A Secular Word of Wisdom


May 13, 2009 by Gsmith

Imagine being a single mother and working for minimum wage. Minimum wage in the State of Washington is about ten dollars an hour. In the Province of British Columbia it’s eight dollars per hour — about 6.50 US. These are the two highest minimum wages in North America. To add insult to injury, Starbucks had a scandal in which it was revealed that the tips you leave your barista were officially “redistributed” to management.


Could you support yourself on ten dollars per hour? How about yourself and a little baby who needs child care, medicines, diapers, etc.?

I’ve been Starbucks free for over a month now, after patronizing their stores in Vancouver, Spokane and Seattle (not to mention dozens of other places I visited) on a daily basis for many years. Joseph Smith had a point…


20 thoughts on “A Secular Word of Wisdom

  1. Minimum wage in Ontario is $9.50 CAD. I’m not saying it’s enough, I’m just saying that your claim is off.

    And nope, I couldn’t support myself and a kid (or several) on that kind of money.

  2. Grégoire says:

    I’m very glad to hear that the workers in Ontario finally got their increase. I have a lot of friends over there and I know they all had to fight pretty hard for it. I took it for granted they wouldn’t get it.


    The second increase is being debated right now. I *pray* that it goes through as promised.

    Even with the increase, 9.50 CAD = 7.90 USD, equal to the median minimum wage among American states. I’ve been many times to Gatineau (technically not in Ontario but part of metro Ottawa). It’s incredibly expensive to live there, even in the summer time when the weather is pleasant. I’m sure I couldn’t survive as a single guy on the minimum wage in Ottawa… forgetting life as a single parent.

  3. Forest Simmons says:

    I hope every reader of this blog has read Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, “Nickel and Dimed,” on how she tried to get by on several minimum wage jobs. She failed (just as surely as Jack London failed in his analogous attempt ninety years earlier) despite occasionally resorting to her credit card and not having poor health or dependents to worry about.

    With regard to the word of wisdom, she explains that the only thing that kept many of her physically exhausted co-workers going was their self medication with nicotine and caffeine, the only drugs allowed in their mandatory UA’s.

    It’s easy for us to say that they would be better off physically and financially if they gave up smoking. But we need to give them some hope to fill the resulting vacuum in their lives.

  4. Joseph says:

    I’m probably stating the obvious when I point out that minimum wage earners working at North American Starbucks stores have it easy compared to South American workers who actually harvest the coffee beans. I remember an old hippie friend who loved beer but wouldn’t touch coffee. Not only was he against the excessive anxiety brought about by our caffienated society, he also often wore a shirt listing deaths in South America caused by the coffee industry (I’m sure a terribly outdated figure by now). The shirt then had a graphic that completely changed the meaning of “good to the last drop.”

  5. ignoramus says:

    so involuntary redistribution is wrong when it goes the other direction. so it’s not the involuntary aspect that is “unethical” but rather the direction? so as long as we force people to make the correct decision in the right direction…
    I’m beginning to understand.

  6. Forest Simmons says:

    “Involuntary redistribution” is a phrase worth examining.

    “Involuntary” implies that it is against the will of somebody.

    Is that somebody the owner of the stuff?

    Mormons believe that everything belongs to God and that he wants it to be distributed equitably, so the distribution in question is not against the will of the owner.

    For example D&C 104 says

    14 I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.
    • • •
    18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

    If the stuff is not distributed correctly according to the instructions of its owner, then a “redistribution” would be quite appropriate.

    Even non-believers with a sense of decency consider people who grab up the resources of the earth (from its abundance) and proclaim it to be their own property to be robbers in illegitimate possession of the stuff.

    Notice that verse 16 specifies the direction of redistribution currently necessary:

    16 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.

  7. Grégoire says:

    Involuntary redistribution… yeah.

    I paid child support for years. I paid for my kids’ braces. I pay my wife’s car payment. None of this benefits me. Life is all about me, right? Me, me, me?

    When I pay my daughter’s tuition am I a sucker? How about my nieces and nephews tuition? Fifty dollar cheques at Winter Holiday and Birthdays? I’m a chump, right? I’m like breaking God’s great commandment?

    Jesus said ‘lay not up for yourselves treasure here on earth, where moth and rust will corrupt it, and thieves come in and steal it’.

    The fact is that we all progress toward a more civilized life together and if I have a little extra I kick it around. There was a time, in my youth, when I was abandoned (by my Mormon family, come to think of it) and had absolutely nobody. But for a whole lotta strangers and the taxpayer I would have starved to death or died of exposure.

