Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Proclamation on the Economy from the First Presidency and Twelve

An excerpt, and full version of the mis-titled "Proclamation on the Economy" (background info available here).
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A Proclamation on the Economy
from the First Presidency and Twelve (1875)

To The Latter-day Saints -
"The experience of mankind has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice."
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"One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations. By its seductive influence results are accomplished which, were it more equally distributed, would be impossible under our form of government. It threatens to give shape to the legislation, both State and National, of the entire country. If this evil should not be checked, and measures not be taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is liable to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin."

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Full Text:
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July 10, 1875
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To the Latter-day Saints: "The experience of mankind has shown that the people of communities and nations, among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice. Among the chosen people of the Lord, to prevent the too rapid growth of wealth and its accumulation in a few hands, he ordained that in every seventh year the debtors were to be released from their debts, and, where a man had sold himself to his brother, he was in that year to be released from slavery and to go free; even the land itself which might pass out of the possession of its owner by his sale of it, whether through his improvidence, mismanagement, or misfortune, could only be alienated until the year of jubilee. At the expiration of every forty-nine years the land reverted, without cost to the man or family whose inheritance originally it was except in the case of a dwelling house in a walled city, for the redemption of which one^year only was allowed, after which, if not redeemed, it became the property, without change at the year of jubilee, of the purchaser. Under such a system, carefully maintained, there could be no great aggregations of either real or personal property', in the hands of a few; especially so while the laws, forbidding the taking of usury or interest for money or property loaned, continued in force.

One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations. By its seductive influence results are accomplished which, were it more equally distributed, would be impossible under our form of government. It threatens to give shape to the legislation, both State and National, of the entire country. If this evil should not be checked, and measures not be taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is liable to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin. The evidence of the restiveness of the people under this condition of affairs in our times is witnessed in the formation of societies of grangers, of patrons of husbandry, trades' unions, etc., etc., combination of the productive and working classes against capital.
It was not for the purpose alone, however, of making money, of declaring large dividends, that Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution was established. A higher object than this prompted its organization. A union of interests was sought to be attained. At the time co-operation was entered upon the Latter-day Saints were acting in utter disregard of the principles of self-preservation. They were encouraging the growth of evils in their own midst which they condemned as the worst features of the systems from which they had been gathered. Large profits were being concentrated in comparatively few hands, instead of being generally distributed among the people. As a consequence, the community was being rapidly divided into classes, and the hateful and unhappy distinctions which the possession and lack of wealth give rise to, were becoming painfully apparent. When the proposition to organize Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution was broached, it was hoped that the community at large would become its stockholders; for if a few individuals only were to own its stock, the advantages to the community would be limited. The people, therefore, were urged to take shares, and large numbers responded to the appeal. As we have shown, the business proved to be as successful as its most sanguine friends anticipated. But the distribution of profits among the community was not the only benefit conferred by the organization of co-operation among us. The public at large who did not buy at its stores derived profits, in that the old practice of dealing which prompted traders to increase the price of an article because of its scarcity, was abandoned. Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution declined to be a party to making a corner upon any article of merchandise because of the limited supply in the market. From its organization until the present it has never advanced the price of any article because of its scarcity. Goods therefore in this Territory have been sold at something like fixed rates and reasonable profits since the Institution has had an existence, and practices which are deemed legitimate in some parts of the trading world, and by which, in this Territory, the necessities of consumers were taken advantage of-as, for instance, the selling of sugar at a dollar a pound, and domestics, coffee, tobacco and other articles at an enormous advance over original cost because of their scarcity here-have not been indulged in. In this result the purchasers of goods who have been opposed to co-operation have shared equally with its patrons.

We appeal to the experience of every old settler in this Territory for the truth of what is here stated. They must vividly remember that goods were sold here at prices which the necessities of the people compelled them to pay, and not at cost and transportation, with the addition of a reasonable profit. The railroad, it is true, has made great changes in our method of doing business. But let a blockade occur, and the supply of some necessary article be very limited in our market, can we suppose that traders have so changed in the lapse of a few years that, if there were no check upon them, they would not put up the price of that article in proportion as the necessities of the people made it desirable? They would be untrue to all the training and traditions of their craft if they did not. And it is because this craft is in danger that such an outcry is made against co-operation. Can any one wonder that it should be so, when he remembers that, from the days of Demetrius who made silver shrines for the goddess Diana at Ephesus down to our own times, members of crafts have made constant war upon innovations that were likely to injure their business?

