Author: Sam Brunson

Rhetoric v. Practice

By the time I was, say, 15, my hair was long. Not long-for-a-good-Mormon-boy, but legitimately long. (Also, I listened to heavy metal and grunge–there may have been a causal relationship there, but I’m not sure which way it ran.) Both my music and my hair probably violated the Church’s rhetorical standards.[fn1] That is, per statements in various Church publications and general Mormon cultural rules, both were probably inappropriate. But, even though I braced myself for the inevitable condemnation, it never came. Seriously. I participated in the administration of the sacrament throughout my long-haired days. No young men’s leader, teacher, bishop, or other person in the Church ever asked me to cut my hair, or otherwise remarked negatively on my hair.[fn2] And, during all those years, I only got one lesson on evil music. And the Sunday School teacher kind of undercut his point by bringing, as a visual aid and example of music we shouldn’t listen to, one of his old…

What If President Monson Endorsed Mitt Romney?

In his talk at the close of the April 2008 General Conference, President Monson talked about the blessing we had received, both as members of the Church and, specifically, over the course of the conference. He ended his talk with counsel: parents are to love and cherish their children, youth are to keep the commandments, those who can attend the temple should, and we should all be aware of each other’s needs. But what if, in closing his remarks,[fn1] President Monson had said, “My dear brothers and sisters, I feel strongly that Mitt Romney is the best person to lead our country. I encourage each of you to campaign on his behalf and to donate to his campaign. We have also established the Perpetual Mitt Fund, with an initial investment from tithing dollars for $1 million in order. This fund will go toward his election and, if any money is left over, it will be transferred to Harry Reid’s next…

The Tax Exemption and the Church’s Political Leanings

In light of the Church’s recent policy statement banning some Church authorities from endorsing candidates, and the speculation that the Church’s political neutrality derives from its desire to stay tax-exempt,[fn1] I thought I’d present a brief primer on the tax exemption.[fn2] The Revenue Act of 1894 probably represents the birth of the modern federal income tax. An inauspicious birth, to be sure–it was struck down as unconstitutional in 1895–but the birth, nonetheless. True, it was enacted 19 years before the 16th Amendment permitted direct taxation (whatever that is), but it set the stage for the income tax to come. Including, it turns out, in the world of exempting public charities from tax. It provided that the income tax would not apply to “corporations, companies, or associations organized and conducted solely for charitable, religious, or educational purposes.” [fn3] Although the list of entities that aren’t taxed has expanded (among other things, the exemption now includes groups that foster amateur sports competition–read…

The Parable of the Talented Endowment Tax

Governments impose taxes in order to raise revenue that, in turn, funds government function and services.[fn1] In designing a tax system, tax theorists generally try to create provisions that will raise revenue without significantly altering taxpayers’ economic choices. That is, ideally, taxpayers will act in approximately the same way as they would have in a world without tax.[fn2] But we can’t hit the ideal. The income tax alters people’s actions, because it alters the price calculus. One way is in our work-leisure decisions. Assume with me that I earn $10 an hour. That said, I enjoy not working, too–my leisure is worth $8/hour to me. In the absence of an income tax, if I have a choice between work and leisure, I’ll choose work. Even with a 10% tax, I’ll choose work, because I’ll bring home $9 after taxes, while my leisure is still worth only $8/hour. However, if the income tax is at a 25% rate, I’ll only bring…

My Book of Mormon: The Musical Post

I know I’m totally late to The Book of Mormon: The Musical party. The media has done it to death, the Bloggernacle has discussed it to death, and the Tonys awarded it to death. It’s provide huge amounts of press to the Church and at least one great interview on The Daily Show. I read most of the press obsessively for about a month. However, if I go to New York this summer (a small but distinct possibility), I probably won’t see it. But not for the reasons that you might think. Or at least not entirely. See, I don’t like musicals. During the seven or eight years I lived in New York, I probably saw four or five Broadway shows. Thoroughly Modern Millie (first wedding anniversary), The Man of La Mancha (brother-in-law was in town, he wanted to see it), Hairspray (rush tickets with my wife and another couple), Movin’ Out (more on that later). Oh, and In the…

In Praise of the Administrative Function of the Prophet

When I was just off my mission, President Hinckley announced that, in answer to a question about how to provide temples to smaller LDS communities, he had been inspired to construct smaller temples. There was a palpable sense of excitement at BYU, as we saw the prophet make what we regarded as a prophetic announcement. And, as a result of this revelatory change, we waited with baited breath for other announcements of revelatory changes. Occasionally I run across complaints about the bureaucracization of the leadership of the Church. The complaints seem to suggest that that’s not the role of a prophet/apostle and that administrative duties detract from prophetic ones. I want to argue that neither complaint is correct. The prophet’s role isn’t to hold our MTV-addled (or video-game addled, or ADHD’d, or whatever) attention. As much fun as it was to have things change, they shouldn’t have to. What’s more, the argument that the prophetic role is solely to receive…

Summer 2011 Syllabus

Part of my job as a law professor is to model to students what a transactional attorney does. As part of that, I include in my syllabus a list of things media that they ought to consume in order to understand the world a business lawyer functions in. The list is not exhaustive, by any means, nor should they necessarily read or listen to all of it, but it provides a slice of intelligent commentary on the world I’m teaching them how to enter. If you were preparing people to do what you do, what resources would you recommend? [fn1] And, if you do what I prepare my students to do, what necessary resources am I tragically leaving out? [fn2] Syllabus: Wall Street Journal.  Depending on your politics, you may detest or you may embrace the Opinions section, but the Journal’s business reporting is superb.  (Note that it has a paywall around most of its content; you either need to…

King Noah and Burdensome Taxes

A strain of popular Mormon thought appears to hold that a significant message derived from the story of King Noah is that taxes in excess of 20% are per se immoral, and drawing whatever inevitable conclusion follows from the current U.S. marginal tax rates. [fn1] It’s a fair application, I guess, of Nephi’s apply-the-scriptures-to-ourselves philosophy. Still, I can’t believe that this is Mormon’s, or, for that matter, God’s, purpose in relating this story. If it is, it’s a relatively sloppily-delivered point: for the most part, the rate of tax is irrelevant. [fn2] The rate only has relevance in relation to the base (that is, the set of things that are subject to the tax). Think about which tax would be more burdensome to you: (a) 35% of your income, less amounts you invest and save, or (b) 20% of your entire income (or, for some of you, (c) 15% of your net worth)? It’s not clear until we know your…

The Bonds That Tie

Sometime while I was in the MTC, I started a list of things that were cool and that I didn’t want my mission to make me forget or turn my back on. I wrote things down on a loose sheet of paper that I kept, folded, in my journal. I’d love to see it now, to look at what 19-year-old me thought 21-year-old me (and, presumably, 35-year-old-me, knowing my self-absorption at the time) should be. Sadly, it fell out of my journal at some point long, long ago. But the list may or may not have included hair- and facial-hair styles, music, and literature. The list was at least a side and a half of the paper, so I’m entirely sure I had constructed a full 360-degree aesthetic for myself.