Economics? It’s Science

The Economist reported on a new study that should provide a glimmer of hope to econphiles and cause the discipline’s critics to give pause:

In a paper just published in Science, Colin Camerer of the California Institute of Technology and a group of colleagues from universities around the world decided to check. They repeated 18 laboratory experiments in economics whose results had been published in the American Economic Review and the Quarterly Journal of Economics between 2011 and 2014. For 11 of the 18 papers (ie, 61% of them) Dr Camerer and his colleagues found a broadly similar effect to whatever the original authors had reported. That is below the 92% replication rate they would have expected had all the original studies been as statistically robust as the authors claimed—but by the standards of medicine, psychology and genetics it is still impressive. One theory put forward by Dr Camerer and his colleagues to explain this superior hit rate is that economics may still benefit from the zeal of the newly converted. They point out that, when the field was in its infancy, experimental economists were keen that others should adopt their methods. To that end, they persuaded economics journals to devote far more space to printing information about methods, including explicit instructions and raw data sets, than sciences journals normally would. This, the researchers reckon, may have helped establish a culture of unusual rigour and openness. Whatever the cause, it does suggest one thing. Natural scientists may have to stop sneering at their economist brethren, and recognise that the dismal science is, indeed, a science after all.

Granted, the sample size is small compared to other replication studies. Nonetheless, it suggests that economics may well be the “dismal science,” but at least it is actual science.

The Current State of Minimum Wage Research

I was reading a Facebook thread recently in which a commenter was complaining about Walmart’s supposedly “evil” business practices and low wages compared to, say, Costco. This same commenter then advocated for the now-popular $15 minimum wage. Readers of Difficult Run are well aware that some of us here have little love for minimum wage laws. Setting aside the reasons Walmart and Costco might pay differently or the net positive effects of Walmart on the economy, I’m just going to point to two recent San Francisco Federal Reserve publications by UCI economist David Neumark. The first summarizes the current state of research on the employment effects of the minimum wage:

Many studies over the years find that higher minimum wages reduce employment of teens and low-skilled workers more generally. Recent exceptions that find no employment effects typically use a particular version of estimation methods with close geographic controls that may obscure job losses. Recent research using a wider variety of methods to address the problem of comparison states tends to confirm earlier findings of job loss. Coupled with critiques of the methods that generate little evidence of job loss, the overall body of recent evidence suggests that the most credible conclusion is a higher minimum wage results in some job loss for the least-skilled workers—with possibly larger adverse effects than earlier research suggested.

As for recent increases in the minimum wage, Neumark makes the following estimate:

Thus, allowing for the possibility of larger job loss effects, based on other studies, and possible job losses among older low-skilled adults, a reasonable estimate based on the evidence is that current minimum wages have directly reduced the number of jobs nationally by about 100,000 to 200,000, relative to the period just before the Great Recession. This is a small drop in aggregate employment that should be weighed against increased earnings for still-employed workers because of higher minimum wages.

The second brief looks at the minimum wage’s effectiveness in reducing poverty and inequality. There are a couple complications:

One complication is research pointing to employment declines from minimum wage increases (see Neumark 2015), which means raising wages for some people must be weighed against potential job losses for others. In this case, whether a higher minimum wage on net helps poor and low-income families depends on the specific pattern of employment effects for different family types.

A second complication is that mandating higher wages for low-wage workers does not necessarily do a good job of delivering benefits to poor families. Of course, worker wages in low-income families are lower on average than in higher-income families. Nevertheless, the relationship between being a low-wage worker and being in a low-income family is fairly weak, for three reasons. First, 57% of poor families with heads of household ages 18–64 have no workers, based on 2014 data from the Current Population Survey (CPS). Second, some workers are poor not because of low wages but because of low hours; for example, CPS data show 46% of poor workers have hourly wages above $10.10, and 36% have hourly wages above $12. And third, many low-wage workers, such as teens, are not in poor families (Lundstrom forthcoming).

Considering these factors, simple calculations suggest that a sizable share of the benefits from raising the minimum wage would not go to poor families.

Both briefs are worth reading. Check them out. For me, it all goes back to what Thomas Sowell says: “There are no solutions; there are only trade-offs.”

