Thursday, November 28, 2013

How Dave Ramsey Started Blogging Like a Rich Brat

I honestly can't assess the entire Dave Ramsey industry, or Dave Ramsey himself, although readers of Lutheran Confessions can well imagine that I have more than a few concerns about the theology that undergirds his personal finance advice. He has made a lot of money offering advice on how to get out of debt. The fact that he says these are biblical principles has helped him sell his product quite successfully in our North American Christian cultural complex.

Challenging Johnny Depp for Edward Scissorhands II
Recently, however, he blogged 20 Things the Rich Do Every Day, and on this particular blog post, he tips solidly over the edge from Christian financial advice guru to "rich brat." And the post touched a nerve.


First of all, the title itself is over-the-top in its celebration of the rich. The rich don't do all the things he claims they do every day. For example, only 76% of the wealthy exercise four days a week, so that's neither all the rich, nor every day... (*grin*)

The bigger issue: Ramsey is confident he has figured out which came first, the (morally righteous) chicken or the (rich) egg, and it is definitely the (morally righteous) chicken. Dave believes if you act the right way, if you have the right habits, you'll get rich (or at least out of debt). It seems never to occur to him that most if not all the habits he celebrates in the list may themselves be enabled by wealth rather than the result of it.

The title of his blog post might better be titled: 20 Things the Rich Can Do Because, Well, They Aren't Poor.

Don't even get me started on his really weird comments about "third world" vs. "first world" poverty.

Perhaps the most unfortunately part of his post is his rejoinder, "a word from Dave," added after he received considerable pushback from readers. It's really a classic case of blowing up in public. The moment we start telling each other to "grow up..." well, yeah. 

The core problem, which Ramsey is unlikely to acknowledge, is that he operates out of a biblical hermeneutic that will never allow critique of his position, because his biblical hermeneutic is self-justifying. You can't criticize him, because he's just "teaching what the Bible says." Self-justifying biblical hermeneutics is in the end always about self-justification and seldom about God.

The post itself plays into the polarizing culture Dave purports to lament. It paints a far too stark portrait of the distinction between the rich and the poor. Of course many rich people have wonderful habits. I'm sure they do. There are good people among the rich and among the poor. But the post itself polarizes to such a degree, you can't get done reading it without either being persuaded by or angered by the basic erroneous point: The rich are morally superior and the poor are to blame for their own poverty.

So here we go, the 20 things Dave listed on his blog. It's a relentless and long list. By the end, responding point by point becomes somewhat tedious, even ludicrous. You'll soon see where such ridiculousness will take us. For good measure, I've inserted a few bible bullets. Let those with ears hear.

1. 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day. 23% of wealthy gamble. 52% of poor people gamble.

Have you heard of food deserts? Many if not most of the poor in our nation live in or near food deserts. Food deserts are urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. So why do more poor people eat junk food? Because they can't afford to live near healthier food. As for gambling, I guess that all depends on whether you consider investing in the stock market gambling...

Mic. 2.2 They covet fields, and seize them;
houses, and take them away;
they oppress householder and house,
people and their inheritance. 

2. 80% of wealthy are focused on accomplishing some single goal. Only 12% of the poor do this.

Has Dave Ramsey not heard of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? It's awfully hard to work on things like achievement and problem solving when you lack sleep, are hungry, or are not sure where you can go to the bathroom next.

Luke 10.40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks.

3. 76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.

Aerobic exercise is at least one of the great Shibboleths of the wealthy. If you have the leisure to pursue it, wonderful. It just so happens many who pursue it do so to offset a sedentary lifestyle. If you work on an assembly line for twelve hours a day or buss tables all day as a waitress, regular aerobic exercise may seem less desirous.

Scripture is as far as I can tell completely quiet on the topic of physical exercise. It's part of the bourgeoise bible, but not the Holy Bible.

4. 63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people.

In order to listen to audio books, you need the equipment to do so, plus easy access to a library or the resources to purchase audio books. You need a commute to work, also, and I'm going to assume that at least some of those who are poor either a) don't have a commute, because they don't go to work, or b) have other responsibilities on their commute, such as delivering children to school. They might actually simply talk with their neighbors on the bus.

Eccl. 12.12 Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. 

5. 81% of wealthy maintain a to-do list vs. 19% of poor.

There's almost nothing in the bible about lists, other than genealogical lists, plus an enigmatic little thing in 1 Timothy about who to put on the list of widows, part of their communal discernment on how to provide a pension fund for widows in the burgeoning church. 

1Tim. 5.9   Let a widow be put on the list if she is not less than sixty years old and has been married only once;  10 she must be well attested for her good works, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way.

6. 63% of wealthy parents make their children read two or more non-fiction books a month vs. 3% of poor.

I just wish Dave Ramsey would read this article from The Atlantic, from which I've grabbed a screen shot...

Prov. 10.15 The wealth of the rich is their fortress;
the poverty of the poor is their ruin.

7. 70% of wealthy parents make their children volunteer 10 hours or more a month vs. 3% of poor.

Well, what counts as volunteering? My response to this one is purely anecdotal, but honestly, I know a lot of people who are poor, and quite a few who are rich. Both sets of parents make their children volunteer, or even volunteer with them, but often in different ways. Rich parents send their kids on mission trips. Poor parents ask their children to babysit the neighbor children on the playground. One is typically labeled volunteering. The other is simply being a friendly and helpful neighbor. 

1Th. 5.14 And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them

8. 80% of wealthy make Happy Birthday calls vs. 11% of poor.

Really? Don't we all do this on Facebook now? What?

9. 67% of wealthy write down their goals vs. 17% of poor.

See #5 above.

10. 88% of wealthy read 30 minutes or more each day for education or career reasons vs. 2% of poor.

Again, I'm highly skeptical of this comparison. Many careers that pay minimum wage or less do not require much reading for advancement in that type of work. I know a number of people in the service industry who make what would likely amount to poverty wages, and they read, quite a lot in fact, but they read for intellectual inquiry itself rather than career advancement. They read novels. They read books to their children.

As for reading the bible, the most frequent readers of the bible in my experience are the poor and those in prison, not the rich.

11. 6% of wealthy say what’s on their mind vs. 69% of poor.

What? Since when is silence in the face of injustices a virtue? If you're comfortable, there's very little reason to speak up or complain.

Rom. 12.6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith.

Hab. 1.13 Your eyes are too pure to behold evil,
and you cannot look on wrongdoing;
why do you look on the treacherous,
and are silent when the wicked swallow
those more righteous than they? 

12. 79% of wealthy network five hours or more each month vs. 16% of poor.

Do the rich network among the poor? One of the bigger problems, as illustrated by Shane Claibourne, "isn't that wealthy Christians don't care about the poor... it's that they simply don't know the poor."

Is. 5.8 Ah, you who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is room for no one but you,
and you are left to live alone
in the midst of the land! 
9 The LORD of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
Surely many houses shall be desolate,
large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant. 

13. 67% of wealthy watch one hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% of poor.

I concede this point. Watching TV is a waste of time and probably causes poverty. Unless you are watching college football or Game of Thrones. Then it is clearly wealth producing and an avenue to success.

14. 6% of wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% of poor.

Lord have mercy. We all know the wealthy watch opera, which is just like reality TV, with vibrato.

15. 44% of wealthy wake up three hours before work starts vs. 3% of poor.
Psa. 127.2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.

16. 74% of wealthy teach good daily success habits to their children vs. 1% of poor.

Interestingly, discussion of "habits" only occurs in the the apocrypha. By "good daily success" I assume Ramsey means being wealthy and not poor.

4Mac. 1.28   Just as pleasure and pain are two plants growing from the body and the soul, so there are many offshoots of these plants,  29 each of which the master cultivator, reason, weeds and prunes and ties up and waters and thoroughly irrigates, and so tames the jungle of habits and emotions. 

17. 84% of wealthy believe good habits create opportunity luck vs. 4% of poor.
Prov. 3.5    Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight. 

18. 76% of wealthy believe bad habits create detrimental luck vs. 9% of poor.

At this point, I've become completely exhausted by my own blog post, so I'm quoting from my favorite epistle from Paul.
Gal. 5.13   For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 

19. 86% of wealthy believe in lifelong educational self-improvement vs. 5% of poor.
Education also only appears in the inter-testamental texts. As noted above, if lifelong education doesn't necessarily pay off for the poor, the incentive to pursue it may lessen. On the other hand, the prophets do emphasize life-long learning, it's just towards the establishment of justice rather than the acquisition of riches.

Is. 1.17 learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

20. 86% of wealthy love to read vs. 26% of poor.

I like books, too, but I think this is the third item on reading in this list. If reading was how you get rich, I would be richer than Bill Gates. Who reads a lot, so I hear.

I'm exhausted. How about you?


  1. I suspect that the statistics about Birthday calls comes from wire tapping by the NSA. Only a government conspiracy could match income reported on tax returns as a means to compare with the frequency of Birthday calls the rich make vs. the poor... How else could they know?

  2. Ramsey is a legalist. At the heart of his brand of legalism is the idea that the way to be justified in God's sight is to find someone "worse" than you are and revel in your superiority to them.

  3. "It seems never to occur to him that most if not all the habits he celebrates in the list may themselves be enabled by wealth rather than the result of it." Best sentence I've read in response to this post. Thank you!

  4. Here is another response to Ramsey from a different (and also appropriate) perspective: