Are you Nephi or Lemuel?By: Stephen Marsh
One of the striking things about the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon is that it appears that both Nephi and Lemuel claimed them for support. As you read through 2 Nephi chapters 17 and 18 you are hitting a favored text of those who claimed that Jerusalem had nothing to fear. When Nephi is later challenged about how they “know” that Jerusalem is still standing and that the Lord must have delivered them because of their righteousness, Lemuel and his brother are reprising a national resurgence that went on about that time.
I know, you think it is more striking that Lemuel tied Nephi up and tried to kill him more than once.
But seriously, Lemuel was coming to conclusions and supporting positions that were part of a national resurgence. That same resurgence is why Jeremiah was called, from outside the hierarchy, to call the people to repentance. Of course, it is also why 2 Nephi 20 is included in the Book of Mormon – that is the position that Lehi and Nephi took as to what was going on in Jerusalem.
But it is interesting to compare the two brothers and ask, which of them fits us. Who is in the great and spacious building and who is not.
You can see real differences in their approach.
When Lehi announces a vision, one of the brothers seeks to have God confirm it to him, the other contends that it is foolishness and an obvious mistake. When they are sent to get the brass plates, when Nephi goes to build a boat, at a number of junctures, they rely on their own interpretation and conclusions, because, after all, they are older, wiser and smarter than Nephi and their logic makes much more sense to them than his.
I got to thinking about this in the context of the City Creek Mall.
From business journals, we know that the estimated cost of the mall was from 450 to 570 million dollars to construct. There were three major outside investors, plus the investments made by the tenants in finishing out space. If the three major investors all invested about the same 76 million dollars each and if the floor renovations by the tenants came to about half of the cost (which is typical – though not always) or about 200 million, and if the project came in below budget, then we have $428 million in outside investment and construction costs on what was probably around a 500 million estimated construction cost. We know that the Church provided the land underneath the project and put things together.
But, you say, the project is announced as having a value or an impact that is much larger. Which is typical of the way projects are communicated in the press. The typical sort of multiplier “means that a $1 million increase in investment creates a $2.5 million increase” – and if the value of the land goes up (which it typically does) then the construction costs come to a “value” plus the land increase value –> investment = impact or value of the project.
For multiplier effect applied to a local economy, where they claim a factor of eight, visit this progressive link. The claim a factor of around twenty for “local.”
Perhaps an easier way to see that sort of thing in action is the Shoes for Kosovo project involving Nike.
If the original retail value of the shoes was $380,000.00, the project might well be reported as having a price of $380,000.00. Since the shoes went to people who were shoeless and bloody in the snow, it might well be reported as having a larger impact value. Of course, since Nike’s tax rate is probably around 35% it only probably resulted in a refund of taxes in the amount of $133,000.00 or so. Since the wholesale value of the shoes started at around $120,000.00 (which is an estimate), you could claim that the project actually cost Nike a -$13,000.00. Even more if you look at the cost to manufacture the shoes (which I would guess at $30,000.00). Instead of a donation you could say Nike made a hundred thousand dollars.
Since for a number of reasons the shoes could not be sold at retail and would have otherwise been scrapped, you could even claim that the shoes had a basis of $0.00 (their next best use to being donated).
So, should a shareholder complain about how Nike wasted $380,000.00 of company assets on charity? Or should they be proud that Nike turned $0.00 in marginal value into a tax refund of around $130,000.00?
With the mall, should people be pleased that the Church turned some decaying infrastructure land and some other land that was fallow and a drag on the SLC tax base into a commercial center, jobs and increased tax revenue and an investment that makes a return, or should they be complaining that the Church spent $12,000.00 a square foot to build retail (according to the way some people interpret the numbers)?
After all, we know that when you generate a redevelopment project, you capture 100% of the total value to the community and have it to spend. So that by investing what turned land worth about break even into significantly valuable land, critics, the Lemuels I am referring to above, claim that the Church had between three and five billion dollars to spend – and should have spent it the way that they insist.
I know. If you are familiar with similar projects you might be puzzled at how someone could come to that conclusion. You would wonder how anyone would think that the cost of a project in actual hard dollars spent (the construction costs) is the same as the “value” or the “impact” of the redevelopment on the community, which includes the multiplier effect and the change in overall value of property in the community? How they could consider any criticism based on that sort of conclusion valid. How they would think that you could put land and pull out the impact value of the project to the community in cash.
The answer is simple. They just have to think like Lemuel instead of Nephi.
Now, this does not mean that there is not legitimate criticism to be had, just that some of the mind bending criticisms are based in presuppositions and predispositions that have nothing to do with reality and everything to do with perspective and personal orientation. Even more than criticism, there are lots of legitimate questions. What about the choice of the retail establishments and the mall target, what about the related projects (should they have focused on slightly less expensive housing, for example).
What sort of revenue are they expecting. Is there any specific commitment to the use of the revenue? How much of a savings or safety net should they have? Is the commandment to individual apostles at a time they can all expect to die martyred the same that the institutional church should plan on? Would Brigham Young have been better served telling people to be like the lilies of the field rather than to plan before they crossed the plains?
Better, as the Church comes from an era, such as the David O. McKay era where it spent every dollar in advance (with the problems they had when bond rates dropped), to one that was established by Spencer W. Kimball where they have a more balanced approach (albeit one where most of the money still goes into maintaining buildings and the missionary fund), what sort of accounting and public discussion is appropriate? How much second guessing should they invite?
What sort of knowledge does it take to have common consent?
What should we personally be doing?
Those are all good questions, but I would suggest that the very first question we should ask ourselves are we acting like Nephi or Lemuel?