What Dave Ramsey gets wrong about poverty
Financial advisor Dave Ramsey is also an evangelical Christian.
November 30th, 2013
09:59 AM ET

What Dave Ramsey gets wrong about poverty

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN 

(CNN)– Dave Ramsey is rich. And he makes his living telling other evangelical Christians how they can get rich, too.

Host of a nationally syndicated radio program and author of multiple best-selling books, Ramsey targets evangelical Christians with what he calls a “biblical” approach to financial planning, one that focuses primarily on the elimination of consumer debt. His for-profit Financial Peace University is billed as “a biblically based curriculum that teaches people how to handle money God's ways."

Much of what Ramsey teaches is sound, helpful advice, particularly for middle-class Americans struggling with mounting credit card bills. I have celebrated with friends as they’ve marked their first day of debt-free living, thanks in part to Dave Ramsey’s teachings and all those white envelopes of cash he urges his students to use instead of credit cards.

But while Ramsey may be a fine source of information on how to eliminate debt, his views on poverty are neither informed nor biblical.

Take, for example, a recent article by Tim Corley posted to Ramsey’s website. Entitled “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day,” the article presents some dubious statistics comparing the habits of the rich with the habits of the poor, including:

“70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day.”

“76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.”

“63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people.”

One need not be a student of logic to observe that Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.

For example, a poor person might not exercise four days a week because, unlike a rich person, she cannot afford a gym membership. Or perhaps she has to work two jobs to earn a living wage, which leaves her little time and energy for jogging around the park.

A poor family may eat more junk food, not because they are lazy and undisciplined, but because they live in an economically disadvantaged, urban setting where health food stores are not as available: a so-called “food desert.”

Critics were swift to point out these discrepancies and among the critics were some of Ramsey’s fellow evangelical Christians who also noted that, though the book of Proverbs certainly heralds success as a common return on faithful labor, nowhere does the Bible guarantee that good habits lead to wealth.

The writer of Ecclesiastes observed that "under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all."

And far from having contempt for the poor, Jesus surrounded himself with the needy and challenged the excesses of the rich. “Blessed are you who are poor,” he said, “for yours is the kingdom of God. … But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24).

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle," Jesus famously said, "than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

It’s hard for the wealthy to flourish in the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated because the economy of that kingdom runs so contrary to the economies of the world. It rewards the peacemakers over the powerful, the humble over the proud, the kind over the cruel, and those who hunger to do the right thing over those whose wealth has convinced them they already are.

Ramsey responded to the pushback with an addendum to the original post calling his critics “ignorant” and “immature” and instructing them to “grow up.”

“This list simply says your choices cause results,” he said, again committing the false cause fallacy. “You reap what you sow.”

The list, he said, applies only to people living in “first world” countries, where Ramsey believes economic injustices are essentially nonexistent. While the poor in developing countries are so as a result of external circumstances beyond their control, the poor in the United States have no one to blame but themselves.

“If you are broke or poor in the U.S. or a first-world economy, the only variable in the discussion you can personally control is YOU,” Ramsey says. “You can make better choices and have better results.”

America, he argues, has prospered as a direct result of its “understanding and application of biblical truths” which have led to “life-changing industry, inventions and a standard of living never known before on this planet.”

“There is a direct correlation,” he concludes, “between your habits, choices and character in Christ and your propensity to build wealth.”

For Christians, Ramsey’s perceived “direct correlation” between faith and wealth should be more troubling than his other confused correlations, for it flirts with what Christians refer to as the prosperity gospel, the teaching that God rewards faithfulness with wealth.

Ramsey’s particular brand of prosperity gospel elevates the American dream as God’s reward for America’s faithfulness, the spoils of which are readily available to anyone who works hard enough to receive them.

But such a view glosses over the reality that America was not, in fact, founded upon purely Christian principles (unless one counts slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender inequity, and Jim Crow as Christian principles), so we should be careful of assuming our relative wealth reflects God’s favor. (The Roman Empire was wealthy, too, after all.)