Other People’s Money: Millennials and Socialism


There’s been one underlying basic fallacy in this whole set of social security and welfare measures, and that is the fallacy – this is at the bottom of it – the fallacy that it is feasible and possible to do good with other people’s money. That view has two flaws. If I want to do good with other people’s money, I first have to take it away from them. That means that the welfare state philosophy of doing good with other people’s money, at it’s very bottom, is a philosophy of violence and coercion. It’s against freedom, because I have to use force to get the money. In the second place, very few people spend other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own. – Milton Friedman


A recent article in The Washington Post looks at the love affair between Millennials, Bernie Sanders, and the polarizing term “socialism.” The Cato Institute’s Emily Ekins explains,

Millennials are the only age group in America in which a majority views socialism favorably. A national Reason-Rupe survey found that 53 percent of Americans under 30 have a favorable view of socialism compared with less than a third of those over 30. Moreover, Gallup has found that an astounding 69 percent of millennials say they’d be willing to vote for a “socialist” candidate for president — among their parents’ generation, only a third would do so. Indeed, national polls and exit polls reveal about 70 to 80 percent of young Democrats are casting their ballots for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a “democratic socialist.”

Ekins makes a couple of important observations:

  • “[M]illennials tend to reject the actual definition of socialism…”
  • Countries like “Denmark aren’t socialist states (as the Danish prime minster has taken great pains to emphasize)…” In fact, Denmark “outranks the United States on a number of economic freedom measures such as less business regulation and lower corporate tax rates…”

But the real question is whether or not this youthful infatuation with socialistic policies will last. Ekins provides reasons to think not:

There is some evidence that this generation’s views on activist government will stick. However, there is more reason to expect that support for their Scandinavian version of socialism may wither as they age, make more money and pay more in taxes. The expanded social welfare state Sanders thinks the United States should adopt requires everyday people to pay considerably more in taxes. Yet millennials become averse to social welfare spending if they foot the bill. As they reach the threshold of earning $40,000 to $60,000 a year, the majority of millennials come to oppose income redistribution, including raising taxes to increase financial assistance to the poor. Similarly, a Reason-Rupe poll found that while millennials still on their parents’ health-insurance policies supported the idea of paying higher premiums to help cover the uninsured (57 percent), support flipped among millennials paying for their own health insurance with 59 percent opposed to higher premiums. When tax rates are not explicit, millennials say they’d prefer larger government offering more services (54 percent) to smaller government offering fewer services (43 percent). However when larger government offering more services is described as requiring high taxes, support flips and 57 percent of millennials opt for smaller government with fewer services and low taxes, while 41 percent prefer large government.

If previous generations are any indication (“both baby boomers and Gen Xers grew more skeptical of government over time”), the Millennial approval of big government may dwindle when they start having to pay for the programs they advocate. But an even greater takeaway–in connection with the notion that the world is getting better–is that “college students today are not debating whether we should adopt the Soviet or Maoist command-and-control regimes that devastated economies and killed millions. Instead, the debate today is about whether the social welfare model in Scandinavia (which is essentially a “beta-test,” because it hasn’t been around long) is sustainable and transferable.” In other words, “in the 20th-century battle between free enterprise and socialism, free enterprise already won.”

We Grow As We Serve

Our meetings are not usually this cozy.
Our meetings are not usually this cozy.

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

The Saturday afternoon session of the April 1972 General Conference had eight speakers. Yes, eight. And so it ended the way your local ward’s sacrament meeting might occasionally end, with the last couple of speakers tossing their prepared remarks when they got to the stand, bearing a quick testimony instead, and sitting down. For some reason, I found that adorable, especially the humility with which these leaders accepted the lack of time. Elder Howard W. Hunter simply said, “Observing the clock, I fold the notes that I have prepared and place them in my inside pocket,” and then he told a beautiful little anecdote about an adult bird teaching a baby bird how to catch a worm, taking less than 300 words in total.

This unassuming humility echoed the first talk of the session, President Hinckley’s What Will the Church Do for You, a Man? In the talk, he lists several benefits of active membership in the Church, specifically for the men:

  • It will bring you into the greatest fraternity in the world.
  • Active membership in the Church will motivate a man to clean up his life, if that is necessary.
  • Activity in the Church will afford you growth through responsibility.
  • Membership in the Church and active participation therein will give a new dimension to your life, a spiritual dimension that will become as a rock of faith, with an endowment of authority to speak in the name of God.
  • It will assist you in the governance of your home.
  • The Church makes it possible for you, a man, to bind to you for eternity those you love most..

