Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Government: a Substitute or a Complement to the Church?

"1 We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.

2 We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

3 We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign. (Doctrine and Covenants 134:1-3)

These three verses give a broad portrait of the role of government according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Laws should be for the good and safety of society, guarding freedom of religion, private property and protecting life.  The scriptural declaration is a good starting point for good government.  Like the church itself, these verses describe an inclusive government, one operated for the good of society and not for an elite class.  As much as these verses say, more is left unsaid than said.  There is not a hint of how the government should protect citizens from madmen with guns, controlling immigration, or determining tax structure.  Demand theory provides a framework for evaluating some programs.

In demand theory, the demand for one good can be affected by the price of another.  A good might be a complement to the good whose demand we are considering.  A complement is something consumed with the good whose demand we are studying.  Examples of compliments are hamburgers and cheese, cars and gas or computers and printers.  When the price of a complement goes down, more of the original good is demanded.  Other goods might be substitutes, a good we consume rather than the good whose demand we are considering.  Substitutes include tacos for burritos, Coke for Pepsi, or mp3 players for CD players.  When the price of a substitute goes down less of the original good is demanded.

Consider the demand for Church functions, the ultimate being exaltation of members.  Do government programs whose prices we are compelled to pay impact the provision of church programs?  Governments that secure the rights of religious freedom to each individual are not necessary but must be beneficial and therefore a complement to Church functions.  I also believe that education is complementary to the Church missionary program and development of leadership.  A state religion might be a substitute depending on the ferocity of the government in supporting its church. 

Other government programs might be ambiguous and this is the whole point of my post.  For example, welfare programs might be complementary to Church welfare programs.  The country certainly has more capacity to fund aid to the poor than does the Church.  I have a friend who is a former bishop and a current economist that was grateful for government welfare programs including job training stating that they help stretch Church dollars.  Welfare programs might be a substitute for Church programs.  Poor members or potential members might find government welfare more lucrative with fewer strings attached.  The government might become a secular god and exaltation might be substituted for a higher short-run standard of living.

The draft might also be viewed as a complement or substitute to Church functions.Defeating fascism and ending World War II appears to have aided Church growth in Europe, Japan and the Pacific, but maintaining a military though a draft almost certainly is a compulsive substitute for missionary service.

I don’t know how government welfare programs affect the Church and its membership and I don’t know of research that attempts to measure the impact.  Nor do I know a research that measures the impact of a draft on the missionary programs.  Such research seems possible and would be exciting. 

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