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The Brethren on Entitlement

It ?s increasingly evident that national healthcare will loom large in the upcoming presidential election. The leading democrat candidates have come out with their proposals for the creation of a new health care entitlement using the government operated, single payer model. On the right, Mitt Romney has put forth a mostly private market model for achieving the same goal.

The three big entitlement programs already in existence, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, at present consume about half of the entire federal budget. The future unfunded liabilities of these programs are huge. Demographics tell us that somewhere between 2015 ?2020, taxes will have to be raised radically above fifty percent of someone ?s income in order to pay for these entitlements. I firmly believe that such heavy future burdens on our children and/or grandchildren make it vital that we strive to heed the instruction from the Savior in this regard:

And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them. (D&C 98:4)

That said, before we vote to add another government entitlement, I ?d like to use the bulk of this column quoting what modern day prophets, seers, and revelators have counseled us regarding government entitlement and welfare programs. What follows are the best and most definitive statements I could find from the General Conference pulpit, general authority authored books, as well as church magazine articles and statements. What I enjoy most about reading what the brethren say on political themes is how they usually explain the principle behind the position ?

The uncertainty of the leadership of men of the world in this day is evidenced by the fact that we have many changing programs that fluctuate between poles of the greatest of uncertainty. We hear much about “the abundant life,” and “social security,” and there are some I fear who are believers in the thought that these goals will come from the working out of the philosophies of men.

Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, October 1941, p.111

Secularism also produced an artificial sense of security. A good example of this is what has happened to our Social Security system in America. Principles gave way to political promises, and the secular theology with its cast your care upon Social Security ? has now exposed its hollowness like the billboard outside Chicago ten years ago that read, Borrow enough from us to get completely out of debt. ? Sad as it is to say it, the hard choices ahead for the nation regarding our Social Security system could pit the young against the old and the middle class against the poor. The system is scarcely social ? in such a setting; likewise, the financial unsoundness of the system scarcely deserves the word Security. What we have is thus neither social nor security. Ahead of us are additional days of reckoning besides the one noted many times in the Bible.

Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, October 1978; The Prohibitive Costs of a Value-free Society ?

?giving something for nothing is contrary to the fundamental teachings of the Church. The real purpose of the Church Security Plan is to assist each individual to secure independence to help make him self-supporting, to replace idleness with thrift and productivity. Here again Jesus’ teachings are applicable. His plan was to make the individual right, and then the group of many such individuals, or society, will be right.

James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.6, p.40

Let us as Latter-day Saints stand on our own feet. Let us not be inclined to run to a paternalistic government for help when every problem arises, but to attack our problems jointly, and through effective cooperative effort, solve our problems at home.

To me one of the greatest bulwarks we have in this country against all the foreign isms, “crackpot” theories, and the unsound social reforms is the people ?

Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, October 1945, p.163-164

Now, in view of the eminent leadership position American industry has attained in the world, how is it that in recent years moves have been made that ultimately will practically destroy our free-enterprise system and end in socialism or statism or a welfare state (take your choice of terms)–moves that are substituting highly inflationary financial policies for the time-honored soundness of the past and moves tending to create the feeling that the government offers the best social security available ?

Joseph F. Merrill, Conference Report, April 1950, p.61

?in addition to direct debt, the government has piled up huge unfunded liabilities and commitments for future spending that total more than the [national] debt itself. Two years ago, as Budget Director, Stans [an economist he ?d been quoting] compiled a list of these obligations maturing in the future ?and it came to about $450 billion. Added to the current debt at close to $300 billion, our total commitments now reach the almost incredible total of $750 billion, or three-quarters of a trillion dollars. And even this stratospheric amount does not include another $250 or $300 billion we will need to collect in future tax increases to make good on our present promises under the social security system.

Government costs are booming because not enough people have been willing to say ‘No’ to government. On the other hand, spending pressure groups of all kinds have been steadily and successfully entreating Congress to provide a wide assortment of aids and handouts.

Ezra Taft Benson, BYU Speeches, February 28, 1962, p.5

(This is especially prescient and relevant when one looks at the unfunded liability number today, which ranges between 5-7 trillion dollars.)

The spirit of the American government must be restored. Man must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, then the old time patriotism will again be in the hearts of men.

The real test of the strength of civilization is in the moral capacity of the rank and file of the citizens to give up the pleasures of the present for greater rewards in the future. This quality is the foundation of both moral and spiritual character. The social security of a nation is based on the character of the citizens, not on the amount of material comforts the government may bestow upon them. Hard work and sacrifice make men strong. Ease and gifts from any source are destructive to efficiency, character, and citizenship. Social security is in the character of the citizens and hence must come from within. Social security can not be bestowed from without.

