The headlines are pretty depressing these days, and it’s tough to make sense of all of the apparent economic disasters around us. I have spent a lot of time researching our economic issues, and these are the three best articles I could find to explain what we’re going through.
To sum up: The source of the crisis is debt and a desire for “easy money,” which led to the subprime crisis, which led to the crisis we are in today. With the latest problems, we are most likely entering tough times, even tougher than the last few years. Many economists and observers don’t know what’s really going on and what to expect, because this exact type of crisis has not happened before.
But at the end of the day, a prophet has spoken on the things that are important during these difficult times.
For Latter-day Saints, there are several precedents for the worrisome economic times we are going through now.
Many people forget how devastating the 1837 banking crisis was, both to the economy and to the Church. The situation was remarkably similar to that of today: people wanted easy money, and they expected banks to provide it to them. The Church set up the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Co, which was basically a private joint-stock company. People bought into the bank, the bank lent money — easy money!
Of course, the bank failed along with thousands of other in the Panic of 1837. To put things into perspective, the Panic of 1837 was much worse than today because there was no FDIC insuring deposits. A run on a bank in those days meant the bank went bankrupt and most people lost their money for good.
The panic resulted in a spiritual panic — a large number of the Church’s leaders ended up turning on Joseph Smith and apostatizing. Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, David Whitmer and others ended up leaving the Church. They called a meeting in the Kirtland temple in February 1837, and many members asked that Joseph Smith be declared a fallen prophet. Brigham Young’s response is instructive:
“Joseph was a prophet, and I knew it, and that they might rail and slander him as much as they pleased; they could not destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God, they could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God, and sink themselves to hell.”
The Depression of the 1930s was another distressing time for the Church and its members. Unemployment in 1932 reached 36 percent in Utah, and per capita income fell by 48.6 percent. Tithes fell from $4 million in 1927 to $2.4 million in 1933. (Source: “The Church History in the Fullness of Times,” p. 509).
Compare this to today, when unemployment is about 6 percent and per capita income continues to grow (although home values and overall household worth has fallen in the last few years).
In any case, the Church had another kind of crisis during the 1930s: the institution of a Church welfare system that helped people stop relying on the Federal government for aid. About one-sixth of all Church members were being supported by public aid, and the concern was that they were not being required to work for what they received. The First Presidency pleaded with local leaders to “build again within the ranks of Latter-day Saints a feeling of financial independence.” At the 1936 general conference, the First Presidency said its “primary purpose was to set up…a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established.”
The Church exhorted members to stay out of debt, to build up food storage and to avoid covetousness and greed.
Well, anybody who has been listening to General Conference the last few years knows that the message hasn’t changed much. I did a search on Lds.org and found 194 talks in the last two decades discussing the importance of staying out of debt. That seems to be the central piece of temporal advice the Brethren have given us lately.
But let’s go back to President Monson’s talk, because there are other important points. President Monson tells members to “set their homes in order.” He has several important points:
–Try to avoid contention and anger.
–Teacher children to pray and pray as a family.
–Make your home a place of fasting.
–Read the scriptures and other good books.
“This, then, is your building project, brothers and sisters, to organize yourselves, prepare every needful thing, and to establish a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.”
Pretty basic stuff, right? Well, prophets keep on telling us to do basic stuff for two reasons, I believe: 1)many of us don’t do the basic things, despite being repeatedly warned and 2)it is a reminder that when times get tough you need to concentrate on what is important.
So, as the value of my 401k and the value of my house continue to plummet, I take a tremendous amount of solace in the words of a modern-day prophet. It seems to me that if I concentrate on the important things, ie my family, the scriptures, prayer and fasting, everything will turn out OK in the end.