In recent years, this religious devotion to the United States has included a near-religious commitment to the free market system. It was not always so. Though in their early years Mormons were as devoted to free enterprise as they are today, they also esteemed economic equality, often embraced communal living, and strove for what one LDS historian described as “socialization of surplus incomes.” They observed a stern Law of Consecration and Stewardship in which the faithful deeded— “consecrated” all their property to the Church and were granted a smaller “stewardship” in return. The first generation of Latter Day Saints was so convinced of its social obligations that it was used as an argument for the controversial practice of polygamy. The uncared-for woman would have a home. The impoverished widow would be welcomed into the largesse of a loving family. Even Joseph Smith, founder of the faith, married two elderly women merely to provide them care.
By contrast, the Latter-day Saints of today have been called “free-market apostles.” It was likely only a matter of time before this occurred, since free-market principles grow organi- cally from Mormon soil. Their experience and their doctrines give them a fear of overreaching government, a devotion to volunteerism, an abhorrence of debt, a love of “hard” money, an admiration for thrift, a religious commitment to storing goods against the day of trouble, and, of course, a devotion to unfettered progress. There is also in LDS theology the guar- anteed spiritual exchange that many Americans associate with the prosperity gospel of television preachers: that to serve God is to be rewarded, that righteous living draws divine blessing. It is little surprise, then, that Mormons run many of the nation’s largest corporations. It is no surprise that Brigham Young University is becoming the Harvard of libertarian economics.
It is even less surprise that Mormons might supply most of the ground troops for free-market, multilevel enterprises like Amway and Mary Kay. And it is certainly no surprise that an LDS economist would insist that “Mormonism is the Protes- tant ethic on steroids.”
All of these—the ideal of progress, the power of family, the priority of education, and devotion to a divinely ordained America with its free-market heritage—have helped to fashion the engine of the Mormon advance in American society, the aid of their spiritual claims aside. They have each helped to create the celebrated “Mormon Moment.”