Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wealth redistribution, taxes, government, and the poor in Winter Quarters

Excerpts of Wealth redistribution, taxes, government, and the poor in Winter Quartersby , Worlds Without End

In our current election season, many issues have been debated about the economy, including wealth redistribution, social safety nets, economic recovery, the size of government, the poor and self-sufficiency. Brigham Young was faced with these same issues when building a winter settlement in Iowa as the Mormon pioneers headed west. ... Young successfully implemented a government structure that oversaw the development of an economy that produced a city.

Winter Quarters, Christensen
Young divided the settlement into wards and called 22 Bishops to oversee the needs of the people. Hosea Stout recorded Brigham Young's proposition to the high council to address the situation.
"President B. Young … taught the council … to lay plans to take care of the poor & see that the Bishops also did the same and cause the poor to be put in a way to sustain themselves and not to make the rich hand out all they have." [2]
The next day, the topic was revisited. Stout recorded:
"President Young moved that every able bodied man be taxed every tenth day to be devoted to geting [sic] wood and doing such other thing as is necessary for the poor and that it be paid in advance & that the Bishops … notify the people to commence next day to work out this tithing which was agreed to by the council[.] The men who did not work out his tithing is to pay an equivalent" [3]

The rich had been providing assistance to the poor and Young was concerned that all the resources of the wealthy would be drained. He proposed a tax couched in the religious terms of tithing that was to be required by all to help the poor and fund community projects. Those who did not pay the tax through manual labor were to pay in funds. The tax was to be paid/worked out "in advance" as it took priority over individual needs. [4]
As the economic plans developed, it was decided to tax "all personal property over certain amount" in the boundaries of the soon-to-be town. Later, the tax would be expanded to include property outside the town's boundary (such as livestock).
Brigham required Bishops "to keep an account of what each man is doing,"[5] tax paid, labor donated, as well as those who were "delinquent." This was to be reported to him weekly.[6] Leaders debated over whether tithing should be compulsory.
Some Bishops complained of being unable to collect enough tithing to build shelters for the poor.[7]Many were unhappy about the tax/tithing burden. Young noted that a common response from some of the saints was, "I will de damned if I will pay…"[8] He declared "all who were among us should both help support the poor and pay their tax … or leave the camp."[9] Some left the body of the saints and moved south to Missouri where their stories of Brigham exacting money stirred up angry feelings among some Missourians. But by-in-large, relations remained cordial, probably in part due to economic benefit from trading.