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Economics in the Book of Mormon

The book of Mormon is a book of scripture translated into English by Joseph Smith. It tells the story of the rise and fall of a great nation that lived in America from around 600 BCE to 400 CE. The people in this nation trace their ancestry to a family who lived in Jerusalem before it was conquered by the Babylonians. This family left Jerusalem and with the help of several miracles and direction from God they made it across the ocean to the Americas. After they arrived in the Americas their family grew appart. One son in the family named Nephi became King over a tribe called the Nephites, his older brother became king over his own tribe called the Lamanites. The book is written by several Nephite prophets and it records their dealings with God.

If you have read the book of Mormon you would know that economics is not mentioned very much, instead the authors of the book focus on how Jesus helped the Nephites and also on the teachings of their prophets, so it might surprise you that economics had a significant impact on the ancient American nation and on the events and miracles in the book.

We will be studying the progress of the Nephite economy using the theory of neurological intelligence. According to the theory economies develope in seven stages; Each one of equal length. The economic stages in the book of Mormon are approximately 40 years in length, and each one significantly altered the Nephite civilization. During the seventh stage Jesus Christ visited the Nephites and taught them how to live in peace and happiness. We will soon see that this peace was only possible because of the economic and political systems that the Nephites had set up.

Before we dive into our study of the Book of Mormon we need to understand the different stages of economic development. I have a short review here, but if you want more information you can view my post titled capitalism and socialism.

In the first stage the economy builds up its supply, in the second the competition in the economy becomes more consistent, in the third the demands on the economy become more stable. These are the three basic needs of an economy. In the fourth stage there is a focus on work. In the fifth people are given more power to use their property; this could mean that they are given power to use their private property however they please, or that the public property in a nation is distributed more effectively; In the sixth there is the creation of governments both through democracy, and through marketing and propaganda; and finally in the seventh stage the government leaders become more accountable. In the sixth phase we will also see two special intelligences form which have the purpose of helping the government meet its needs.

Now that we understand the different stages of the economy we can study how these stages play out in the book of Mormon. This timeline does not start at the start of the Book of Mormon, instead it starts long after the Nephites and Lamanites had established themselves in the land. The focus of the Book of Mormon is not economics, so it isn't surprising that this sequence starts in an unassuming part of the book.

About 212 BCE - 172 BCE: Supply

We don't know much about this period of time. The authors of this section of the Book of Mormon were running out of space on the small metal plates they were writing on, so they kept their records very brief. Entire generations go by in a few paragraphs.

The author Amaron writes that at the start of this phase "the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed." (Omni 1:5) And because of the wickedness of the Nephites the Lord "did visit them in great judgment; nevertheless, he did spare the righteous that they should not parish, but did deliver them out of the hands of their enemies." (Omni 1:7)

The authorship of the book is then left to Amaron's nephew Abinadom who writes that they had many wars with the Lamanites, and that he was one of the soldiers who fought in the wars. This is all that we know of this time period, which leaves us to only guess at how this period of time affected their economy.

Perhaps they became more industrious after they became righteous. Nephi, the first king of the Nephites, taught his people to be industrious, and ever since then being industrious and performing physical labor were considered righteous things to the Nephites. It is possible that when the more wicked part of the Nephites died the righteous Nephites had nothing hindering them from being industrious and expanding their economy.

This is supported by the Abinidom's comment that he was a soldier and killed several Lamanites with his own hands to defend his people.(Omni 1:10) He was probably trying to show how he was a good example to the people, and that everyone at that time was expected to contribute to their society.

This stage of the economy is supposed to supply the economy with its goods and services, I guess you can decide whether we have enough information to show that this happened.

About 172 BCE - 132 BCE: King Mosiah discovers the land of Zarahemla

In this time period a king named Mosiah encouraged his people to abandon the lands they had lived in for centuries and travel north. The people that chose to follow him were overjoyed to find the people of Zarahemla, who also traced their history back to travellers who fleed from Jerusalem. The people who didn't follow him were presumably either killed by the Lamanites or integrated into Lamanite society.

On their journey to Zarahemla the Nephites were "led by many preachings and prophesyings. And they were admonished continually by the word of God; and they were led by the power of his arm." (Omni 1:13)

After reaching the land of Zarahemla they taught the people who lived there their language, and their religion, and Mosiah became king over their combined nation.

Eventually the throne was passed on to King Benjamin. He was also a righteous king, and he helped his people fight an intense war with the Lamanites and drove them out of the land of Zarahemla.