Levi Edgar Young, Conference Report, October 1936, p.67-68

For those who may still be in doubt as to what the brethren have instructed us, here are the basics of a plan offered from the general Conference pulpit on eliminating entitlement programs:

How is it possible to cut out the various welfare-state features of our government that have already fastened themselves like cancer cells onto the body politic? Can drastic surgery be performed without endangering the patient? Drastic measures are called for. No compromise actions will suffice. Like all surgery, it will not be without discomfort and perhaps even some scar tissue for a long time to come. But it must be done if the patient is to be saved and it can be done without undue risk.

Not all welfare-state programs currently in force can be dropped simultaneously without causing tremendous economic and social upheaval. The first step toward restoring the limited concept of government should be to freeze all welfare-state programs at their present levels, making sure that no new ones are added. The next step would be to allow all present programs to run out their term with absolutely no renewal. The third step would involve the gradual phasing-out of those programs which are indefinite in their term. The bulk of the transition could be accomplished, I believe, within a ten-year period and virtually completed within 20 years.

Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, October 1968, p.21

Just think if President (then Elder) Benson ?s prophetic counsel had been implemented. The various evils spoken of or prophesied by the preceding general authorities would have either ceased to exist or would have been greatly reduced by 1998. Note also how Elder Maxwell posits that our inattention to the unconstitutionality of entitlements is bringing additional trials upon us: Ahead of us are additional days of reckoning besides the one noted many times in the Bible. ?

I don ?t believe there is much debate to be had as to whether or not we, as Latter-day Saints, should be supporting big government entitlements. I also realize that there are many who would disagree with that statement and have justified their support of these programs using Christian charity as the grounds. To those members all I can do is quote Ezra Taft Benson on why the two are not equivalent:

When you accept food stamps, you accept an unearned handout that other working people are paying for. You do not earn food stamps or welfare payments. Every individual who accepts an unearned government gratuity is just as culpable as the individual who takes a handout from taxpayers money to pay his heat, electricity, or rent. There is no difference in principle between them ? You came here to be a light to the world, a light to society to save society and to help to save this nation, the Lord’s base of operations in these last days ?You are not here to be a parasite or freeloader. The price you pay for “something for nothing” may be more than you can afford. Do not rationalize your acceptance of government gratuities by saying, “I am a contributing taxpayer too.” By doing this you contribute to the problem which is leading this nation to financial insolvency.

Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.262

I hope and pray that despite any differences we may have at present that we can strive to align ourselves with the prophets and resolve those differences in order to line up behind the right vote. We can work it out ?I know we can. And when we do, we will go forth with the confidence that comes from doing what brother Joseph observed:

Joseph used to say, “When you get the Latter-day Saints to agree on any point, you may know it is the voice of God.”

Discourses of Brigham Young, 12:301, p.469

Once that is accomplished, let us use our influence as President John Taylor counseled:

Let us stick to our covenants, and get as near to correct principles as we can, and God will help us. We want to be united in other things as well–in our elections, for instance, we should act as a unit. Other men are not ashamed to use their influence and operate in behalf of their party; why should we? As American citizens, have we not the same right? Yes, we have. Then let us be one and operate as one, for God and his kingdom.

John Taylor, September 22, 1878, Journal of Discourses, Vol.20, p.59 – p.60

Every good thing ?

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • facethemusic September 24, 2007, 8:52 am

    Wow… it’s so common in the church for members to try and be “soft-spoken” and “gentle” in their approach- worrying about offending in being blunt and forthright. Funny how prophets don’t seem to have the same concern! I can imagine many members becoming very defensive when hearing or reading such direct and pointed counsel. Personally, I prefer it that way. I like being taught in direct, clear and concise terms.
    I’m not sure which came first- entitlements or families absolving and abdicating their responsibility for taking care of each other–or maybe it started happening at the same time, but somewhere along the line, family stopped taking care of family. That doesn’t mean EVERYONE of course, but it does seem that for the most part, families aren’t taking care of each other the way they used to.
    Why SHOULD the government be paying for grandma’s medication when she has 5 children and 14 grown grandchildren? If she doesn’t have the money to pay for it, then why aren’t her posterity coming together to do it, rather than automatically handing that responsibility over to the government? I’m sure there ARE situations where family still wouldn’t have the means to provide for their elders, or at least not entirely. But honestly, I think these programs have become so entrenched into our society that people don’t even think about it. I know I didn’t until just a few years ago and I’m 39. It’s just become the natural progression of things. When our parents or grandparents get to the point that they can’t provide all the necessitites they get on Medicaid and Medicare. Do we even consider that it’s OUR respsonsibility and not the government’s?
    If grandma has $500 a month in medication, that could be covered just by family members giving up their cable TV. But are we willing to do that? Or do we feel so “entitled” to that too, that we wouldn’t be willing to give it up in order to help pay for grandma’s medicine? Again, I don’t think it’s a conscience thing. I honestly think that people don’t even THINK about it because it’s not usually put to them that way. So even within the church, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are just automatically thought of as the source for providing for our older family members.
    It’s alot to think about!