It also glosses over the reality that economic injustice is not, in fact, limited to the developing world but plagues our own country as well.

When medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the United States, there are systemic injustices at work.

When people working 40-hour weeks at minimum wage jobs still can’t earn enough to support their families, there are systemic injustices at work.

When approximately 1% of Americans hold 40% of the nation’s wealth, there are systemic injustices at work.

When the black unemployment rate has consistently been twice as high as the white unemployment rate for the past 50 years, there are systemic injustices at work.

And throughout Scripture, people of faith are called not simply to donate to charity, but to address such systemic injustices in substantive ways.

The 17-year-old girl who lives in a depressed neighborhood zoned for a failing school system who probably won’t graduate because her grades are suffering because she has to work part-time to help support her family needs more than a few audio books to turn things around.

People are poor for a lot of reasons, and choice is certainly a factor, but categorically blaming poverty on lack of faith or lack of initiative is not only uninformed, it’s unbiblical.

God does not divide the world into the deserving rich and the undeserving poor. In fact, the brother of Jesus wrote that God has “chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him” (James 2:5).

God does not bless people with money; God blesses people with the good and perfect gift of God’s presence, which is available to rich and poor alike.

And that’s good news.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She blogs at rachelheldevans.com. The views expressed in this column belong to Rachel Held Evans.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Business • Christianity • Ethics • evangelicals • Faith • Leaders • Money & Faith • Opinion

soundoff (2,299 Responses)
  1. Kerry

    Here's a guy that's helped hundreds of thousands of people get out of debt and she's grasping at straws to discredit him. Miss Evans clearly lacks integrity as is clearly just after some attention for her fledgling blog. Pathetic.

    December 1, 2013 at 1:12 am |
    • Sara

      Even if someone has helped many people it by no means means they are not at the same time hurting others.

      December 1, 2013 at 1:28 am |
      • Kerry

        His work has proven results. Her article is just an opinion.
        Hurt? Post the hypothetical number of people he's hurt? And then I'll post the factual number of people he's helped.

        December 1, 2013 at 1:47 am |
    • tallulah13

      If you had read the article she praises his financial advice. What she objects to is his use of christianity to sell his product.

      December 1, 2013 at 1:40 am |
      • Kerry

        If you had read my post you wouldn't have missed the point. The success of his teachings has nothing to do with Religion or Christianity. They work without it. It's his personal convictions to throw it in, by his own admission. He can base his teachings on whatever he wants and it still works. That's why it's called the Dave Ramsey show and not the Rachel Evans show.

        December 1, 2013 at 2:14 am |
    • mamamia11

      She's not trying to discredit his financial knowledge; she's pointing out the ways his beliefs regarding poverty are unbiblical and potentially harmful.

      Do you keep up with Rachel's blog? I think if you did you would know that it's anything but fledgling. And even if it was, she's not the kind of person that would pull someone else down just to make herself feel better.

      December 1, 2013 at 2:41 am |
  2. Brendan H.

    Ramsey lost me when on one of his shows he tied your ability to get control of your situation with being Christian and a Conservative. How about a replay of his debate, on air, with experts where he got torched by Greenspan?

    December 1, 2013 at 1:11 am |
    • Jason

      Um ... um ... yeah ... Greenspan did a great job with our economy. Maybe all the congressmen, presidents and even those who occupy the great former chair of the great Greenspan could learn something about being DEBT FREE. I can't even take your comment seriously. Greenspan was a shmuck.

      December 1, 2013 at 1:31 am |
      • Link

        Well said.

        December 1, 2013 at 10:43 am |
  3. baindog

    I think what Ramsey is saying is close to the point in principal. I don't agree with everything thing he says but the idea is great. Wouldn't the world be a better place if we would live within our means? How about give roughly 10% of our income to charities once a person was debt free. I do think wealth can be a blessing. Look at the Roman Centurion, Jesus did bless him. He was wealthy. The idea is that we need to be humble. I've met poor people who were "stiff necked" and rich the humble. I think it is harder to be humble and rich but doable. And the rich can bless a lot of lives. Some may even do it not for the recognition.

