anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth, commemorated in 2005, brought renewed
interest and inquiry among scholars into the theological ideas espoused by the
nineteenth-century Mormon prophet. One
intriguing comparison, however, that has received scant attention, centers on the
economic ideas of Joseph Smith, Jr. and the teachings of Jose Maria
Arizmendiarrieta, the Catholic priest who was the guiding inspiration behind
the cooperative movement in the Basque country of northern
Both men taught the
The Prophet Joseph’s economic ideas are institutionalized today as the extensive, international welfare program sponsored by the church he founded. In contrast, the ideas of Don Jose Maria, (whose surname is frequently shortened to Arizmendi), underlie the Mondragon cooperative business group which, though its values are derived from Catholic social thought (Herrera, 2004), has no formal affiliation with the Catholic Church.
Joseph Smith Jr.
Joseph Smith Jr. was born in
Smith was only 24
years old when he founded what is now The Church of Jesus
Based on the law of consecration he received as a revelation soon after starting the new church (D&C 42:31-36), Smith established the economic system called the United Order in Kirtland, Ohio, and in Far West, Missouri, in the early 1830s. In this system members deeded their properties to church representatives; then received all or part of those properties back as individually-owned stewardships. At the end of a year, each person holding a stewardship was expected to donate any surplus material goods he had gained by working with his deeded properties back to the church. Money, property, and materials goods were then distributed to others according to their needs under the direction of a few designated church bishops. It was not easy for even the most devout members to adjust to this unusual economic system and there were many challenges in administering it.
In the 1840s, when
Joseph Smith developed another
In the decades that
followed the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young established numerous
cooperative businesses in the new
Though called cooperatives, these businesses were not characterized by either worker ownership or democratic governance, as at Mondragon. Instead, according to Arrington, “Most Mormon ‘cooperatives’ were nothing more than joint-stock corporations, organized under the sponsorship of the church, with a broad basis of public ownership and support” (p. 293). They were designed in part to minimize trade with non-Mormons and the resulting loss of financial resources to east coast investors.
During the Great
Depression of the 1930s in the
3. Lucy Smith, History of the Prophet Joseph Smith, rev. George A. Smith and Elias Smith, (1902), 45.
4. Mark L. McConkie, The Father of the Prophet: Stories and Insights from the Life of Joseph Smith, Sr (1993), 11.
Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta
Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta
was born on
In 1941 he was
assigned to serve under the direction of more senior parish priests in the small
industrial town of
Don Jose Maria held religion classes for the town’s young workers. He also founded a soccer league. In 1943, he established a technical school, the Escuela Politecnica Profesional, with an initial class of twenty students. Later, he arranged for the school’s graduates to pursue college-level engineering degrees as extension students. Five of the young graduates got jobs at the town’s largest manufacturing plant.
Impressed by Arizmendi’s ideas of social justice and democracy in the workplace, the five men left their employer in 1956 to establish their own small manufacturing business as a cooperative. It was called ULGOR, and was the forerunner of today’s diversified FAGOR, a major cooperative group within the MCC.
Arizmendi lived modestly, riding his familiar bicycle on the streets of Mondragon throughout his adult life. He was not considered to be an outstanding orator. Instead, his genius and commitment to social justice emerged in the course of quiet dialogues with the laborers of his parish. Also, he carefully studied relevant Basque and Spanish laws in order to steer the development of the sometimes controversial cooperatives within the parameters of legality and governmental tolerance (Whyte & Whyte, 1991).
In poor health,
Arizmendi died on
For this comparison, Joseph Smith’s ideas will be taken primarily from scriptural works he published--the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon. The source for ideas of Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta is the English translation of thoughts excerpted from his writings by Jose Azurmendi, published by the Otalora as Reflections (2000). For a more complete discussion of the relationship between Arizmendi’s ideas and the four basic principles of Catholic social thought—social justice, economic justice, the dignity of persons and their work, and solidarity—see David Herrera’s excellent article “Mondragon: A For-Profit Organization That Embodies Catholic Social Thought” (2004).
Eternal nature of man
Joseph Smith believed that men and women have an eternal existence that extends from a pre-earth life, through mortality on the earth, and onward through a never-ending, progressive and fulfilling existence beyond the grave. Smith taught that God has a body of flesh and bones comparable to that of a man (D&C 130:1-3), existing in combination with an exalted spirit that is incomprehensibly advanced in terms of wisdom, compassion, and power. By living righteously and repenting of all sins, men and women have the potential to become gods themselves in the post-mortal existence. In this role, an exalted person would then devote all of his or her time, energies, and insights in assisting others to obtain the same. An inevitable corollary to this concept is the recognition of a profound dignity in each human life.
