Friday, February 15, 2008

The Book of Mormon and the Free Market

Shortly after Christ taught the people of the Americas in the first century, The Book of Mormon says "And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor."

I'm a believer in the free market system. An important aspect of the free market is that people are motivated to be productive both by the dream of being rich, and the fear of being poor. Therefore, rich people and poor people are essential to the free market system.

But we must be careful to not assume that because roses come with thorns, thorns are good. Economic inequality is a necessary evil of the free market system. In general, people who work hard will be richer than those that don't, but this is not necessarily true at an individual level, which clearly isn't fair. If there were a way to eliminate this inequality, but still motivate people to contribute to society, that clearly that would be better.

So the question is, how did the people in the Book of Mormon achieve this state? I think this is an important question. The motivation is clear: they were wholly converted to the gospel and loved God and their neighbors. But motivation alone doesn't accomplish things. So the question remains, how did they do it? Here are some possible answers:

1) The government imposed laws that required a fair distribution of wealth. This is what some might call "The Welfare State".

2) The church instituted policies that facilitated a fair distribution of wealth.

3) The people voluntarily made sure the poor were taken care of to the point were they where no longer poor. Anyone who acquired wealth would immediately distribute it to those who were in need.

Some Mormons support funding various social programs on the basis that we, as followers of Christ, should help those less fortunate than ourselves. I wonder if people with such a view believe that The Book of Mormon people achieved a state of economic equality the same way.

On the other hand, some Mormons might assume it was entirely voluntary and personally-driven on the basis that the text does not mention government or church programs. However, just because it doesn't mention them doesn't mean they didn't exist. Mormon is summarizing several hundred years of history here.

So I'm left to wonder why Mormon included this and left out the means by which it was accomplished. Perhaps the means is not all that important. Perhaps it is the motivation--the pure love of Christ--that is important. Still, knowing the means would be very useful right now as I try to figure out who I'm going to vote for this Tuesday. I guess I'll actually have to think about it for myself.


Stephen said...

we must be careful to not assume that because roses come with thorns, thorns are good

Nicely said.

Anonymous said...

I think its a given that they were living United Order, which really can't be seperated from religious life if youa re living it as you should. Most everyone may first think of Orderville and it wasnt very succesful but Brigham City was as long as the people wanted to live to its standards

David West

Mike said...


If that's the case then it's probably impossible to compare their society to ours for political ends, since their society was so different both politically and religiously. Thanks for your comment.

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