social cost that far outweighs their total savings.

    When the fine for violating a clean water pact is nonexistent or too light, the corporations that defect from the pact have an economic advantage over those that comply, and so by law they must defect, since they are legally bound to maximize profit for their shareholders. This fact governs the “race to the bottom” dynamic.

    The labor force is just as much a common resource for industry as the air and water. The race to the bottom in treatment of this resource obeys the same dynamic as the race to the bottom in environmental quality.

    Just as we can (and must) regulate the exploitation of environmental commons, so we should regulate the exploitation of the labor commons. Repeal of the Taft Hartly Act would be one place to start, short of a fundamental restructuring of our economy around public ownership of everything other than truly private property.

    Back in the early seventies Tom Poston opened my eyes to the “race to the bottom” dynamic with the example of two competing hot dog stands on a stretch of beach. The most convenient arrangement for the public would be to have one stand at the center of the South half and the other at the center of the North half of the beach.

    But no matter the initial configuration, each competitor has an incentive to move his stand closer to the other stand, since that would increase his share of natural customers, i.e. the beach goers that are closer to his stand than to the other.

    So without some kind of iron clad franchise agreement the “race to the middle” dynamic results in two hot dog stands side by side in the middle of the beach, and the average distance from a customer to a hot dog stand is sub optimal, which is not only less convenient for the customer, but as a result of this inconvenience, tends to reduce the total number of customers and therefore the total income of both competitors.

    The word “franchise” especially for public services like garbage, electricity, etc. should alert you to many other situations where resources or services are best managed by the public for the public.

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