Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tithenomics

When I was a 12 and preparing to go to the temple for the first time, my bishop interviewed me. At first I was nervous, but as the questions came it seemed I was acing it. Just when I started getting confident, this question came up:

Bishop: "Do you pay your tithing?"

Me: "I don't make any money." Come on. Is that all you've got, Bishop?

Bishop: "Well, do you get an allowance?"

Me (sheepishly): "Yes"

Bishop: "How do you feel about paying tithing on that?"

Me: "Well, my parents pay their tithing, so the tithing has already been paid on that money."

As a 12 year old, this made a lot of sense to me. But the bishop patiently explained that if I get any money, regardless of who gives it to me, I should pay my tithing on it. After I promised I would start paying it, I got my recommend.

But leaving his office, the wheels in my head were still turning. So tithing is more than just 10%? After all, if my parents had not paid their tithing, they could have given me a whole 10% more. So, if I'm receiving 10% less because of tithing, and then I pay 10% of that to tithing, then that means tithing is really 19%! (Yes, I was/am a geek and could do that sort of math in my head as a 12 year old.)

Thus began my obsession with the economics of tithing. Let me be clear that I don't criticize the church for the principle of tithing, but this experience launched years of pondering on the subject that eventually has led me to this conclusion:

Tithing is not a "lesser law." It is just a form of the law of consecration, modified to conform with the free-market society.

To illustrate my point, let's assume hypothetically that everyone in the world is a tithe-paying member of the LDS church. You're probably either very excited or horrified at this possibility, but please get over it and stay with me for a moment. Now let's say you go to work one day at Widgets Inc. and your boss pays you $100 for your day's work. Of course you pay $10 to the church and you are left with $90. You use that $90 to hire a company to take care of your lawn. Of the $90 you pay the company, it uses $50 to pay an employee who pays $5 tithing. The owner of the company keeps the remaining $40 for himself and pays $4 tithing. The employee, now left with $45, uses it to buy a widget from Widgets Inc. Of that $45, the owner of Widgets Inc. takes $10 or himself, paying $1 to tithing, and the remaining $35 he puts toward your next day's pay, and the cycle starts over again. And I won't even go into what Widgets Inc. pays to it suppliers, who of course pay tithing as well.

In this scenario, out of the original $100, the church now owns $20. As the cycle continues, they will own more and more until they own almost all of the $100. But of course the church doesn't just sit on this money; they use it to buy supplies for the church, which gets that money back into the marketplace where it can again be traded before eventually ending up back at the church.

So basically, in my hypothetical world, all of the money ends up going through the church and redistributed (by means of purchasing good and services) to others. This is essentially how the law of consecration worked when it was attempted in the early days of the church, with the exception that the church did not purchase things in order to redistribute the money.

But of course we don't live in that hypothetical world. In our free-market society where not everyone is a member of the church, the law of consecration would not fit. It violates the rules that make the free-market work, so it would essentially destine the members of the church to be outsiders, like they were in the early days of the church. But the law of tithing can fit in with the free-market society, and at its root it still allows the church to redistribute the money, proportional to the percentage of the population that are tithe-paying church members.

So don't tell me the law of tithing is a "lesser law." I believe it is the law of consecration incognito. But I'm onto it. And next time you give your kids their allowance, be aware that you might be condemning them to years of internal tension as they try to figure out just what tithing really is, in which case I recommend professional therapy.

1 comment:

ldsanarchy said...

Well, you said not to tell you the law of tithing is a lesser law, so I won't, but I wanted to.