It’s an interesting list in a couple of ways. First, several of the things that the Church will ostensibly “do for you” are actually things you have to do for others: “growth through responsibility,” “governance of your home,” and the rest are also things that generally fall under the heading of work, like cleaning up your life. What the Church provides, in short, is work.

Something else? The General Authorities espouse the way things ought to be more than the way things are. The role of a prophet, first and foremost, is to reveal the gap between what we are and what we should be. This, as you can imagine, is a thankless job. But recognizing and even embracing the capacity to stare this gap in the face is recognized by some as an absolutely vital prerequisite to improvement.

The most prominent of these is Ira Glass (host of NPR’s This American Life), and one version of his account can be read here. The central quote, from Glass, is this:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes awhile. It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.

Glass is talking about art, but I believe it applies just as much to life in general. The only difference is that, in the context of an organized religion, you don’t just rely on your own personal taste as the guideline. Instead, you have authoritative sources—scripture and leaders—who work in conjunction with your conscience to highlight the gap between who you are and who you’d like to be.

This is hard. Very, very hard.

But, especially for Mormons, it is essential. We believe that the ultimate objective of our time here on Earth is to become more like God. That’s what discipleship means. It’s a lofty ambition, and it entails that, as an integral purpose of our life, we should seek out and collide with our own weaknesses like fault-seeking missiles. The higher the tolerance for recognizing our mistakes, the more we are able to work to ameliorate them.

Now, there is an absolutely vital role that Christ’s grace has to play in this, but that’s not my emphasis for today. Today, I just wanted to point out that as members of any organized religion and especially as Mormons, we face a compounded gap problem because we answer not only to our conscience (which is sort of like a sense of taste, but for the moral instead of the aesthetic sphere), but also to external guides.

Why did this come to mind for me in relation to this particular talk? From the first item on President Hinckley’s list. I’m an introvert with an ambiguous (at best) relationship to the idea of formal organizations and a personal history that, for uninteresting reasons, meant that I had essentially no Mormon friends for most of my life. It’s not just that I don’t feel that the Elder’s Quorum is “the greatest fraternity in the world.” It’s also that “the greatest fraternity in the world” doesn’t sound appealing to me in the first place. I had absolutely zero interest in joining one in college; why should I want to join one now?

I enjoy sacrament meeting. I enjoy Sunday school. I go to Elder’s Quorum because I’m told to go. I don’t really get it. And left, to my own devices, I never would.

People like to share conversion experiences all the time, and not just religious ones. The pattern is the same, “I thought I wouldn’t like it, but some external reason compelled me to try it, and now I love it!” Could be about being a Christian. Could also be about discovering your favorite TV show. The point is, people generally wait until after they have had their “ah-ha!” moment to share these stories.

Well, I’m sharing mine pre-emptively. Today, I don’t get it. One day, I believe I will. That’s true of this “greatest fraternity in the world,” but it’s true of a lot of other things as well. I’m confident, based on prior experience, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes more sense and has more to offer than I recognize at any point in time. That is, essentially, why I’m still here. Trying to serve. Hoping to grow.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!

What Has The Church Ever Done For Us?

This is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

When I read Gordon B. Hinckley’s talk “What Will the Church Do For You, a Man?” in the April 1972 Saturday afternoon session, I thought of the following:

About a year ago, Nathaniel wrote a piece at Times & Seasons on what we could call “family privilege” and how those that benefit from a stable, intact family often don’t even realize it. This is true in the case of race, gender, socioeconomic background, etc. When it comes to the Church, I find it very easy to point out flaws or shortcomings. But as economist Thomas Sowell put it, “Nothing is easier than to prove that something human has imperfections. I’m amazed how many people devote themselves to that task.” What I often forget are the privileges that come from growing up in the Church. Hinckley lays out a few:

  1. First, it will bring you into the greatest fraternity in the world.

“Every man hungers for brotherhood,” says Hinckley. I’ve talked about the need to belong elsewhere and won’t repeat myself here. But the Church provides a social network, a people, an identity.

2. Second, active membership in the Church will motivate a man to clean up his life, if that is necessary.

Hinckley proclaims, “There are in the aggregate experiences of this church thousands upon thousands of cases of men who, under the uplifting impulses of the gospel of Jesus Christ and under the inspiration of association with good men, have received the strength to lay aside habits that held them in bondage for many years.” Social pressures and expectations as well as positive role models and influences help to curb bad habits or snuff them out before they even begin.

