Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Problems of the Age: 10: Extravagance

Problems of the Age: 10: Extravagance

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 19, 2011

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Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner

X. – Extravagance

Luxury Rampant. – There is serious danger ahead, greater than that which the world is now confronting from the extravagance of war, – for of all forms of extravagance, war is the worst. Nations are wasting life by the millions and property by the billions. Minor extravagances lead to major ones. We may not think of war as a result of extravagance, but indirectly it is. Waste and greed are twin brothers. To spend becomes a passion. People love to buy, not always because they are in need, but because shopping is a pleasant pastime. Of course, bills must be paid, money must be had, honorably if possible, but it must be had.

Are we living beyond our means? Are we borrowing to support luxury and waste? Do we eat too much? do we eat food that is costly when cheaper and simpler food would do as well, perhaps better? It is sometimes said that France could live on what the United States throws away. Dr. Rutherford, one of the most eminent authorities on food in the world, recently said at a meeting in Calgary, as reported in the Herald of that city, September 20, 1917:

No one would know Canada was at war, except for the wounded soldiers on the streets. When one sees extravagance and waste constantly going on; buying of motor cars and silly raiment; oceans of gasoline used up, one begins to wonder what kind of a people we are, after all. We will have to help the mother country. It seems about time we woke up and took a tighter hold of our belts.

Food has been shut off from Russia, Roumania and Bulgaria, while Australia and India are too far away to be of much use. The requirements of the allies is 450,000,000 bushels, while the amount available for export is 30,000,000.

There is a decrease in meat producing in the world. There are 28,080,000 less cattle in the countries of the allies since the war began and 54,050,000 less sheep and 32,050,000 fewer number of hogs. During the year ending June 30, 1916, the United States exported 1,339,193,000 pounds of meat, as compared with the average amount before the war of 493,848,000 pounds.

There are two phases, one the conservation of food, and the other the elimination of food. The waste of food in the garbage pails and so on in the United States is estimated by their food controller to be 700,000,000 pounds, while the waste of good food in Canada, according to Food Controller Hanna, is 50,000,000 pounds. We must take a different course from that which we have followed in the past. We must do something to make a change of heart in the people of Canada. We can regulate public eating houses, but we cannot go into the kitchens of private people, and they must be appealed to in the right way.

The garbage pail is, after all, a small item in our waste when compared with a mass of luxuries that people could live easily without. We invent more extravagances than we do useful machinery. It is often said that making business out of pleasure is more profitable than that which comes from the necessities of life.

Brother’s Keeper. – “We don’t care; it is our money, and we shall spend it as we like.” Nothing is more sinister in this age than the example of those who have wholly divorced themselves from all thought of duty and helpfulness to others. The most sinful phase of waste is that it puts a burden upon others. We are all creatures of imitation, and the imitation that most influences us is toward that which leads to extravagance. Every man and woman is under a responsibility for the burden he puts upon others by setting a pace in extravagance which they cannot follow. “Can I afford it?” is perhaps the last thing a man should ask himself. Should I afford it?” makes him his brother’s keeper. Too many of the rich not only afford it, but they flaunt it. To them there is a way of reckoning if they escape the day. Into their children’s lives they instill a false and poisonous atmosphere. Often they ruin their own health and that of those whom they should protect. Extravagance is one of the cursing sins of the age. It breeds envy, creates jealousy, leads to poverty and destroys the happiness of millions. Our public buildings are loaded with mortgages, our banks are full of notes. Yet we go on as if there were no days set apart for liquidation.

Fashions. – No nation’s bill for fashions has ever been presented. It would stagger the imagination. Beneath this load of extravagance millions of backs are bending. “What of it? One may as well be out of the world as out of fashion.” Very well, it is taking millions out of the world and wounding millions more. It is the pride which comes before the fall. The papers are full of it. Here is an item from the Chicago Tribune of September 2, 1917:

Where the eggs go – 200,000,000 a year are used by barbers and 50,000,000 by women hair-dressers. Banish the egg shampoo for the period of the war, and save 250,000,000 eggs a year. There are 300,000 barbers in America. They will average more than two eggs a day.

Could something else be used? Nothing will do that is not extravagant. The costly things of life are craved simply because they are costly.

