In the marketplace, we trade something we have for something we want. This system is built on the ancient premise that you can buy anything in this world with money—or gold or land or . . . . Those who succeed in this system are those who have (and control the distribution of) something that others deem valuable. Contrast this with the Lord’s management of His resources:
Come, my brethren, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea come buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Nephi 9:50 (also Isaiah 55:1)
It is obvious that a market system is vulnerable to distortion, corruption, and manipulation. Prosperous operators inflate the perceived value of goods or create high prices by limiting supply. It is intriguing to look at those who have been business heroes in our country. Many who were splashed on the cover of newsmagazines with titles of adulation are today facing lawsuits and humiliation.
Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. 2 Nephi 9:51
In capitalist societies we suffer an interesting moral quandary: Are people who make the most money the ones we admire most because of their success at capitalism, or the ones we disdain because of the moral and personal compromises they made along the way? Our admiration for business leaders rests on the unsteady ground of selective perception.
The ungodly are described as those who “. . . preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor” 2 Nephi 26:20.
Capitalism thrives on the supposition that more is better. When grundles of stuff fail to satisfy, we set our sights on still more stuff. Or we distract ourselves with empty amusements—before we return to the mall. Materialism is the hunger that is never satisfied, the thirst that is never slaked.
One remedy is to control our wants. Should such lack of desire become popular, traditional capitalism would stall—unless we actually became a Zion society and began to produce for the sake of those who cannot buy. But, then, that isn’t capitalism. Some might call it Christianity.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common. And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. Acts 2:44–45
The most famous test of moral development is a story created by Lawrence Kohlberg called the Heinz dilemma. In the dilemma, a pharmacist has developed an effective medication for cancer. Heinz is a poor man whose wife has the disease. The pharmacist will not provide any medication without first exacting an exorbitant price which Heinz does not have and cannot borrow. Should Heinz allow his wife to die? Should he steal the medication? What should he do? Kohlberg examined a person’s reasoning in the dilemma to decide that person’s moral maturity.
It is probably no accident that moral dilemmas often pit our free-market rules against human well-being. The most common real-world form of the dilemma today may be in balancing work and family. “How can I make a good living (or progress in my career or pay for the new car or . . .) and still have time for my family?” It is harder to imagine a better test for whether our focus is mortal or eternal.
. . . and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; . . . 2 Nephi 9:42
Socialism has claimed the moral high ground over capitalism because it professes to value people over money. Unfortunately, research has shown that socialism’s professions have not been effectively operationalized in socialist countries; the inequities there are as glaring as those in capitalist countries. Apparently power, greed, and self-interest are the natural inheritance of mortals. They define our fallenness.
Roy Baumeister, a psychologist with keen insights, has observed an even further decline in values in recent times: “Modern economic life is based on the individual, rational pursuit of self-interest, which gradually came to replace the older patterns that were based on the cooperative, moral pursuit or the collective welfare” (1991, p. 96). Has this Earth’s history gotten us to a better place as we increasingly cast all decisions in self-serving terms?
Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness. (2 Nephi 9:51)
God’s kingdom runs on different principles from those that govern capitalism. We are only prepared to enter the kingdom when we “are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light, [and] comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18: 8–9). In fact, any who hold back graciousness in the name of undeservingness are warned that they have “great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 4:17–18).
While a forgiveness approach may not work well in the accounts receivable office, it clearly is the guiding principle for the kingdom of God. Maybe the only ones who will qualify for God’s presence in the eternal worlds are those who can practice the law of abundance in a world focused on competition for scarce resources.
There is a keen irony in Satan’s “victories.” Every time he wins a mortal to his realms, he loses power (since every mortal who follows him will have a body and therefore will have power over him). Every time he wins in his foul purposes, he loses. The one who is obsessed with gaining power is perpetually losing it. That must be hell.
In contrast, every time God wins, all of His followers win. All of His disciples are enlarged by the blessing of adding more souls to the heavenly realm. We rejoice with those who rejoice.
Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with that same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. Luke 6:38
It is noteworthy that this invitation to abundance is offered in the context of counseling us to have mercy and to forgive rather than to judge and condemn. Love is the stock in trade in heaven.
It is intriguing when good science confirms the Lord’s counsel. Martin Seligman, the prominent psychologist, has made a recent summary of research related to happiness. He concludes that the pleasant life is the result of “a life that successfully pursues the positive emotions about the present, past, and future.” It is filled with appreciation of beauty and pleasure all around us.
All things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart. D&C 59:18
Still better than the pleasant life, the good life derives from “using your signature strengths to obtain abundant gratification in the main realms of your life.” As we are counseled in sacred contexts,
Fill the measure of your creation and have joy therein. See D&C 88:19.
But, says Seligman, “a meaningful life adds one more component to the good life—the attachment of your signature strengths to something larger. The meaningful life [entails] using your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are” (Seligman, 2002, pp.262–63).
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25
When we live for ourselves, we will never enjoy the blessings available to those who dedicate themselves to God, His children, and His work. While the journey can be pleasant even for those who are not fully committed to service, fullness of joy is reserved for those who lose themselves in something larger than themselves.
This defies the laws of economics. But, it seems, everything of eternal value transcends those pedestrian laws. Turning again to Seligman’s observations about happiness:
The tedious law of homo economicus maintains that human beings are fundamentally selfish. Social life is seen as governed by the same bottom-line principles as the marketplace. So, just as in making a purchase or deciding on a stock, we supposedly ask ourselves of another human being, “What is their likely utility for us?” The more we expect to gain, the more we invest in the other person. Love, however is evolution’s most spectacular way of defying this law” (pp. 185–86).
We love in families. We love at church. We love in the community. Love is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It is not even a profitable business investment. It is evidence that we believe in something beyond the tangible. It is the living evidence of our understanding of God’s plan.
There is a well-established spiritual pattern in human affairs. When someone is flooded by the Spirit, his or her immediate concern is the welfare of brothers and sisters (2 Nephi 6:3, Enos 1:9, Mosiah 25:11). That is the influence of heaven. In contrast, priestcraft is scripturally defined as seeking gain and praise instead of the welfare of Zion (2 Nephi 26:29). Ah, ZION! The place where we can be
. . . of one heart and one mind, and [dwell] in righteousness and there [will be] no poor among [us]. Moses 7:18
The communal spirit defines heaven just as self-service defines fallenness. The true believer yearns for the well-being of all God’s children.
In mortality, we all make a choice between the two ways. We may follow Satan’s system in which we greedily grab for more—and every gain is a loss. Or we may follow God’s plan in which we are enriched by giving away. Of course the perfect example is Jesus Himself. He laid down everything and now rules in eternity.
. . . he descended below all things . . . that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth. D&C 88:6
In everything that really matters, charity trumps capitalism, discipleship transcends profit, goodness overcomes fairness. We must never let the philosophies of humans keep us from the blessings of Zion. Many of those who are preeminent in this world will be obscure in the next, while those who reign with Him will have quietly dedicated themselves to succoring the weak, lifting up hands which hang down, and strengthening the feeble knees (See D&C 81:5).
. . . save they shall cast [learning and riches] away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. 2 Nephi 9:42
Jesus made a very unbusinesslike proposition to the young rich man. It underscores the process by which any of us find our eternal home.
If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. Matthew 19:21
Those whom Jesus holds up as moral models are children, the poor, the heartbroken and humble. Undoubtedly there is a lesson for us in that: Money is useless where He dwells. Love is the currency of the realm.
Baumeister, R. F. (1991). Meanings of life. New York: Guilford Press.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press.