Political: When we are first introduced to this group of people they might appear to be citizens simply desiring some changes in the law. We now find out that they are the same kind of people that we have seen cropping up throughout the history of the Nephites in Zarahemla. These are those who may be easily categorized by their desire for a king.
As we have seen in the past, this is not a simple change of governmental style. With the change in the political structure to enthrone a king rather than have a judge, they intend to bring with them an entire lifestyle that is associated with the kings as seen in the surrounding lands, those lands that are typically defined as Lamanite. In terms of Mesoamerica, these lands would be the trading partners where the traders from the land of Zarahemla are receiving their wealth. With that wealth comes also the concepts that support the value of the objects acquired.
It is perhaps difficult to understand this from a modern perspective. We are used to a monetary economy where value is independent from the thing valued. We can convert all of our values into their monetary equivalent. Homes are not intrinsically valuable, but change in their value according to the money that would be required to exchange for them. It is for this reason that a home will be “worth” more or less depending upon the changes in the economy. Some who buy homes find that they increase in value even though they are older, and perhaps in less pristine condition, because the land and demand around them increases. Similarly, there are those unfortunate ones whose houses have decreased in value because of changes in the economic climate. All of these changes occur because value may be separated from the thing, and defined by the medium of exchange for that thing.
In a non-monetary economy, the value is in the thing itself. A piece of clothing is more or less valuable because of its scarcity, and because of what it is. For instance, even in our monetary economy, we would understand that a centuries-old king’s robe is worth more than a centuries-old peasant’s cloak. Even discounting the materials or the workmanship, it is the association of the clothing with the position that lends it valuable.
Another modern example of how association can change the value of the item might be in the arena of sports memorabilia. One may purchase an old baseball. An old baseball of the same age, but bearing the signature of Babe Ruth is unquestionably more valuable. There is nothing in the baseball itself that changes the value, but rather the association with a particular person that has historical status.
It is in this light that we must understand the effect of the trading economy on the Nephites. As they bring in “wealth” it is not wealth defined in an arbitrary exchange such as money, but rather a wealth that is associated with the status of the item itself. If they imported clothing “fit for a king,” the value of that clothing is enhanced by the social status associated with it. The problem for Nephite society was that the nature of the wealth they accumulated and the egalitarian social structure were at odds with each other. They would accumulate wealth in the guise of elite items, but if they themselves were not “elite,” then the conceptual value of the item diminished. The items were valuable for the position they signified, and in Nephite society, there was no way to signify that social difference.
The people who fomented for a king were always the richest of Nephite society, a situation that is completely understandable, for it was they who not only understood the associative value of their wealth, but most missed that advantage within their own culture. They want a king, but a king as representative of a way of life that supported the value of the wealth they had acquired.