More lessons from the United Or­ders’ fail­ure


Those who can­not re­mem­ber the past are con­demned to re­peat it. - Ge­orge San­tayana. Since we LDS Church mem­bers may some day be build­ing Zion com­mu­ni­ties, we might do well to learn from our Utah an­ces­tors’ mis­takes. Last time we sug­gested one such mis­step was that the Saints moved too quickly from co­op­er­a­tives to the United Or­der in­stead of giv­ing them­selves time to ab­sorb the val­ues of co­op­er­a­tion into their cul­ture.

Here are more lessons we can glean from Church His­to­rian Leonard J. Ar­ring­ton’s land­mark his­tory “Great Basin King­dom”:

1. Del­e­gate de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Brigham City’s nearly self-suf­fi­cient econ­omy was run sin­gle-hand­edly by Apos­tle Lorenzo Snow, which caused him “no small de­gree of anx­i­ety.” Though he said he felt like Moses as the be­lea­guered leader of the Is­raelites, sur­pris­ingly he did not im­ple­ment Jethro’s so­lu­tion of del­e­gat­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ing to oth­ers. If he had, the coop net­work might have sur­vived Snow’s im­pris­on­ment dur­ing the polygamy raids.

2. Put busi­ness­men in charge. Religious lead­ers were put in charge of mak­ing eco­nomic de­ci­sions to which they were not ac­cus­tomed or qual­i­fied. The St. Ge­orge model of United Or­ders was plagued with ob­vi­ous “waste and im­prov­i­dence” due to the in­ex­pe­ri­ence of their lo­cal church lead­ers. Pres­i­dent John Tay­lor did ac­tu­ally learn this les­son and later put suc­cess­ful busi­ness­men in charge of his Zion Boards of Trade.

3. Re­source man­age­ment. The Hyrum, Utah, co-op failed be­cause they cut down all the trees in Black­smith Fork Canyon. You can’t base an en­dur­ing econ­omy on the ex­ploita­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources.

4. Plan for the youth. Or­derville’s lead­ers re­al­ized too late the ne­ces­sity of sav­ing funds in or­der to set up the ma­tur­ing young adults with stew­ard­ships of their own. Or­derville youth were not only jeal­ous of the blue jeans their con­tem­po­raries wore in neigh­bor­ing min­ing com­mu­ni­ties but also of their op­por­tu­ni­ties. Which leads us to our fi­nal les­son (for now):

5. On­go­ing train­ing. Ap­par­ently, the youth of Or­derville ei­ther weren’t taught that pride and jeal­ousy were dan­ger­ous to the long-term health of so­ci­ety or they didn’t un­der­stand. The highly suc­cess­ful net­work of to­day’s worker-owned co­op­er­a­tives in North­ern Spain all hold reg­u­lar train­ings on the val­ues of Co­op­er­a­tive Free En­ter­prise held since the first coop was founded there in the 1950s. This would also serve us Saints by help­ing to get the spirit of co­op­er­a­tion, in­stead of pride-based com­pe­ti­tion, into the hearts of the up­com­ing gen­er­a­tions.

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