    All the people who I help now in personal ways are members of my greater family unit, but I feel it’s also logical to see every human being as a member of my extended family too. Shouldn’t we all work toward the common goal of a pleasant, peaceful world together? This woman who is in the video is as much my sister as any of my biological siblings are, certainly. Why should we not care about her?

  8. ignoramus says:

    K so we interpret things differently. God gives us stuff and we become stewards, then He’s eager to see how we handle it. He uses love and persuasion but I believe He won’t coerce us. That is how I interpret (am I allowed to interpret?) the War in Heaven. Satan was the first Paternalist.
    So if we are justified in using force and “authority” to redistribute the belongings that God gave someone else, who is allowed to lay claim to that authority? I suppose that is what happens when we vote in this democracy?
    Poor Gregoire was abandoned and people came to his rescue, through taxes. I’m sure a few of those people willingly paid those taxes too. God was impressed. Was God impressed by those who surely didn’t want to help out Gregoire but were forced? Did God pat himself on the back and think his children are wonderful cuz someone forced them to do what He commands them?
    There is much disagreement between how we see things (me and you and others on this blog). I don’t mind that, and I am learning much from your posts and your comments. As of yet I am unconvinced that the paternalistic tendency to force others to make the choices God would have us make is justified. That is how I interpret His word at this time with my limited understanding. perhaps someday discussions on this blog will change that…

  9. Grégoire says:

    Dear Ignoramus:

    I don’t want to speak for Forest but it seems like you’re misunderstanding us.

    The woman in this video works hard, most of the wealth she produces is siphoned off without her realizing it. Karl Marx called this surplus value. What you call ‘involuntary redistribution’ would in large measure just be returning the wealth that was stolen from hard-working people like the woman in the video.

    You seem to have free time to argue on the internet, in the same way that I have free time to do the same (and to write subversive literature, and otherwise goof off). What this implies is that you and I have *more* than this woman in the video does.

    Why do we have more than she? I can promise you I don’t work any harder than she does. I don’t produce any more or serve people any better. It’s just one of those inequities of capital.

    I think everyone (even the very wealthy) would have a better life if the working poor were elevated and had a minimal standard of reward for their labor. Complete economic equality is probably impossible, but helping those at the bottom of the ladder move up a few rungs wouldn’t be difficult and would make the world a much more pleasant place for everyone.

  10. Joseph says:

    Wow, this conversation has turned interesting. I’d like to chip in with my own interpretation of world history, which is not going to be anywhere near as nuanced as real political philosophers like Karl Marx.

    Ultimately I see two ways of dividing up the stuff we need to survive. There is the most primitive way: I’m bigger than you and stronger than you so I’ll take what I want. “Survival of the Fittest” so to speak. Social Darwinism, as opposed to the purely scientific theory of evolution and the development of life. In Mormon scripture, these ideas are set forth by Cain, the first murderer, and in the Book of Mormon, Korihor, the anti-Christ.

    Then there are those who realize that it’s a big scary world out there and no one can really make it alone. We’ll call this collectivist. Certainly the first practitioners we have records of that practiced the agriculture our society is dependent on were goddess-worshiping collectivists. In Mormon scripture, Enoch’s Zion practiced this, and the Book of Mormon makes it clear that the only time the Nephites prospered was when they had this type of society.

    But collectivist, agricultural societies do prosper, which became apparent to those still holding on to the “might makes right” principles. These individuals weren’t too keen on the sharing idea, but they liked the surplus. So they invaded the collectivist societies, which resulted in retaliation, and that’s where things get complex, and we need philosophers like Adam Smith, and yes, Karl Marx.

    Of course, neither of these types of societies or ways of dividing the earth’s goods have necessarily been perfect. “Survival of the fittest” ignores the need for symbiosis and ends up being very unstable and destructive. Collectivist societies can be very oppressive of individuals and suppress creativity, sometimes ending up being too stable.