    I have a question does the rich really use more gov't? Maybe some do; however, I think the poor are more likely to rely on it? so should the rich pay for systems that favor the poor? what about the middle class? I do agree that the rich has some loops holes that should be closed. But lets face it the rich can't run the gov't. It has to be across the board tax increases. Also, if we follow what Ramsey says make a budget and follow it.

    I think most people can pull themselves up with a little help. If someone wanted be rich they can be if they were willing to sacrifice. Lets say you have a person earning roughly 10 an hour (20,800 a year) and gets a second full time job for another 20,800. And if that same person lives off 30,000 a year saving them 11,600. (pardon not doing the taxes). If that money was but into stable bonds at 8%. In about 10 years assuming no pay increases above inflation that person would have a lot of money saved up for a house or so on. ( $183,801.88 ball park.) Wouldn't that be considered rich by some?

    I think in America we have come to we want it now instead of wait to pay in cash. Now that interests is working against people. Don't hate the rich for being rich.

    These are the ideas that I get from Ramsey.

    December 1, 2013 at 1:00 am |
    • Sara

      Aside from a few single people planning to stay single who do you think can work two 40 hour a week jobs without seriously scre.wing up their lives? You can't raise kids, help your parents, do charity work, or get exercise while working 80 hours a week and probably commuting at least another 10-20. This is seriously a recommendation? I've worked 80 hours a week and it is not sustainable as a healthy way of life.

      December 1, 2013 at 1:07 am |
      • baindog

        I understand it isn't easy. It is all part what are the goals of the individual. I worked 112 during my summers hours a week so I can go to college. I went though college debt free. That was my goal. I know there are a lot of situations and not everyone can work 80 hours but the idea is the same. A person can become wealthy if they are willing to make the sacrifices. Just have to weight the pros and cons of the sacrifices. But I believe anyone who want to pay the price can become wealthy. There are several ways to do this but most ways require hard work.

        What is wealth?
        Just money?
        Just Family?

        December 1, 2013 at 1:15 am |
        • Sara

          Do you believe that people with Intellectual disabilities that leave them barely literate and socially inept can become wealthy? People with severe mental illness? Those caring for sick children, spouses and elderly parents? People with illnesses that cause them to tire after a few hours work? People with impulse control issues related to their mother's drug and alcohol use during pregnancy? I'm not saying aome people can't do this a short time and go on to succeed, but I think it's a far smaller group than you imagine. Occassionally one person will make an enormous sacrifice for the next generation, but it is a life time sacrifice with the desperate hope that future generations won't live the same life.

          December 1, 2013 at 1:25 am |
        • baindog

          The simple answer is yes.

          The mentally challenged is abnormal. The person who has complications from the mother is also abnormal. Person who is caring for elderly is not abnormal but isn't the norm to the point it affects wealth (due to part: Social Security , Medicare, etc) . Sickness to that extreme is also abnormal. I do feel bad and I think we can do a better job as a nation to help with these matters. (not through a govt program but by community support).

          I believe this covers roughly 90% of the working population.

          I do agree that a mother or a father can make a huge sacrifice to bring their children out of poverty. I believe that the wealth of the children is relates back to parent.

          I'm not saying it is easy but it is doable.

          I think that some people will blame the universe instead of trying to make change.

          I do feel for single parents. I don't believe i would have the will power to do it as a single parent. I'm grateful for my spouse who supports me.

          December 1, 2013 at 1:45 am |
      • Carl Christopherson

        Why can't our government create a budget that is within the revenue it collects and stick to it? This is the real problem. You cannot build wealth when the government confiscates it before you can save it.