  • Alison Moore Smith September 24, 2007, 9:17 am

    I think a great deal of the CURRENT entitlement mentality comes from the fact that such a huge percentage of income is taken away. How much do we pay for Medicare every month? Some might figure that that “contribution” more than pays for Grandma’s meds.

  • facethemusic September 24, 2007, 9:20 am

    Uncanny timing–
    It wasn’t five minutes after I posted my last comment that I went into the living-room and started folding laundry with the TV on.
    A commercial come on for a law firm that handles Social Security suits — it zoomed in on a letter from a senior citizen writing that he felt like less of a man for depending on a government handout through Social Security. Then a voice came on and said “Social Security is NOT a handout. It’s like an insurance policy. The FICA taxes taken out of your paycheck are your premium. Thinking that Social Security is a handout is like thinking it’s a handout when you’ve been in a car accident and your auto insurance covers your costs.”
    How would you respond to that, Michael? Could you explain what the differences are so that someone like myself, who really isn’t very knowledgeable about this stuff could understand?

  • mlinford September 24, 2007, 12:22 pm

    I, too, would be interested in knowing your response to Tracy’s question.

  • mlinford September 24, 2007, 12:35 pm

    I also have to say that I’m a passionate prophet follower, but seeing as we haven’t heard anything in our lifetime (at least not as adults) about this topic, I’m hesitant to jump on the bandwagon that ‘this is what our prophets want us to do.’ I fully respect what Michael is saying, and I do think there are MANY problems with the way our government is run, and I think there is a lot of good in the quotes that he shared, and I respect anyone who takes those quotes as their personal marching orders, but I can’t help but think of something Elder Oaks said:

    “Following the prophet is a great strength, but it needs to be consistent and current…. Under that principle, the most important difference between dead prophets and living ones is that those who are dead are not here to receive and declare the Lord ?s latest words to his people.”

    I don’t see teachings here that are consistent into the present (or even in most of our lifetimes!), current for us, taught by our living leaders. As such, I don’t feel comfortable agreeing that this is what the prophets are teaching us that we all should do. That’s simply not true. Don’t misunderstand me; there have clearly been teachings on this topic that I think are worth considering (although many of those quotes seem to me to be more about personally not relying on the government for your future plans as opposed to actually fighting such government plans) but I think there is a difference between past teachings and what our actual, specific marching orders are now. I fully believe that the Spirit could move someone (an individual) to respond to these quotes, and like I said, I think there are serious problems in the government that need attention and action. I am glad to have these quotes to ponder. But I think we need to be careful about putting current words into the prophets’ mouth for everyone and holding to the idea that these old quotes are enough to suggest that this is a ‘should‘ for all members now. Again, this is not to say that these ideas are really worth considering, though. I just don’t think we can say that there is “no question” what we should do. I can’t jump on that bandwagon without more specific and ‘consistent and current’ counsel on this topic.

  • Michael Snider September 24, 2007, 2:47 pm

    THE EASILY OFFENDED: Facethemusic – I feel the same way you do about tiptoeing around the easily offended. I would rather type fewer characters and get right to the point. As anyone who has worked in church leadership knows, one of the most time-taking parts of Stake callings are the going-out-of-one’s-way to avoid offending people. this of course does not mean that that one should be curt or short with people either.

    The funny thing about it is that being offended (whether easily or not), by others’ words is such a time-taking task that really does nothing to the offender; I fail to understand why folks engage in it.

