The socialistic systems advocated in LDS scripture are not necessarily “socialism” per se, in the most accepted modern economic definitions. Production did not need to be controlled by the state by and large. BUT, a form of socialism was certainly advocated, were excess income (the share one earned which was “above” or more than the “needed” median income for ones situation) was to be consecrated into a socialistic system “a bishops storehouse” which was really just a spiritualized name for a credit union/bank.
The Doctrine and Covenants make it clear that Zion cannot be established unless it accepts by covenant and attempts to the best of its ability to live the United Order (D&C 51:2–3; 105:3-5). It is especially essential as a social framework for integrating converts, immigrants, and the raising generation. Although many early attempts to live the United Order either failed or were foiled by misapplication and government intervention— according to LDS scripture relative social equality is still THE absolute requirement to the founding of Zion or a lasting Utopian society like those which exist in the higher dimensions (D&C 38:27). The church is repeatedly told in its scriptures that it will remain under condemnation for as long as obedience to this law goes completely untaught and unattempted. LDS implementation of this order was often over-complicated and corrupted. A simplistic form of this order/system could be begun at any time with the following simple teaching.
Willingly bind yourself to live a comfortable lifestyle somewhere near the median income of your chosen demographic.
In other words, if you live in Utah with four kids, and the median income for a family of six is around $70k/year, then you don’t spend more than that on yourself each year. You take any excess above that and put it toward worthy investments that lift the community and the poor. As the poor in the community are lifted, the median income rises and everyone has more. This is the only way to free an LDS believer from the condemnation given in our own scripture concerning economic inequality.
20 But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. (D&C 49:20)
14 Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.(D&C 70:14)
Consecration as laid out in LDS scripture had nothing to do with how much an individual made in income per se—it simply dictates that saints who wish to be blameless (and especially those who wish to be religious or political leaders) live a median income lifestyle regardless of their income—consecrating excesses to altruistic causes, instead of spending it on mansions and a lavish lifestyle. (A practice which God’s true Saints throughout the world always live regardless of which church they belong to.) Any Saint can live this law of consecration right now. As a church if we wanted to socially implement this law it could be done according to scripture following these simple steps…
1-Each Stake or region operates a credit union (a bank whose members are sole shareholders). D&C 51:8–13; 104:68; 124:70. In the early stages of implementing this program, it may be wise to use regular non-church backed credit unions.
2-Worthy members keep their “excess income” in the credit union (just like most normal Americans do). Of particular importance is excess land & real-estate. (D&C 42:33–34; 3 Ne 26:19, 4 Ne 1:3, Acts 4:32–34)
3-Worthy members voluntarily bind themselves to live at a median income which approximates the median income for their area and circumstances. (see D&C 51:3). For example, the median income for a family with 2 children in Park City utah is about $77,000/year (this goes up radically with more children). Members agree not to spend on themselves more than this amount in a year even if they have it. The exact amount and details of this fixed salary are for the individual to decide. Excess income goes into the credit union. Caveats and details of what constitutes “excess” stay loosely defined and are ultimately left up to the individual to decide, with counsel as desired from spiritual leaders.)
4-Members with excess income agree to allow the credit union to annually invest their “excess” (increase) into worthy pursuits which make money while working to lift up the poor (every member who makes less than the median income—according to their need). This can be managed just as a modern credit union does, lending money to worthy business startups, education funds, social projects or even home purchases). As a peripheral-endeavor, each credit union should be encouraged to capitalize cooperative social projects which employ the poor (ie. fund bonds in cooperation with political entities, if possible). Those shown to be good with money should be in charge of the lending process according to accepted modern banking standards. (FDR’s new deal/CCC, ZCMI, Deseret Industries, and many other historical cooperative ventures can serve as important historical analogs to what works and what doesn’t.)
5-Special consideration must be given to focus on providing work and lifting all members to attain the median income range for their area and family size (especially convert refugees, immigrants and the raising generation).
6-The countless considerations inherent in this system are to be worked out by those with experience in investment and banking. (Using free market principles as much as possible.) The enterprise would essentially mimic the modern banking/investment systems (there is essentially little difference except that the goal is to lift the poor, in addition to providing an inheritance/pension for members). The most fit and qualified individuals in these industries must be employed to solve problems and create safe and viable organizations. Free market trial and error are inevitable as Stakes and Region’s learn to make it work.