        December 1, 2013 at 1:17 am |
  4. Kelly

    Thank you for this article, Ms. Evans. The people who are most vocal in opposition to this story are the ones who were most jarred by the ramifications of your message. That is, being rich is not a virtue and being poor is not a sin. This means that actual, hard-working people are injured through their greed. That is not something anyone wants to accept.

    December 1, 2013 at 12:57 am |
  5. David

    Anything that's good gets attacked by the fearful, the unbelieving, and the jealous.

    December 1, 2013 at 12:48 am |
    • Colin

      Religion is for the weak, the stupid, the uneducated, and those who would profit from them.

      December 1, 2013 at 12:49 am |
      • DAve

        You must be a man of the cloth!

        December 1, 2013 at 12:53 am |
      • Rad

        I think what Colin meant to say was that God is for those who protect the weak, the intelligent who educate the stupid, the learned who teach the uneducated, and those who give unto those who have not. That is the data supported by the evidence, and I am sure that is what Colin really had in mind.

        December 1, 2013 at 1:46 am |
        • Bob

          No, I'd bet that isn't what Colin meant at all.

          December 1, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • doobzz

      Sure, right, got it grandpa.

      December 1, 2013 at 12:54 am |
    • David

      All of you just proved my statement.

      December 1, 2013 at 12:57 am |
    • Brendan H.

      Ramsey profits from all of this, too, doesn't he?

      December 1, 2013 at 1:12 am |
      • Kerry

        Your not suppose to make a living by helping people?

        December 1, 2013 at 2:15 am |
  6. lauranickelson

    Isn't it funny how Dave teaches people to build wealth so that they can provide for their own families and then GIVE more? You can't help those who are needy without money and time. And it's hard to have time when you have to work three jobs to support your family. I'm not quite sure how building wealth is a terrible thing? Personally, I have gained so much freedom and have given to others who need it SOOOOO much more since following Dave Ramsey's principles. And the truth is: you reap what you sow. Read the Bible. It's everywhere in there.

    December 1, 2013 at 12:44 am |
    • Sara

      Was there something in this story that implied building wealth was a bad thing?

      December 1, 2013 at 12:50 am |
  7. Sara

    Here's the dilemma as I see it: Believing in this oversimplification helps motivate thousands of people and bring them out of debt. The same oversimplification causes many to view those who can't succeed with scorn and to reduce services. Was it worth it? How do we know?

    December 1, 2013 at 12:44 am |
    • DAve

      Such attempts to make the simplistic complex are usually efforts by weak minded people to self glorify by trying to convince others you have the superior intellect to figure it out then bloviate about it.

      December 1, 2013 at 12:49 am |
      • Sara

        Such attempts to make the complex simple are usually efforts by the weak minded to avoid difficult though processes, hard work, and any ideas that might take away from the simplistic world view in which they have made themselves out to be morally superior and deserving.

        December 1, 2013 at 12:56 am |
  8. trj

    I have been listening to Dave Ramsey for a number of years. His message is right on.

    December 1, 2013 at 12:39 am |
    • DAve

      Watch out, such intelligent statements will make you a target of personal attacks by Liberal trolls.

      December 1, 2013 at 12:45 am |
  9. DAve

    Do yourselves a favor, ignore Ms. Evans, listen to Dave Ramsey. Especially listen to his analysis of Obamacare which intelligent people agree is spot on.

    December 1, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • Sara

      Was that a survey that correlated IQ with opinions on Ramset's analysis of Obamacare? Interesting – could you post the link?

      December 1, 2013 at 12:24 am |
      • DAve

        Here you go:

        December 1, 2013 at 12:32 am |
        • Sara

          I asked for a link to support your analysis of the relationship between intelligence and opinions on the piece, not the story itself.

          December 1, 2013 at 12:40 am |
        • DAve

          I know what you asked but I refuse to engage your weak minded attempts to minimize the obvious so do yourself a favor and watch it, you'll learn something for once.