  • Michael Snider September 24, 2007, 3:05 pm

    SOCIAL SECURITY – NOT INSURANCE: The principle reason SS is not insurance is because the funds contributed to it do not go toward future payouts but are immediately spent. Insurance works as follows: Insurance companies invest in stocks, bonds, precious metals, etc. in order to wind up with more money than was put in. From that increase, future payouts are disbursed. The amount put in and the amount owed are all agreed upon in advance so both the insurer and the insured know what is to expect and is expected over the life of the contract.
    Not only are FICA funds used for other purposes, but Social Security’s tax rates and benefits are not set, but changed on political whims by elected officials. While it is true that one pays into it and because of that fact, has a reasonable right to expect payout, it is not any kind of insurance principle that the terms of a policy get to be changed by the vote of others so that favored classes get benefits added, cut (or expanded to other parties.)
    Social Security is really nothing more than a big pool of money politicians use to buy votes. The really immoral thing about it is that there won’t be any of that pot of money left for our children and grandchildren to electorally “fight over.” (well, not unless they are willing to pay heavenly father his 10% first, then pay the state they live in what it wants, and then pay the federal government over 50% of their income. I know mine won’t. I’m not raising my girls to be that stupid.)

  • mlinford September 24, 2007, 3:37 pm

    BTW, Michael, for something like this, I have found something really interesting. I find that your explanations as above are a lot more effective than lining up old quotes. The latter is interesting, like I said before, but for someone like me who is politically challenged to some degree, understanding more of the nuts and bolts of WHY these programs are problematic is much more helpful. FWIW.

    Again, it’s not that I don’t appreciate hearing what some leaders once said, but I’d much rather understand more the why of things like this.

  • Michael Snider September 24, 2007, 3:48 pm

    Follow the Prophet: I guess if teachings by prophets in just the last 50 years on self-reliance, the danger of debt, unearned rewards, and living by principles vs. political promises are not “consistent into the present,” then I guess you and I have radically different ideas of consistency.

    re: the Oaks quote – If anything I cited were in conflict with what current prophets have said, then the words you cited would make more sense in this context. But in light of the fact that no prophet has ever stated that government entitlements are a good idea (I’d even take something that vaguely hits close to that in order to give you the benefit of the doubt,) I don’t think we can just write off their instruction and counsel as optional.

  • Michael Snider September 24, 2007, 4:06 pm

    Facts vs. Old Quotes: For every person who doesn’t care to refer to the modern-day general conference body of quotes from 1850-present and prefers to study issues from a more factual point of view, there is another who prefers to study what the brethren have said (if anything) on a given subject first, and then go on to the facts and history. I like to do both, but it depends on the issue as to which order I follow. For a column, sometimes there is only time to take one approach, sometimes there’s time/space to do both.
    For those interested in both as I am, I recommend they read my book “Our Title of Liberty, Latter Day Politics for Latter-day Saints.” The thesis of the book is the intersection between politics and religion for LDS and I cover both sides…

  • mlinford September 24, 2007, 8:59 pm

    Hm. I don’t think I explained myself very well. Michael, I don’t disagree with you on the principles of self-reliance, etc. Of course these are true and present and consistent principles. But I guess I hear it more as our leaders teaching us how to live our lives as members of the Church, not necessarily telling us how to vote (except in rare situations like gay marriage). I’m not arguing against the principles AT ALL. I just think we need to be careful about holding up prophetic quotes as support for a particular political approach, a specific way to vote. That was really all I was saying. Does that make sense? I can’t emphasize enough that I think the govt is messed up, that welfare is a disaster, etc. I quibble with a list of quotes and then the assertion that therefore this is how we should vote. I think it goes beyond what the prophets will do. If they won’t tell us how we ‘should vote’ can we really tell each other? It just goes a step too far for my comfort level, even if I agree with the principles you are discussing!!

    Again, please try to separate out what I’m trying to say. I appreciate discussions like this, because I struggle to absorb all that goes on politically. I appreciate understanding the connection between different elements of government and the gospel principles we believe in, and I think welfare is a good example of one of these things where there is relevant crossover. But because I don’t hear our leaders pointing out specific ways to phase out welfare, or telling us how to vote on these issues in a specific way, I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to do that, either.

    I still am afraid i am not coming across well. Do not doubt the fact that I desire to align myself with what the prophets teach, and I know and agree with how they feel about self-reliance, etc. I basically agree with everything you have said, just not the ‘should vote’ part.

    BTW, I am reading your book and have found it interesting so far.

