The Book of Mormon Endorses Capitalism

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These two verses in the Book of Mormon seem to declare and obvious cause and effect, something that Adam Smith discovered and described in The Wealth of Nations:

 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites; and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire.

And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites; and they did have an exceeding plenty of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals, both in the land south and in the land north. (Helaman 6:8-9)

A few verses later, it seems to endorse prosperity and industry as the key to peace:

 And behold, there was all manner of gold in both these lands, and of silver, and of precious ore of every kind; and there were also curious workmen, who did work all kinds of ore and did refine it; and thus they did become rich.

They did raise grain in abundance, both in the north and in the south; and they did flourish exceedingly, both in the north and in the south. And they did multiply and wax exceedingly strong in the land. And they did raise many flocks and herds, yea, many fatlings.

Behold their women did toil and spin, and did make all manner of cloth, of fine-twined linen and cloth of every kind, to clothe their nakedness. And thus the sixty and fourth year did pass away in peace. (Helaman 6:11-13)

Indeed, it wasn’t the riches that lead to their subsequent downfall, it was the love of their riches (rather than God and each other.)

For behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that they had not been stirred up to anger, to wars, nor to bloodshed; therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain. (Helaman 6:17)

When members of the LDS church talk about the secret of prosperity lying in individual righteousness, this is what they are referring to. If we set out into the world with intent to love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, then capitalism is the natural result. We won’t need government programs for the poor because we’ll have more than enough wealth to go around. People will naturally apply themselves to whatever job they decide on, and will naturally build the wealth that is needed not only to eliminate poverty, but to build a lasting peace.

The problem arise when people begin to value wealth over God, themselves, or their neighbors. When this happens, then it is only natural to see why you’d go about hurting people to make your money, even killing those who stand in your way. War is a natural result, because if you’re willing to kill one person, you’re capable of killing many to achieve your desires.

Wealth doesn’t cause wickedness any more than poverty causes righteousness. The two concepts are completely orthogonal one to another, meaning that there are endless combinations of relative righteousness and relative poverty.

One cautionary note: Note that when people attack the “rich” and want to “punish” them to help the poor, they are no different than those who value wealth over people. They falsely ascribe maliciousness to people who simply have done well for themselves, and then prescribe injustice as the cure. This is just as bad as a rich man who abuses the poor to get what he wants out of them, such as an employer who hires people far below the wage they deserve! (Thee are scriptures condemning both actions; both are a sign of pride or a lack of love for fellow men.)

I would love to live in a society where we have groups of insanely wealthy people, groups of extraordinarily wealthy people, and groups of fantastically wealthy people, with no poor among them. In this society, it would be no burden to see that even the least among us, those who are incapable of communication and bound to wheelchairs, would be treated with the highest level of attention and care. If anyone had any lack, they could simply ask the nearest person for assistance, who would not only freely share his substance but help of all forms because he has no real needs that are not met and exceeded.

As long as people in this society put God, their neighbors, and themselves even, above wealth, there would be no wars, no contention, no conflict of any kind, just industrious people trying to create ever more vast sums of wealth to satisfy their desires and the desires of the people around them, as well as to glorify God. This is what I imagine Zion to be, and the reason why in the future paradisaical world we would have buildings encrusted with rare gems and precious metals, and why we would have fantastic gardens of unimaginable beauty: the people on the earth would have so much wealth that providing such luxuries to their communities would hardly be a sacrifice, and that every pressing matter of higher importance than what to put on the walls of our buildings would be taken care of.

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10 Responses to “The Book of Mormon Endorses Capitalism”

  1. Abby Hollyfield Says:

    In my opinion, the Book of Mormon absolutely does not “endorse capitalism.” Even if you could prove that it did, what form of capitalism does it endorse? There are many types of capitalism, including: mercantilism, free-market capitalism, social market economy capitalism, state capitalism, corporate capitalism, and mixed economy capitalism.

    Which type of capitalism are you referring to? Can you support your claim with direct evidence from the Book of Mormon?

    I will acknowledge that there is evidence supporting the claim that during periods of peace between the Nephites and Lamanites there was some form of free trade happening. However, due to the limited size of the plates, many details of the Nephite society are left unrecorded. There is not any way to have enough details to make the claim that the BOM endorses a specific economic philosophy.

    For example, we do not know if there were tariffs (import/export taxes), government regulation regarding quality of products, environmental regulations regarding the use of public resources (fishing, irrigation, cattle grazing rights) and so forth. You assume a free-for-all laissez-faire economy based on a few verses. However, the Nephite record covers hundreds of years and we do not have a complete picture of how their economy operated.

    Furthermore, you seem to overlook that during most of the BOM history the people were governed by kings and likely had what we call a command or planned economy (something you would negatively refer to communism or socialism) or a mixed-market economy.

    As I am sure you already know that a planned economy is an economic system in which decisions regarding production and investment are embodied in a plan formulated by a central authority, usually by a government. The justification for central planning is that the consolidation of economic resources can allow for the economy to take advantage of more perfect information when making decisions regarding investment and production. There is significant evidence that the Nephites had and prospered under these economic models as well.

    It seems to me that you are trying to claim in your blog post that the BOM supports small government, low taxes, and laissez-faire in an effort to justify the slash-and-burn Ayn Rand politics of the extreme right. Making this argument requires a significant leap of logic. There is just not enough known about the Nephite society to make the claims you are making and reach a valid conclusion.

    One final note, in his book The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith is critical of government, but is no champion of laissez-faire either. He believes that the market economy he has described can function and deliver its benefits only when its rules are observed – when property is secure and contracts are honored. (These rules are set by the government and enforced by the government.) The maintenance of justice and the rule of law is vital.

    Also, Smith sees a role for education and public works too, insofar as these collective projects make it easier for trade and markets to operate. And, where tax has to be raised for these purposes, Smith said it should be raised in proportion to people’s ability to pay.

    • Jonathan Gardner Says:

      Wow, long post.

      OK, let’s play a game. First, what is capitalism? In my mind, it is simple an economic system that has these components:

      1. Private ownership.
      2. Free trade.
      3. A set of laws to govern interactions such that previous two things exist.

      Maybe you have a better definition lying around. Those three parts are really the core of what I would call capitalism. Note that anarchy is not capitalism, since there is no protection of one’s right to own and trade at will. Capitalism must have law.

      Now, I can quite simply argue that that Law of Moses was the law of the land, at least for the Nephites, and maybe, to a large degree, for the Lamanites. The Law of Moses is roughly summarized in the Ten Commandments, which details a few commandments that apply to capitalism directly: Thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt not covet. The rest of the Law of Moses covers things like what sacrifices to perform, what is clean/unclean, and how to deal with uncleanness, and, often ignored, how to enforce the law with justice through a system of judges.

      Since the law existed, and the law protected the rights of people to own and trade, I have proven that capitalism existed.

      Now, is capitalism the way God wants things? Obviously, yes, since that’s the law he gave to the people of Israel.

      What about the crowning moment in the Book of Mormon, where the Nephites and Lamanites joined hand-in-hand and built a society where crime disappeared and everyone was good? Did property rights cease? Did people no longer own the product of their labor? Were they no longer free to trade with one another? Of course not. People willingly gave their property to the poor, but it was something they chose to do, not something forced on them by a bureaucracy.

      There is no evidence of planned economies in the Book of Mormon. The roles of kings are clearly laid out in the Law of Moses, and it doesn’t involve telling people what to do with their property. Kings get to raise armies, fight battles, and execute the law, but that’s about it. Reading through the history of the people of Israel in the Bible confirms that that’s what kings were supposed to do.

      I am arguing that the Book of Mormon supports limited government. Congratulations! I’m glad you saw what I read and understood it. You’ll come to understand, one day, that LDS doctrine dictates a free economy as God’s way, the same way we dictate that God demands freedom of religion. Coercion is opposite to everything we stand for.