7-The return on investment for the credit union assures retirement funds (an inheritance) for members of the order. (Just as is currently done with pension funds, except that the religious encouragement might create greater participation).
8-Religious (and one day political!) leaders are required by the church & society to be members of the order. To be an ecclesiastical leader or social servant (politician), one must prove they are willing to self-sacrifice enough to bind themselves to the median income–helping to assure that the majority of church leaders (& public servants!) are fairly selfless and dedicated to social equality. (This ends up being the societies best way to assure that social power, such as high callings or positions, is kept in the hands of those willing to self-sacrifice).
9-Just as the jizyah was a powerful factor in Islam’s regional growth & success, the United Order is our God’s program to grow the church (D&C 58:8–11) while helping to promote social stability & equality. Through this program people (especially converts/migrants) are encouraged to live basic religious/social tenets of morality in order to be eligible for loans and good paying jobs on church/social projects. Bishops are scripturally mandated to be somewhat like loan officers. The system serves to motivate the rapid economic lifting and cultural/moral integration of immigrants and the lower classes into the middle class–as well as to minimize the economic disparity of the upper class.
10-This is not communism, but a hybrid free-market/socialist system. I believe the United Order in LDS scripture is very similar to the modern banking and investment system. But the stark differences lie primarily in its goals, participation and management. The system is obviously inferior to the free market system when it comes to returning profit. If you personally covenant with God to not buy a lavishly expensive house, your motivation to work like crazy to make millions may be gone… and for this reason the system must not discourage members who don’t wish to join. But EVERY free or controlled market & monetary system eventually collapses under the weight of its own social inequality. This church program seeks to assuage the social and monetary collapse which result from inequality by giving non-monetary rewards to successful people who make the difficult selfless sacrifice to promote equality—namely they get to govern the investments funds/credit unions, raise the poor, govern wards, stakes and desirably even political systems…
Failed early attempts to live the United Order (like failed national social systems) attempted to take from the rich and give to the poor without requiring appropriate labor or intelligent investment. And by allowing money to be managed by bureaucrats instead of those who have shown they are good with money by being the ones who made it in the first place. They were based on force and lacked balance, education, and common sense. They also lacked needed social or political support—being run and managed by church leaders instead of regionally successful business leaders. Successful LDS attempts, however, simply used excess funds to start or invest in business (such as ZCMI or Church Farms) which could then be used to employ the poor with an appropriate wage. These enterprises must be run by those who are good with money (which would usually be those who give the most money to them) NOT by local priesthood or church bureaucrats (who are notorious at losing/wasting people’s money). The church should only set up the system, and have local church leaders who sit on the boards and act as advisers to show board members where the greatest needs are. Bishops simply run the bishop’s storehouse and food pantry as currently constituted–and serve as or work with loan officers who can adequately judge the need/risk involved to lending to applicant members.
People typically over-spiritualize Consecration and the United Order. The truth is that it is obeyed by millions of people and in operation in thousands of communities throughout the world. It is a very common-sense approach to community economic equality, not requiring a massive redistribution of wealth, and certainly not limiting the rich’s ability to do what they do best—make & manage money. It does require convincing the rich that it is in their best interest to not spend their money solely on themselves. Convincing them not to spend their money on huge houses or lavish living; but to invest it in their future, their children, and most importantly—their community. A society that masters the Spirit of the Law of Consecration will avoid the social collapse which comes from economic inequality, and selfish politicians. The rich in such a society are not robbed or abased–they are motivated to live a median income lifestyle by being encouraged to live the law so they can become the communities leaders, educators, civil servants, and money managers. They are taught to self-sacrifice and that sacrifice gives them power. Under the law, it is that self-sacrifice-dependent power which serves as the motivation for achievement and advancement in the society. This in contrast to so many of our modern cultures where mansions, lavish living, sexual favors, and selfish, non-sacrifice-dependent power serves for motivation to upward social mobility & economic/political advancement.
If the US dollar ends up collapsing, this system may end up being implemented after-all. But the system will do more harm than good if those who administer it, use manipulative coercive techniques to get people to buy into it or manage it. The stake credit union’s must be substantially a free-market system.
Not living this system makes the church just another religious faction preaching religiousness but not practicing a system which remedies inequality—the single largest cause of social instability & collapse. See D&C sections 42, 51, 78, 82, 104. see also Enrichment L in the Doctrine & Covenants institute manual.