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Jeff Bezos pledged to give away most of his $122 billion fortune during his lifetime. No one is exactly sure why he finally made that decision, but we have not ruled out a visit from three ghosts.

Riches have their place in LDS theology. “But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after he 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 cloth the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and afflicted” (Jacob 2:18-19). 

Let’s get one thing straight about the value of money. Money itself has no value. You can’t eat it, wear it, or shelter under it. Money is a lump of precious metal, a piece of paper with some printing on it, pixels on a computer screen that say you have some numbers in a bank that belong to you. Money is valuable only if you can trade it for things that you actually need. It’s a medium of exchange. Rather than bartering for everything we need, society picked something (money) and said let’s use this instead. 

Money is a way to distribute resources. That’s all it is. 

Before we talk about billionaires giving away money, let’s talk about paying people. Malachi records the Lord’s words: “And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against … those that oppress the hireling in his wages” (Malachi 3:5). (I would really approve of an Apostle choosing to talk about this verse in every single General Conference for the next ten years or so.)

This morning, in the course of my job, I was on a phone call with a woman in her 70s who was working three (low-paying) jobs to try and make ends meet. She worked at a food samples stand, and also cleaned a building and I forget the other one. None of those jobs pay enough for her to live on, even when combined with her paltry Social Security. No one in their 70s should be forced to work three jobs just to be able to buy food and pay rent. At this point in her life, hard work isn’t building character; it’s grinding her down and wearing her out.

Then I ran across the paperwork for a single mom working full-time who can’t afford to live in a house or apartment, so she and her three children live in a camper trailer. 

Not too long ago, I was working with a business who had somehow mislaid $5 million. They’d borrowed it, and from what I could tell, neither the lender nor the receiver was all that concerned. In their industry, $5 million really wasn’t that much money. 

Once you’ve got enough money to meet your needs, wealth is just a way to keep score. It’s a bizarre way to stockpile resources you can’t possibly use, and meanwhile other people don’t have enough to live on.

We ought to require business owners to pay their employees plenty of money, and thereby make less profit for themselves. Instead, they pay the lowest wages possible and then expect to be lionized for donating some of the wealth that they accumulated by not paying enough wages. Any headline that says “Company Reports Recordbreaking Profits” should be rewritten to “Company Underpays Workers and Overcharges Consumers.” Profits should simply not be that high. The company is failing to distribute enough money to the people who are making the company that much money.

Spread the money around. Raise wages. Give people the chance to buy food, shelter, clothing, medical care and some things that are just purely for enjoyment. Money is a way to distribute resources, and concentrating billions in the hands of one man is unfair distribution. Why does Bezos get to decide how to spend billions more than he could ever need for his own resources? It isn’t because he’s an expert in spreading resources around fairly; he has that money because he’s a ruthless businessman.

[image id: A tweet that says, “Okay, how about this? No more billionaires. None. After you reach $999 million, every red cent goes to schools and health care. You get a trophy that say, “I won capitalism” and we name a dog park after you. End id.]

Jacob wasn’t speaking to capitalists when he told people that they had to seek Christ before riches, and then use those riches to help the poor. At that point in the narrative, the Nephites had been in the new world a few decades (remember that Jacob was born before they crossed the ocean). They were likely in a small agrarian community, and they likely knew personally the people who needed help. Getting rich probably meant having three rooms in your cottage and four changes of clothes. The meaning of riches to Joseph Smith was probably pretty similar, honestly.

Donating money you’ve accumulated by sharp dealings to the poorest of the poor isn’t nearly as honorable as being economically fair to everyone around you. Being economically fair means you probably won’t accumulate bags and bags of riches. I sure would love it if the Church would use some of that billion-dollar fund to pay Church custodians so well that a Church custodian can support an entire family with just that one job. Start paying service missionaries. Imagine how many elderly the Church could raise up out of poverty if they paid senior missionaries – instead of working 3 menial jobs, that elderly woman I spoke with today could work at the distribution center part-time, selling garments to nice people. As it is, senior missionary work is a position of privilege – the poor can’t afford to volunteer their time. 

So … earn a lot of money and then donate it? Or earn less money by spreading the money around rather than accumulating it?


Is it possible to amass a billion dollar fortune without exploiting other people?

Do you think wealth inequality is a moral issue that the Church ought to speak about?