A Little Perspective

Christmas is a time of year when, we are told, we are to reflect on the birth and life of Jesus Christ.  Of course, I have mentioned before that the holiday, as we know it, has absolutely nothing to do with anything Jesus-related, save for his name (here, here, and here), but that’s beside the point.  What really made me think about Jesus today, more than anything, was this post on Dave Ramsey’s website, and the response to it provided by Cracked.com columnist Christina H (I highly recommend reading her article, it’s brilliant satire).

Dave Ramsey makes it a point to defend Tom Corley’s list, explaining that “This list simply says your choices cause results. You reap what you sow.”  And while this is true, what Ramsey, and any who agree with Corley, invariably fail to realize is that you can only sow what you have.

It’s basic math.

Let’s assume Bob has 100 seeds to sow, and Joe has 1,000.  The most each seed can produce is one plant, each of which can in turn provide 10 more seeds.  Assuming Bob and Joe both work their respective asses off, take the time to learn all the advanced botany necessary to maximize crop yields, play soothing music in the greenhouse, etc., at the end of the year Bob can’t have more than 1,000 new seeds, while Joe now has 10,000.  The following year, Bob has 10,000, and Joe has 100,000, and so on and so forth.  No matter how hard Bob works, no matter how good his habits, no matter what he does, Bob can never have more than 1/10 of what Joe has.  And that’s only if the whole point is just to have seeds.  Isn’t the point of growing crops the production of food?

So now, Bob and Joe have to eat some of their plants.  Growing enough to keep Bob and Joe each alive, at the minimum, will take 10 plants per year.  So now, at the end of the year, Bob has 90 plants, with 900 seeds, while Joe has 990 plants, and 9,900 seeds.  Where Bob started with exactly 10% as many seeds as Joe, now suddenly Bob only has 9.1% as many to Joe’s 90.9%.  Next year, a blight comes along and destroys 10% of the crops, for both Bob and Joe.  But, other than that, their per-plant production of seeds is the same.  Bob has 81 plants after the blight, and has to eat 10 to stay alive.  So he has a total of 71, producing 710 seeds for the year.  Joe has also lost 10% of his crops to the blight, leaving him with 891 plants.  10 these are eaten, leaving him with 881 plants, producing 8,810 seeds.  Now Bob has 8.06% as many seeds as Joe.  Bob’s share of the wealth has decreased by almost a full 2% in only two years.

And this has absolutely nothing to do with habits.  This is basic math, with all things being equal and everyone having the exact same circumstances, abilities, knowledge, etc.  Everything but how many seeds they started with.

But, you might say, what about the cost of growing these crops?  Surely Joe has to acquire more resources than Bob, in order to support a larger farm, right?

More basic math.

Each 100 plants requires 1 tractor to sufficiently plow, weed, harvest, and bundle the seeds.  To acquire the tractor costs 10 plants, and both are fortunate enough that they can pay the tractor manufacturer after the harvest.  Bob starts with 100 seeds, Joe with 1,000.  Bob’s 100 seeds produce 100 plants, 10 of which are eaten, and 10 of which go to pay for the 1 tractor he needs to manage the farm.  This leaves him with 80 plants (800 seeds).  Joe’s 1,000 seeds produce 1,000 plants (10,000 seeds), and after food and tractor costs (a total of 110 plants), he has 8,900 seeds.  Bob now has 8.99% as many seeds as Joe.

Joe can take that extra 1% (11 plants, more than an entire year’s worth) and give it to Randy, who is able to program the tractors to run on their own so that Joe doesn’t have to spend the extra time driving them all.  Now, Joe is able to steadily increase his share of the seed wealth, while doing hardly any work at all.

And this is exactly what has happened in the United States.  Simply replace seeds with dollars, the farm with the financial markets, and Randy with hedge fund managers, and you have the entire story of why the rich are richer and everyone else is poorer.

Poverty is not a character flaw.  And calling it one is tantamount to Social Darwinism. Ramsey can say “Is this list a way of hating the poor? Seriously? Grow up,” but part of growing up is learning basic arithmetic.  And obviously Ramsey has decided to ignore that in order to make himself feel better about getting rich from selling his bad advice to desperate people.

Dave Ramsey and Tom Corley, for all their bluster and self-righteousness, are crooks like every other “let me show you the secret to getting rich” crook.  They are swindlers, thieves, and con-men.  Worst of all, by hiding behind “biblical” wealth-building principles and Jesus Christ, they are the absolute worst kind of hypocrites.

At least I believe that to be the case.  Because, after all, behind every great fortune is a great crime.  And that passes the common-sense smell test as well as anything ever has.  And I think Jesus would agree.

Just a little something to keep perspective when you go Christmas shopping.

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