‘The rich rule over the poor’: Ramsey’s II, challenging Pharaoh

‘The rich rule over the poor’: Ramsey’s II, challenging Pharaoh December 5, 2013

Helaine Olen’s in-depth critique of “personal finance” guru Dave Ramsey’s victim-blaming, victim-creating media empire — “The Prophet” — created some minor ripples. So did Felix Salmon and Susie Poppick’s exploration of Ramsey’s investment advice, in which they wrote, “Ramsey’s investing advice is weak and could get you into trouble if you follow it too closely.”

But it was Dave Ramsey himself who inspired the larger recent wave of people taking a critical look at his “ministry.”

Ramsey cheerfully promoted a post by fellow “personal finance” racketeer Tom Corley, listing “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day.” The explicit idea of this list is that these are 20 things that poor people don’t do — and thus 20 reasons why the poor themselves are to blame for their poverty. It’s a vicious, ugly and breathtakingly ignorant expression of contempt for anyone who has less money than Tom Corley and Dave Ramsey filled with dubious and skewed uncited “statistics” to make this sneering seem “scientific.”

Decent people don’t punch down at the weak. Corley and Ramsey did. Gleefully.

Some of us fired back at this nasty financial Bildadism by punching up. That’s the biblical model for responding to precisely this form of victim-blaming: sarcastic reproach. When Bildad blamed those who suffer for their suffering, Job’s response was not temperate or gentle:

How you have helped one who has no power! How you have assisted the arm that has no strength! How you have counseled one who has no wisdom, and given much good advice!

If the proverbially patient Job had no patience for those who punch down at the poor, then we shouldn’t patiently put up with their nonsense either. So I wrote “8 More Things the Rich Do Every Day.” And Rod at Political Jesus weighed in with a Job-like “20 Things the Working Poor Do Every Day.”

But it wasn’t just those of us sometimes seen as hotheaded who got heated up over this immoral moralizing contempt for the powerless. Here I want to round up some of the responses to Ramsey’s victim-blaming before returning, in Part 3, to look at the real, tangible harm this ideology is doing to real, tangible people.

• Ben Irwin offers “20 things the poor really do every day,” defending “those with whom Jesus identifies most closely” from Ramsey’s slanders. And he’s followed that up with posts discussing how “Poverty is more than a matter of poor decision-making” and challenging the morally corrosive “Myth of the unemployed freeloader.”

Jacob Marley celebrates debt-free living.

Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog offers a mini-forum titled “Things Broke People Do: We’re not the only ones responsible for our financial state” in which Caryn Rivadeneira, Rachel Marie Stone and Marlena Graves discuss “some misguided beliefs about the poor.”

• Nate Pyle reflects on “The Danger of Equating Wealth With Virtue: A Response to Dave Ramsey.”

• Hännah Ettinger writes of “Privilege, Dave Ramsey, and Context,” conceding that while some of his cheerleading and some of his advice may be useful for some listeners, Ramsey is also “arrogant” and  “a privileged bully” who offers bad long-term advice. “And I hate that he uses shame so much.”

• Elizabeth Esther is one of the people who could, and did, benefit from some of Ramsey’s practical advice and his get-out-of-debt zeal. She’s grateful for that, but writes, “I like Dave Ramsey’s ideas but I’m not sure I like Dave Ramsey.” Because he’s such a bullying jerk. (She doesn’t say “jerk,” she says “meanie,” “prideful,” “mocking” and “mean.”)

• Casey O’Leary also expresses gratitude to Ramsey’s classes and ideas for helping her get a handle on the debt that was enslaving her, but she laments “Dave Ramsey’s missed opportunity.” Ramsey is unable to effect lasting change, she says, because he doesn’t know how to listen.

• Morgan Guyton offers, “Another item for Dave Ramsey’s list of what rich people do that poor people don’t do” — reducing art and other people to commodities whose only value is to be exchanged as a means of keeping score when comparing oneself to other rich people. (Maybe that’s two items.)

But the biggest splash in the blogosphere came from Rachel Held Evans, writing for CNN’s belief blog, on “What Dave Ramsey gets wrong about poverty.”

“Dave Ramsey is rich,” Evans begins, starting off with the most salient point in this whole business before summing up the problem:

While Ramsey may be a fine source of information on how to eliminate debt, his views on poverty are neither informed nor biblical.

A guy who holds himself up as an expert on poverty needs to have his facts and his analysis straight when it comes to understanding poverty. And a guy who holds himself up as a Christian expert on poverty ought to have some understanding of what Moses, the prophets, Jesus and the apostles had to say about the subject. So if Ramsey’s “views on poverty are neither informed nor biblical,” then we’re dealing with two pretty substantial problems.

