If the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints is more or a less a pyramid scam, in which the guys at the top hog the wives, how did the mainstream Church of the Latter Days Saints evolve into something quite different? I don't know anything about Mormon history, so please help me out here.
The mainstream Mormon organization in Utah today seem more like a mutual self-help society, sort of a private enterprise Sweden. If you agree to play by their rules, follow their cultural norms, and pay a lot of taxes, excuse me, donations, they'll round down some of the sharp, competitive corners of modern life for you. The intense and expensive efforts modern Americans make to "insulate, insulate, insulate" their families (as Sherman McCoy's best friend tells him people who want to raise children in Manhattan must do) are sort of taken care of for you by the Mormon church.
Of course, that's why Mormons are so Republican -- they've built themselves a private welfare state, without most of the moral hazard that goes with government welfare states.
For example, consider the admissions process to college, which is pretty maniacal for a lot of families these days.
Yet, the statistics on Brigham Young University don't look much at all like other universities. These days, colleges are extremely stratified by SAT score, but BYU isn't like that. The last time I checked (about five years ago), it's 25th and 75th percentiles of SAT scores were farther apart than just about any other prominent college in the country, meaning that a wide range of kids go there: both the smart Mormon kids and the average Mormon kids. The students at BYU just don't really care all that much about going to the school with the highest USNWR ranking.
Nowadays, most kids across the country apply to a lot of colleges and so acceptance rates are very low compared to just a decade ago, but then most colleges' "yields" (i.e., their admitted applicants' acceptance of them) have become pretty low, too. In other words, on April 1st the typical brand name college sends out, say, 5,000 acceptances and 20,000 rejection letters, and on May 1 it gets back 2000 acceptances of acceptances and 3000 rejections of acceptances. It's nerve wracking for all concerned.
But at BYU, it's pretty easy to get in. Non-Mormons don't want to go there, so it's not that competitive. And yet it's not a "safety school" -- most of the kids who get accepted choose to go there. It's yield is up there with Annapolis and Columbia and the like.
And the tuition is cheap. There's no real magic -- they have big class sizes. They just don't see the need to compete in the USNWR rankings by having smaller classes.
What BYU sounds like is the old State U. in 1950s Heinlein juvenile novels, where the hero (who is a math genius but nobody has noticed) has just graduated from high school and is working at the malt shop, and when customers ask him what his plans are, he says he really hasn't made any so he figures he'll just go to old State U. in September. Pretty low key ...
That's what UCLA was like when Heinlein went there for a few weeks.
Of course, nowadays, there are people in Seoul who have been grooming their prodigy child for acceptance at old State U. since birth, so old State U. isn't at all like old State U. anymore. In 2008, UCLA got 55,000 applications for the freshman class, the most of any college in America, with 45% coming from students with a 4.0 or higher GPA.
But BYU apparently still is kind of like Heinlein-era UCLA.
Anyway, my question is: how did the mainstream Mormons get from being kind of a pyramid scheme back in the polygamous 19th Century to the set-up they have today where life is more egalitarian than in the rest of America?