          December 1, 2013 at 12:44 am |
        • Dubhly

          gotta love it,, in other words you cannot back up what you post, and want to try to get people to listen to drivel that intelligent people do not agree upon...again Poof your point lost, your game lost and your side loses again.

          December 1, 2013 at 12:46 am |
        • Sara

          If you want to advertise a piece of propaganda do yourself a favor and use something stronger than a claim that can obviously not be substantiated. No one watches videos provided by random strangers who can't provide a better argument than "smart people like this".

          December 1, 2013 at 12:49 am |
        • DAve

          You forgot Nanny Nanny Boo Boo.

          December 1, 2013 at 12:52 am |
    • Ddremd


      December 1, 2013 at 12:32 am |
      • DAve

        That was intelligent, you make my and Dave's case.

        December 1, 2013 at 12:38 am |
  10. Jim M

    I didn't read the article comparing the habits of the rich and poor but from what this article brought up it sounds to me that it was only listing things that the rich do that are better for you. Good habits lead to a better life, ie if you eat junk food and are not physically active you eventually will gain weight and have health problems that you would not have if you didn't eat good food and exercised. Nothing about what correlates.

    December 1, 2013 at 12:12 am |
    • Mel Evans

      Maybe you should read the list. The "facts" (which site no sources) are very derogatory towards those in poverty while not giving a complete picture. As Rachel Held Evans points out, it "confuses correlation with causation."

      December 1, 2013 at 12:28 am |
      • Ddremd


        December 1, 2013 at 12:33 am |
  11. HawaiiSquid

    The author says Ramsey's "categorically blaming poverty on lack of faith or lack of initiative is not only uninformed, it’s unbiblical." However, she fails to mention where he has done that. What Tim Corley did is nothing more than other writers have done in identifying habits of the wealthy. Just because you follow what a few of the habits that wealthy do, doesn't mean you WILL become wealthy. To imply that Ramsey or Corley have done this is in itself uninformed. It sounds like the author has ulterior motives for her attack on Ramsey. She starts off by saying Ramsey's advice is targeted toward evangelical Christians, but I've never heard Ramsey say nor have I read anything by Ramsey saying his system is targeting anyone (other than those in debt and who want to get out of debt). He is an unapologetic Christian. Maybe THAT bothers the author(?).

    November 30, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • I read it

      Probably from this perhaps?

      Host of a nationally syndicated radio program and author of multiple best-selling books, Ramsey targets evangelical Christians with what he calls a “biblical” approach to financial planning, one that focuses primarily on the elimination of consumer debt. His for-profit Financial Peace University is billed as “a biblically based curriculum that teaches people how to handle money God’s ways.”

      December 1, 2013 at 12:10 am |
      • HawaiiSquid

        Him stating the foundation of his curriculum and teachings comes from biblical teachings doesn't mean he's "targeting" evangelical Christians. When I signed up for his Financial Peach University, I didn't know his religious beliefs. I just knew his story and that his envelope system had worked well for my brother. The only people he "targets" are those who are in debt and need help. Like I said before, I think she has an ulterior motive for trying to bash Ramsey.

        December 1, 2013 at 12:22 am |
        • Sara

          The author is a Christian.

          December 1, 2013 at 1:09 am |
    • Ddremd

      Or the fact that some so called Christian people are selfish and judgemental.

      December 1, 2013 at 12:35 am |
  12. Shery

    I am grateful for the teaching of Dave Ramsey! I have worked my way out of debt, worked my way out of poverty, and learned to differentiate between wants and needs and subsequently have almost achieved debt-free status. Because if this I am able to provide for myself and my children without government assistance AND am now able to give to various charities. While I am not wealthy, never have been and likely never will be, I feel like I am. Better choices do lead to a better life. (I think some of the commenters here are just looking for an excuse to be offended by something and choose to blame "wealthy evangelicals/GOP" for everything they don't like or disagree with.)