Arizmendi also spoke of the eternal and progressive nature of men, though with fewer specifics. “There is something in the depths of the human spirit that is firm and eternal. And there is also something that needs to be moving toward a new and superior expansion in consonance with the interior and social regeneration of human beings” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 35).
For Arizmendi, recognition of the everlasting nature of man underlies the desire to engage in the most noble of activities—helping one another. “Human beings fulfill the role of monarchs of creation in the measure that they subdue their own achievements to that which exists in them which is everlasting. To be fulfilled means to ask for help and help others” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 124).
Greatest value is in development of individuals rather than in material success
Smith understood the development of people--in terms of character, wisdom, learning, and goodness—to be far more significant than material success. He taught that the overarching work and glory of God is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses ).
Arizmendi gave a similar priority to human development: “It is definitely the human person who is the author, center, and end of all economic and social life” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 24). “If we have learned anything in life [it] is that the primary factor in everything is the human being, as well as his or her quality and spirit” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 26).
People do not “aspire to economic development as an end, but as a means” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 29), according to Don Jose Maria. “Progress is not acquiring more, but being more, acting better, giving more of oneself” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 71).
Equality, Unity, Solidarity
Arizmendi persistently encouraged his parishioners to think of themselves as equals. “We should begin by considering all humans as citizens of equal dignity and destiny” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 123), he said. “A person who has dignity must feel shame of being and living as the wealthy in a world of two billion undernourished human beings” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 138).
He recognized that financial disparity separates people from one another. “The idea of ‘having more’ bewitches us and greatly devalues our life when this idea polarizes us around ‘having more’ and the corresponding signs of prestige” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 71). Arizmendi encouraged the workers to maintain “solidarity” with one another, in part so that they could overcome opposition from outside the cooperatives. This meant that they would minimize their salary ratios, and also act in unity to accomplish good things for the group.
A revelation received
by Joseph Smith in 1831 in
Smith did not consider wealth itself to be evil. In Book of Mormon narratives, righteousness generally brought prosperity to both individuals and communities, thus establishing a correlation between the two conditions in the minds of readers. The evil was the social distance that might develop between rich people and their poorer neighbors, potentially interfering with the unity of hearts and minds needed to do God’s work (Bushman, 2005, p. 155). In one revelation, it was stated this way: “For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things” (D&C 78:6).
The ideal society,
also known as a
Smith believed in the biblical practice of fasting, or abstaining from food for
a period of time, as described in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament (Isaiah 58:6-8). Combined with prayer, it was a method for
improving spirituality. Fasting and
prayer could bring insight into eternal truths, as expressed by
Smith also understood fasting and prayer to be a means of bringing God’s power to bear on problems: “The children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft, and join in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God” (Alma 6:6). Also, the self-denial of fasting served an additional purpose when combined with the practice of contributing a fast offering to be used to help the less fortunate.
Arizmendi appreciated the self-mastery achieved through fasting as a means of heightening one’s freedom: “The suppression of necessities by means of self-conquest, sacrifice and fasting is the way to true freedom” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 51). Setting an example of self-mastery, he lived modestly throughout his life, rather than use more material goods than he needed for himself.
Property and possessions
Joseph Smith considered material possessions to be gifts from God. Acting as temporary stewards over whatever property and possessions they owned legally, men and women were responsible to use what they had to benefit all of God’s children. The concept of stewardships was put into practice during the United Order days described briefly above. In the current church welfare program, members are invited to voluntarily contribute a fast offering to help the poor, whether or not they have enough money to comfortably make the donation.
Arizmendi also thought it was important for material goods to belong to individuals rather than to the state. But whoever owned the material goods had a moral responsibility to recognize that many people were involved in the production of those goods, and should benefit from their use. “Having property or material goods does not give the right to abuse them. In the end none of us can feel we are the creators of these goods to the point of being able to claim an absolute right to their ultimate use. Many people have taken part in the existence and promotion of these goods, and thus the consideration of and effect on the common good must prevail in their use and practical applications” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 136).
Arizmendi linked the ownership of property with freedom: “The right to private property is good in that it maintains the freedom of its owner, but it is not good if this limits or deprives others of their freedom. Therefore, we must do what best fits our personal identity with that which is ours, but considering what we do within the community in which we live, because by not taking this into account we could act in ways that are detrimental to others” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 135).
Freedom, choice, democratic governance
The ideal economic societies envisioned by Smith and Arizmendiarrieta were, strictly speaking, neither socialistic nor capitalistic. The societies they envisioned, like an ideal form of socialism, valued the contribution of laborers and sought the common good. But, importantly, participation was always voluntary, based on the freedom of individuals to act according to their own consciences. The freedom of individuals to choose their own actions and to function in a free market economy was more closely aligned with a capitalist viewpoint.
