My work as an economist often involves providing estimates of damages in intellectual property disputes. Most frequently, these disputes involve two parties suing each other for patent infringement, with each party claiming they own some method or technology used as an input for some snazzy gizmo they claim is worth zillions of dollars. To estimate damages, several techniques and approaches are helpful—some are statistical, some are analytical, some are based on past case precedent. One of the most valuable techniques is that of the hypothetical negotiation.
The hypothetical negotiation in a patent infringement lawsuit involves re-constructing the world that existed the moment before the accused party allegedly began infringement, and imagining what the outcome would be if both parties were forced to sit down and negotiate a licensing royalty or other form of payment to legitimize the otherwise-illegal use of the patented technology. In this hypothetical world, an economist then considers other criteria that may influence how the negotiation would proceed. For example, if the two parties are direct competitors, this would push toward a higher royalty rate; if there are numerous substitute technologies that could be used instead, this would put downward pressure on the likely royalty rate. There are two important rules that must be followed here: First, in the context of a lawsuit, walking away from the negotiating table is not an option—an agreement must be reached for the hypothetical to be of any value, so outcomes are constrained those involving an agreement. Second, because the hypothetical negotiation takes place in the past, we have information available to us that a real negotiation would not have; while it is tempting to eliminate this information to more closely approximate the original circumstances, most courts allow the parties to use the “Book of Wisdom” to take into account major events that have taken place and might have impacted the negotiation in some way.
What does the concept of a hypothetical negotiation have to do with Mormonism? Potentially very little, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway.
I am a big fan of the pre-mortal existence. The idea that we lived before we were born into mortality is one of the defining doctrines of the LDS Church—one that separates us from most any other religion in the world. In theory, this doctrine provides a wonderful context for the plan of salvation and informs much of our thinking about the way God deals with His children. Whether such explanations are accurate or not, nearly everyone in the LDS Church has heard liberal references to the pre-mortal life as an explanation for human suffering or other circumstances and allotments in life.
However, in practice, the pre-mortal existence is also a treasure trove of mystery and speculation, because it is characterized by a couple of inconvenient facts: First, the veil ensures that there are no memories or eyewitnesses around to debunk anyone’s claims regarding their pre-mortal behavior. Second, we have a dearth of scripture on the subject—a few passages in Moses and Abraham, some ambiguous stuff about Jeremiah in a womb from the Old Testament, and a smattering of ultra-unhelpful verses in the Doctrine & Covenants. The only other canon for this topic—Saturday’s Warrior—loses much of its explanatory power by focusing so heavily a single family; it’s difficult to know exactly how broadly we should apply the experiences of Jimmy and Elder Kestler to the rest of the human race.
We know that each individual is born with a different array of talents and blessings. The scriptures teach that everyone has at least one spiritual gift. Despite this assurance, there is no indication as to why one person is born with the gift to be healed, while another is blessed with the gift of weeping (clearly, the stick of spiritual gifts has a short end). In the name of seeking further light and knowledge, I propose that we apply the concept of a hypothetical negotiation to evaluate our own spiritual gifts.
In this hypothetical negotiation, we (all the spirit sons and daughters of God) are sitting at a table with our Heavenly Father shortly after having tossed our ballots for the Plan of Happiness. We have gathered to decide what talents, blessings, and spiritual gifts we will receive upon our entrance into mortality. Having been told that the cold and dreary wilderness is not the easiest of all hangouts, we are initially tempted to shoot for the moon and negotiate a license for every spiritual gift under the sun. However, Heavenly Father wisely invokes TANSTAAFL: If He were to give each of us all the spiritual gifts and talents He has to offer, we would certainly be held to a higher standard at Judgment Day. Of course, One of us is not intimidated by such a proposition, and accepts it humbly, yet willingly.
(This is, of course, ignoring the spiritual economist’s worst nightmare: Spiritual Gift Inflation. If we all got everything, it would be like the religious version of Syndrome’s evil plan in The Incredibles—“If everyone has the gift of great faith, then no one does!”)
The negotiation continues long into the night, but eventually we all reach individual licensing agreements with Heavenly Father regarding the spiritual gifts, talents, and blessings that will be ours to employ during mortality. The royalty rate we pay for such gifts comes in the form of responsibility for our use of those gifts to bless the rest of His children.
For some, this negotiated agreement involves being raised in a home without the Gospel of Christ. For others, it involves poverty and compelled humility. For others, like me, it means going to college at a school with the worst football team in the known universe. No matter the details of our individual license agreements, we are confident of one thing: the faith and obedience required from each of us is perfectly just and proportionate to the blessings and gifts that are promised. Importantly, we agree to add an insurance clause: If and when we fail to hold up our end of the negotiated agreement, One Other will be allowed to help us pay any debt we owe. We all sign the contract with the Holy Ghost acting as Notary Public, and we make our way to the Blue Planet.
So here is the question: When we now open the Book of Wisdom, how do we feel about the negotiation that took place before the world was? Now that we’ve had many years in mortality to see the flowers and thistles of that negotiation, would we ask for a do-over if we had the chance? I’ve thought about this long and hard myself, and unless the gift of shooting lasers out of my eyes is on the table, the answer is probably a very hesitant No. I know who I am, and find great joy in seeing the unique ways the Lord has blessed me during my life in endowing me with certain attributes and abilities. The ability to believe on the words of others has blessed me in countless ways. The gift of bearing a mighty testimony has enabled me to help others come unto Christ. The gift of discerning between truth and error has been invaluable to me in nearly every aspect of life.
Sure, if I could have a do-over, I might have negotiated for a more natural love for the scriptures, as this is something I’ve always struggled to develop. An innate sense of humility would have served me well on more than one occasion, as would the gift of knowing when to shut up. The gift of understanding one of J. Nelson-Seawright’s last post would be a big addition, too, because, well, wow. However, working to overcome each of those weaknesses has served to magnify the strengths I have and cause me to appreciate them all the more.
It may well be that no negotiation took place in the pre-mortal world; perhaps the spiritual gifts and talents we now possess are as eternal as the very intelligence that makes up our spirits. Perhaps they were simply divided up via one-potato, two-potato or paper-rock-scissors. If such proves to be the case, then I will gladly let my theory go, but for the time being, there is something very empowering and faith-promoting to me in the idea that long ago, my Heavenly Father and I sat down at a table and tailored a set of spiritual gifts specifically for me.