This time period is supposed to make competition in the Nephite economy consistent, and again we have to make some guesses as to why this happened. One possibility is that Nephite society had grown unequal: a feat that happens quite often in the book of Mormon, and is always attributed to the people becoming prideful. When they arrived in Zarahemla they would have restarted from nothing; restoring equal competition in their market. Another thing that made competition more consistent was the merger of the two societies. The Nephites spent a significant amount of effort getting to know their new neighbors, and helping them to be able to properly engage in Nephite society. The effort spent on helping others made it so people could compete on equal footing in the economy.

The effort spent on assimilating the two cultures probably ended when the war with the Lamanites broke out.

About 132 BCE - 92 BCE: The people of King Zeniff

When King Benjamin was old he desired to pass on his dying words to his people, and he had everyone camp out by a tower that he spoke to them from. These teachings had a profound impact on the people and they became eager to help one another and to follow the Lord.

After the speech some of the Nephites became very eager to reclaim the land of their inheritance. They traveled to the land of Nephi and rented the land from the Lamanites. They appointed a righteous king, but his heir Noah was wicked. When Noah came to power he taught his people to become wine bibers, and increased their taxes significantly which he and his priests lived lavishly off of. This society failed due to deteriorating relationships with the Lamanites.

As the society collapsed it broke into three groups. One of King Noah's priests repented of his sins and became a righteous person. He took all of the people who still believed in God and fled into the wilderness. After becoming inslaved for a while and escaping they found their way back to Zarahemla.

The rest of King Noah's priests abducted several Lamanitish women, and forced them to be their wives. They later integrated into Lamanite society and were the cause of a lot of Lamanite aggression against the Nephites.

The rest of the people followed King Noah's son Limhi. They experienced incredible hardship from the Lamanites who presumed that this group had stolen their daughters. They eventually escaped with the help of some scouts from Zarahemla.

The people of King Limhi and the people who followed the righteous preist of King Noah arrived in Zarahemla at around the same time. King Benjamin's son Mosiah welcomed them, but became weary of continuing to have a reign of kings because of all the awful reports they heard about King Noah. His concerns were well founded because his own sons were disciples of an incredibly wicked man named Alma.

There were many things which created steady demands on the people during this time. First the regular payments to the lamanites in return for renting their land, second the taxes that King Noah placed on his people, and the lavish lifestyle of him and his priests, third the continuous aggression and warfare against them by the Lamanites. The book makes it clear that after the priests of King Noah stole the daughters of the Lamanites and integrated into their society they continually stirred up the Lamanites to war against the Nephites. These all steadied the demands on the economy and influenced the king of the Nephites to change their economy and government.

About 92 BCE - 52 BCE: The Reign of The Judges

In the last chapter of the book of Mosiah, King Mosiah renounces his throne and instead has judges rule over the land. As part of his plan for the judges he sets up laws on how the government should be run,(Mosiah 29:28-29) and laws that protect people's rights and freedoms.(Mosiah 29:32)

King Mosiah knew that there could be several problems with having judges rule over the people, so he implemented three changes to their government to help the judges make good choices. First a new judge had to be approved of by the people, second if the judges wanted to change the laws of the land they needed approval from the people, and third a new monetary system was implemented so that judges could get paid. The book of Alma shows us just how impactful these changes were to the lives of the Nephites.

King mosiah was so insistent on making the government democratic because he knew the horrible things that a king could put his people through if the king were evil, and he believed that usually the majority of people in a nation would be righteous, so they would govern themselves far better than kings who were inconsistent from one generation to the next.

The constitution that King Mosiah drafted brought the people personal rights and freedoms. The first level neurons of an economy are workers, and having a constitution which granted people certain rights and freedoms allowed them to do whatever kind of work they desired, and encouraged them to act on their own accord. Thus the constitution brought the people into the fourth phase of economics. The new financial system also helped by encouraging people to work in jobs that were previously unprofitable like being a judge.

There are many effects that the new constitution and monetary system had on the people. The first effect we learn of from these new laws is the creation of new religions and religious beliefs. A man named Nehor started a religion where religious leaders are payed according to how popular they are. This is completely against the Christian religion of the Nephites, but no one is allowed to stop Nehor because he has the freedom of religion. Eventually Nehor is confronted by an old man named Gideon about how wrong his new religion is, and Nehor gets enraged and kills Gideon. This puts an end to Nehor as he is executed for murder, but churches built after the order of Nehor remained very prosperous and abundant in the land of the Nephites.