    November 30, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
  13. Protons


    November 30, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
  14. Roger

    Personal responsibilty Rachel. Sounds like you are another individual that thinks it's everyone else's fault for an individuals poverty. Your example of a 17 year girl having to work a part time job sounds like a parent issue. Where is the dad? Most likely in jail or not around according to most statistic's. You should be giving your opinion more on how poverty in the US stems from broken families and less on writing an article on how Dave is getting it wrong.

    November 30, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • Danko Ramone

      You're missing the point entirely, unless you're blaming the girl for her parent's actions. You start by complaining people blame others, then blame others for the girl's situation, without acknowledging that – even in the scenario you give – someone else IS to blame for the girl's situation.

      December 1, 2013 at 12:18 am |
      • Sara

        Precisely. All Roger has done is shift the blame. Unless people can break out of this overly simplistic view in which someone, the individual, society, parents or whoever, is always at "fault" they will never really be able to begin to understand the complex world in which numerous variables are always at play.

        December 1, 2013 at 12:29 am |
  15. belinda

    Excellent article. At the moment our tax code, continues to favor the Rich and the GOP wants to leave it that way.They are doing nothing for the middle class, in the process. If Republicans continue to get their way, Health Care and education will only be for the Rich. That is what they want.

    November 30, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • Ralph

      Belinda: Who told you that BS? Almost half of voters voted for the GOP in the last election. Do you really think they are all rich and "upper class"? Sounds like you are the type that likes to blame others for your lack of success. I'd be willing to bet $1,000 US that you think Obama is a great leader instead if the divider he really is. Why would we Republicans not want the best for our selves, parents, kids and grand kids ? You should stop digesting so much left wing propaganda. The government cannot provide prosperity. Its impossible.

      November 30, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
      • I read it


        December 1, 2013 at 12:12 am |
      • Ddremd

        You are selfish and greedy.

        December 1, 2013 at 12:37 am |
    • Ray

      Belinda you should be honest in your view of Republicans and the middle class. I am NOT a republican and am amazed at how people of the "middle class" are being and will be very screwed under Obamacare. The middle class is set to lose the coverage they have through their employers next year, will have to pay double what they are presently paying, and will have greatly increased deductibles with less coverage. This plan hoses the middle class while mildly help the poor. What the middle class should be extremely concerned about is how the past 5 years under President Obama and the Democrats have produced part time low wage jobs unlike any other administration before them. My heart goes out for those graduating from college with large debts and no prospects. Get informed about how the Democrats have made the young slaves to welfare(that cannot last) and how their policies hose the young.

      December 1, 2013 at 1:17 am |
  16. ljjh

    Ramsey is another example of someone who had a good idea that he successfully sold to others. As a result, he has "puffed up" with so much money and pride that he has imploded. If he knows his bible, then he also knows that "pride goeth before a fall."

    November 30, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
    • DAve

      You clearly have never actually read Dave Ramsey beyond what Ms. Evans has told you. Weak minded response.

      December 1, 2013 at 12:13 am |
  17. Protons


    November 30, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
  18. Protons

    To become wealthy is very, very simple and available to all. GIVE

    November 30, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
  19. my10cents

    I think Ramsey is a empirically focused myopic blame shifter who never met a scientific method in his life that he could embrace because it would refute his cult of personality.

    November 30, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
  20. Ungodly Discipline

    People like Dave Ramsey are the scum of the Earth. The GOP / wealthy evangelicals steal from the poor and give to themselves. They have derailed our government and laugh in the face of the poor. Pure evil and an embarrassment to our country. Snake oil salesman are all the same.

    November 30, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
    • Keith Grove

      Now, now, everyone of these good evangelicals will tell you that god has a plan for every single one of us. So those thieving religious zealots are just following gods plan and the poor dumb idiots who are fork over their money are LIKEWISE just following gods plan.
      you can't blame anyone, they are just following gods plan.

      November 30, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
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