Evans gently, but firmly, points out the ways in which Ramsey’s views on poverty are not informed, but it’s her critique of how those views contradict what the Bible teaches that really makes her post deserving of the attention it’s getting:

Far from having contempt for the poor, Jesus surrounded himself with the needy and challenged the excesses of the rich. “Blessed are you who are poor,” he said, “for yours is the kingdom of God. … But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24).

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” Jesus famously said, “than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

It’s hard for the wealthy to flourish in the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated because the economy of that kingdom runs so contrary to the economies of the world. It rewards the peacemakers over the powerful, the humble over the proud, the kind over the cruel, and those who hunger to do the right thing over those whose wealth has convinced them they already are.

… For Christians, Ramsey’s perceived “direct correlation” between faith and wealth should be more troubling than his other confused correlations, for it flirts with what Christians refer to as the prosperity gospel, the teaching that God rewards faithfulness with wealth.

Ramsey’s particular brand of prosperity gospel elevates the American dream as God’s reward for America’s faithfulness, the spoils of which are readily available to anyone who works hard enough to receive them.

But such a view glosses over the reality that America was not, in fact, founded upon purely Christian principles (unless one counts slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender inequity, and Jim Crow as Christian principles), so we should be careful of assuming our relative wealth reflects God’s favor. (The Roman Empire was wealthy, too, after all.)

… Throughout Scripture, people of faith are called not simply to donate to charity, but to address such systemic injustices in substantive ways. … Categorically blaming poverty on lack of faith or lack of initiative is not only uninformed, it’s unbiblical.

God does not divide the world into the deserving rich and the undeserving poor. In fact, the brother of Jesus wrote that God has “chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him” (James 2:5).

Go read the whole thing.

Since we’ve introduced the subject of biblical teaching on poverty, let’s close with this — Peter Tosh exegeting the book of Amos:

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  • When a country is well governed, poverty and a mean condition are things to be ashamed of. When a country is ill governed, riches and honor are things to be ashamed of.

    Confucius.

  • JessicaR

    This seems an rather apropos post to read just after hearing the news of Nelson Mandela’s death, rip.

  • ReverendRef

    Nothing more salient to say than that photo of Jacob Marley and its caption is spot on.

  • Thanks for including me in your roundup. It’s heartening to see so many voices pushing back against this ridiculous stereotyping of the poor.

  • Daniel

    Oh here we go again, whine whine whine, it’s always someone else’s fault. When will the poor wake up and realise: NO ONE OWES ANYONE ANYTHING. They should take responsibility for themselves. Something else the rich do every day? Pay more tax than any of the poor. By any measure that makes them more virtuous and reflects that society as a whole is envious of them. Now, you may say this is a myth. You may say that relative to what they earn their taxes make much less of an impact on their bank balances than the amount given by the poor. It may be a myth, but I would ask- shouldn’t that myth allow them certain privileges? We owe them that at least.

    You say in this article that the “unemployed freeloader” is a myth. You only say these things because they can be proved. But here’s the thing, brace yourself, truth time here:
    IF A MYTH BENEFITS ME, IT’S ESSENTIALLY THE SAME AS TRUTH
    You can whine and whinge all you like that it’s not actually “true” but that doesn’t stop it being right. I know. I understand how my world works, which naturally means I understand how the world works- and one of the core facts you all refuse to accept (because it stops you blaming other people wah, wah wah!) is that everyone behaves and believes the same things as the wealthy. Everyone envies them. Everyone wants what they have. What they have is money. That’s what makes them rich. So if the poor want to get paid more they are admitting they want to take the money from the pockets of the wealthy. Imagine living with that everyday, knowing that all those grubby, lazy poor people are trying- admittedly lazily and without breaking a sweat- to get everything you have? The worst part- you can’t even see them. You’ve had to hide in a big house so that you’d have enough space to hide when they break down the door to get all your stuff. For some reason persecution is ok when it’s against those with money. And before you start whining that “persecution” is hyperbolic I’d remind you again that “truth” is hardly important when a point needs to be made to support my case. I just expect you’re all too childish to accept this.

    I don’t understand why there is such vilification of the rich- they got where they are by sensibly getting the most money they could for the hard work they did- if the poor had only done the same they wouldn’t be poor! And now the rich, quite sensibly, are refusing to give them more money for their work they have the nerve to complain! I expect this post will get down voted. None of you hand wringing libs like to hear the truth. But I will continue to speak the truth in your echo chamber of tears until I decide to loftily pretend this whole post was a deliberate attempt to wind you all up when I face the inevitable tirade of abuse. So much for free speech, eh?