The protection of religious freedoms also helped the believers of Jesus Christ, but since their religion had previously been the religion of the state their religious freedoms were not questioned to begin with. Later on when their religion is threatened it seems that their enemies do not care about the law, because there are several occasions when they attempt a genocide of the believers.

The second thing that the reign of the judges causes is several attempts to overthrow the government. The first attempt was by a man named Amlici, he wanted to become the king instead of being ruled by judges. Perhaps he thought that the government was weak and would be easy to overthrow. He ends up ammasing a huge army to fight against the Nephites, but lost in the end. There were several more attempts to replace the chief judge with a king later on. These attempts to overthrow the government brought about some of the worst wars the Nephites ever fought.

The next thing we see is the rise of corrupt lawyers. Lawyers could get paid lots of money to settle court cases. So they would "stir up rioting and disturbances and all manner of wickedness, that they might get more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them." Lawyers in the city of Ammonihah had so much power over the people that they practically ran the city.

In this time period in the book of Mormon we follow a prophet named Alma and the sons of King Mosiah. These men used to be very wicked, and enemies of the believers, but after a miraculous encounter with an angel they became some of the most righteous people in the land. Driven by a desire to repent of all the harm they had done they became missionaries and sought to convert people to a belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ and have them repent of their sins.

Alma preached to the Nephites and was confronted by all of the wickedness that had been inspired by the new economic system, from the corrupt lawyers to capitalist style religions.

The sons of Mosiah went to the Lamanites and their preaching has immense success. This is the first time that Lamanites had ever listened to the teachings of the church and the missionaries convert everyone in a few Lamanite cities.

After a while a war starts between the Nephites and the Lamanites, except for the converted Lamanites who have been taken in and sheltered in the heart of the Nephit nation. This war was started due to a Nephite named Ammonihah who wanted to become the king of the Nephites. After failing to overthrow the government from within the Nephite nation he goes to the Lamanites and uses trickery to assassinate and replace their king. He is not content with being the king of the Lamanites and goes to war against the Nephites. Even as this war is going on there are schisms within the Nephite nation to overthrow the government.

About 52 BCE - 12 BCE Gaddianton Robbers

In about 52 BCE we see the rise of a new economic system. A gang lead by Kishkumen are hired to assassinate the chief judge in yet another attempt to overthrow the government. Kishkumen tried to assassinate the next chief judge as well, this time because one of his own men wanted the judgement seat, but he was caught and executed. His successor Gaddianton feld with his gang and started their own government.

This gang had a new type of economic and political system than was used in the rest of the society. Their rules were simple "They would protect and preserve one another in whatsoever difficult circumstances they should be placed that they should not suffer for their murders, and their plundering, and their stealings.

"And it came to pass that they had their signs, yea, their secret signs, and their secret words; and this that they might distinguish a brother who had entered into the covenant, that whatsoever wickedness his brother should do he should not be injured by his brother, nor by those who did belong to his band, who had taken this covenant. And thus they might murder, and plunder, and steal, and commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness, contrary to the laws of the country and also the laws of their God."(Helaman 6:21,22)

A few years after Kishkumen died there began to be a lot of contention in the land, and many people traveled northward into areas that were typically considered desolate in order to seek peace. It is not clear what economic system these people adopted, but they may have experimented with different economic systems.

Two brothers named Nephi and Lehi taught the Lamanites the gospel and converted many of them. One interesting thing that happens to the Lamanites when they are converted is that they want to right the wrongs that they have done, this is even to the extent that they gave up the land they owned. "And as many were convinced did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the traditions of their fathers. And it came to pass that they did yield up unto the Nephites the lands of their possession."(Helaman 5:51,52). The believers in Christ set up their own economic system through the church, although its influence is much more subtle than that of Robbers. The book states "they did fellowship one with another, and did rejoice one with another, and did have great joy."

The fellowshipping of the believers and the generosity of the converted Lamanites fulfilled the second level of socialism, because they were willing to share their property and wealth with each other.

As this stage of the economy continues the Gaddianton Robbers take over the government of the Nephites. "And thus they did gain management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God."(Helaman 6:39)

However, among the Lamanites the robbers of Gaddianton had no power. "And thus we see that the Lord did pour out his spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words. And it came to pass that the Lamanites did hunt the band of the robbers of Gaddianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed among the Lamanites."(Helaman 6:36,37)

About 12 BCE - 28 CE Seige of Zerehemla

In about 12 BCE Nephi asks the Lord to destroy the wicked Gaddianton Robbers through a terrible famine. God complies, and after several years of famine the Gaddianton Robbers are no more. When the famine ended the people worked together to "build up their waste places"(Helaman 11:20). This is the start of the third level of socialism in the land of the Nephites. The third level of socialism states that people should combine their economic efforts and have representatives to guide them.

