Orson Scott Card: Document does fine on its own

Published: Thursday, Sept. 18 2008 12:04 a.m. MDT

A friend, knowing that I had been writing for many years about practical ways to live the Law of Consecration while living in a capitalist system, sent me an interesting document titled "Brigham Young's Proclamation on the Economy."

There were things in the "Proclamation" designed to gladden my heart:

"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."

And then there was this one: "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."

The language sure sounded like something that might have been officially promulgated by the church in Brigham Young's day.

The trouble was that the title "Proclamation on the Economy" did not ring true. When we say "the economy" today it's shorthand for "the national economy of the United States." I just didn't see Brigham Young, in 1875, issuing a proclamation on the economy in general, using the word economy without any modifiers.

Also, the text did not fit the title. In fact, when I read the whole text it seemed incoherent. Things didn't flow together properly. Points were begun which were not completed.

Besides, I had never heard of any such proclamation, and I'm just vain enough to assume that if I hadn't heard of it, it must be either very obscure or untrue.

So even though I liked the proclamation's message, where it made sense, I didn't trust it. It smacked of folk doctrine and stank of fraud.

So I did what I always do — I consulted a historian, forwarding the letter with a "truth or nonsense?" query.

The historian, who also happens to be my father-in-law, James B. Allen, was as skeptical as I. But he was much more industrious. He found the original text.

It was originally a pamphlet published by the church as a kind of "five-year-report" on the Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Association — which eventually grew into ZCMI. In those days, though, it was a league of Mormon merchants who, instead of competing with each other, cooperated, buying from each other.

But that didn't mean it was noncompetitive. It is not unfair to say that it was partly designed to freeze out non-Mormon merchants — so it was certainly competing with them.

The idea was to keep Mormon money inside Mormondom instead of bleeding it away to non-Mormons. It was protectionist — and I have no argument with protectionism in struggling economies. Historically it's a stage that all the robust economies of today have passed through.

However, this pamphlet — a ringing endorsement of the ZCMI enterprise — was not a statement of general church doctrine or a comment on the American economy, which Utah barely participated in at that point. It was an attempt to convince the Saints that ZCMI was going strong but needed them, as a matter of good sense and solidarity, to be loyal and shop with the ZCMI merchants. What difference does this make? A big one, I think.

You can get the full text of the original pamphlet at GospeLink.com, as part of "The Messages of the First Presidency," vol. 2. (See gospelink.com/next/doc?book_doc_id=3D202329. You have to be a GospeLink.com subscriber to see the full document there.)

Or you can consult the print version of that book.

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