Co-operation has submitted in silence to a great many attacks. Its friends have been content to let it endure the ordeal. But it is now time to speak. The Latter-day Saints should understand that it is our duty to sustain cooperation and to do all in our power to make it a success. At a meeting of the stockholders of the Institution at the time of the General Conference a committee of seventeen was chosen to select and arrange for the purchase of a suitable piece of ground for a store and to proceed to erect upon it such a fireproof building as would answer the purposes of the Institution. The objects view in this proceeding were to concentrate the business and thereby lessen the cost of handling and disposing of the goods and to decrease rents and insurance. The saving in these directions alone, not to mention other advantages which must result from having such a store, will make a not inconsiderable dividend upon the stock. A suitable piece of ground has been secured, and upon terms which are deemed advantageous, and steps have been taken towards the erection of a proper building. But the Institution, to erect this building and carry on its business properly, needs more capital. The determination is still to sell goods as low as possible. By turning over the capital three or four times during the year they can be sold at very low figures, and at but a slight advance over cost and carriage, and yet the stockholders have a handsome dividend. To purchase goods to the greatest advantage the Institution should have the money with which to purchase of first hands. To effect this important result, as well as to unite in our mercantile affairs, the Institution should receive the cordial support of every Latter-day Saint. Every one who can should take stock in it. By sustaining the Co-operative Institution, and taking stock in it, profits that would otherwise go to a few individuals will be distributed among many hundreds. Stockholders should interest themselves in the business of the Institution. It is their own, and if suggestions are needed, or any corrections ought to be made, it is to their interest to make them.

"The Institution has opened a retail store within a few weeks, one of the old fashioned kind, in which everything required by the public is sold. This should receive the patronage of all the well-wishers of co-operation. In the settlements, also the local co-operative stores should have the cordial support of the Latterday Saints. Does not all our history impress upon us the great truth that in union is strength? Without it, what power would the Latter-day Saints have? But it is not in the doctrines alone that we should be united, but in practice and especially in our business affairs.
"Your Brethren, "Brigham Young, George A. Smith, Daniel H. Wells, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, Charles C. Rich, Lorenzo Snow, Erastus Snow, Franklin D. Richards, George Q. Cannon, Brigham Young Jr., Albert Carrington. "Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, July 10th, 1875."





5 comments:

Dallin said...

Quite a socialistic thought....I like it!

Thomas Mangum said...

Not very socialistic at all, if you read, the saints were encouraged to invest.
"Every one who can should take stock in it. By …… taking stock in it, profits that would otherwise go to a few individuals will be distributed among many hundreds." Capitalism!

Elkym said...

You're both wrong. Neither Capitalism nor Socialism fully encapsulates the Brethren's position here-- and there are well-documented instances where early General Authorities condemned both.

And FWIW, Thomas, socialism advocates 'investment' just like capitalism does, but the context and goals of said investments differ from capitalism.

Elkym said...

You're both wrong. Neither Capitalism nor Socialism fully encapsulates the Brethren's position here-- and there are well-documented instances where early General Authorities condemned both.

And FWIW, Thomas, socialism advocates 'investment' just like capitalism does, but the context and goals of said investments differ from capitalism.

Mountain Gardener said...

The problem lies in a false dichotomoy. Some people on the left argue that this is socialism, or Marxism, those on the right, argue that it is capitalism.

This is neither. Much of the bretheren's thoughts on economics stem from their social environment in the Northeastern United States in the 1800s-1830s when Robert Owen's premarxist socialism was booming. Then When the twelve served missions in Manchester and Liverpool they were exposed to more of Robert Owen's followers and ideas including cooperatives (predating the Roschdale Society of Equitable Pioneers), labor exchanges, and Charles Fourier's Communal Counting house (a direct paralel of the tithing house.)

Socialism before Marx was opposed to violent revolution, was opposed to the violation of free will, and chose instead to inspire rather than obligate and command. It had the goals of socialism as we know it today but through the means of libretarianism.

Marx came later and became such a dominant force in Socialist thought that he effectively erased any memory of Robert Owen, the father of socialism. Utopian Socialism as the Marxists call it, was erased, and replaced with scientific socialism (the socialism the church has historically opposed.)

This change occurred in other regions where Utopian socialism was important such as Northern Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Pensylvania, New York, and Vermont.

The problem isnt that the early leaders of the church were opposed to utopian socialism (Sidney Rigdon cited Robert Owen as his primary influence in creating his community in Kirtland, Ohio), its that we have forgotten that it ever existed. When we talk of socialism we talk about the state market socialism of Marx, rather than a socialism built on cooperatives and intentional communities (Robert Owen, Charles Fourier.)

Its a false dichotomy that stems from our ignorance of their world, and our inability to think creatively. We have allowed ourselves to be locked into a false dichotomy of the world, rather than creatively imagingin ways that we could establish Zion on the earth.