Is Commerce the Anti-Zion?

by

This article from buildingzion.org is intensely interesting. He starts off by listing the parallels between the Zion built in Enoch’s day and the Zion built in 4th Nephi in the Book of Mormon.

Among the things he lists, he says:

It appears likely that it wasn’t just the desire for nice clothes, but it was the introduction of commerce, the buying and selling of goods and services, which triggered the collapse of their unity. Before those who desired nice clothes entered some marketplace, the people “did have their goods and their substance” in “common among them”. In other words, everyone likely had a share in the produce of the land; the people worked together as one large family to produce the goods and services they all needed. Enter commerce, and the family-style economic unity crumbles.

I am a huge fan of the free market. I have long believed, and I still do believe, that markets, free markets, are something that exist in Zion. The author is very careful to try and distinguish between Zion economics and pride-based commerce economics, and I agree with him. This might surprise many who are against capitalism as some form of evil.

Let me try to add or expound some words in a way that is more secular.

First, what is the great sin? The great sin, as I see it, is pride. This pride is the idea that you are better than someone else, more deserving of substance, more deserving of justice. The basic feeling behind pride is the exact antithesis to what Christianity is all about, which is that all can be saved if they come unto Christ, who came unto them, and we can all be the same with Christ and God. The opposite of pride is the pure love of Christ, or what we might call charity, which isn’t just helping the poor but seeing everyone as you see yourself, valuing them as much as you value yourself.

Markets and economics and money has nothing to do with pride and love. These are just things, things that are assigned value because of the way we perceive them. True, people who have a lot of stuff may be more likely to be prideful, but in my experience, I don’t see a huge difference between the rich and the poor when it comes to pride.

Now, on to economics. I believe that free markets, money, and economics has a lot to do with Zion. It’s how we use these tools that makes all the difference.

Labor and Production

It starts with production. In Zion, we are not working for ourselves, but for everyone. When you see your neighbor is struggling, you will work that much harder to help him out. The same goes for everyone else. In short, you don’t stop working once you’ve gotten everything you want. You only stop working once everyone has what they want.

This is how families work. The breadwinner doesn’t stop working when he has met all his needs; no, he continues to work once his family is all taken care of as well. Members of the family are expected to do the same.

Trade

Let’s talk about trade. In economics, we learn that only when both parties benefit do transactions occur. Thus, trading itself creates wealth. There is obviously a limit to the wealth that trading can create, but moving things and providing services is definitely helpful in directing economic resources to where they are needed the most.

In a Zion environment, if people paid attention to prices, they would know how to help those in need halfway across the world. They would also be able to find things that are cheap and plentiful, and invent new uses for them. I can’t imagine Zion working with prices and all the benefits that price signals bring.

The difference between a pride-based economy and a love-based economy is that both buyer and seller will be carefully aware of the needs of the other. In today’s economy, we see things like Wal-Mart profit sharing with their suppliers. This drives the price to the middle, where both sides can benefit. This kind of conscientious trading benefits everyone greatly, rather than the harsh and cruel tactics we often see employed when one party wants to take advantage of the other.

Money

With prices and trade comes money. We could barter one with another, but it is so much more elegant to use money than barter that I find it hard to believe that anyone, even a Zion society, wouldn’t have money.

There are several types of money. Let me list them. Keep in mind that the problem with money is making sure you don’t have too much (inflation) or too little (deflation). I hope that a Zion society would have a stable currency supply so that prices don’t change very much, if at all, making it easy to plan for the future.

Commodity Money is money based on things like gold and silver. The more of these things you have, the more money there is. You cannot expand or contract the money supply without creating or destroying these commodities, unless you are dishonest and claim to have more than you actually do. In a Zion society, there would be no dishonesty, but with commodity money, it is terribly difficult to keep track of how much money there is versus the amount of commodity, so I don’t think this would work very well.

On the other hand, if we used the commodities themselves and not certificates, this could work. This would mean actually carrying gold and silver around. Perhaps God can control how much gold and silver there is in the economy by leading people to find gold and silver or whatnot. Ultimately, the supply of gold and silver depends on what it is used for and how hard it is to get, so maybe we’d control the supply of the commodities by putting it into statues and sculptures and buildings when there is way too much of it.