  2. Abby Hollyfield Says:

    Are you busy? Or are you to too afraid to let my comments be posted. Does a woman who can think outside the conservative box scare you? Does an educated, worthy LDS woman who has a brain scare you even more?

    • Jonathan Gardner Says:

      Yes, I am busy.

      No, I don’t have time for self-righteous people, no matter their faith, especially when they consider themselves superior.

    • Notabbyh Says:

      Wow, I detect a little pride Abby. Who says you are worthy and have a brain?

      I read your post and Jonathan’s. You asked him for “evidence” of his claim in the Book of Mormon and he clearly did by quoting several scriptures. You on the other hand did not quote one. If you would have just read his post and seen his evidence I wouldn’t question your brain.

      You seem very anti-capitalist/free market, which is strange. Have you ever read the whole BOM? Yes, you are right about the BOM not including a lot of details of how society really was, and no, we don’t know all that went on. So, you don’t know either if the “planned economy” as you state was something that was endorsed by God throughout the entire time of the BOM.

      Clearly during the righteous periods (4 Nephi for example) the law of consecration (united order) was implemented, but that was a short time period in the BOM and it only works if everyone in society is living righteously. And of course that system wouldn’t ever work today because there are too many scammers in society trying to get a free ride from the government and their fellow men (unrighteousness). Since we don’t have a perfect society, nor ever will, we need something that will be best for society and most LDS members understand that capitalism is best (pewforum.org).

      Anyway, since you seem to be for the “planned economy” (your code for socialism/communism) idea, let me give you a piece of humble pie “evidence”. And since we don’t know everything that happened in the BOM, let me give you some evidence that is a little more contemporaneous.

      “Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use the book to expose and combat the falsehoods in socialism, organic evolution, rationalism, humanism, etc.”
      –Ezra Taft Benson April General Conference 1975

      “The united order is nonpolitical. It is therefore totally unlike the various forms of socialism, which are political, both in theory and in practice. They are thus exposed to, and riddled by, the corruption which plagues and finally destroys all political governments which undertake to abridge man’s agency.”
      -Marion G Romney April General conference 1977

      “The greatest system of slavery ever devised by the forces of evil—communism—has been imposed on over one billion of the earth’s inhabitants.”
      -Ezra Taft Benson New Era 1982

      “President David O. McKay said that communism is Satan’s counterfeit for the gospel”
      -Marion G Romney 1979 Ensign

      “Jesus Christ is not compatible with radicalism or communism…”
      Spencer W. Kimball 1975 Ensign

      Well, I hope these “evidences” of the evils of your idea of socialism help.

      Neither system is perfect and neither system is endorsed by the church, but I can tell you this, the church leaders have spoken a lot against socialism and communism.

      While we await the perfect system in the millennium, it’s time you wake up, smell the hot coco and connect the BOM dots, the words of our church leaders and see capitalism and conservatism are the best thing we have right now for the society we unfortunately have.

      • Jonathan Gardner Says:

        Please never, ever, ever stay silent when someone tries to associate socialism with Mormonism. We need people like you who can explain pure doctrine better than I can.

  3. Jesse @ Building Zion.org Says:

    I find it fascinating when people who question the assumed sacredness of Capitalism are immediately judged to be supporters of Socialism or Communism. As if those where the only options. That’s like saying “If you don’t love everything America does, you must be a Nazi!”. Seriously?

    Jonathan, your definition of Capitalism is actually the definition of “Free Enterprise System” which no Mormon I know, or have read about, is against. Capitalism, as defined FIRST by Karl Marx, is when Capital (those with surplus property) hire Labor (those without surplus property) to produce goods that are then sold in the free market and the profits go to the Capitalist, hence the name – Capitalism. Capitalism is one option of organizing Capital and Labor under the Free Enterprise System — there are other ways that are more beneficial to everyone. Cooperatives, for example, where the profits go back to the worker-owners.

