What a profound pile of…confusion.


This is an image with the tagline “what a profound little paragraph…” that’s getting a lot of shares on Facebook, and bounced around in email threads decades before that. I disagree with a lot of the statements, so I did some reading, and what I learned amazed me. Since my research turned up so much, I decided to post it here instead of Facebook.

If you take the time to read this post, thank you. If you want to share, or comment, even better. But what I’d really like all of us to do, above all else, is research what you read before sharing it, even (or especially) if you agree with it.

Now to the image.

This is a false source

Note that this quote is attributed to Dr. Adrian Rogers, in 1931. Adrian Rogers was a pastor and author, and served 3 terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Since he was born in 1931, it’s doubtful he came up with this quote that year.

Dr. Rogers did use this quote in a sermon in 1984, but he didn’t come up with it. The original author was Gerald LK Smith, in his magazine The Cross and the Flag, a right wing white supremacist magazine known for denying the Holocaust.

What’s really odd to me is that Smith also worked as a recruiter and organizer for the Share Our Wealth society, a social movement founded by Louisiana governor Huey Long during the Great Depression. Here are the key planks of the SOW movement:

  1. No person would be allowed to accumulate a personal net worth of more than 300 times the average family fortune, which would limit personal assets to between $5 million and $8 million. A graduated capital levy tax would be assessed on all persons with a net worth exceeding $1 million.
  2. Annual incomes would be limited to $1 million and inheritances would be capped at $5.1 million.
  3. Every family was to be furnished with a homestead allowance of not less than one-third the average family wealth of the country. Every family was to be guaranteed an annual family income of at least $2,000 to $2,500, or not less than one-third of the average annual family income in the United States. Yearly income, however, cannot exceed more than 300 times the size of the average family income.
  4. An old-age pension would be made available for all persons over 60.
  5. To balance agricultural production, the government would preserve/store surplus goods, abolishing the practice of destroying surplus food and other necessities due to lack of purchasing power.
  6. Veterans would be paid what they were owed (a pension and healthcare benefits).
  7. Free education and training for all students to have equal opportunities in all schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions for training in the professions and vocations of life.
  8. The raising of revenue and taxes for the support of this program was to come from the reduction of swollen fortunes from the top, as well as for the support of public works to give employment whenever there may be any slackening necessary in private enterprise.

I find it astounding that Smith, presumably quite a racist, would be in favor of such progressive social support ideas. Maybe he took it for granted (this was the 30’s) that the SOW plank would only apply to whites?

So at this point we have a quote from an author who worked for what could be described as a socialist organization, being endorsed and shared on the Internet by people I’m guessing disagree with socialism. The Internet is an amazing place.

My objections to the content of this paragraph

Since I’m so long winded I’ll repeat the sentences here, with my responses, so you don’t have to scroll up and down.

“You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.”

Nobody is trying to legislate the wealthy out of prosperity. The richest 1% in this country take in almost 23% of the pre-tax income in this country. Even if the tax code on the richest were 80% or more, they’d still be not only prosperous, but rich. But those tax revenues could fund schools, infrastructure improvements, and create real jobs, here in America, instead of moving those jobs overseas.

“What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.”

This sounds like a logical law, but it’s meaningless. This is not a one to one zero sum game. Social security is a program that provides benefits to those who can no longer work, because those who can work pay into it while employed. The relatively minor contributions of the majority make it possible for the system to provide benefits to those who can’t support themselves, but those who pay into the system also can also receive benefits. The taxes that we pay for infrastructure and schools benefit everyone, not just the poor.

And the vast majority of poor in America are working, they just can’t get jobs that pay enough to live on.

“When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is the beginning of the end of any nation.”

Maybe, but this is a straw man argument: that’s not the way our country works right now, and there’s no government system designed to work that way. In fact, the truth in America right now is that the richest 1% don’t have to work, because they benefit from the labor of the other 99%. And that may be the end of this nation.

“You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.”

Absolutely untrue. If you take one million dollars, stashed away in a bank vault, producing no products and generating no tax revenue, it is worth exactly 1 million dollars.  On the other heand, if you split up that 1 million, and give $10,000 to 100 people, those people then spend that money on products of value to them, creating jobs for those who made the products, jobs for those who market the products, and jobs for all the people that those people then do business with. That generates wealth for all involved. This is the way economies grow.

I don’t have all the answers, because economy and politics are complex subjects, but I found the history of this “quote” quite interesting, and it’s amazing to me how much of what’s shared on Facebook is distributed without any sort of critical review. There are concrete benefits to social media, but the costs to our collective intellectual capacity may outweigh the benefits.

Note:  I’m leaving this blog up for archival purposes, but I’m no longer writing copy for it.  I wrote this post a year ago, to debunk a meme that was making the rounds on Facebook.  With respect to those who have taken the time to share their views, I have no wish to participate in a perpetual discussion on economic theory, so comments are no longer allowed.  Feel free to share your opinions on your own blog.


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7 responses to “What a profound pile of…confusion.

  1. Totally agree with the last line. Thankfully, we can hide that stuff on FB if we are aware this is what is happening. (Helps with exploding head syndrome, too. ) Not sure about your opinions, will have to do some research. 🙂 And, even then? I fear it’s all …confusing. 🙂 🙂

  2. thank you so much for posting this. i just saw this meme come across my FB feed and started doing research too.

  3. Shelly

    Yup! I try my best to research stuff I see on fb; that’s why I’m here. Sooo, thank you! —’cause it’s going around again!

  4. Michael

    Your deep research here on a complex and divisive issue is appreciated. We all benefit from questioning everything we hear and read. Thanks for questioning and discovering truth about this seemingly logical but ultimately false quote.

  5. sara

    Thank you for looking into this. Great article!