Debt Money is created by banks or bank-like institutions. It all begins with a loan. Someone borrows money from the banks, and then the money enters circulation. I can’t imagine debt being a part of Zion society, so I can’t imagine this form of money existing. (We have debt money today, which I detest.)

Credit Money is the exact opposite. It is created when someone creates something of economic value. The institutions that can issue this currency are the exact opposite of banks. They don’t want to hoard money, they want to hoard goods and services. In Zion, it is obvious what institution would issue money: The bishops who manage the goods and services for the poor. The bishops can issue you credits when you do something for him or donate something to the bishop’s storehouse, and thus, you can get paid for your labor. Of course, you can just give it to him for free and tell him to keep the credits. These credits can then be traded and finally end up back in the hands of the bishop when you buy something from the storehouse.

In this way, the local bishop’s storehouse becomes part of a global network of storehouses. Say you want to buy a bed because your last bed broke. You live in a part of the country where there are no bed factories, but halfway across the world there is a bed factory and you’d like one of their beds. So you go to the bishop and ask for a bed, but the bishop says nothing is free, why don’t you turn over some of your labor or goods and he’ll issue you a credit that you can use to buy that bed yourself. Or he sends some credits to the storehouse with the beds and gets a bed sent to the storehouse that he can give to you, in exchange for credits or whatnot.

How would credit money work? The same way money works today. Each bishop has their own currency. Each bishop can issue currency as they like, but there is a global currency exchange that shows the going rate of his currency versus all the others, based on how much demand there is for his goods. If a bishop is in a poor spot of Zion where they aren’t producing things people want, then his credits will become less and less valuable. The bishop can choose to issue more credits, depreciating the value further, or he can engage the community in finding something more productive they can do, or he can ask for charity from other bishops to stabilize his credit value.

Another key benefit here is that the bishop’s storehouse becomes the storehouse. There, all economic goods will flow, and the bishop will have a part in all services rendered as well. He will have a clear picture on how people are working for each other, who needs to pick up the slack, how much their labor and their work is valued, and so much more. All the while, people get to keep what they earn, own their own things, and use their own heads to figure out the best way to do things. Thus, the bishop becomes a sort of stock market, the center of trade in any Zion city. Whether the bishop is connected to the global network or even if he is all alone, he and the people in his ward will have everything they need to build their corner of Zion.

Investment and Savings

Of note, in a Zion society, people don’t save. They turn their surplus over to the bishop. If we are using bishop’s credits as money, then they can just hand over a stack of credits to the bishop saying, “I am not going to use these.” The bishop can re-issue these or destroy them, thus maintaining some sort of control over his currency on the other end. Or if they have a surplus of goods, they can turn that over to the bishop. Or if they have too much time on their hands, they can go to the bishop and say, “What can I do?” I expect that you’ll just hand over to the bishop a stack of cash at the end of the year. The goods and services will always be traded in for credits.

Without savings, though, how do you do investments? If no one has any surplus, it would seem it is impossible to raise the money necessary to, say, build large projects and such.

This isn’t true, though. The bishop, you see, will have access to all the economic goods and resources in his area. If someone comes forward with an idea to improve the economic productivity of his ward, the bishop can invest all of his surplus into this project. If there is a project that requires more than his entire ward can do, the bishops of the region can get together and work together on it, each pitching in a few of their resources to get it done.

Indeed, what is the difference between helping the poor and investing in the future? The answer is there isn’t much of a difference at all.

Final Notes

Note that the bishop doesn’t have to use coercion at all to do his job. If someone doesn’t want to work for him, they don’t have to; they can just work for others around them. As described in the Doctrine and Covenants, if you get sick of Zion, you can leave whenever you want, and keep all the property you have. This is an important distinguishing factor between socialist ideas that rely on government force and my concept of Zion.

Most importantly, Zion can be a place where people can put all their strength and might into working for one another. It doesn’t matter what you do, you can find a way to help everyone around you, even if the things you do are not immediately needed by the people in your neighborhood.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: