The Rich and the Poor

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Today, I read in the Doctrine and Covenants about class envy and class pride. At least, that’s how interpret it. If any of you have another interpretation, let me know! In the passage, Christ rebukes many of the Saints for how they handle money. He says:

Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved!

In this passage, Christ warns the rich: you must take care of the poor. It is an obligation. It is a duty. Christ warns that those who have abundance but who do not share it with those in need risk their salvation. That’s bold. It reminds me of the prophet Jacob’s warning to the Nephites:

And now behold, my brethren, this is the word which I declare unto you, that many of you have begun to search for gold, and for silver, and for all manner of precious ores, in the which this land, which is a land of promise unto you and to your seed, doth abound most plentifully. And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.

And now, my brethren, do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. But he condemneth you, and if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you. O that he would show you that he can pierce you, and with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust! O that he would rid you from this iniquity and abomination. And, O that ye would listen unto the word of his commands, and let not this pride of your hearts destroy your souls!

Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.

And now, my brethren, I have spoken unto you concerning pride; and those of you which have afflicted your neighbor, and persecuted him because ye were proud in your hearts, of the things which God hath given you, what say ye of it? Do ye not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other. And all flesh is of the dust; and for the selfsame end hath he created them, that they should keep his commandments and glorify him forever.

This is important: wealth doesn’t measure worth. The poor are just as valuable to God as the wealthy. A rich man who judges the poor, the homeless, the needy as being lazy, or as being unworthy of help or assistance, is committing a crime against both God and man. King Benjamin explains,

And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

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, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? 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? Nay; he has poured out hisSpirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy. And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

And 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, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.  I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.

Both Jacob and King Benjamin have pretty stern words to say to the wealthy who do not impart freely of their abundance to those in need. We must never be callous towards those in need.

My personal opinion: I think a righteous response to abundance is not increase one’s lifestyle, but to increase one’s services to others. In other words, I don’t admire wealthy men who buy pleasure boats, private jets, mansion homes, fancy cars, or monthly vacations to a tropical paradise. I admire wealthy men who barely upgrade their lifestyle at all—who’s neighbors might not even know that he was wealthy—but who set aside money for a rainy day, their children’s education, etc., and then find ways to put their money to use serving those in need. That is who I admire.

I don’t ever want to have to face a man in the afterlife who went hungry because I wanted larger flat screen TV.

But the story’s not over. Christ also gives a strict warning to the poor. He says:

Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!

That’s a bold warning! He’s warning us that we should not covet the abundance of wealth. George Albert Smith (former president of the Church) said,

I hope we are not going to become bitter because some men and women are well-to-do. If we are well-to-do, I hope we are not going to be self-centered and unconscious of the needs of our Father’s other children. If we are better off than they are, we ought to be real brothers and sisters, not make-believe. Our desires should be to develop in this world such an organization that others, seeing our good works would be constrained to glorify the name of our Heavenly Father. …

We must not fall into the bad habits of other people. We must not get into the frame of mind that we will take what the other man has. Refer back to the ten commandments, and you will find one short paragraph, “Thou shalt not covet.” [Exodus 20:17.] … We must not get into that frame of mind. Others may do that, but if we have the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ in our hearts, we will not be deceived in that regard.

This seems pretty clear and direct. We are not to try to take the abundance of those who are wealthy. In other words, they are commandment to give of their abundance, but we are forbidden to take it from them unless they give of it. It is their discretion to give, not ours to take. I think the key here is that the rich are commanded to give to the poor, but the poor are not entitled to the abundance of the wealthy. It is the feeling of entitlement that is at issue here. George Albert Smith continued:

Our Heavenly Father … said long, long ago there were idlers in Zion, … and he said, “He that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.” [D&C 42:42.] I am assuming that he did not mean those who cannot find employment, and who are legitimately trying to take care of themselves. I am assuming that he referred to the habit some people get into of leaning upon their neighbor. … I feel that there has been no justification given to any man in this world to feel that he can depend on somebody else to provide him a livelihood. I did not feel when I was a child that somebody would be compelled to provide me a means of living. The Lord gave me intelligence. He directed that I should work, and I began to work when I was twelve years of age, and I found joy in it, and have earned my living and helped others during more than fifty years.

No one is entitled to a living off the labors of others. No one is entitled to a job. No one is entitled to a middle-class lifestyle. The rich are commanded to give, but that does not mean we are entitled. There is a big difference.

The burning question in my mind: how does this translate into the realm of politics? Is it possible to institutionalize—or coerce—charitable giving by the rich, without simultaneously institutionalizing a feeling of entitlement among the poor? It seems to me, at least, that the use of coercion to these ends inherently leads to a feeling of entitlement.

Consider: we use coercion to defend our lives. Do we not all feel entitled to life? We use coercion to defend our property from theft. Do we not all feel entitled to the use of our property? Lately, we’ve been using coercion to fund education—and are we not, more and more, feeling entitled to an education?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it does seem to me that we have an abundance of both sins in our society: (1) the sin of not giving of our abundance, and (2) the sin of coveting those who are wealthy, and seeking to lay hold upon their wealth. I don’t know how this translates into politics, but I think it’s worth pointing out that both are sins.