    ###### WARNING: READING THE FOLLOWING IS EQUIVALENT TO TAKING THE RED PILL. IF YOU ARE MORMON AND LIKE TO SING THE PRAISES OF AMERICAN CAPITALISM AND BELIEVE IT IS DIVINE, AND WANT TO CONTINUE IN THAT BELIEF NO MATTER WHAT THE COST, DO NOT CONTINUE READING ######

    If you would read the book considered by historians to be the best economic history of the Mormons in the 1800s, Great Basin Kingdom, written by Leonard J. Arrington (who later was called as Church Historian), you would see that the economy of Territorial Utah was a “planned economy” to a great degree. Brigham was *highly* criticized by Utah’s free-wheeling merchants who balked at his efforts to eliminate poverty and achieve full employment by insisting the profits and skills of talented businessmen be used to create cooperatives to the benefit of all, instead of being spent on themselves. John Taylor & Wilford Woodruff, as Brigham’s successors, were right there with him. Their goal was economic unity and independence from America’s economy — everyone working together for the good of all as if one big happy family (ie. Zion). Doesn’t sound very “capitalist” does it? But it was founded on the Free Market.

    Arrington also makes the point that there were 4 kinds of United Orders set up by Brother Brigham. One of those four, the most enduring as a matter of fact, were those set up as… communes. There is no getting around it, they cooked and ate their meals together and worked together all day, every day on community-wide productive projects. Communes by any definition. Now just because they were organized as communes >Does Not Mean< they were communistic. Communism and United Order are antithetical to one another. Communism is based on force, United Orders are entered into freely.

    Here's a Mormon-capitalist bubble-buster for you:

    Apostle Melvin J. Ballard, in the October 1919 General Conference said, "Sometimes it has been charged that the Church rather favors capitalism. I have never discovered it." Now, before you choke, remember that he was talking about "capitalism" as defined above, he was not talking about the Free Enterprise System. You have to realize those are two different things.

    I realize this is a very bitter pill to swallow, we've been indoctrinated our entire lives to believe that Capitalism = Good and anything-else is Evil. Not true at all. We've been blinded by the craftiness of men.

    Here's an article, if read with an open mind, will help you realize where Brigham and his Apostles stood in regards to economics and Capitalism' concentrating of economic power into the hands of a few:
    http://buildingzion.org/historical/cooperation.pdf
    It is essentially a "First Presidency Letter" written in 1875, signed by the entire First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.

    • Jonathan Gardner Says:

      You’re assuming a lot about what I know, which is rude, but nevertheless, I understand the frustration you feel with people won don’t understand these things.

      Yes, the terms I used leave a lot to be desired. Your term “Free Enterprise” is better, because it focuses on individual’s volition to try things out and make their way. I wish we could just call it “The reality of property ownership” and be done with it, which is why I favor “capitalism” because it focuses on property ownership — capital.

      Your explanation that we won’t be running in a capitalist system in Zion is well-understood by almost every Mormon I know. In Zion, we’ll own our own property and tools. We’ll work as hard as we can with the things we own to produce as much profit as we can. Part of the profit will go to feed ourselves and our family, shelter and clothe them. The surplus will go to the bishop. Investments will not be done by the people, but guided by the priesthood and church so as to ensure that those who have the greatest need are given the opportunity to support themselves. Note that there are no worker-owners of the entire goods and capital in the community. Each person owns their own property and has their own supplies of food and clothing and materials. The surplus goes to the bishop, who deeds it by gift to those who need it most. Even the bishop doesn’t really own it because he doesn’t hold on to it for very long, and he isn’t leasing it to the people he gives it to. There will be no rich because those who gain wealth will not retain it. There will be no poor because those who lack will have their needs met.

      Yes, people have tried to indoctrinate me (both ways), but by paying close attention to what the church actually teaches and what the scriptures say, we’ve been pretty much immunized against that indoctrination. You seem to have seen it as well.

      Regarding Brigham Young’s economic organization of Deseret, it is clear he not only knew what he was doing, but he did quite well. Today, the area that he lead is some of the most productive and valuable in the world.

