Mormonism and Capitalism

Based on the attitudes of members today, you would think that the merits of capitalism were included in the Thirteen Articles of Faith in the Wentworth Letter.

Yet the LDS’s relationship with capitalism has not always been such a smooth sail. In fact, it has been downright rocky. Richard Bushman, author of the popular biography Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, even calls it a “tortured relationship.”

On what grounds did the Church view capitalism with suspicion? Bushman gives at least four main reasons.

1) The advance of capitalism reduces receptivity to the gospel. I think Bushman is essentially right here. Whatever else the consequences (many of them beneficial, I realize), it is difficult to deny this observation.

2) Capitalism is godless. That is not to say that it repudiates faith in God as does communism, but neither does it make provision for faith. “Capitalism as a system subscribes to Korihor’s creed that one succeeds according to the strength of the creature.” You can believe, or you can choose not to. There are no rituals or tenets that expressly encourage religion. And finally, what I have written extensively about, capitalism encourages a type of individualism that just doesn’t fit in well with the type of communal service required by the gospel.

3) Capitalism creates incentives of its own that often replace religious goals. Corporate success, for many, takes the place of salvation. One need look no further than, say, Japan, to see that 80 hour work weeks are the new religion.

4) And finally, what I believe to be the most dangerous–capitalism adds fire to the fervor of consumerism. People find untold amounts of satisfaction in buying and selling material goods. It even seems that capitalism will not work without consumerism. Thus, consumerism invades our lives to the point where we feel like development of person is synonymous with getting ahead in the corporate world. Our sense of worth should not depend upon our ability to make money.

For obvious reasons, the Church did not embrace capitalism until after World War II. Leaders such as Brigham Young instituted provisions to moderate the emphasis on individualism and competition and have warned us to be extremely wary of consumerism.

All of this is not to say that the Church should again divorce capitalism, but it at least indicates that a full on embrace of libertarian free market ideals should at least be well thought out.

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2 thoughts on “Mormonism and Capitalism

  1. Again, I think you are semi-right here and semi-wrong. Having a sole purpose of gaining material things is wrong. Capatilism is a system of free enterprise that does the greatest good for the greates amount of people. I know plenty of people, as I am sure you do, who are very wealthy but live modest lives. We have become a material country but saying that capatilism is to blame, in my opinion, is flat out wrong. You are relating the system to produce wealth as the reason for indiviual greediness when free agency has never been taken away from the equation. A rich man has a greater ability to help others, help the church and many other beneficial things. While there are more temptations for the rich to do evil there are is also more freedom for him to do good.

    In my opinion, the most incorrect thing you stated was “capitalism encourages a type of individualism that just doesn’t fit in well with the type of communal service required by the gospel.” Individualism propels capatilism because each man wants to better himself. The problem is that there is no way to succeed in capatalim without communal organization. The classic example is Milton Freidmans pencil analogy. Literally thousands of people come together around the world to create a single pencil. We work as a community to produce goods and the more people comming together to produce the more people are benefited. There cannot be capatilism without a community of people comming together. When individual flourish they in turn try to use thier resources to create more goods and services thus being able to help others and on and on. So what is wrong with individualism when individualism benefits society in the long run? How can a country succeed on comunalism? The church tried to run a system of communalism for a short time but it promoted just as much, if not more greed than capatilsm and it had to be abandoned. The idea of “to each according to his needs and to each according to his ability” cannot succeed. Please give me one example of it working. If our church members squabbled and became lazy through this sort of system and it was abandoned by Joseph Smith than how could we exepect a country to do it? My guess is paradise might be like this because of the extremes righteousness of everyone involved but nowhere else will it happen. I urge you to read just chapter 10 in Atlas Shrugged as she explains this concept better than I have ever seen done (and probably why she is seen as a right wing nut).

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