Common observation, to say nothing of experience, will teach us the evils of waste. In the home they may be in little things. What makes the situation worse is that extravagance becomes a habit which in turn becomes an inheritance. Will there ever be an accounting? What if famine comes? How ill fit we shall be for emergencies of individual and national reverses! “Oh, well, the world has always been so,’ and the world has also had its day of reckoning. Have we lost our vision? Can we not see the impending dangers? We are standing with our faces to the wall. There are dangers, but as we see them they look a long way off. Many would be as blind if they were near. A London correspondent writes:

I find the streets full of cheery faces, the theatre crowded with pleasure seekers, and everywhere the accents of an uplifting hope.

“Uplifting hope!” For what, for whom? “May as well be cheerful and hopeful as sad.” We need not be either, but ought to be sober. Human suffering is past expression, human lives are going out by millions, and sorrow reddens the world as never before. It is all so “hopefully uplifting.” Men are at war to redeem the world from a ruthless foe. The gay and extravagant care just about as much for the work of redemption on the battle-field as the masses in Jerusalem cared for the redemption of Christ.

Penalties. – All excesses pay their penalties. The law of compensation makes it so. Extravagance does not simply drift. It is always in a hurry – its friction wears life away into a premature grave. The later life which follows one of gaiety and splendor is discolored by the disappointment which vanity always brings. Is there no hope for a simple and sober ending? It is the foliage of life which most delights us, even though the foliage leaves no place for the fruit to grow.

Individual extravagance is but one phase of an insistent evil. In public life there is a similar tendency to waste. Senator Aldrich, a distinguished political economist is declared to have stated that approximately one-half of public money appropriated by Congress was extravagantly wasted. State legislatures, as well as Congress, make appropriations that a frugal system of administration in federal and state institutions do not really require. Log-rolling is the favorite method in most legislative bodies. Local appropriations are the measure of local patriotism. They are too often beyond legitimate needs. No private business could be run successfully by such wasteful methods as characterize our legislation. The “pork barrel” of Congressional fame has long been a federal scandal. Organized revolts against it are ineffectual. Our natural resources have been squandered shamefully. We are living for today with no thought of tomorrow. Talk of famine and suffering awaken little response in our national and individual lives. Wrapped in self-content, we go our way, indifferent to all danger.

Nor is the extravagance in our material lives our only vice. We are wasteful of our physical energies. Men of simple and frugal lives do not hesitate to work far beyond the limits of the strength of their bodies. They are guilty of excessively long hours. They are ambitious to achieve certain aims which they reach only at the waste of physical and mental energy. The spirit of extravagance is manifest in all world activities. It means a break-down in our universal system of waste. Conservation is the catchword of the age, but it is more than a catchword. We are all involved in an excessive struggle for accomplishments.

Thoughts and Feelings. – Extravagances in material things create extravagance in thought and feeling. Our mental concepts become exaggerated, and the vision of life perverted. Our ideas of the world are overdrawn. We cease to see things as they are, and consequently are led into false methods of reasoning. There is a proper enjoyment of the riches of the world, and there is a hope that comes within realization when moderation is practiced. The world needs, in these fateful hours, a return to conservative living. Extremes follow one another. When we pass beyond the limits of our powers, the return to normal conditions produces disappointment and suffering. It is in order to bring the “old fogy” into fashion again, the man who fears the dangers of extremes would keep within the bounds of his ability to recover himself. Individual extravagance carries with it the burden of debt and leads to bankruptcy. It creates national and state extravagance, that sometimes causes them to repudiate their obligations. The spirit of moderation, on the other hand, enables men in extreme emergencies to recover themselves. It carries with it the blessings of its own reward. Furthermore, waste begets heedlessness and makes men indifferent to correction or warning. Witness today the signal which the leading and thoughtful men of the nation are holding aloft to the people. They do not heed them; they are rushing headlong into a world of troubles that might be avoided were they not intoxicated by the spirit of excess. They will not know the truth, until the bitter realization of it brings home to them the partial, if not the full penalty of their folly. For years the Saints have been warned. Even before the war, coming calamities were foreseen, and the people were admonished to “set their houses in order” against the day of God’s judgments.

Revelation. – “For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as stewards over earthly blessings, which I have made and proposed for my creatures” (Doc. and Cov. 104:13).


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