The Gaddianton Robbers in the lands of the Lamanites had not been completely destroyed by the famine, and they adopted a new tactic for conquering the Nephites. They would hide in the mountains and periodically invade Nephite cities before fleeing with their plunder. After every raid they would come back to the mountains with more converts to their order.

This is an excerpt from a formal invitation of theirs sent to the leader of the Nephite armies: "Yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us - not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance. And behold, I swear unto you, if ye will do this, with an oath, ye shall not be destroyed; but if ye will not do this, I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command my armies that they shall come down against you, and shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct."(3 Nephi 3:7,8)

An interesting thing to note about this invitation is that it invites the Nephites to become partners of all their substance, but all of the possessions of the robbers of Gaddianton were stolen from the Nephites in the first place, also the statement that they won't become their slaves is a blatant lie.

This technique of plundering and converting brought the robbers into the third level of capitalism. The third level of capitalism states that people should market their economic ideas so that others will join their cause.

Eventually the Gaddianton Robbers gained so many followers that they threatened both the Nephites and the Lamanites with extinction. This forced them to work together, as well as congregate to a single city, the city Zerehemla, for protection.

The Gaddianton Robbers were not able to raid this city because it was too well guarded, so instead they tried to lay seige to it. Unfortunately for them they strongly detested farming, and after a few years they were the ones starving, and not the people trapped in Zarahemla. Out of desperation the robbers went to war and were defeated marking the end of their terror, but not the end of their legacy.

Zarahemla, and the city Bountiful were the two important intelligences that were created during this time. Zarahemla was already the capital city, but now it gained more meaning to the people because it was where they all lived while under seige. The people eventually rebuilt their cities and spread throughout the land. They also taught the gospel to the robbers that they captured, and let them go free if they percieved that they had become sufficiently humble.

Afterward the Nephites experience a short period of peace where they repented of their sins before the whole church became rent with dissentions, and the government became corrupted by judges who did not care about the law and also wanted to overthrow the chief judge and replace him with a king.

About 28 CE - 68 CE Jesus Visits the Americas

A man named Jacob created a new band of villains, including most of Zarahemla's corrupt judges, and in about 28 CE they assassinated the chief judge of the Nephites and fled out of Zarahemla and made their own city called Jacobugath.

The government of the Nephites did not recover from this attack, and instead the people devided themselves into tribes, because they had lost faith in their government. "And the people did devide one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends.... And every tribe did appoint their own leader over them; and thus they did become tribes and leaders of tribes."

These tribes all had their own laws and they did not trust people of other tribes. The fourth level of socialism is to bring more accountability to the government. The people wanted a government that they could trust, but until they had one they were content to split into tribes consisting only of people that they thought they could trust.

A few years later Jesus the son of God who was worshipped by the Nephites died. At his death the earth trembled in an earthquake lasting for three hours, the sky went dark and no one could see for three days, and many cities were destroyed being burned, sunken into the earth, or drowned in the sea. In the darkness people heard the voice of God listing the many cities that had been destroyed because their inhabitants were wicked and murdered the prophets of God. The voice also declared that the law of Moses had been fulfilled, and that the people should repent of their sins and recieve the Holy Ghost.

After the darkness cleared some people gathered to the land Bountiful and Jesus appeared to them. Jesus organized his church and instructed the people on how they should live so that they can trust each other and be happy. He also called twelve disciples and gave them the power to baptise and give people the gift of the Holy Ghost, and he healed their sick and blessed their children. Jesus visited them several times over several days always returning back to heaven after he had finished teaching.

After Jesus had stopped returning to teach them the twelve disciples went out to share the things Jesus had taught with the various different tribes. After a year of their teachings and miracles everyone in the entire land was converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Another year passed and the people had no contentions, or disputations with each other, they all dealt justly with each other, and they had all things in common such that there were no rich or poor among them.

The people rebuilt their government and the cities that had been destroyed appart from the ones that were sunken into the ocean.


The Nephites remained incredibly blessed and retained a state of peace for around 177 years. After which they steadily declined until around the year 421 CE when there were no longer any righteous people on the land, neither in the Nephite nation nor in the Lamanite nation. The Nephites were then completely annihilated in an epic war. This story was preserved written on a book made of gold and buried in the earth by the last surviving Nephite.

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