Socialism is a hot topic in the United States at the present time. Socialists such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaign for socialism while they overlook the miserable conditions in countries that practice it. They are simply blind to the misery in North Korea, Venezuela, and other nations. The two politicians say that the United States could have socialism without dictatorship or state brutality. The believe socialism would work in America even as it has failed every place where it has been tried.
The Trump administration says that socialism destroys lives and societies. A White House reports explains: “(P)eaceful democratic implementation of socialist policies does not eliminate the fundamental incentive and information problems created by high taxes, large state organizations, and the centralized control of resources.”
Socialism came into being in 1848 as a response to the weaknesses of capitalism. Karl Marx was born into an upper middle-class family. He learned about the unequal distribution of wealth in a capitalistic society and proceeded to create a system that would do away with this problem. In his efforts to do it, he created a system where the people are equally miserable. The current picture in Venezuela should convince anyone that socialism does not work.
Socialism has several problems with the first one being that no one is motivated to work or create if their benefits of that toil are taken by the government. A second problem is that individuals are more qualified to make decisions as to what they consume than even the most pure-hearted government bureaucrat. History says that less food was produced on small family farms under government control than when individual families were in charge of them.
The little bit of study done by this author about socialism shows that it is a bad economic system. This is why there is a fair amount of confusion as to how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could even consider that socialism and the United Order are the same thing. Apparently, there were some questions about it during the 1960s because Marion G. Romney spoke in the April 1966 General Conference of the Church on the topic of “Socialism and the United Order Compared.” He said that the Brethren had asked him to give this talk for a second time, this time in Church-wide in conference. The purpose of his talk was to answer the question, “Is socialism the United Order?”
Romney first defines socialism using the words of several socialists. A summary of the definitions is this one by George Bernard Shaw (a Fabian socialist):
Socialism, reduced to its simplest legal and practical expression, means the complete discarding of the institution of private property by transforming it into public property and the division of the resultant income equally and indiscriminately among the entire population.
After sharing several definitions of socialism, Romney summarizes it as follows: “Socialists (1) believe in the collective control and ownership of the vital means of production and (2) seek to achieve through state action the coordinated control of the economic forces of society.” He then proceeds to discuss the United Order.
Romney describes the United Order as “the Lord’s program to care for the poor and needy.” He says that “the Church is under obligation to care for the poor” (Doctrine and Covenants 38). He states that God desires to provide for Hs saints, but He commands that it be done in His way (Doctrine and Covenants 104:14-16). The Lord’s way includes two “cardinal principles” – consecration and stewardship.
Romney explains that to enter the United Order a person must voluntarily consecrate all his property to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and transfer it to the Church by legal document(s). The bishop or presiding authority would then give that person a stewardship – again by legal document(s). The stewardship could be the exact property, or it could be more or less the original consecration. The object for the United Order is to make “every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs” (Doctrine and Covenants 51:3).
This procedure preserved in every man the right to private ownership and management of his property. At his own option he could alienate it or keep and operate it and pass it on to his heirs.
The intent was, however, for him to so operate his property as to produce a living for himself and his dependents. So long as he remained in the order, he consecrated to the Church the surplus he produced above the needs and wants of his family. This surplus went into a storehouse form which stewardships were given to others and from which the needs of the poor were supplied.
These divine principles are very simple and easily understood. A comparison of them with the underlying principle of socialism reveal[s] similarities and basic differences. The following are similarities. Both (1) deal with production and distribution of goods, (2) aim to promote the well-being of men by eliminating their economic inequalities; (3) envision the elimination of the selfish motives in our private capitalistic industrial system.
Now the differences: (1) The cornerstone of the United Order is belief in God and acceptance of him as Lord of the earth and author of the United Order. Socialism, wholly materialistic, is founded in the wisdom of men and not of God. Although all socialists may not be atheists, none of them in theory or practice seek the Lord to establish his righteousness.
(2) The United Order is implemented by the voluntary free-will actions of men, evidenced by a consecration of all their property to the Church of God…. On the other hand socialism is implemented by external force, the power of the state.
(3) In harmony with church belief, as set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants … (Doctrine and Covenants 134:2), the United Order is operated upon the principle of private ownership and individual management. Thus in both implementation and ownership and management of property, the United Order preserves to men their God-given agency, while socialism deprives them of it.
(4) The United Order is non-political. Socialism is political, both in theory and practice. It is thus exposed to, and riddled by, the corruption that plagues and finally destroys all political governments that undertake to abridge man’s agency.
(5) A righteous people is a prerequisite to the United Order. Socialism argues that it as a system will eliminate the evils of the profit motive. The United Order exalts the poor and humbles the rich. In the process both are sanctified. The poor, released from the bondage and humiliating limitations of poverty, are enabled as free men to rise to their full potential, both temporally and spiritually. The rich, by consecration and by imparting of their surplus for the benefit of the poor, not by constraint but willingly as an act of free will, evidence that charity for their fellowmen characterized by Mormon as “the pure love of Christ. (Moro 4:47.)
Romney’s comparison between socialism and the United Order shows the difference between how man attempts to create economic equality and how God does it. It shows that socialism depends on the idea “We will take your property for the benefit of all” and that the United Order depends on the principle “I will give my property for the benefit of others.” We know that the Lord’s way is always the best and must be done according to His directions.
Members of the Church attempted to live the United Order in both Missouri and Utah. Orson Pratt says that the Lord revealed His divine law for the care of the poor and needy, but the saints were not righteous enough to live it. When the people failed, the Lord released them from the obligation and gave them the lesser laws of tithing, offerings, and welfare program. Thus, the United Order has not been a program of the Church for over a hundred years.
I question my own ability to live the United Order. Am I righteous enough to deed my home over to the Church, along with signing the titles of my vehicles and other property? Do I have enough faith in the Lord to be a part of His program? Do I trust His priesthood leaders enough to accept whatever stewardship that they think is right for me and my family? I like to think that I could do it, but I do not know.
I also wonder how the United Order would work under the current circumstances of our society. Most of us do not have farms, ranches, or businesses to deed to the Church or to receive stewardship for. The vast majority of the members of the Church work for other people. I suppose that living the United Order in our day would include giving all savings and investments to the Church as well as the surplus from our paychecks. I can see that living the United Order in our day would take a lot of faith and righteousness. Again, I wonder if I could do it if called upon to do so. I hope so!