Smith used the word “agency” to describe man’s right to make choices. He warned against one man trying to dominate others and take away their agency. While "it is the nature and disposition of almost all men . . . to exercise unrighteous dominion," according to a revelation recorded by Smith, it is best to lead "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121: 39-41). Interestingly, a similar restraint on the power of one person over another is manifest in the practice of democratic governance at the Mondragon cooperatives.
Joseph Smith considered man’s right to exercise his agency in making choices to be a fundamental principle in God’s plan of salvation. Men and women choose whether or not to obey God’s commandments. According to the prophet, those who obey are given more responsibilities and also experience more joy in this life and the life beyond the grave than those who do not choose to be obedient.
Joseph Smith believed more in theocracy than in democracy. The principles of democratic governance
enacted through the Constitution of the
he also believed in God, Arizmendi attributed a great deal of moral authority
to democratic processes. “Dialogue and cooperation, freedom and commitment
constitute effective methods in the conjunction of wills and efforts to
organize and manage human work, and, consequently, to humanize the economy” (Arizmendiarrieta,
2000, p. 51). Finding the right balance
between the needs of one man and another, or the needs of one group versus
another, was best accomplished through democratic governance of the cooperatives
or other institutions: “Democracy is helpful in finding the point of
equilibrium” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 53).
This contrasts with practices instituted in the
“The most widespread notion in the world of the Basques is their eagerness for freedom,” Arizmendi commented. “Let us now nourish this notion with justice, and then, Work and Unity will bring with them progress for our people” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 129).
Work and personal responsibility
The books of scripture published by the prophet Joseph Smith make frequent reference to the word “work.” The work of men is to provide for themselves and their families through physical and intellectual labor. The infinitely more important work of God, in which men and women are invited to participate, is to save souls.
There is dignity in labor and those who labor deserve a fair return for their effort. The instructions revealed to a contemporary of Joseph Smith are considered to be generally applicable: “Thrust in your sickle with all your soul…and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your back, for the laborer is worthy of his hire” (D&C 31:5).
Likewise, Arizmendi believed in work and the value of the unique contribution that could be made by each person. “One cannot sit at someone else’s table indefinitely, without ever contributing anything. Each person has a benefit from society and one must offer to serve and give to society in kind” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 61).
To be responsible for one’s own material well-being was liberating, according to Arizmendi. “Knowing if we can live with dignity is what it is all about. Living with dignity means being able to take care of ourselves. In this aspect, we cannot be satisfied with any paternalism” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2000, p. 24).
Below is a brief description of the 21st-century programs that have emerged, based on the Christian economic principles taught by Joseph Smith Jr. and Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta.
The welfare program of
When members and their families feel they are doing all they can to provide for themselves and still cannot meet their basic needs, they may turn to their bishops for temporary assistance. The bishop, as a local minister, is considered to be in the best position to determine the nature and quantity of the help required to meet the individual’s or family’s specific needs. He is the only person in the congregation authorized to draw upon the fast offerings donated by other members. The bishop may also call upon the male members comprising the priesthood quorums in his congregation, together with the women of the Relief Society, to provide training or other services that may be needed.
As of December 2004, the LDS Church had established a resource system to support the work of bishops that included 128 storehouses similar to grocery stores, 105 wet- and dry-pack canneries, 59 production projects such as farms and ranches, 48 Deseret Industries thrift stores, 259 employment centers around the world, and 65 LDS Family Services agencies offering counseling and adoption services (Rather, 2005, p. 102).
Because the purpose of the church’s welfare assistance is to help people to help themselves, recipients are given the opportunity to work to the extent of their ability for the assistance they receive. Other church members also volunteer their time to do much of the labor in the storehouses, canneries, and so forth.
Albert Bowen, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve, expressed the overall purpose of the welfare program to promote the spiritual and temporal well-being of individuals. “The real long term objective of the Welfare Plan is the building of character in the members of the Church, givers and receivers, rescuing all that is finest down deep inside of them, and bringing to flower and fruitage the latent richness of the spirit, which after all is the mission and purpose and reason for being of this Church” (Bowen, 1946, p. 44).
Mondragon Corporacion Cooperativa
The Mondragon Corporacion Cooperativa (MCC) is described on the group’s website by Jesus Catania, chairman of the General Counsel, as “a business group made of 264 companies and entities organized in three sectorial groups: Financial, Industrial and Distribution, together with the Research and Training areas.”
