Democratic socialism is on the rise. Arguments of the morality and efficiency of the free market rage on all sides. Socialism is evil but is the free market good? Where do followers of truth land?
As Latter-day Freemen, we are united in our dedication to the free market or free enterprise system, because as President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The free market system rests on a moral base.” 1Freedom and Free Enterprise- Ezra Taft Benson, 1977
How does the free market rest on a moral base? The free market is the only economic system in harmony with the gospel for two key reasons:
- The Free Market is based on free choice or agency
- The Free Market is based on private property.
God has given to each individual the right to freely choose. Outside of scripture, this is referred to as freedom or liberty. God’s law forbids actions that violate or restrict the liberty of others; force is justified against threats to it. That which protects and upholds free choice is good and that which destroys or infringes on it is evil. Free choice is the basis of the gospel and “free choice is the essence of free enterprise.” 2Freedom and Free Enterprise- Ezra Taft Benson, 1977
All transactions within the free market are voluntary. Coercion is not permitted in the free market. If you want a good or service, you must enter into a voluntary contract with someone else to obtain it. You cannot demand goods and services and others can’t demand them from you. No one, including the government, can determine who you buy from, sell to, or what career you enter into. Permitting the government, or anyone else to do so would effectively be bondage. And as “it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another” 3Doctrine and Covenants Section 101:79that would be immoral.
In summary, the free market is built on
The Freedom to Choose
The Freedom to Try (to create, innovate, and choose a career)
The Freedom to Buy (from willing sellers foreign and domestic)
The Freedom to Sell (to willing buyers of your choice)
And if you do not succeed, you do not have the right to violate the freedom of others to try, buy, and sell to prop up yourself.
The free market is moral because it is based on respect for private property. Howard W. Hunter said “The right to own and control private property is not only a human right it is a divine right.” 4The Law of the Harvest: As a Man Sows, So Shall He Reap- Howard W. Hunter, BYU Devotional, March 8, 1966.
From the time of the Exodus when the Lord said, “Thou shalt not steal.” 5Exodus 20:15 and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house…nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” 6Exodus 20:17 the sanctity of private property has been recognized. This is reaffirmed by Doctrine and Covenants 134:2 which states, “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual..the right and control of property…”
Why are property rights so important? Because they allow individuals to implement their other rights. God declares that man must live by the sweat of his brow; property rights are the only way for individuals to provide for themselves, improve their station, actualize their dreams and act freely. Property becomes a part of the individual. Even children know they have been wronged when something is forcibly taken from them. That natural law is written on our souls. The only moral justification for limiting someone’s property rights is if they are using them to violate or threaten the rights of others. To deprive someone of their property, or control what they do with it, is to turn that individual into a slave.
“A free market society recognizes private property as sacred because the individual is entitled to ownership of goods and property which he has earned; he is sovereign so far as human law is concerned over his own goods. He may retain possession of his goods; he may pass his wealth on to his family or to charitable causes. For one cannot give what one does not own.” – President Ezra Taft Benson 7Freedom and Free Enterprise- Ezra Taft Benson, 1977
Under a free market, the only way for someone to acquire a portion of your property is through a voluntary transaction or your consent. This system has the ultimate respect for property rights.
All other economic systems –mercantilist, protectionist, socialist, fascist, communist, and mixed– fall short in one if not both of these areas. Each violates free choice and private property.
So what is the government supposed to do in the economy? Government secures freedom of choice and private property from external threats. President Ezra Taft Benson said,
“The civil government’s obligation then is to safeguard [these] right[s] and to frame laws which secure to every man the free exercise of his conscience and the right and control of his property…The best way, the American way, is still maximum freedom for the individual guaranteed by a wise government that provides for the police department and national defense.” 8Freedom and Free Enterprise- Ezra Taft Benson, 1977
Now some may ask, doesn’t the law of consecration go against the free market and didn’t King Benjamin’s discourse in Mosiah justify welfare programs and collectivism that goes against the free market?
The truth is that free markets and the law of consecration, or the United Order, are in complete harmony. The United Order is completely voluntary; no one is forced to participate in it. It is built on and respects private property rights and individual management.9Socialism and the United Order Compared- Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, April 1966 The United Order is not collectivist, it is purely individualistic.10The United Order v. Communism- President J. Reuben Clark, Conference Report, October 1942
King Benjamin’s discourse does indeed stress the importance of giving to the poor and needy, however, this responsibility is placed completely on the Church and its members. King Benjamin didn’t create government welfare programs and he didn’t redistribute the wealth. He laid the burden of caring for the poor on the members of the Church, “And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God” 11Mosiah 18:28 He completely respected agency, the right to choose to give, and the property rights of the people. There was no use of government power to take and give to those in need.
President Ezra Taft Benson has reminded us that “Charity is not charity unless it is voluntary…Compulsory benevolence is not charity.” 12Freedom and Free Enterprise- Ezra Taft Benson, 1977
Some might say, “Those are just economic liberties! We can infringe on these here and there and it’s not that big of a deal. They’re not as important as free speech, religion, or guns!”
President David O. McKay responded to this when he said
“The fostering of full economic freedom lies at the base of our liberties. Only in perpetuating economic freedom can our social, political, and religious liberties be preserved . . . We must not let complacency blind our eyes to the real dangers threatening to destroy us” 13Gospel Ideals, p. 433
Economic freedom is important. We, as Latter-day Freemen, cannot be true defenders of liberty if we do not defend agency and the free market. We need to remember that as we do so we need to “Help others see that the real issue is not over economic systems, it is the issue of freedom and limited or no freedom.” 14Freedom and Free Enterprise- Ezra Taft Benson, 1977 The free market is based on God-given agency, and the Latter-day Freemen will never abandon it.