Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Understanding Dave Ramsey

I don’t know much about Dave Ramsey, the Christian financial guru to whom I referred in the previous post.  I’ve never listened to his radio show (probably because I gave up listening to the radio about fifteen years ago when it became overrun with right-wing talk shows.)  From what I can gather, he is a fifty-something southern guy who identifies as a “born-again Christian.”  He got rich in the 80’s, evidently by utilizing some questionable borrowing practices, and lost that fortune when a bank demanded repayment of over $1 million in short-term notes within 90 days, whereupon he declared bankruptcy. 

Here’s a man who got burned by the concept of “doing business with other people’s money” –a basic tenet of American business.  After that experience, it appears he got the “live debt-free” religion.  And like any convert, he is single-mindedly zealous about the concept.  Okay.  I get that. 

The problem is, he has combined his two passions—Christianity and “financial freedom”—into something that comes dangerously close to “prosperity gospel:”   that skewed theology that maintains that God wants Christians to be wealthy, and will generously bestow financial blessings upon believers who follow certain guidelines, like giving generously to Christian ministries.  Though Ramsey does not openly identify with the prosperity gospel movement, he does preach that God desires for believers to be happy (read “rich.”) Ramsey cherry-picks bible texts that bear out this theory, while studiously ignoring verses like Matthew 9:24:  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”  Or Matthew 5:3:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  In fact, when Ramsey’s detractors quote these verses to him, he accuses them of “biblical nitpicking” and goes on his merry way.

But, as I said, I knew nothing of Dave Ramsey until I followed a link posted by one of my Facebook friends.  The link is to a CNN piece  that deals with a post on Ramsey’s web page for which he has received a windfall of criticism.  The essay in question, not written by Ramsey himself but apparently endorsed by him, is a list of twenty practices theoretically embraced by the rich and shunned by the poor that constitute, in the author’s mind, the fundamental reasoning behind why some folks are rich and some are poor.  Rich folks do all these wise and practical things!  That’s why they’re rich!  Poor folks aren’t smart (disciplined, determined, desperate ) enough to do these things!  That’s why they’re poor!

The long list is an unprecedented pile of poor-bashing hogwash.  You can find it here:  20 ThingsThe Rich Do Every Day It is a trumped up piece of capitalistic propaganda that cites “facts” and “figures” that look suspiciously like they were pulled right out of someone’s wealth-promoting ass:

"80% of wealthy are focused on accomplishing some single goal. Only 12% of the poor do this.
"76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.
"63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people."   

What kind of “facts” are these?  Who did this research?  Who would care enough about any of these topics to DO the research?

The list is pure bullshit, and Ramsey did himself no favors posting it to his site.

As a result, a large enough hue and cry ensued that Ramsey was forced to respond.  Did he remove the post?  Did he acknowledge possible inaccuracies?  Did he challenge the author to cite his sources? 

No.  He responded with an ungrammatical and rambling diatribe of his own, (click on the link, scroll down past the original post; definitely worth reading) condemning his detractors as “politicized, immature and doctrinally illiterate.”  His response is, in itself, an amazing piece of self-promoting prattle that leaves one a bit shell-shocked and mystified at the logic of it all, but with no doubt as to the fact that Ramsey is shifting any perceived “blame” for the impropriety of the post from himself to his detractors.  In a nutshell, he is saying, “We haven’t done anything wrong, you just don’t GET us.  So we are just going to ignore you and keep doing what we are doing, because God is on OUR side.”  Ugh.

My favorite part of his convoluted logic is where he states: 

“My wife and I started our lives with almost nothing, eating off a card table and driving two cars that did not total $2,000 in value. We were broke…”

Broke, Dave.  Not POOR.  Broke.  There is a world of difference between the two.  “Broke” presupposes that you once had money, or you knew what it was like to have money.  “Eating off a card table and driving two cars…?”  That would be broke.  “Poor” would be having no food, no card table, possibly no room to put a card table IN, and almost certainly not in possession of ONE car, much less two.  Unless the car served as your living quarters.

Perhaps Dave Ramsey’s problem is with semantics.  He seems to function under the assumption that those who are not rich are poor.  Perhaps he fundamentally does not get that the definition of “poverty” is NOT “not rich.”  Perhaps if all of Ramsey’s teachings, and even this heinous “20 Things” list he shared, were based on “rich vs broke” rather than “rich vs poor,” it could all make a lot more sense.  And be much less morally objectionable.   

Because we all know there are NOT only two personal economic realities.  Rich and poor are the opposite ends of the spectrum.  There is a lot of territory in between.  But I think Ramsey takes deliberate advantage of the negative connotation of the word “poor.”  He has reinforced that negative definition by posting this list that indicates that the “poor ” are folks who are too lazy, stupid, unmotivated, criminal or sinful to follow the “Biblical” path he sets forth to attain wealth.  The poor are suffering the consequences of their own “poor” choices.  No one who drinks the Ramsey kool-aid wants to be one of THOSE people.  This is how Dave Ramsey stays in business.

Ramsey makes all kinds of claims about how he and his group teach “giving” and “extraordinary generosity.”  I guess that’s his way of suggesting that the “20 Things” list, and indeed, his entire ministry, is not about poor-bashing.  He insinuates that his critics don’t know anything about him or his teachings…that they have just decided to attack him based on this one post and not on his total body of work. 

You’re right, Dave.  I didn’t know anything about your body of work prior to this.  But this controversy, and your way of dealing with it, do not entice me to get better acquainted with you and your teachings.  In fact, it makes me want to avoid you like the plague, and tell everyone I know to do the same.       


Anonymous said...

Thank for providing a quick background information on this guy, I just heard of him from the Rawstory article and found your blog.
I just can't believe people like him think they are doing good taking other peoples money with god's help or approval.

Anonymous said...

Awesome article. The man is also disdainful toward anyone not Xian. He subtly attacks Jews, revealing his Anti-Semitism, using words like "blood suckers" or having this conservative rabbi[Daniel Lapin] that stereotypes why MOST Jews are rich. It is like the white racist that might have a stooge black guy on his show and freely using the N-Word. I enjoyed your article immensely. Thanks to the internet now, while I work , I have a lot more choices than I did 8 years ago... Thom Hartmann and Mark Maron to name a couple, among many other fine leftist, sane voices.