« Do rich things » and other useless advice
Stspend any moment in the evangelical sphere and you are bound to run into Dave Ramsey and his faith-based financial self-help products. Ramsey’s best-selling books The Total Money Makeover AND Financial peace line the shelves of Christian bookstores. Thousands of churches teach its nine weeks Financial Peace University resume. For $129.99, the course promises nothing short of life transformation in the form of good money habits.
For decades now, Dave Ramsey has expounded his financial advice in a Tennessee drawl dripping with popular truisms lined with a heavy dose of Bible verses. Ramsey refers to his method as « God’s and grandmother’s way of handling money » and tops it off with an inspiring personal account of how to make your way out of bankruptcy by the millions using the financial principles he teaches.
This week, Ramsey captured the attention (and scorn) of thousands on social media with a simple gesture tweets: “If you do rich things, you’ll be rich in the end. If you do poor things, in the end you will be poor. By my calculations, the average Dave Ramsey tweet can result in 50 replies on a good day. This garnered over 3,300 with nearly 1,000 retweets.
Watching the commentary unfold, some angry, mostly fun-it’s clear something hit a raw nerve here. But what was it? Of all the tweets, why This explode how did it?
dor what the rich do” is as classic Ramsey-ism as they come. In fact, anyone among the dozens of churchgoers who attend Ramsey’s lectures (or go to his live events, or read his books, or tune in daily to Dave Ramsey Show) probably observed this ordeal with confusion and bewilderment. This is, after all, the sort of thing Dave Ramsey says all time.
« I’ve found that if you look into life for the kind of people you want to be like, you’ll find common themes, » Ramsey wrote in his book The Total Money Makeover. “If you want to be thin, study thin people, and if you want to be rich, do what many rich people do.”
Some (but not all) of this social media storm can be explained as the nature of online discourse in 2019. Tweets come with a punch that makes communicating with nuance or charity virtually impossible. As a medium, Twitter thrives on hot shots and snark. The thrill of dunking on a low hoop is just too tempting. « They do rich stuff, » you say? You mean cheat my way to collegeDave? Or commit tax fraud? Well doneDave.
But certainly there is a more charitable way of looking at the world, one that presupposes the most reasonable intention in a person’s words. We could all say a version of what Ramsey said in a way that most people would agree with. If your bad habits have led you to financial ruin, those bad habits won’t get you out.
The problem is that, even with the best of intentions, Ramsey’s sentiments about wealth inequality are an oversimplification that borders on cruelty. When someone spends years responding to life’s complications with platitudes and proverbs, they tend to think of these teachings as absolute in time. Particularly when someone has moved from a state of poverty to one of financial well-being, it’s easy to tell the narrative of the personal struggles and achievements that got us to where we are. By extension, it’s easy to pass judgment on those who haven’t done the same.
Behind Ramsey’s statement is a subtle and tacit moral statement that wealth comes from good behavior and poverty from bad, and both financial conditions are the result of one’s character.
Reduced to its most basic form, this is karma by another name. It is the bad advice of Job’s friends personified in 21st century American terms. Good people get good things. Bad people become bad.
during the roaring Bush years of floating rates and McMansions, Dave Ramsey was a lone voice among financial celebrities who have taken a hard line against debt. So in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 recession, while the country was still reeling from financial ruin, Ramsey emerged as something of a prophet. Back then it was common sense to look around and conclude that the debt is very serious indeed.
Now here we are, a decade later, and avoiding debt is still good advice. The accumulation of debt, especially in America, is often rooted in greed and jealousy. Scripture tells us that these things are bad for the psyche, soul and well-being. In more explicit terms, they are sinners.
But there is a component of Dave Ramsey’s wisdom that hasn’t aged so well in our post-recession world, where the gap between rich and poor grows with each passing year. Unemployment falls steadily but wages remain stagnant. The costs of college and healthcare have reached insane and unsustainable proportions. House prices are skyrocketing. In metropolitan areas in particular, gentrification and rent increases have pushed the most vulnerable out of their neighborhoods into precarious housing conditions. In extreme cases, it has led to outright homelessness.
Meanwhile the the nation’s wealth is concentrated in a smaller percentage of people than at any other time in our lives.
We are talking about forces beyond our control. This is where Dave Ramsey’s directive to « do rich stuff » isn’t just hard for many. It’s bordering on the impossible.
Worse yet, hiding behind Ramsey’s claim is a subtle, unspoken moral statement that wealth comes from good behavior and poverty from bad, and both financial condition is a result of one’s character, regardless of the external structures working against it. of them.
IInterestingly, and much to Dave Ramsey’s credit, his worldview represents a somewhat healthy category for bad actors in the American economy. He lashes out at the debt collectors. « You know they’re lying if their mouths move, » he often says. He has a similar contempt for some lenders, insurance agents and merchants, with much of his advice centered on how to avoid being scammed by these people.
Yet the Ramsey Plan does little more than acknowledge That such forces exist without giving much consideration to man’s sinful nature and Why these forces exist: pursue riches. Riches breed exploitation born of the unique temptations of wealth: greed, jealousy and pride. Being rich doesn’t preclude these sins, but it’s certainly an obstacle to avoiding them.
The Lord tells us that money is not a morally neutral construct. “Truly I tell you, only with difficulty will a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven,” he said. And knowing that many would try to explain the enigma of this teaching, Christ repeated himself more emphatically: « Again I tell youit is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God ».
Elsewhere Jesus tells us: « Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God ».
Kingdom calculation warns the wealthy. Bless the poor.
Dave Ramsey’s teachings are not all negative. In fact, they’re not even mostly bad. The program has a lot of good and solid advice to give, particularly about taking financial responsibility to the extent that it is within our capacity to be accountable. It might even be true that « If you do poor things, you’ll end up poor. »
But when it comes to the way of Christ, there are worse things than being poor.