    Returning to Mormon scripture, I would agree with ignoramus on the idea that God gave us stuff as stewards to test us. So now that we’ve had a few years of human history and Cain’s approach to things (learned from Satan, I could quote especially sacred scripture here from our most sacred places, but will refrain for the time being) has won out, how do we correct that balance? I don’t have any easy answers. Is it fair for the majority of Heavenly Father’s children to suffer environmental devastation, extreme poverty, death and destruction because of the actions and abuse of their stewardship by a few? Again, I don’t have any easy answers. I do know that an excessive devotion to capitalism, over-the-top paranoia about communism, and equating the traditions of men and their understanding of property with those of God have not helped the LDS people get any closer to the type of society described as the ideal society in the Book of Moses (Pearl of Great Price), the Book of Mormon, or the Doctrine and Covenants. In fact, those things were a cause of apostasy in the early days of the Church under Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

    Sorry for the length, but it does feel good to get this out.

    Back to the original post, my heart does go out to this single mother. And, while a piece of paper from a university has given me some buffer from that type of life, I still feel barely a step away from even worse conditions. Really, most of us are nearly there unless we learn to take care of each other!

    Joseph Owen

  11. Joseph says:

    Brief footnote:

    I suspect that ignoramus likely looks to the U.S. Constitution on property issues. It should be noted that Thomas Jefferson, who was a major influence on the property rights notions in the Bill of Rights, wrote to James Madison that huge tracts of land should be taken from wealthy land-owners to be given to the poor to give them a chance to farm. Thomas Paine, a great friend of nearly all the Founding Fathers, and the main motivator behind the American Revolution, believed that no one can own land, only the improvements made on land. He proposed a tax so progressive, no Democrat no matter how liberal would ever dare approach! So what was property to these people? I believe it was the right to feel safe in your own home, not necessarily promising that you can have as much as you want. Interestingly enough, as the market has become more “free,” individual citizens have become less safe in their homes due to giving the punishing arm of governments too much power after being terrified every night by the evening news.

    Oh, and in terms of the direction of the redistribution of wealth, most normal people feel at least some instinctual sympathy for those who would steal from the rich and give to the poor, but it takes a great deal of sophistry to justify stealing from the poor to give to the rich!

  12. Forest Simmons says:

    It seems to me that grabbing up stuff doesn’t make someone the rightful steward of the it, just because it is now in his possession.

    Furthermore, it seems to me that when a steward (even a bona fide one) resists actively or passively to the insistent demands of the actual owner of the stuff, amen to that stewardship of that steward. Gently get him out of the way of the workers!

    Mother serves a tuna casserole and green jello meal to a large family, but after the blessing the kid with the casserole dish in front of him proclaims it as his stewardship, and refuses to parcel it out except to those who will give him something else that he wants.

    Those sitting near the ends of the table have nothing in front of them to trade, but if they will sign a contract to shine his shoes, do his share of the chores, etc. then they can have some food, too.

  13. Grégoire says:

    Dear Joseph:

    Fascinating comments. Thanks!

    Ultimately I see two ways of dividing up the stuff we need to survive. There is the most primitive way: I’m bigger than you and stronger than you so I’ll take what I want. “Survival of the Fittest” so to speak. Social Darwinism, as opposed to the purely scientific theory of evolution and the development of life. In Mormon scripture, these ideas are set forth by Cain, the first murderer, and in the Book of Mormon, Korihor, the anti-Christ.

    The sad fact is that the ruling class in CAN/USA/MEX (that 1 percent of the population which owns 95+% of all North American wealth) is neither stronger, bigger nor in any way “better”. They haven’t managed the economy efficiently or even marginally effectively. They haven’t provided any answers to the ecological disasters that are going on in the tropics, the arctic or anywhere inbetween. They’ve done absolutely nothing and still expect the rest of us to carry them on our backs.

    A few years ago I read a funny book about these people by a Canadian journalist who got himself thrown out of Bohemian Grove. If you don’t know what Bohemian Grove is, it’s a huge campground in Northern California where these rich layabouts gather once a year for a long vacation of drunkenness and debauchery.

    It seems to serve the same purpose as the ridiculous Satanic frat house which George W Bush, George H W Bush and John Kerry have membership in at Yale University. These guys go there and do a bunch of hocus-pocus, worship their spookshow (and in my opinion nonexistent) devil, play drinking games, indulge in sex orgies and otherwise pat themselves on the back for their greatest *accomplishments*, which seem to be limited largely to inheriting their grandfathers’ fortunes.

    Guests, like the aforementioned author, are invited to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers. These invited guests are largely media personalities, journalists and celebrities who the ruling class ingratiates in return for not blowing the whistle on how ridiculous they all truly are.