    *edit- told you I’d get down voted.*

  • IF A MYTH BENEFITS ME, IT’S ESSENTIALLY THE SAME AS TRUTH.

    Daniel, I think I love you.

    TRiG.

  • Müntzer

    First of, free speech means i have to let you say whatever you want.
    It does not mean i have to respect it, share it or keep from ridiculing it.

    To larger point, no not everybody thinks like the wealthy.
    Certainly you do, but to infer from your own thought that everybody (at least secretly) thinks the same as you, is… foolish.
    The think is that i am somebody who has to rent out his mind and body for money, so he can eat and have shelter.
    I don’t mind the fact that i have to work. I am even among the lucky few whose work is about more than just making money, because i build things.
    What i mind is that from the work i do, my boss receives more of a share than i do. And i cannot repalce my boss, because he has the money, and i don’t.
    What i resent is not working to live (that is actually a thing i rather like) but that ‘the rich’ live of the sweat of my brow.
    What i resent is that ‘the rich’ try to reduce me to a column of numbers and somebody who lives to work.

  • Indeed. PS, Daniel is a very effective satirist :)

  • IF A MYTH BENEFITS ME, IT’S ESSENTIALLY THE SAME AS TRUTH

    But that’s a myth, you kno—
    Oh, right.

  • Daniel

    “First of, free speech means i have to let you say whatever you want.It does not mean i have to respect it, share it or keep from ridiculing it.”
    I’d go further than that. Free speech obliges you to take the piss and point out when someone is talking crap. That’s how free speech advances society.
    Besides that minor point I agree with you completely.

  • Veleda_k

    IF A MYTH BENEFITS ME, IT’S ESSENTIALLY THE SAME AS TRUTH
    You can whine and whinge all you like that it’s not actually “true” but that doesn’t stop it being right.

    I love you a lot.

  • The sad thing is, my father once said pretty much the exact same thing to me, only he was serious.

  • Veleda_k

    There’s a reason Daniel’s post and Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” work so well as satire. It’s kind of a depressing reason.

  • Sue White

    IF A MYTH BENEFITS ME, IT’S ESSENTIALLY THE SAME AS TRUTH

    I swear I hear that in Stephen Colbert’s voice.

  • Daniel

    I heard a very similar argument a few years ago from a very smug, unbearably arrogant Christian outside Bath Abbey who was giving a playful, friendly type display with poster paints and a flip chart to a bunch of four-six year olds about how each and every one of them was going to burn in hell. He painted pictures to help them visualise it. He claimed he was amongst God’s chosen because he got answers to all his prayers almost immediately- once his nephews had been rowing and he prayed they’d stop and sure enough after barely ten minutes they did. Long story short, I told him Hell was a sick myth to be telling kids, and he argued that it wasn’t a myth and then so what if it was, he believed it, which made it a kind of truth so I should leave him in peace to terrorise a group of reception kids.

  • In my case, it was him posting a chain letter about Obamacare. I linked him to Snopes, which thoroughly refuted the letter and his reply was “It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, the principle is what counts.”

    So he was blaming Obama for something he even admitted was fake.

  • Daniel

    Have you ever read the Daily Mail? That’s basically their entire editorial policy.

  • I read it briefly for a few details posted by one of our anti-vac trolls awhile back, but I didn’t discover just how horrid it was until someone linked an article that was pretty mind-blowingly offensive.

    Still better than WNP, I guess.

  • Daniel

    Well, the Mail also has guidelines relating to how black people’s photographs can appear in their stories- mostly they are only shown in stories about crime, and then only if they are the perpetrators (although Stephen Lawrence is an exception). Then there’s their star columnist Richard Littlejohn, who the Guardian keeps a check on every year for the number of times he uses certain buzz phrases. “Proselytizing Homosexuals” is normally high up the list. Apparently they just come round to his house and try to make him all gay. (Serious warnings to anyone with an ounce of human sympathy- the first one is about a transwoman he drove to suicide.)

    http://action.sumofus.org/a/daily-mail-littlejohn-lucy-meadows/?sub=fb

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/01/richard-littlejohn-wrong-about-jack-monroe-daily-mail

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2004/nov/10/1

  • stardreamer42

    When I looked at Ramsey’s article, I was instantly struck by three things:

    1) He’s forgotten (or never learned) that correlation != causation.
    2) He’s getting cause and effect backwards on a lot of those things. Many of them are things that the rich can do because they have time, money, and/or privilege not available to poor people

    3) No citations, which means those numbers were ALL PULLED OUT OF HIS ASS.