  1. I agree. I believe that blessings are attached with giving to others. When a person chooses of their own free will to give to someone else they are blessed because they gave. The receiver is blessed because they know that person who gave really cares about them. When someone is forced to give, I think they lose much of the blessing. They may come to resent having to give. The receiver doesn’t feel the love of the giver. The receiver begins to feel entitled to receive. If the giver talks about not wanting to give and not having to give, the receiver begins to resent the giver. The love that comes when one person gives to another is lost. Although giving of one’s abundance is a commandment, being forced to give will remove the blessings that come from keeping the commandment. Thank you for sharing this post. It truly is something to think about.

  2. What about facing the man who lost his job because you didn’t buy the new flat screen TV? We increasingly live in an automated, industrialized world where it only takes a fraction of the population to produce the “necessities” of life like food, clothing, shelter and energy. The rest make their livings producing luxury goods and services for others.

    When you buy new electronics you may benefit by having a new TV but you also put money in the pockets of the college kid working at the store counter, the father driving the delivery truck and the laborers assembling the unit.

    When you go out for an unnecessarily fancy meal you may benefit from the good food but you are also helping to pay the wages of the kid waiting tables and the new chef who really needs his job.

    When you buy a private jet or boat you are providing an opportunity for hundreds of skilled workers to hone their craft and hundreds of new workers to gain valuable skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

    Obviously it is important to set aside time and money for helping the poor who can’t help themselves. But I think it’s equally important to remember that the modern working man is just as dependent on the good will of his customers as the beggar is on the good will of the stranger. When no one wants to buy the labor of the laborer he soon becomes a beggar. So when we make reasonable luxury purchases I think we can feel good about providing others with the opportunity to work, earn and develop.

    The trick is figuring out what counts as a reasonable luxury purchase and maintaining the proper balance between helping the helpless and engaging in mutually beneficial trade. Too little charity and people go hungry. Too little trade and people start losing their jobs. There are dozens of shades of gray between “self-sufficient worker” and “completely dependent charity case” and all of them need their own brand of charity and cooperation.

  3. JSG, makes a valid point. If trade is mutually beneficial (it is), than my win is your win, my profit is your profit, my blessings are your blessings. I would be interested in Jeffrey Thayne exploring this considering his post (which was very good and a very good reminder).

  4. He has a valid point. I want to do more reading on the subject, because his points seems like it may be connected to the idea that national prosperity hinges on consumer activity. I’ve read in the past about different metrics to measure a nation’s prosperity—some metrics measure production of goods and services, others measure consumption of goods and services.

    I get uncomfortable with the idea that we need to support the economy by spending. I don’t think an economy should be endangered if more people engage in thrift. If our economy is endangered by thrift, my current sensibilities respond by saying that the economy has a shaky foundation.

    I don’t think there is any obligation to engage in luxury commerce simply because one has the resources to do so. I think thrift is a virtue, even for the wealthy. So I acknowledge JSG’s point, but I want to read some more into the subject.

  5. Sans government interference, economies are very dynamic. Typewriter’s were replaced by computers. Should we have felt compelled to continue using typewriters so that typewriter repairmen wouldn’t lose income? Or stage-coach repairmen? Or, on and on. “Creative destruction” Joseph Schumpeter called it (more like destructive creation). It’s interesting to think about. Maybe “no poor among them” is relative, meaning there are no poor because everyone is poor (by today’s standards) yet their needs are met and they have an abundance of joy.

  6. That’s what I wonder. Hypothetically, if rich people stopped buying big screen tvs, and started buying water filters for thirsty nations instead, would not the increase in new demand signal a transfer of labor and talent to a new market? I mean, does a tv-maker starve because society shifts its values?

    I wonder, there are many, many billion dollar markets which feed many, many families wich would cease to exist in a Zion society. The porn industry, much of Hollywood, much of TV, would cease to exist (I don’t think people will spend 80 hours a day in front of the TV in Zion). Are we wronging those in the industry by ceasing to give them business?

    So while I recognize JSG’s comments are food for thought, I do wonder how well it reflects the reality of the situation.

  7. The other thing to consider, is that as society makes economic progress (via more freedom and less statism, the only way), productivity is enhanced via technological innovation (funded by luxury spending), one is able to spend less time on labor and more on leisure… In time, technology will provide us with all of our needs, and we can spend our time helping the poor directly.

    Bill Gates doesn’t need to give all of his excess to the poor, but right now he’s spending his time on humanitarian efforts and his wealth gives him that privilege.

  8. I’ve thought about that too. Here’s the challenge: I’ve long believed that expenditures are an expression of value. If you want to know what a man values, his expenditures might lend valuable clues. By buying something, you are saying, “I value [product bought] to that extent.”

    Let’s imagine a society that has fully automated food, clothing, and housing production worldwide. Everybody has their basic needs met, and almost all labor is expended on the next tier of goods and services (luxury goods). How, in that case, can the wealthy express thrift? How, in that case, can anyone express values in terms of their expenditures?

  9. One possibility: for me, a big screen TV is a week’s worth of labor. For me to buy a big-screen TV, I’m saying, “I value this TV at a weeks worth of labor.”

    For someone else, it may be a half an hour’s worth of labor. So for them, they can make that purchase without attaching nearly so much value to it as I do.

    *But*—what if value is expressed in other terms? What if, for example, I value things in terms of their equivalence in other life-sustaining goods? If that’s the case, then *both* I and the rich man would value the TV as much as 1000 loaves of bread, or something.

    Anyways, it’s a ponderous issue with many potential answers.

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