      One more note: My family comes from a small corner of that kingdom that Brigham Young set up, sometimes called the “Inland Empire”. That is, the Western United States. In their community, there are no poor people. There are no very rich people. When someone has a need, people work together to resolve it. When they have surplus, they share it. This is for many reasons, but I think the most important is the religion that that community grew up in. They share with each other and care for each other partly because of their church, but also because of their family. Remember when Brigham Young had polygamists marry a lot of wives and bear a lot of children? Perhaps he also knew that the way to economic strength and resilience is in the family, and that larger families are more resilient. Even today, in that community, when I visit, I am treated a if I never left, even though I have only spent the rare summer vacation there, all because of who my ancestors were. I think perhaps that the greatest indicator of economic potential is the strength of the families.

  4. Jesse @ Building Zion.org Says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. My apologies if I came off rude, it’s the nature of online discussion not to be aware of the level of knowledge of the other participants. Besides, I should have noted that I was responding mainly to Notabbyh’s remarks.

    In my 45 years as a Mormon, I’ve never lived in a ward that shares your hometown’s view of caring/sharing. All the wards I’ve lived in have been just one small notch above every-man-for-himself. Once, here in Utah, I lost my job and my bishop resented helping us with fast offering funds, he made it clear that it ruined his record of never needing to use them! He told me to move my family back to Phoenix where we had come from. That just doesn’t feel like the spirit of Zion to me, just sayin’.

    FYI, I think some polygamist groups put we main-stream LDS to shame when it comes to embracing economic cooperation. It makes zero sense for everyone on my suburban street to own a riding lawnmower. They all sit in our garages and are used for 1 hour a week at most during the Summer. Serious waste of capital. Pretty sure Brigham, John Taylor, Lorenzo Snow or Wilford Woodruff would have organized us into a cooperative lawn care service, buying one big industrial mower, and hiring an unemployed brother to do our lawns.

    Jesus said, “I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.” So… since we all know that capitalism won’t be part of Zion, why do we still spend 40 hours a week working in it? Reminds me of that one definition of insanity….

    • Jonathan Gardner Says:

      No prob, I understand and I try not to take offense at things.

      Having never been a bishop myself, but working closely with several, there are probable circumstances and situations at hand that we aren’t afraid of. Can bishops abuse their position? Absolutely. Do they? Absolutely. However, as Elder Holland said not too long ago, the Lord calls imperfect people to be his servants. He shows them patience when they misbehave, so can’t we emulate the Lord and show them a little patience?

      The fundamental purpose of LDS social work or charity is to get people on their feet. I have never told anyone to go back to their hometown (since I have never been bishop) but I have seen cases where having them close to their family and friends gives them access to opportunities that don’t otherwise exist. The church regularly points people to their family for help, and only steps in when absolutely necessary, and then, only on a temporary and goal-oriented way.

      Regarding the faithfulness of various communities, I suppose I have been lucky to have been part of such great wards in the Federal Way area. I know that not everyone’s experience has been the same. I wonder how much of it is an actual objective measurement of reality and how much of it is simply perception. My parents have been in the area for my entire lifetime and have accumulated a fair degree of respect so perhaps I am living off of their reputation. Regardless, we all came to this earth to experience the good and the bad, and living in Utah is no guarantee that you’ll escape the bad.

      I agree with the idea that everyone shouldn’t need to have a carbon copy of every asset. I have tried to hire people to do work for the exact reason you describe: It gives people an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise, and is actually one way of helping the poor. Regarding why I work in “Babylon” it’s because I am not working. I get paid, yes, but I stopped “working” a long time ago. Now I just render the skills I have to help the people around me. I haven’t taken the highest paying job for a long time. Sure, it’s mindset, but it’s important. Jesus worked in “Babylon” so to speak, using his skills as a carpenter. Paul worked as a potter, I believe. Anyway, most of what we do is all a matter of perspective. The same actions with different intentions render different results in God’s eyes.

      Take care brother and don’t stop thinking and don’t stop talking. We all have something to contribute and we won’t come to truth without everyone participating.

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