    Effectively, he’s as believable as a Nigerian scammer telling you how much money he’s willing to split with you if you’ll just help him get it out of the country.

  • chgo_liz

    Stephen? Mr. Colbert, are you moonlighting?

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    That’s a defining journalistic ethic over at Breibert and World News Daily.

  • Matthias

    The really annoying thing is that convincing enough people of the myth can in some cases in fact make it true.

    For instance if enought people believe that Obamacare is a failure and don’t participate in it will really fail at extending health care coverage.

    Which of course is exactly why such lies are spread

  • The most obvious criticism of Dave Ramsey is a logical one. Reduce his list of 20 things to one list, and call it Q. Call the condition of being rich P. What he is saying is “If P, then Q”

    But as anyone who has ever taken an introductory course in logic knows, “If P, then Q” does not necessitate, “If Q, then P” (see affirming the consequent), and that’s what Dave is implying.

    So, logic fail. Big time.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I can just tell that I’m going to get along *so well* with your family…*sighs*

  • With any luck, you’ll never meet them more than once.

  • MarkTemporis

    You might think that, but you would be wrong, simply because of age. The people at WNP are too young to have LITERALLY SUPPORTED THE NAZIS. They call it the “Daily Heil” for a reason.

  • Amtep

    So what’s the problem? America has the best government money can buy!

  • Oh, that’s lovely.

    Also I’ve found that they’re not above photoshopping people’s pictures to make them look stupider than they normally are, or otherwise make them look less attractive in order to ‘sell’ a ‘lol stoopid criminals’ story.

  • Thanks for the shout-out Fred! and Ben Irwin’s posts were amazing!

  • Ross Thompson

    I believe it was Mark Thomas who started a campaign to encourage them to change their subhead to “The Newspaper that Supported Hitler”.

  • No, even better, Corley pulled his number from a survey of 361 people.

  • Good point. Poor government policies are a large part of the problem

  • Daniel

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eBT6OSr1TI
    Which somehow soothes the anger.

  • nchammer326

    He apparently replied to someone’s email asking about his methods, and it seems he has no idea what he’s doing:

    http://www.cracked.com/forums/topic/150127/fact-checking-26quot3B20-things-rich-do-every-day26quot3B/20

    “Hi Charles. I used a broad 20 question list. I asked these questions to
    two groups (Wealthy & Poor) over a 4+ year period. The wealthy came
    from a combination of clients, business associates, former colleagues,
    people I worked with on nonprofits (charitable, civic and business
    groups), people I know, and those who responded to my free financial
    planning ads. The majority of the poor came from people I knew were
    poor, my free ad for financial planning and reduced tax return prep ads.
    I spent over 2 years asking the 233 wealthy my 20 question list. It
    took 2 years because they did not know they were part of a study and it
    took sometimes 5-6 meetings & phone calls to complete a list for one
    person. Studying the poor was an afterthought. When I told someone I
    know what I had done they asked me “what do poor people do?” I then
    spent another 2 years doing the same analysis for poor people. Once I
    completed my info gathering I spent 2 years grouping the data, analyzing
    it and comparing each group. Every 4-6 months, for the past 3 years, I
    have been going back over the data for things that are raised in my TV
    or Radio or Print interviews, which I missed in my original analysis.
    Such as gossiping, professions, education etc. Sometimes I tracked
    requested data and sometimes I did not. For instance, I did not track by
    age. I missed that one. But my gut recollection is that most (Rich and
    Poor) were between the ages of 40-60. I accumulated all this data on
    excel worksheets and then summarized it. I keep all the core data from
    the interviews in two large separate folders. One titled Rich and one
    titled Poor. Within each large folder are subsidiary folders for each
    participant with all my notes & the completed 20 question list. I
    hope that helps.”

    I can’t wrap my head around how flawed his method is.

  • They just re-introduced themselves to me today by covering an article on the coming Viking Apocalypse.

  • Daniel

    Marvellous. Incidentally, Jorvik Viking Centre is on a street called Whipmawopmagate, which is named that because historically it’s where men brought their wives to beat them for a range of offences.

  • Chocolate Covered Cotton

    On prosperity gospel, if wealth is a sign of God’s favor of the truly deserving faithful Christians, why are so many Wahabbi Muslims so ridiculously rich? God sure does love those Saudis and Kuwaitis.