S4:E6 Is It A Sin to Be Wealthy?

S4:E6 Is It A Sin to Be Wealthy?

What the richest town in the United States can teach us about the rich young ruler and the potential evils of wealth

Jackson, Wyoming is a small tourist town in the middle of nowhere. It is just a few miles south of Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. Millions of people pass through each year as tourists. It’s a vacation hotspot. But for those who choose to stay in this region, Teton County is anything but a vacation. Rising income inequality and housing costs have created a hostile environment for working people. The median home price in Jackson went up 47% in 2020 alone, rising to $2.2 million while wages remain stagnant.

We’ve been talking for the last few episodes about myths of the American West, how cowboy myths about a lone rugged individual have shaped the US. Now it’s time to understand how cowboy myths have impacted American Christianity.

Our guest today is Justin Farrell. He’s a sociologist and professor at Yale. His book is Billionaire Wilderness. In it, Farrell recounts his studies of the ultra-wealthy. What makes them tick? What are they afraid of? Why do they dress the way they do? And what draws them to the far western border of Wyoming?

Discussion Questions:

  • Read the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27). What do you think of Jesus’ warning about wealthy people entering the kingdom of God?
  • Many of the tax avoidance practices discussed in this series are legal (except pretending to live in one place while living in another). Do you think that legality and morality are tied together?
  • Are these practices moral?
  • What types of friction do you experience in your own life?
  • How would more money change the level of friction you encounter?
  • How would less money change the level of friction you encounter?
  • Do you think that friction is a valuable thing to pay attention to in our lives?
  • What is the role of empathy in a Christian’s life?
  • How do you use money to benefit yourself as opposed to others?

Helpful Links:

S4:E5 Conservation Easements

S4:E5 Conservation Easements

How the ultra-wealthy use government funds to finance their backyards

Some of the wealthiest people in the world live (or pretend to live) in Jackson, Wyoming. That includes some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Digging into the property tax records, we discovered that one of the most successful actors in film history pays less in property tax than a single mom living on less land. What gives? Why are rich people paying less in property tax than working people?

The answer has to do with a thing called a conservation easement. A conservation easement is essentially an agreement between a landowner and the government that says, “I promise I’ll keep my property from certain kinds of building projects”. In return, the government gives the landowner massive tax benefits on the federal and local levels.

In this episode, Chris digs into the history of these instruments to understand what they are and how they are impacting rural Wyoming and the rest of the country.

UPDATE: The original version of this episode contained an error that has since been corrected. The original version stated that getting an $800,000 tax deduction was essentially the same as getting an $800,000 refund. That is incorrect. My apologies.

Helpful links:

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think about public land?
  • Do conservation easements seem fair?
  • Are conservation easements a helpful way to preserve the environment or government-sponsored private land? Both?
  • What should Jackson locals do to make the property taxes fair?
  • How do you feel when you learn that taxation practices favor the rich?
  • Are there conservation easements where you live?