Christian personal finance guru Dave Ramsey is buzzing on the Christian blogosphere once again after blocking blogger and seminarian James Bryant on Twitter. Bryant responded to a Ramsey “rant” about minimum wage. According to Bryant, who regularly listens to Ramsey’s radio program:

“Dave [said] people asking for higher wages in minimum wage jobs don’t deserve a higher pay — their economic value isn’t high enough.  He drew a distinction between a person’s inherent and economic value.  While the human has value, the market dictates someone’s economic value (and therefore their paid wage).”

CDs of Dave Ramsey's "Financial Peace University." Photo courtesy Bonnie Brown via Flickr Creative Commons.

CDs of Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University.” Photo courtesy Bonnie Brown via Flickr Creative Commons.

Bryant reasonably suggested that he didn’t find this distinction anywhere in scripture. A terse Twitter debate (is there any other kind?) ensued. And then Bryant found that Ramsey blocked him.

Last year, Ramsey re-posted a list of “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day” — things like networking, exercising, and listening to audiobooks — that ‘poor people’ don’t do.

The post raised some concern, not least among some of my fellow writers over at the Christianity Today blog, her.meneutics. Presented without context or explanation, seemed to be yet another way of praising the rich while denigrating the poor — the very thing the Judeo-Christian scriptures urge people not to do.

A copy of a Dave Ramsey book. Photo courtesy Bonnie Brown via Flickr Creative Commons.

A copy of a Dave Ramsey book. Photo courtesy Bonnie Brown via Flickr Creative Commons.

Ramsey was angered by our response, and that of many others, and had this to say:

“…some members of our culture are so doctrinally shallow and so spiritually immature that the reaction was often rude, inappropriate or outright abusive. This reaction is sad because it’s focused only on this one little list, not on our body of work.”

In particular, Ramsey objected to my contribution to the discussion (though he did not name me directly) in which I referred to developing world poverty. He said that the reality of poverty in poor countries is irrelevant to US poverty, because

“If you are broke or poor in the U.S. or a first-world economy, the only variable in the discussion you can personally control is YOU.”

That’s the bread-and-butter of Ramsey’s teaching. Of course it is: if financial success isn’t really within everyone’s grasp simply by following 5 or 10 principles and organizing one’s cash into little envelopes, Ramsey (estimated net worth: $55 million USD) wouldn’t have much of a product to sell.

But reporter Helaine Olen came out with a book last year that casts serious doubt on the advice of gurus like Ramsey and Suze Orman.

Ramsey, for example, says that Ramsey tells people, “You can choose not to participate in a recession.”

“By preaching this message,” Olen says, “[these gurus] encourag[e] people to not see their problems in a greater context. You don’t see yourself as part of a group, you see yourself as alone.”

(Why do the phrases “no man is an island” and “love your neighbor as yourself” keep running through my mind?)

In talking to a reporter with the New York Times, Olen described playing an online game called “Spent,” in which players attempt to make it to the end of the month on minimum wage — a sort of role-play of Barbara Ehrenreich’s wonderful book Nickel & Dimed.

Try playing the game yourself  if you aren’t already acquainted with how the working poor in America live.

I’d like to see Ramsey play it.

But of course, I’m sure he’d just say it’s possible to choose not to participate.

(This Deseret News interview with Helaine Olen is VERY worth reading.)

34 Comments

  1. Rachel, the work that you and others have done to expose Mr. Ramsey’s denigration of the poor is valuable for the body of Christ, leading people to understand how compassion should really look.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    P.S. Mr. Ramsey’s list of wealthy people activities turned my stomach too: http://timfall.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/20-ways-that-dave-ramseys-blog-turned-my-stomach-today/

  2. It is not only whether his advice is biblical. A lot of investment professionals seriously question the advice he gives. In general the ‘get out of debt’ stuff is good. But beyond that it is questionable. Here is a sample of the type of article that really takes his investing advice to task http://money.cnn.com/2013/10/01/pf/dave-ramsey.moneymag/

    But another problem I have with him is that he is good with personal advice, but somehow thinks that he can use that personal advice to talk about macroeconomics. Something he clearly doesn’t know much about. Anyone who talks about a government and a personal family as being fundamentally the same, doesn’t know what they are talking about. And by perpetuating the idea that micro and macro economics are fundamentally the same, he is encouraging people to vote for politicians that don’t understand economics either.

    It is particularly the problems you are pointing out that show where we go wrong by thinking everything is fundamentally like us. Instead if we understand that economics are primarily about systems (yes we still need personal responsibility) then we understand that we need financial safety nets, we need health care reform, we need to understand our place in an economic structure, not just as a personal system that is apart from an economic structure.

