18 September 2008

On Business, Politics, and Morality

"Not one suggested I should simply hire honest people."
- A man in Sunday School on preparing to teach a seminar on reducing business fraud and risk

If you haven't read/heard/seen the recent chaos in the Wall Street economy, I highly suggest this essay on the Freakonomics blog (incidentally one of the most interesting books I've read and one of the most interesting blogs I follow). But as Doug Wright said today on his show, the basics of this economic crunch come down to this: people have spent the past decade or two buying more than they can really afford, on the level of individuals and businesses and multi-trillion dollar organizations.

And they have been allowed to do it because everyone has banked on things going exactly right, the economy continuing to expand and grow at rates ridiculous enough to cover their unwise investment today. It's become the mindset of our country that it's better to borrow the equivalent of a year's salary to lease a new luxury car now than to spend a few months or years saving in order to own a used car flat out. The kinds of decisions business owners are encouraged to make are the same ones we panic to see children with no financial education making in their own lives: spending the Christmas bonus in November before you actually have it, treating credit cards like free money, and having absolutely no long-term plan for what to do if they were in an accident or lost a job.

I admit to being one of the last people who should write an essay having anything to do with business. I received the lowest passing score on my IB Business test, I took no business classes in college, and I don't pretend to understand why some stocks rise and some fall, excepting the obvious bad products and frauds. What I do know about business comes from growing up in a house where money was tight. In our home, we didn't eat out even once a week, much less the rumored 1-in-4 meals that school aged children consume at fast food restaurants. I certainly didn't grow up in poverty, as the fact that I was able to attend college attests, but as a child I certainly felt deprived because my parents were frugal in a spending-mad world. I didn't understand why I should have a hamburger with communal drink and fries rather than the shiny Happy Meal with the cool toys.

But it seems that my upbringing has given me a better education in business finance than much of Wall Street. When I have an excess, I don't go blow it on some new gadget or, worse, commit it to a monthly payment which I won't be able to make on my regular income. I avoid risky deals except with expendable income I can afford to lose. (This is mostly theoretical--as a young married couple in grad school about to have a baby, expendable income isn't something we have lying around, but that's my future investment strategy regardless.) And most importantly, I know to avoid debt except for reasonable investments in education and a home (which I expect to actually pay off someday, thank you very much).

This last point is interesting, because one of the places I learned this principle is perhaps the least likely business school in the world: the pews of my local church. Have not the prophets been warning us for years against the very thing which caused this credit crunch? It's not all that recent; this quote from 1979 seems like it could have been written today:
Those who structure their standard of living to allow a little surplus, control their circumstances. Those who spend a little more than they earn are controlled by their circumstances. They are in bondage (President N. Eldon Tanner, "Constancy Amid Change," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 81).
Yet one of the classic ironies of Mormondom is that Utah has one of, if not the highest rate of bankruptcy in the nation. Even in the land of "Zion," it appears that we are unable to listen to the voice of the prophets. If we had, we would not be in the position that we find ourselves waking up to this week.

And the more I think about it, the more I see obedience to gospel laws as the key to solving all the major problems of our society. Corrupt CEOs and businesses with no foundation could be elimated and thousands of those without jobs or without satisfactory jobs could be rescued if we could only live according to Jacob 2:17-19. Problems with our education system could largely be solved by parental involvement and children who truly valued education. Obviously, crime could be abolished as in Fourth Nephi with charity, trust, and righteousness.

I see not much difference between the two men running for president other than which bandaid they choose to stick on the problem, because the only true way to solve the problem is the change the people. And the only way to change the people is through following the commandments that God has given us:
True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior (President Boyd K. Packer, “Do Not Fear,” Ensign, May 2004, 79).
A moral people is the true solution to almost every issue on the presidential platforms, and unfortunately, it's one of the few things that neither of them would dare have the courage to campaign on. I probably sound a lot more dogmatic than I mean to: in reality, this is no fault of Obama or McCain. The only true solution is one that no one can campaign on because it cannot be effected by a government. Righteousness cannot be mandated upon those who are unwilling. A Zion society cannot be legislated, it must be chosen. When Zion is achieved, politics is superfluous. But without righteousness, politics will always be the least effective solution to our problems.

And because of this, sitting at home lately watching and listening and reading the news, I begin to feel like Mormon lamenting his fallen people:
O that ye had repented before this great destruction had come upon you!

5 comments:

Michaela Stephens said...

If you are interested in watching the financial system take a nosedive, you'll probably find this website interesting:

http://ml-implode.com/index.html

It's the Implode-O-Meter that seems to aggregate a lot of news of the crisis all together, along with various blogs on the situation.

And I totally agree with your sentiments on debt and spending.

vanwagoner said...

I like the Chickens to the Rescue chicken picture on your profile.

Oh, and I agree with the article.

Laura said...

Another great book to check out on this subject is _The Two-Income Trap_. Totally explains the problems America is having (okay, not totally, but you know what I mean. . .)and talks about how SAHMs are the backbone of the economy. Love being told that what I do is worthwhile!

p.s. Found your blog through Mormon Renaissance and couldn't help commenting. I loved Freakonomics too!

Kelsy said...

This reminds me of something a teacher in high school used to say: you can't legislate morality. Which I believe is true. But then how do you enforce/teach morality?

Lisa Miller said...

AMEN!! Love it!!! Awesome!!! Can I read this in Sunday School or print in the ward bulletin????? Wish I could. Well said Liz.