It’s sort of an open secret that Utah has a
pyramid scheme multilevel marketing problem. MLMs prey on financially vulnerable people and get them to weaken their personal connections–the most important thing in life and during a time when such precious connections are in increasingly short supply–for very little money, and some MLMs layer dubious, snake-oil type medical claims on top of their immoral distribution approach. It’s nauseating on so many levels.
While I have no reason to doubt the conventional wisdom of Utah having a lot of MLMs, I decided to back-of-the-envelope quantify it. We don’t have access to the internal “independent distributor” numbers, but we can look at how many of the large MLMs are based out of Utah. I looked at the 75 MLMs listed in Wikipedia (I know, I know, but for stuff like this Wikipedia is usually pretty good, and I figured that being listed in Wikipedia was a basic threshold for size and importance). Of the 75 listed, 12 of them are from Utah or are clearly LDS connected (e.g. LuLaRoe), or 16%.
Given that Utah and Latter-day Saints are both about 1% of the US population each (with a lot of overlap, obviously), we are very overrepresented.
So yes, we have a problem. Also, I’m aware, as I’ve said many times, that Utah does not equal the Church, but it’s harder to argue against some underlying connection with Utah-Church culture when a lot of these MLM executives hold leadership positions in the Church (and many of them donate generously to signature Utah institutions, which is probably one major reason why it’s gentile late night talk show hosts that have to call us out on this and say what a lot of Utah’s social elites know but won’t say).
. From some cursory Googling around:
- Of the seven listed founders of DoTerra, an essential oil company whose representatives have claimed that its products can cure Ebola, two of them have served as mission presidents.
- The founder of Morinda (AKA Tahitian Noni), a company that sells what’s basically a normal fruit juice as some kind of super curative (and for which they have been sued by multiple Attorneys General), served as a mission president (personal aside, I served under him for one transfer while waiting for my visa to Spain. He seemed like a sincerely spiritual man, and I don’t know whether he actually believed in the snake oil product his company was selling or whether he, like many good people, had figured out a way to deal with the cognitive dissonance).
- Of the founders of NuSkin, another company that is no stranger to unsavory business practices, lawsuits, and investigations, one is now an auxiliary general authority and one served as a mission president.
Yes, I get it that rich people know how to run a meeting, and to some extent I get putting them in managerial positions, but can we draw the line at the pyramid schemes? This is a very uncomfortable point for me to make, as readers of the blog know that I am not a bomb thrower, and am extremely reticent to appear to be telling the Church what to do, but the intertwining of social and financial status with church status is battery acid on any religious institution (just ask the Catholic Church), and especially so when that financial status was gained from an industry that is so patently immoral. I don’t want to overdo this: one general authority and several mission presidents is a drop in the leadership bucket, but Utah’s (and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’) MLM problem in general is symptomatic of a toxic layer of manipulative prosperity gospel built around parasitic, ill-gotten gains.