    • Theodore Taylor

      3 things:
      1: No one should ever take educational advice from a five year old. He isn’t educated. Similarly, one should not take fiscal advice from someone who is broke. I would say that Dave is highly self-educated on this topic: he went through it himself. Can you really take financial advice from the “experts” behind an economy that is declining, in debt, and has a negative savings rate?
      2: Ronald Reagan clearly equated the basic principles of microeconomics with those governing our nation. Reagan implemented a supply-side economic policy (one based on business principles, not at all unlike Dave Ramsey’s teachings), and the nation prospered. It’s very hard to ignore pragmatic, experimental, empirical evidence that the free market – mainly devoid of government intervention – does, in fact, cause economic prosperity.
      3: In Proverbs, the Bible clearly lauds the value of thinking ahead, staying out of debt, and saving. Jesus also asserts “The poor will always be with you” in John 12:8. There are clearly other factors than socioeconomic ones keeping the poor as such. In many verses of Proverbs, a lack of work ethic is given as a possible reason. Dave DOES care about the poor, he teaches them how to gain the wisdom and work ethic keeping them in poverty. He also stresses charitable gifts. If you truly wish to be helpful, give to the poor! “With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:2 ESV.

  3. I’ve got a hunch that blocking honest conversation with twitter followers and creating distance by addressing those who disagree with you as “members of our culture” should be 2 more things on the list of things that rich people do. This makes it easier to make decisions that preserve financial capital while decreasing the cost of uncertainty and shame.

    • You mean like “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” Matthew 10:14

      It’s about not wasting time, not ignoring sound advice.

      The reality is that that is how successful people handle critics. (Your definition of critic and mine might be different, so keep in mind I am referring to flamethrowers, not Nathans)

      This is how I suggest silencing critics:

      http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/this-1-thing-will-silence-your-critics-forever/

      Sounds like Dave did the same thing. Good for him.

    • Full disclosure: My wife used to work for Dave. That being said, I listened to him for years before we met…more than 12 years now.

      Does he say things that make me cringe? Sure.

      Do I disagree with some things? Yep.

      Has he helped more poor people succeed than pretty much any other American? Yep.

      Just watch the video of the woman who came off food stamps because of FPU. Then consider how many people you’ve helped come off food stamps. Not that there is a scorecard in heaven, but it’s probably:

      Dave: 20,000
      All of us reading this: > 100

  4. Ramsay raised the same distinction on another program between economic worth and value as a person. In scripture, each person has the same equal value, but he used the example of a great restaurant waiter earning big tips in contrast to a lousy waiter getting meager gratuities; this in answer to a caller wondering if it is morally right that NBA players are paid in the millions. The good waiter’s work returns him more compensation, and our willingness to pay high prices to watch a game nets (pun intended) the NBA star a bigger paycheck.

    So in Canada, where I live, everyone has the same rights to free speech, to vote and to health care, but not everyone gets paid the same. He’s trying to delineate the difference between individual value and economic compensation. Jesus’ parable about the workers all getting the same wages regardless of hours worked was not a prescription for a new normative paradigm.

    On the other hand, I do often ask myself if Ramsay is really trying to help the financially hurting, why do his books always come out in hardcover?

  5. Thank you for including me in the write-up of the latest in Dave Ramsey. For all those who are interested, not only did I discuss Dave Ramsey in my book Pound Foolish, I also wrote a longer feature about him in Pacific Standard last year and discussed the 20 Things Rich People Do blog post in an article for Reuters.

    http://www.psmag.com/navigation/business-economics/prophet-dave-ramsey-personal-finance-67269/

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/23/olen-rich-idUSL2N0K21EM20131223

  6. When I first started listening to Dave Ramsey I assumed he was never poor and never had to sacrifice. Then I heard his own horrible story where he lost everything and tried not to declare bankruptcy. When the creditors came in and took his new born baby’s crib he decided he could not wait any longer. He then lived on tuna fish sandwiches for quite some time as he tried to start over from scratch.

    To your request, “I’d like to see Ramsey play it.” I’d say he already has.

    His plan helped me pay off $78,000 and may have saved (or at least strengthened) my marriage. Still very emotional when he has people call in making less than the median income in America screaming for the first time in their adult life that they’re debt free.

      • Dave likes to quote that, borrower is slave to the lender. As recently as the 16th century, and certainly in the OT, lending at interest was against the law. So it’s hard to see how the text is saying what he thinks it is. Maybe a modern take-away would be, don’t lend at interest, since enslaving your brother or sister is immoral.

        But that interpretation would be inconvenient wouldn’t it?

        • Theodore Taylor

          That argument is nonsequiter (Latin for “does not follow”). The verse is stating a fact: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Proverbs 22:6 (ESV). The book of Proverbs is just that: proverbs or wise sayings. Though it could be extrapolated that interest is thus slavery, it stands to be noted that this verse does not mention interest at all. Only borrowing/lending is mentioned. So according to your (eisegisis – based) logic, lending money at all should be a sin. but the verse doesn’t say any of that: it merely states that if you are in debt, you are a slave to the one who lent you money. There is no qualitative or moral statement present. So, Dave says that since debt is slavery, being debt-free is being free. A logical (and textual) argument.

