What Dave Ramsey Gets Wrong

Whenever personal debt counselor/media giant Dave Ramsey is criticized, he says something to the effect of “I help more people in an hour than they’ll help in their lifetime.” Ego aside, he’s right. When he sticks to what he does best, inspire people to reign in their spending and eliminate their personal debt, he’s golden. But when he uses his media pulpit to preach his conservative politics and personal theology, he’s completely full of shit.

Last Thursday night, on the commute home, I caught the second half of a call from a wealthy person who wanted Dave to tell him it was alright to buy a $65,000 sport car. Dave said of course it was because $65,000 was a small proportion of his total net worth. Then he launched into a ten minute long harangue about the one problem that may “very likely be the downfall of the United States.” Not health care inflation, not a disappearing middle class or reduced food stamps for those living in poverty, not the achievement gap in public schooling, and not global warming. Our greatest threat is too many people are envious of the rich.

“What’s too wealthy?” he kept asking, only to add, “YOU DON’T GET TO DECIDE! YOU DON’T GET TO DECIDE! YOU DON’T GET TO DECIDE!” Obviously, Dave needs his own counselor. I’ve listened to him long enough to know his schtick. He reads the Old Testament book of Proverbs selectively, always highlighting the specific ones that seemingly endorse wealth. Meanwhile, I’ve never heard him mention Matthew 19:24, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

As a multimillionaire Christian, Dave appears utterly unwilling to grapple with Jesus’s words or example in the New Testament. I’m certain he could explain Matthew 19:24 in ways you and I don’t understand. The same with Luke 6:20, “Looking at his disciples, Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Dave would probably tell me I’m taking those verses far too literally.

Here’s a Proverb I haven’t heard Dave cite, Chapter 14, verse 31, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” In his diatribe, Dave discounted the entire Operation Wall Street movement as just another example of class envy run amok.

Hey Dave, don’t take democratic critiques of free market capitalism so personally. What the Operation Wall Streeters wanted is what most Americans want, for us to keep closing the gap between the stated egalitarian ideals in our founding documents and our day-to-day economics and politics. Simply put, people want a more level playing field. Right now Dave, whether you’re willing to acknowledge it or not, the field tilts towards Wall Street bankers, you, me, and other people driving $65,000 sports cars.

It’s not that Dave thinks differently than me, extreme wealth and Christian faith is a topic that reasonable people can and do disagree about, it’s that he doesn’t think at all. He refuses to consider whether great wealth complicates faith. He is utterly unwilling to consider questions that might lead to insights into the relationship between faith and wealth. Questions like, how much is too much? Why is it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God? Or why is there a tendency to oppress the poor? Or why did Jesus identify with the poor?

I suspect he’s unwilling to ask those types of questions because he doesn’t want to consider lifestyle changes. Dave digs his luxury cars, his boats, his lake home, all the trappings of his considerable success. 

While unlikely, imagine Dave were to read this. “If Jesus of Nazareth doesn’t get to decide what’s too wealthy,” he’d roar, “Ron of Olympia definitely doesn’t!”

Stop Exercising

If you’re not saving for your seventies, eighties, and nineties.

Olga Kotelko is considered one of the world’s greatest athletes, holding 23 world records, 17 in her current age category, 90 to 95.

From the NYTimes Magazine:

At last fall’s Lahti championship, Kotelko threw a javelin more than 20 feet farther than her nearest age-group rival. At the World Masters Games in Sydney, Kotelko’s time in the 100 meters — 23.95 seconds — was faster than that of some finalists in the 80-to-84-year category, two brackets down. World Masters Athletics, the governing body of masters track, uses “age-graded” tables developed by statisticians to create a kind of standard score, expressed as a percentage, for any athletic feat. The world record for any given event would theoretically be assigned 100 percent. But a number of Kotelko’s marks — in shot put, high jump, 100-meter dash — top 100 percent. Because there are so few competitors over 90, age-graded scores are still guesswork.

Suspected of doping by some of her competitors, OK borrows from Lance’s playbook and repeatedly points out she’s never failed a test. Kidding of course.

Scientists researching the linkages between exercise, fitness, and longevity are busily studying OK and are finding the linkages are even stronger than suspected.

This type of fitness news is always heralded by the exercise community of which I’m a part, but is it really good news? I wonder because of another steady stream of stories about the elderly today—that they’re not saving nearly enough for their post-retirement lives. What if thirty, forty, and fifty-something spenders are also committed exercisers and then have to live through their sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties on reduced Social Security benefits and their meager savings?

If you’re not saving for your distant future, maybe you should stop exercising.

Sometimes I wonder what a Saturday morning 10 miler with the team costs. Setting aside our time (it’s Saturday morning after all), let’s assume we’re wearing $100 shoes that last for 500 miles. That’s 2% of $100 or $2 in shoe wear and tear. Next, let’s assume we’re wearing a shirt, shorts, and socks that cost $70 new. They last at least 140 runs so another 50 cents. Then I eat and drink a lot more throughout the day than I otherwise would if I was sedentary, so approximately $2.50 for a total of $5. This is where if I had a contract with MasterCard I’d write, “And the raunchy, witty banter, priceless.”

But I’ve never factored in the hidden “Olga Kotelko” cost. Of course there are no guarantees, life is fragile, but the odds are the team and I are extending our lives each Saturday morning. I’m not sure how to quantify that.

That’s okay though because I’m choosing to think positively about my longevity and saving for the distant future. Which is why I’m going to continue training for the 2052 Senior Games.