Political Economy and the BOM

Political Economy and the BOM July 20, 2006

On July 13, over at By Common Consent Taryn Nelson-Seawright posted about the nature of economic and political liberalism and leftism amongst Mormons. The post and the related 127 comments can be found here.

I am not going to comment directly on the post, though I agree with much of its sentiment and the author’s frustrations. The comment stream seemed to focus on whether the Book of Mormon supports socialism or not. This is my concern.

The Book of Mormon does not support socialism. It also does not support capitalism. I say this because the civilizations discussed in the Book of Mormon are primitive societies where the modern/contemporary theories of socialism and/or capitalism would be completely foreign.

However, I do think that the Book of Mormon can be useful in gleaning principles of political economy that should or could be useful to us today. I argue this from a perspective of social justice which is more concerned about principles of justice rather than specific forms or institution of politics and economics.

What are the principles of just political economy found in the Book of Mormon?

Equality: Jacob 2:17 exhorts us to think “of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.” I take the idea of making our brethren as rich as we are as being a strong call for a type of equality that would require redistribution of the wealth beyond tithes and fast offerings. This verse also introduces the philosophical idea of reciprocity.

Human Dignity: Alma 1:30 supports the concept of universal respect for the human dignity of all human beings. It also teaches that such a respect requires caring for the poor.

Popular Sovereignty: Mosiah 29 includes the beautiful introduction of representative democracy to the Nephites. It includes a hopeful disposition towards the ability of the people to govern (verse 26). It also provides a well reasoned argument against monarchy (made by a king no less) which stands along side with similar arguments made by the likes of Thomas Paine.

Social Unity: 4 Nephi provides the ideal of Zion in clear form. Here we see the principles of equality and a respect for human dignity in perfect form.

There is obviously more to say about each of these principles and there is surely more principles that could be outlined.

The key in evaluating political economy today is not whether it is liberal or socialist, libertarian or conservative, but whether it lives up to such principles. The United States surely does not.

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