  7. He’s got a good scam going. Give dodgy hackneyed financial tips and throw in a dash of old time religion in order to ensure a rabid fanbase. More proof that there is always money to be made on those who are willing to believe in things uncritically.

    • Theodore Taylor

      Just like you (who I would wager have never read Dave’s work and are probably in debt, if you are an average American) will believe everything you read online uncritically?

  8. I was $120k in debt not including a $100k mortgage. I was given a copy of Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover. The book helped me understand that I did not have to live in debt and how to work my way out. In a short 3 1/2 years my wife and I were debt-free. Then 4 years later we paid off our mortgage. It was hard, very hard, but worth all the sacrifices. Thanks to Dave we now have the money to help others in need. At this point we have donated and given away more money in the last two year than our entire adult lives. We will be forever grateful to Dave Ramsey for sharing his story and the financial principles he teaches so we can “live like no one else”.

      • Umm, for a couple with two incomes, let’s say making $80-$90k, this would be doable, provided they really scrimp and have no life. My husband and I make about $80k, and we will have $50k paid off in 18 months, all thanks to Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball :)

  9. Mark Sequeira

    I have issues with the idea of investing only where you get the best returns (10% plus) or pulling out your money…Many of these are profitable, hard-working businesses and pulling money because they don’t hyper-perform at 10+ points back to investors is shameless to me as a believer since without that investment they cease to exist. If everyone followed this (immoral) advice what would our business climate look like? What about back in the day when our fathers actually owned stock in the company they labored all their life in? They were vested because they owned something. Today, selfishness and what’s in it for me rules investing and is wrecking America (IMHO). I was part of a company that unwisely opened up to investment which then demanded 12% returns consistently or threatened to sell. ]Well, in a very tough market when many were losing money we consistently made 6-8% profits above and beyond for our investors. They however chose to fire everyone (400+ employees) and break up the over 100-year old company over profit. I can never agree with that being a Chrsitan principle and appeal to everyone reading this article to think about their own philosophy about investing for the future rather than just selling stock in anti-family companies.

    • Theodore Taylor

      The free market only thrives when companies are forced to compete. Government bailouts are very similar in concept to what you are suggesting. May I assume that you are in favor of those? That older companies somehow “deserve” profits and investors because they have been around forever? Companies that turn good profits are better able to pay employees. Take a good look at Henry Ford’s example: he was the best competitor in the market, and everyone involved prospered because of Ford’s aggressive struggle for profit. The Company prospered, the consumer prospered (by lower prices), and the employees were paid much higher wages. Competition in the free market eventually benefits everyone.

  10. I just heard ramsey tell a c aller that denying her estranged dad the opportunity to move in with them is correct with christian teaching…..so if someone screws up their life…and they re YOUR DAD…u can send them packing. Yeah, do things for him that don’t put you out…..anything more is I necessary……ISNT SACRIFICE THE FOUNDATION OF CHRISTIAN TEACHING”?? That you may rightfully turn your back………BUT YOU DONT???

    This dude is frustrating as hell…….do ANYTHING you can…but not at the cost of your finances….sure sounds secular to me. Christianity, to me, is doing things that mY hurt you, but you still do them,,,,,where am I wrong?2

  11. I think that Dave Ramsey sometimes misses it and he is had to listen to when he degrades others on the radio. I am just as guilty and have to be reminded everyday of the following verse:

    Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

  12. Here are some insightful quotes I like… Lemme know if you like them:

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

    “I, at any rate, am convinced that He (God) does not throw dice.”

    “The important thing isn’t to stop questioning; fascination has its own reason for existing.”

    “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I am not sure about the universe.”

    “Falling in love is not at all the most ignorant thing that people do — but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it.”

    “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It’s the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”

    “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

    “Try not to become a man of success, but instead attempt to become a man of worth”

  13. Dave Ramsey has truly helped millions of people eliminate debt, build wealth and give like never before. You critics have him mistaken. I have also helped hundreds of people tackle debt, save for an emergency, save for retirement, buy a home the right way, save marriages due to money fights and the list goes on and on. I learned mostly from dave ramsey. Trust me, it feels awesome helping others win with money. At least someone is teaching how to handle money and not slicking people out of their hard earned money. tarasTheBull.com

    • Theodore Taylor

      Thank you. I am glad to hear that you are picking up the same torch that Dave Ramsey is and spreading his wise advice. Everything he teaches is from his own life experience and experience dealing with the problems brought to his attention over the years, so I’d say that adding another set of life experiences to that message will flesh it out, like surround sound. Keep it up.

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