    This laughable idiocy would be perfectly understandable coming from teenage college students who are immature and fascinated by pranks and drinking games. In contrast, it’s horrifying to realize that such a pathetic gaggle of superstitious layabouts are actually in charge of our society. It explains the mess we’re all in right now.

    What do these people produce? What have they contributed to our society? The answer, of course, is nothing. Putting down-to-earth workers and farmers (like the pseudo-anonymous woman in the video) in charge of our central banks and government would be infinitely more farsighted than leaving all this in the hands of these chuckleheads who control it now.

    Thomas Paine, a great friend of nearly all the Founding Fathers, and the main motivator behind the American Revolution, believed that no one can own land, only the improvements made on land.

    That sounds a little like what Benito Juarez had in mind for Mexico. Mexico’s collective property ideals have been largely dismantled since NAFTA, but they did serve a good purpose at one time.

    Interesting to note that Canada’s forests and fisheries have been largely privatized, as have Mexico’s and soon the wealthy will privatize the drinking water supply, putting these on par with any other third-world country. The U.S. will be next on the chopping block, most likely, unless something changes.

  14. Grégoire says:


    That is the perfect analogy.

    When I was a very young kid I lived in Salt Lake City for a couple of years and used to go to the socialist meetings at the Pathfinder Books. The more I talked to religious Mormons and learned about Mormon history, the more I realized that we (socialists and Mormons) were using a different language to evoke the same collective memory.

    There is much that can be criticized about Mormon culture, and there is also a lot to praise about it. The cotton collective in St. George and the American kolkhoz in Orderville were experiments we can all be very proud of. Today there’s a wheat pool in Southern Alberta which was started by both Mormons and Anabaptists to protect the small farms.

    Most of the problems of modernity are simply problems of attitude and consciousness. We see the inequities of capital as unbreakable and eternal. In fact, capital has just collapsed because of its own internal contradictions. It’s only socialist economic policy which is saving it now for the next generation of capitalists. I think it’s time for us to agree with George W Bush and extend his nationalization policy for banks to the entire Fortune 500, making it a permanent part of our social structure. It wouldn’t solve all our problems, but it might give everyone a bit more tuna casserole.

    Best, G

  15. J. Madson says:


    do you have a source on the jefferson and paine quotes?

  16. Grégoire says:

    Dear J.:

    Re: Paine…



    Purpose – The aim of this paper is to outline and compare the land ownership, land taxes and citizens’ dividend proposals by Thomas Paine and Thomas Spence.

    Design/methodology/approach – Paine wrote “Agrarian justice” in which he argued that every proprietor of cultivated land owes to the society a ground-rent for the land which the person holds because it is common property. This ground rent would take the form of a tax per year of 10 per cent on inheritances. It is this ground-rent that would fund the payments made to every person based on some age restrictions. In response, Spence wrote “The rights of infants” in which he went a step further as he recommended the abolition of aristocracy. As a result, there would have been common ownership of land and revenue derived from land would be administered by the parishes and distributed to everyone equally.

    Findings – In assessing the two proposals using the citizens’ dividend criterion, each proposal has consistent and inconsistent elements.

    Practical implications – It can be argued that the two proposals are primitive versions of citizens’ dividend as espoused today.

    Originality/value – The paper contributes to knowledge regarding the debate at the time. During that period, public opinion associated classical political economy with a resolute denial of the right to subsistence to the poor and vigorous opposition to the English Poor Law based on the ideas of Malthus. Students of social economics would benefit from this paper in placing on equal footnoting in the historical debate the counter-proposals to the dominant position at the time.

    This is a twenty dollar article and I think I might buy it when I’m in a more secure location (I’m behind a couple of proxies here). I don’t want to answer for Joseph but thought this was an interesting find.

    Re: Jefferson…


    “It is a moot question whether the origin of any kind of property is derived from nature at all… It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land, for instance. By an universal law, indeed, whatever, whether fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and in common is the property for the moment of him who occupies it; but when he relinquishes the occupation, the property goes with it. Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society.” –Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson, 1813. ME 13:333

    I don’t know nearly enough about this sort of thing, but one author I do love is Bernard Bailyn. I think I’ve read all his published works at this point and he touched on these sorts of agrarian reform movements in colonial North America. I’ll try and dig around in his books for some specifics.

    Anyway, I hope this is helpful.

  17. Joseph says:

    J. Madsen,

    Gregoire has the right Thomas Paine citation. At any rate, any Paine collection worth anything has his essay Agrarian Justice, plus the author’s preface, which is short but biting. Libertarians who otherwise worship at the altar of Thomas Paine seem to prefer to ignore that essay!

    I’ll have to do some more research on the Jefferson quote. I remember it being a letter from Jefferson to James Madison, and I read it in the Heath Anthology of American Literature v. 1, but I’ll have to see if I can dig up the edition and page numbers.


  18. Joseph says:

    Looks like I won’t have to dig out my Heath after all. Here’s a link to at least one such letter:


    I hope this is helpful.

  19. J. Madson says:

    thanks for the citations. Sounds like a form of usufruct property. I find it interesting that Isaiah and the people of Israel, who were forbidden to buy and sale land, foresaw the day when a curse would come and houses and lots would be joined, ie the accumulation of land in the hands of few.

  20. thegods@arebad.com says:

    Much like the other prophets Mohhamed (polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny) and Jesus (forgiveness/savior), the gods use me for temptation as well. In today’s modern society they feel people are most weak for popular culture/sensationalism, and the clues date back to WorldWarII and Unit731:TSUSHOGO, the Chinese Holocaust. They used this Situation to bury Japanese atrocities.
    It has been discussed that, similar to the Matrix concept, the gods will offer a REAL “Second Coming of Christ”, while the “fake” Second Coming will come at the end and follow New Testiment scripture and their xtian positioning. I may be that real Second Coming.
    What I teach is the god’s true way. It is what is expected of people, and only those who follow this truth will be eligible to ascend into heaven as children in a future life. They offered this event because the masses have just enough time to work on and fix their relationship with the gods and ascend, to move and grow past Planet Earth, before the obligatory xtian “consolation prize” of “1000 years with Jesus on Earth” begins.

    The Prince of Darkness, battling the gods over the souls of the Damned.
    It is the gods who have created this environment and led people into Damnation with temptation. The god’s positioning proves they work to prevent people’s understanding.
    How often is xtian dogma wrong? Expect it is about the Lucifer issue as well.
    The fallen god, fighting for justice for the disfavored, banished to Earth as the fallen angel?
    I believe much as the Noah’s Flood event, the end of the world will be initiated by revelry among the people. It will be positioned to be sanctioned by the gods and led for “1000 years with Jesus on Earth”.
    In light of modern developments this can entail many pleasures:::Medicine “cures” aging, the “manufacture” of incredible beauty via cloning as sex slaves, free (synthetic) cocaine, etc.
    Somewhere during the 1000 years the party will start to “die off”, literally. Only those who maintain chaste, pure lifestyles, resisting these temptations, will survive the 1000 years. Condemned to experience another epoch of planet’s history for their ignorant pursuit of xtianity, they will be the candidates used to (re)colonize (the next) Planet Earth, condemned to relive the misery experienced by the peasantry during history due to their failure to ascend into heaven before the Apocalypse.
    Never forget:::It is not a house of Jesus.
    If this concept of Lucifer is true another role of this individual may be to initiate disfavor and temptation among this new poulation, the proverbial “apple” of this Garden of Eden. A crucial figure in the history of any planet, he begins the process of deterioration and decay that leads civilizations to where Planet Earth remains today.
    Which one is it?:
    One transitions into the other, allowing the gods to wash their hands of obligation to their Chosen One. My personal “consolation prize”.
    And since the gods never committed despite tens of billions in mass media, product development and natural disasters/tragedy they will employ the freedom they positioned into the Situation and CHEAT me out of everything.
    For those who would listen I was used to assist people to rapidly increase their understanding of this system. Unfortunate for me, the gods can claim they never intended this, abjectly disfavored/evil individuals learning and perhaps changing, despite being control freaks who guide everything specifically and have the power to force it with AI, and now they are free to fuck my brains out subsequently. Lucky me.

    Consistant with “reverse positioning” understand the REAL Second Coming would equate with The Matrix’s Anti-Christ, the fake battle of good and evil which will come at the end.
    I have spoken on this issue in years past. Understanding how they use the political encviornment to redefine people’s value system, realize anyone who speaks of the old world and its ways will envoke hatred. So when/if the Anti-Christ comes along speaking of reverting back to what liberalism would consider repressed and immoral it may be the only hope to salvage the god’s favor and keep moving forward rather than begin the 1000 year clock. The fake Second Coming will feed into this political environment.

    There is nothing “peace love dope” about the gods. xtianity does people a grave disservice conditioning them to think this way.

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