The Guardian, July 2, 2019: Salt Lake City offers glimpse of socialism, Mormon-style
About 60% of Utah is Mormon, and the church’s history, doctrine and practice influence the state’s entire culture. Mormons tithe their income, but the rules of giving also create a private welfare system that allows local church leaders to grant cash and goods to members and non-believers in times of emergency, as well as access to goods at Welfare Square. In some cases, a bishop might ask for volunteer work in return – but the grants are not expected to be repaid.
What could be described as a little slice of socialism in the Rocky Mountain west partly explains what has given Utah one of the lowest rates of US economic inequality. Utah also ranks top for upward income mobility. In the new Gilded Age, when inequality has reached decades-high levels, what’s the lesson in Mormonism?
In the 19th century, Mormons tested out many experiments with collectivism, while also denying an influence of socialism. Several groups lived in a collective system known as the United Order, where property, goods and profits were communal, an effort to equalize wealth and eliminate poverty. Polygamy was also common in these communities until the church officially outlawed it in 1890. And therein lies one of the critical flaws with the model of Mormon generosity: while Utah ranks high on equality overall and in terms of social mobility for children, it ranks last in economic equality for women.