Jewish Economic Theory
| Peter Klein |
Five principles of Jewish economic theory, as described in Judaism, Markets, and Capitalism: Separating Myths from Reality by Corinne Sauer and Robert M. Sauer (forthcoming from the Acton Institute):
- Work, creative activity, and innovation are the avenues through which the divine image is expressed.
- Private property rights are essential and must be protected.
- The accumulation of wealth is a virtue not a vice.
- Man has an obligation to care for the needy through charitable giving.
- Government is inefficient and concentrated power is dangerous.
Sauer and Sauer compare this passage in 1 Samuel to Hayek’s warnings in The Road to Serfdom:
These will be the rights of the king who is to reign over you. He will take your sons and assign them to his chariotry and cavalry, and they will run in front of his chariot. He will use them as leaders of a thousand and leaders of fifty; he will make them plough his ploughland and harvest his harvest and make his weapons of war and the gear for his chariots. He will also take your daughters as perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He will take the best of your fields, of your vineyards and olive groves and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and vineyards to provide for his eunuchs and his officials. He will take the best of your manservants and maidservants, of your cattle and your donkeys, and make them work for him. He will tithe your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out on account of the king you have chosen for yourselves, but on that day God will not answer you (1 Sam 8:11-18).
Werner Sombart famously took Max Weber to task for overlooking the Jewish contribution to modern capitalism. Sombart’s analysis has not stood up to critical scrutiny, but there has recently been a surge of interest in Jewish economic practices and ideas. Avner Grief‘s work on the emergence of long-distance trade among the Maghribi traders is perhaps the best-known example. Other contributions come from a variety of perspectives. Here is an argument that Rabbinical law takes economic efficiency into consideration. Robert Aumann says the Babylonian Talmud reflects a sophisticated understanding of risk aversion. And here is Jewish commentary on John Paul II’s Centisimus Annus.