  • Michael Snider September 25, 2007, 8:34 am

    I think I understand what you’re trying to say. What’s more I think (and I emphasize the word ‘think’) I know the feelings behind the words…
    3 things:
    1) Thank you for your kind words about my book.
    2) I did not use the words “should vote” – that is something you inferred. I know that’s the implication, but I also know it chafes some people who do not feel prophets should tell us how to vote and that’s why I use the words “support/not suppport.”
    3) Yet the counsel still remains. Here’s a quote from president Hinckley from the April 2003 General Conference that might help you cross the chasm:
    “Now may I say a word concerning loyalty to the Church. We see much indifference. There are those who say, “The Church won’t dictate to me how to think about this, that, or the other, or how to live my life.”
    No, I reply, the Church will not dictate to any man how he should think or what he should do. The Church will point out the way and invite every member to live the gospel and enjoy the blessings that come of such living. The Church will not dictate to any man, but it will counsel, it will persuade, it will urge, and it will expect loyalty from those who profess membership therein.
    When I was a university student, I said to my father on one occasion that I felt the General Authorities had overstepped their prerogatives when they advocated a certain thing. He was a very wise and good man. He said, “The President of the Church has instructed us, and I sustain him as prophet, seer, and revelator and intend to follow his counsel.”

    I really love Pres. Hinckley when he reveals things about his past that help us relate…that let us know that once he was younger like us and had many of the same feelings, but also showing the way to grow and overcome our obstacles to achieve Christ-like-ness as he has.

    Bottom line: As government continues to cross over further and further into morality and religion, it is my opinion that we should get more used to taking prophetic counsel and turning it into “should vote” in our hearts and minds…not because we have to, but because we should. Remember…the words “free agency” do not appear in our canon of scripture…only “moral agency.” In other words, latter-day saints do not believe we have the freedom to do anything at all (even though that is our choice), we believe we have the freedom to do what’s right, moral and correct. Entitlements are the first step on the road to socialism and we do not believe socialism is good, moral or correct.

  • mlinford September 25, 2007, 8:51 am

    I’m almost kind of chuckling, because the principles you are talking about with regard to loyalty, etc. are something I feel so strongly about. I think you are still sort of misunderstanding what I’m trying to say, but I think it’s best just to say that in principle about following the prophets, I agree with you. Really and truly, you are preaching to the choir. I am not one who chafes if they tell us how to vote, or who thinks they ought to keep their nose out of public affairs, or anything like that. If anything other than that came across, I am truly sorry.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Christopher Hansen July 3, 2011, 1:45 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I use such quotes to fight the government on their establishment of the religion of Secularism.

    I loved the quote by Benson especially since Social Security is also a welfare benefit no different than any other Federal Welfare program.

    I don’t have a Social Security Number. I don’t file Marxist 1040 income tax returns either. We were commanded to eschew Communism and Socialism and all other false isms. We were told by President Grant that if we did not give up the New Deal programs and repent that we would have no spiritual exaltation. I have followed that counsel. We were told that you cannot be true to the faith and be Socialists and yet the vast majority of Mormons are voluntary Socialists.

    Thank you for helping me to defend myself against people that love Socialist Security and Socialism and CLAIM to be LDS.

    “As God’s children all, and as brothers and sisters in Christ, we must as a matter of spiritual responsibility and pursuant to positive divine command care for the helpless, the unfortunate, and the needy. Furthermore, it is essentially a neighbor to neighbor obligation. It is not a function of civil government. This is fundamental…. Viewing all of these things it will be easy for you to understand that the Church has not found it possible to follow along the lines of the present general tendency in the matter of property rights, taxes, the curtailment of rights and liberties of the people, nor in general the economic policies of what is termed the “New Deal”. … This we feel we can definitely say, that unless the people of America forsake the sins and the errors, political and otherwise, of which they are now guilty and return to the practice of the great fundamental principles of Christianity, and of Constitutional government, there will be no exaltation for them spiritually, and politically we shall lose our liberty and free institutions…. The Church as a Church does not believe in war and yet since its organization whenever war has come we have done our part…. we do thoroughly believe in building up our home defenses to the maximum extent necessary, but we do not believe that aggression should be carried on in the name and under the false cloak of defense. We therefore look with sorrowing eyes at the present use to which a great part of the funds being raised by taxes and by borrowing is being put.…We believe that our real threat comes from within and not from without, and it comes from the underlying spirit common to Naziism, Fascism, and Communism, namely, the spirit which would array class against class, which would set up a socialistic state of some sort, which would rob the people of the liberties which we possess under the Constitution, and would set up such a reign of terror as exists now in many parts of Europe. We confess to you that it has not been possible for us to unify our own people even upon the necessity of such a turning about, and therefore we cannot unfortunately, and we say it regretfully, make any practical suggestion to you as to how the nation can be turned about.” Faithfully yours, /s/ Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., David O. McKay. (First Presidency letter to U.S. Treasury, September 30, 1941 AD)

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