3. Third, activity in the Church will afford you growth through responsibility.

“It is an axiom as true as life itself that we grow as we serve,” says Hinckley. Responsibilities are placed on Mormon children at a young age, beginning with public talks and prayers. Children as young as 12 are put into leadership positions over their peers. Sacred rituals are prepared and performed by young men ages 12-18. Boys and girls barely able to vote go on mission trips lasting 1.5-2 years. The callings and duties only increase with age.

4. Fourth, membership in the Church and active participation therein will give a new dimension to your life, a spiritual dimension that will become as a rock of faith, with an endowment of authority to speak in the name of God.

The Church, according to Hinckley, “will verily add a spiritual dimension to your life with which to bless your family, your associates, and yourself.” Church leaders consistently implore us to read our scriptures, attend church, say family and personal prayers, seek inspiration and revelation, and (in the case of priesthood holders) exercise authority to bless the lives of others through blessings, ordinances, etc. All of these things attempt to connect us to the divine and thus open up an entire world to us.

5. Fifth, it will assist you in the governance of your home.

Hinckley declares, “How much stronger the nation would be—any nation—if there were presiding in each home a man who looked upon his wife as an eternal companion, engaged with him in a partnership with God in bringing to pass divine, eternal purposes, and who looked upon his children as children of our Heavenly Father, who has given to earthly parents a stewardship for those children.” This returns to the theme of Nathaniel’s post mentioned above. I strongly recommend giving it a read. In essence, family is central to the doctrines of Mormonism. When the highest form of existence in Mormonism (“exaltation“) is defined in terms of family, the desire and need to better govern one’s family here on earth is likely to increase. See below.

6. Finally, the Church makes it possible for you, a man, to bind to you for eternity those you love most.

“No other relationship in life,” says Hinckley, “is so sacred, so satisfying, so important in its consequences as the family relationship.” This was the driving force behind one convert I taught on my mission up in Carson City, NV. He still struggled with the Joseph Smith story, but the doctrine of eternal families resonated with him. He chose to go through with his baptism despite his questions, explaining that he had faith that God would quiet his concerns. Ultimately, it felt right and he wanted to do whatever was necessary to be with his family forever.

So, whenever I get in the mode of asking “What has the Church ever done for us?”, I should respond with: a social network and identity, clean living, a sense of responsibility and solid work ethic, high spirituality, and a family-centered life. Of course, this is generally speaking, but these benefits cannot be overstated. As I continue through my adult Mormon life, I would do well to remember the privileges bestowed upon me by my Mormon childhood.

The Last Week: A Lecture by Marcus Borg

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

In honor of the Easter season, I read through The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem by biblical scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. As I mentioned at Borg’s recent passing, I don’t always share his and Crossan’s interpretations. However, their strong emphasis on the political nature of Jesus’ ministry is a much-needed breath of fresh air in the midst of today’s hyper-individualized, over-spiritualized Christianity. One cannot and should not separate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus from his life and ministry. Christ’s actions that resulted in his death are what discipleship is all about. And one has to understand the historical and political context of Jesus’ last week to fully understand what discipleship looks like.

However, my friend and co-editor here at Difficult Run Allen Hansen recently captured my thoughts beautifully on Facebook on the need to combine the political nature of Christ’s ministry with the reality of his resurrection:

