The Ge­n­e­sis of Mor­mon Co­op­er­a­tives

Serve Daily - - EMPOWERING LIBERTY - By Jesse Fisher

Many Saints to­day may be un­aware that many of their Utah an­ces­tors worked in co­op­er­a­tives. The Utah Ter­ri­tory, at one time, was con­sid­ered the premier place to ob­serve Co­op­er­a­tive Free En­ter­prise in ac­tion. There were as many as 200 man­u­fac­tur­ing and re­tail co­op­er­a­tives in op­er­a­tion pro­duc­ing and selling ev­ery­thing from wag­ons, nails and fur­ni­ture to boots, belts and straw hats. Peo­ple came from around the world to study Utah’s co­op­er­a­tive move­ment.

How did it all start? Brigham Young and the Twelve saw that the lo­cal mer­chants who pur­chased goods back East to re­sell in the Utah Ter­ri­tory were rapidly be­com­ing wealthy at the ex­pense of ev­ery­one else. These mer­chants would en­gage in what we call “price goug­ing” - rais­ing prices dras­ti­cally on scarce prod­ucts. This prac­tice served to drain their com­mu­ni­ties of needed cur­rency.

Also, the mer­chants spent their prof­its on fine im­ported clothes, jew­elry and car­riages, set­ting them­selves up as so­ci­ety’s elite. This di­vi­sion into classes was com­pared to what the peo­ple in 4th Nephi did once pride crept in and ru­ined their Zion so­ci­ety. Brigham would not have it.

Another grave con­cern of the Brethren was the threat that con­cen­trated wealth posed to our po­lit­i­cal lib­er­ties. They wrote that the free­doms for which our fore­fa­thers fought are en­dan­gered by the enor­mous in­flu­ence which “wealth gives to a few in­di­vid­u­als and a few pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions.” They saw the writ­ing of laws by the wealthy as a sure sign of na­tional ruin for any na­tion.

In to­day’s Com­pet­i­tive Free En­ter­prise sys­tem, buy­ing in­flu­ence in gov­ern­ment, price goug­ing and liv­ing ex­trav­a­gantly off prof­its all seem nor­mal to us. But Brigham was not go­ing to stand for it – the Saints were un­der covenant to con­se­crate all their means to the build­ing up of the King­dom and for es­tab­lish­ing Zion, un­like the non­mem­ber mer­chants.

Co­op­er­a­tives were thriv­ing in Brigham City un­der Lorenzo Snow’s di­rec­tion and the Brethren wanted to ex­pand them through­out the Church to cir­cum­vent the above-men­tioned evils of un­bri­dled Cap­i­tal­ism and es­pe­cially to pre­pare the Saints for liv­ing in United Or­ders. Apos­tle Wil­ford Woodruff’s state­ment in 1873 re­flected this when he said, “We must give our earnest sup­port to co­op­er­a­tion, for it is a step in ad­vance to­wards es­tab­lish­ing the Or­der of Enoch and the build­ing up of the Zion of God.” We would be wise to­day to fol­low their lead.

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