“Mondragón Corporación Cooperativa is the fruit of the sound vision of a young priest, Don José María Arizmendiarrieta, as well as the solidarity and efforts of all our worker-members. Together we have been able to transform a humble factory, which in 1956 manufactured oil stoves and paraffin heaters, into the leading industrial group in the Basque Country and 7th in the ranking in Spain, with sales of 11,859 million euros in its Industrial and Distribution activities, 11,036 million euros of administered assets in its Financial activity and a total workforce of 78,455 at the end of 2005.
“MCC’s mission combines the basic objectives
of a business organization competing in international markets with the use of democratic
methods in its organization, job creation, promotion of its workers in human
and professional terms and commitment to the development of its social environment.”
The Mondragon Cooperacion Cooperativa currently espouses four corporate values. They represent a concise synthesis of the ten cooperative operating principles developed over five decades by the workers. The values are cooperation, participation, social responsibility, and innovation. Members identify themselves as cooperators because they play a leading role in the management and results produced by their companies. They are responsible for the problems and the triumphs of the company, being personally and directly affected by both (MCC, 2005).
The second corporate value is participation. Members participate in the management of the company by electing councils and voting individually on major decisions. They invest capital and share in the profits of the enterprise (MCC, 2005).
The third value is social responsibility. Cooperators manifest their solidarity by putting collective interests first. “Work is not only a means of obtaining income. It is a source for satisfying the needs of personal and collective development, meaning that personal aims are compatible with those of the company, and those of the company are compatible with its involvement in the community” (MCC, 2005).
Finally, MCC members value innovation. In order to compete in today’s international business environment for the purpose of maintaining or increasing employment in the Basque country, MCC must continually develop new products and production methods. Research is conducted by teams working inside most cooperatives as well as by separate research cooperatives such as the Ikerlan.
The four corporate values are realized through ten cooperative operating principles: open admission, democratic organization, sovereignty of labor, instrumental and subordinate nature of capital, participatory management, wage solidarity, inter-cooperation, social transformation, universality, and education (MCC, 2005).
The cooperatives are said to practice open admission because they have a non-discriminatory policy, allowing all men and women, who are capable of doing the types of jobs that MCC is able to create, an equal opportunity to become worker-members. The cooperatives are organized democratically on a one-member, one-vote basis.
Since it is labor that provides the opportunity for individuals and society to improve, labor has a supreme position, described as sovereignty. Capital is merely an instrument necessary in business, but subordinate to the purposes of human and community development accomplished through labor.
Cooperators manage themselves and participate in management of the businesses. They practice payment solidarity, which includes maintenance of the small ratios between lowest and highest paid employees and reinvestment of profits to capitalize ventures possibly outside of one’s own cooperative but within the MCC group. This inter-cooperation creates synergies derived from the combined size of the group and the potential for transferring worker-members from one cooperative to another to prevent job losses.
MCC’s operating principles ultimately create a social transformation in the communities where cooperators live. The transformation occurs as a result of the high level of job security available to those who want to accept the conditions of participation, combined with health and retirement benefits. Add to that the investments by the corporation in community development projects.
MCC cooperators feel a sense of solidarity with others around the world that are working for social democracy, peace, justice, and development. They practice outreach to these communities, especially in developing countries, through various initiatives such as the development projects sponsored by the Mundukide Foundation.
Finally, members of the Mondragon cooperative group are determined to commit adequate human and financial resources to education, to insure that both youth and adults receive quality vocational training, as well as instruction in the principles and practices of cooperativism.
Summary and Conclusions
Joseph Smith emphasized the ideas of fasting,; contributing fast offerings to be distributed by church bishops to help the poor; consecrating all of one’s time and energy to building the kingdom of God; stewardships; and the desirability of acting with the unity of one heart and one mind. He considered agency, or freedom of choice, to be among the most fundamental rights of man bestowed by God. At the same time, he attributed absolute moral authority to the commands of God. A person, therefore, exercises his or her agency primarily in the context of choosing whether or not to follow God’s commandments.
Arizmendiarrieta spoke of work, solidarity, sacrifice, social justice, cooperation, freedom, and self-governance. He recognized an eternal quality and value in human beings in which his social philosophy was grounded. Smith went further in teaching that humans are the same species or type of being as God, with the potential to become like God in every sense of the word, through eternal progression in this life and a continuing life after death. Either position strengthens the idea that the development of people is profoundly significant, while the accumulation of wealth or other material goods is only a means of achieving a loftier end.
The welfare program
The Mondragon Corporacion Cooperativa is an international business group. They publicly recognize the foundational, visionary contribution of the young priest Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta. At the MCC adult education center, the Otalora, there is a small museum dedicated to his life and teachings. But most often, cooperative members don’t speak of their guiding principles as an expression of Catholicism. Instead, they refer to them simply as cooperative values.
Both principle-based programs
are viable and international in scope at the beginning of the 21st century,
after a 175-year process for the
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