The late Marcus Borg was a purveyor of a liberal Christian popular theology. By all accounts a generally thoughtful and considerate individual, Borg was oddly and dogmatically insistent upon a dichotomy between things literal and things spiritual/symbolic/meaningful. There was, according to him, no material, bodily resurrection. The tomb was not empty, but remained full. Instead, we should see it as a parable on meaning, Christ living again is as a dynamic experience, ascribing anything beyond that, say, an actual, divine being with a material body who is as alive now as he ever was before his death, is to trivialise the story. Nevermind that any 1st century apocalyptic and pharisaic Jews would have been bewildered by such an incomprehensible sentiment regarding resurrection. We’ll cut Borg some slack for theological rather than historical musings on earliest Christian theology. To my mind, reducing the atonement, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ to a parable on meaning is to trivialise it. I don’t yet have a fully articulated or consistent model for how the atonement worked and I may never have one, but a God willing to let his son suffer and die for us is no trivial god. Likewise a god freely choosing such suffering and humiliation for himself for our sakes. A god who can intervene on our behalf in history and nature, who can shatter the bonds of death and sin keeping us captive. A god who is able to lift us to his level, unlocking our eternal potential, thus making us everything that we should be rather than just another crappy metaphor reminding us of what we are not now, and never will be. The reality and power of the atonement is something that I have personally experienced. Because I have had that spiritual witness is why I am Christian rather than Jewish despite often feeling closer to the latter. To deny the possibility of bodily resurrection is to trivialise the new possibility which is Christ. It is almost a sneer at the hope of millions for a time in which everything that is wrong, unfair, imperfect, and evil is made right. It is affirming that life is nasty, brutish and short, but we can make it a little less depressing by telling stories that are true even though they are not nor ever will be actually, literally true. If you believe in that you are welcome to it, but I cannot agree that holding to a belief in a material, bodily resurrection is a trivial interpretation. Still, Borg got quite a bit right. It is just that what he got right is more powerful when considered as aspects of a bodily resurrection of the son of God.

Despite these criticisms, I highly recommend the book. You can see Borg lecture on Holy Week below.

Are All the Income Gains Going to the Top One Percent?

A new report by the Manhattan Institute’s Scott Winship looks at the claims regarding “the rich getting richer” and the top 1% making most of the gains since the Great Recession. Winship’s main findings include:

  • An accurate accounting of who is gaining and losing in the U.S. economy requires a broad view across an entire business cycle: while the richest households tend to gain the most during economic expansions, this is partly because they also lose the most during recessions.
  • In the current, ongoing, business cycle, real incomes declined between 2007 and 2014; the top 1 percent experienced nearly half of that total decline.
  • From 1979 to 2007, 38 percent of income growth went to the bottom 90 percent of households, amounting to a 35 percent increase ($17,000) in its average income.

Check it out. An excerpt can be found here.

Ted Cruz Sex Scandal?

Cruz Scandal

Just picked up this story on Facebook: 8 Things You Need to Know About Ted Cruz’s Sex Scandal. Some thoughts:

  1. This is one article, so it’s not proof, but the sources seem very legit. For example: National Enquirer is kind of a joke, but they were right about Tiger Woods. And John Edwards. (See the article for more.)
  2. I have never liked Ted Cruz. He is second only to Donald Trump on my list of major candidates that I’d rather not see in the general (let along the White House), and has been for a while. I disagree with his politics, but more than that I have found his behavior in the past to be dishonorable. In short: he panders. A lot. In most cases, I’d rather vote for someone with good character than someone who perfectly matches my political philosophy.
  3. Can this GOP primary season get any worse?
  4. Bet you’re glad Kasich didn’t drop out, now.
  5. I’d really like a 15 minute conversation with Glenn Beck. I think he’s sincere and I respect him a lot for standing up consistently against Donald Trump. However, he’s been in the tank for Cruz for a long time, and I knew he was getting conned. Beck’s heart is in the right place, but he’s not a very good judge of character or politics. His advisers suck.
  6. Help us, #Romney2016, you’re our only hope.

The Inequality of Spending

Over at The New Republic, a pair of economists report,

In a just-released study, we provide the first picture of actual U.S. inequality. We account for inequality in labor earnings and wealth, as Thomas Piketty and many others do. And we get to the bottom line: what does inequality in spending look like after accounting for government taxes and benefits? Our findings dramatically alter the standard view of inequality and inform the debate on whether and how best to reduce it. Our study focuses on lifetime spending inequality because economic well being depends not just on what we spend this minute, hour, week or even year. It depends on what we can expect to spend through the rest of our lives.

The results?

First, spending inequality—what we should really care about—is far smaller than wealth inequality. This is true no matter the age cohort you consider. Take 40-49 year-olds. Those in the top 1 percent of our resource distribution have 18.9 of net wealth but account for only 9.2 percent of the spending. In contrast, the 20 percent at the bottom (the lowest quintile) have only 2.1 percent of all wealth but 6.9 percent of total spending. This means that the poorest are able to spend far more than their wealth would imply—though still miles away from the 20 percent they would spend were spending fully equalized.

