On my Facebook page, I have had a lot of fun at the expense of the Occupy Wall Street folks. If you think they are white knights, I would encourage you to read this description of what the protesters are actually doing (Caution: graphic photos). In addition, you might want to look at some of their ridiculous demands, which will hurt the poor much more than help them.
But there are people in the Occupy groups who have many decent points, especially from a Mormon perspective. Our economic woes today can be traced directly to a series of secret combinations that have restricted liberty and hurt communitarian interests. To the extent that the Occupy movement focuses on these things, they are doing a very good thing.
To start the discussion, I believe it is important to focus on a description of a just society. Let’s imagine the most just societies in the Bible and Book of Mormon. I would call these just societies “voluntary communitarianism.” These societies had the following features:
- People voluntarily helped each other.
- People tried to avoid being busybodies and mostly left people alone if they wanted to be left alone.
- Central government was minimal. Usually, these societies were led by judges or benign monarchs (think King Benjamin and King David early in his reign).
- For the most part, people worked out their differences on their own, and when they had differences, they would take them to a judge and accept the verdict.
- These societies were mostly peaceful. Nonaggression was the key principle. Just societies never attacked each other, but banded together to fight off unrighteous, bloodthirsty invaders.
- People could leave the societies and go off on their own if they wanted.
It is important to keep in mind that in such societies, people voluntarily traded goods. Some people got richer than other people. A tradesman might set up many storefronts and earn more money. A farmer might have more sheep than another farmer. People were not evil if they had a lot of things (think of Abraham or Lehi, who were relatively rich). They were evil if they did not share and if they did not listen to God. They were evil if they carried out aggression against others. They were evil if they were prideful. One lesson we can draw from this is that “greed” is not working hard to earn money to support your family. Greed is never helping anybody else and wanting something for nothing.
So, how did these peaceful societies fall apart? The answer is clear: pride and boastings, which lead to dissension, which leads to secret combinations. The best, most concise example is in 3 Nephi 6. The people have just done a very righteous thing, which is to defeat invaders in a righteous, defensive war. They have forgiven the bad guys and are returning to normal life. But in the space of just a few years, many of the people become evil. What was the cause?
Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.
So, what happens next? There is a secret combination where the prideful people gather together and make a pledge to destroy the government. The people wanted to overcome the law, which had found some of the worst people guilty. What did they do?
“They did covenant one with another to destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land, that the land should no more be at liberty, but should be subject unto kings.”
So, the lesson is clear: pride leads to dissension, which leads to hurting the poor, and inequality, which leads to trying to overthrow the government so you can take away the liberty of the people. This leads to war. What are the characteristics of an unjust society?
- People refuse to help others, are prideful and boast of their wealth.
- People foster dissension.
- People want to take away the liberty of others.
- People were forced to remain slaves of the rulers (think of the Lamanites not letting people leave but forcing them to work for them).
- The unjust always want political control so they can tell other people what to do. They always want a dictatorial king (think evil King Noah) rather than a society where people are left alone to do what they will. These societies inevitably involve burdensome taxes.
- Secret combinations are about getting gain, meaning power and wealth and the things of the world.
- War and aggression result.
In our modern-day world, then, the goal should be to foster “voluntary communitarianism,” rather than its many modern-day enemies. Today, these enemies include fascism, Communism, corporate/crony capitalism, dictatorships, evil monarchies and many other forms of unrighteous dominion. If you look around the governments of the world, you will see many examples of forced statism and collectivism, but almost no examples of voluntary communitarianism. So, yes indeed, it is a fallen world we live in.
What does this have to do with the Occupy movement?
They are correct: we do not live in the kind of world we should want. In the United States, we no longer have voluntary communitarism, although there are small communites (like where I live) where people try to live that way. Our government is primarily a crony capitalist government, where rich people get bailed out by the government when they fail, and political connections, lobbying, bribes and payoffs are the order of the day. The Wall Street bailouts are classic examples of crony capitalism. They were painted as “necessary to avoid a calamity.” So, government (under Republicans and Democrats) gathered together to give billions to big business. Where did the money come from? From y0ur taxes, money-printing and debt. Big banks were rewarded for bad behavior, rather than punished by the marketplace. They were prevented from their just reward (bankruptcy) by a cabal of well-connected lobbyists and politicians.
The examples of modern-day corporatism are too numerous to cite here, but they include all corporate bailouts, corporate welfare to big agriculture and other companies, government-backed loans to politically connected companies (like Solyndra, GE and many others). All of these activities are great examples of secret combinations that are, in effect, no different than the secret combinations in 3 Nephi. People secretly meet to find ways to get financial gain and power. They could care less about the people paying the tab, ie you and me.
So, to the extent that the Occupy movement focuses on these evils, I say, right on, comrades! Let’s join the righteous in Zarahemla and demonstrate against the secret combinations!