The authors conclude,

The facts revealed in our study should change views. Inequality, properly measured, is extremely high, but is far lower than generally believed. The reason is that our fiscal system, properly measured, is highly progressive. And, via our high marginal taxes, we are providing significant incentives to Americans to work less and earn less than they might otherwise. Finally, traditional static measures of inequality, fiscal progressivity and work disincentives that a) focus on immediate incomes and net taxes rather than lifetime spending and lifetime net taxes and b) lump the old together with the young create highly distorted pictures of all three issues.

Check it out.

We Cannot See What Is In The Heart

Image from What Do Mormons Believe? (
Image from What Do Mormons Believe? (

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

I enjoyed the Saturday morning session of the April 1972 General Conference right from the first talk, Elder N. Eldon Tanner’s “Judge Not, That Ye Be Not Judged.” The message is clear enough, but it’s not something I recall hearing an entire talk dedicated before reading this one. Elder Tanner makes the case strongly that we cannot judge because “We cannot see what is in the heart. We do not know motives, although we impute motives to every action we see. They may be pure while we think they are improper.” He goes on:

It is not possible to judge another fairly unless you know his desires, his faith, and his goals. Because of a different environment, unequal opportunity, and many other things, people are not in the same position. One may start at the top and the other at the bottom, and they may meet as they are going in opposite directions. Someone has said that it is not where you are but the direction in which you are going that counts; not how close you are to failure or success but which way you are headed. How can we, with all our weaknesses and frailties, dare to arrogate to ourselves the position of a judge? At best, man can judge only what he sees; he cannot judge the heart or the intention, or begin to judge the potential of his neighbor.

It’s a great quote, and it falls in line with the emphasis on intellectual humility that is the central theme for this blog. Elder Tanner made some additional strong points that I’m still mulling over. For example, he said that “only by suspending judgment do we exhibit real charity.” And so that has me thinking about the relationship between suspending judgment and loving unconditionally. And that is also the entire point of our mortal experience: judgment is postponed. That makes this mortal life chaotic and confusing (because consequences do not follow immediately and inexorably from our decision), but it also carves out space for the atonement–the ultimate act of love–to work.

Elder Tanner also talked about the relationship between not judging and optimism, urging us to “look for the good rather than try to discover any hidden evil.” I believe there is something noble and empowering in trying to see the best in the people around you rather than engaging in easy, seductive cynicism.

Regardless of our ego, our pride, or our feeling of insecurity, our lives would be happier, we would be contributing more to social welfare and the happiness of others, if we would love one another, forgive one another, repent of our wrongdoings, and judge not.

Although here, too, there is a connection to love. “Even in families, divorce has resulted and families have been broken up because the husband or wife was looking for and emphasizing the faults rather than loving and extolling the virtues of the other.” When a Mormon man and woman are sealed to one another, they are stuck with each other for eternity. The time for criticism and judgment is past. From that point on, the goal is to love the one you’re with, in part by emphasizing their virtues and strengths in your own estimation.

Lastly, this idea of optimism vs. cynicism and judging bears on the political arena.

Tirades against men in office or against one’s opponent tend to cause our youth and others to lose faith in the individual and others in government and often even our form of government itself.

How true is this of our nation today? How many of us have lost complete faith in our representatives and also in our form of government? There are two reasons for this, I believe. The first is that we–as everyday Americans–have long since abandoned the idea of holding our leaders (and ourselves) to high moral standards. Elder Tanner addressed this, writing that “it is most important that all of us, including our politicians, strive to live so that our actions will be above reproach and criticism.” Coincidental with that, we have also begun to engage in complaints and mockery–often with a partisan edge–as a kind of public spectacle and blood sport. It is bad enough that we tolerate and condone unethical behavior by our leaders. This encourage precisely the wrong kind of men and women to run for office to enrich themselves with the opportunities afforded by public office. It compounds the problem to then grow so cynical about our leaders that we do not believe any of them can act for decent or humane motives. This discourages preciesly the right kind of men and women from running for office, because who wants to deal with that? Our judgmentalism, because it is cynical and divorced from principle, increases the incentives for corrupt politicians and decreases the incentives for honest ones. And yes, that’s a thing. The results, as we see on the news every day, are lamentable.

There is a difference between being non judgmental and being unprincipled. A non judgmental person has principles, but is generous in interpreting the actions, intentions, and motives of others. An unprincipled person has no moral true north, but can easily engage in ad hoc judgmentalism nonetheless.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!