Thursday, May 07, 2009

Jesus on Property Rights and Resource Preservation

Perhaps the most important proposition in the economics of property rights is that people will not care for a resource they do not own as well as they will care for a resource they do own. It is amazing how much fashionable economic belief — for example, nearly everything ever advanced in support of socialism, as well as the bulk of what passes for environmentalist policy proposals — fails to take adequate account of this virtually axiomatic proposition.

But don’t take my word for it — or even the word of any of my illustrious former collegues at the University of Washington. Take the word of Jesus of Nazareth.

In the tenth chapter of the Gospel According to John, Jesus is trying to make a point, but his listeners are not getting it, so he finally gives them a parable he can be sure they will understand (verses 11-13):
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.

Hired hands must be monitored closely if the owner is to prevent them from diminishing or destroying the value of the capital he has provided for them to work with. In postbellum southern agriculture, for example, plantation owners monitored sharecroppers, to whom they furnished mules, more closely than they monitored tenants who furnished their own mules.



Don't Confuse Justice and Charity

by Michael Medved

I was very pleased to read the article below as it largely echoes a point I made in 2006. The text I used was, however, Exodus 23:3. But to find it repeated in the "Second Law" (Deuteronomy) is of course no surprise -- JR

The core mistake of liberalism involves the confusion of charity and justice. How do we know it’s a disastrous error to blur the distinction between these two timeless virtues? Because the Bible specifically warns us against it.

Last Saturday, Jewish people around the world read Leviticus 19:15 as part of the weekly “Torah Portion” – the specific segment of the Five Books of Moses assigned since ancient times for synagogue recitation on this particular Sabbath of the calendar. The text declares (in the best modern translation): “You shall not commit a perversion of justice; you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great; with righteousness shall you judge your fellow.”

The unmistakable commandment to avoid favoring the poor comes as something of a shock: doesn’t the Bible, and especially the New Testament, repeatedly remind us to deal generously with the less fortunate, and to care for widows, orphans and paupers in general?

The truth is that the Bible – both Old and New Testament—views compassion as a personal obligation rather than a public priority for governmental or judicial policy. The all important warning against tilting the scales of justice toward the poor appears just three verses before the most famous single injunction in all of Scripture: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus, 19:18).The juxtaposition of God’s directives makes it clear that not even love for your neighbor can allow “perversion of justice.” Justice and charity must remain distinct—not just separate, but in some ways opposite polarities.

The importance of this distinction particularly concerned the great Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Ytizchaki, 1040-1105), considered the most authoritative expositor of millennia-old oral traditions on the Biblical text. More than 900 years ago, Rashi addressed the verse in question and faced the puzzle of why the Bible forbids bias on behalf of the poor even before it forbids favoritism for the rich. “You shall not say, ‘This man is poor, and the rich man is obliged to support him,” the eminent Rabbi wrote. A judge is strictly prohibited from saying “I shall favor the poor man in this suit, and thus he will make a respectable living.” As a 20th Century rabbi (Nosson Scherman) succinctly summarized the point: “The Torah insists that justice be rendered honestly; charity may not interfere with it.”

Ironically, the Jewish world focused on this point this year in precisely the same week (the first Sabbath in May) in which President Obama faced his first opportunity to appoint a new justice to the Supreme Court of the United States. In some of his campaign comments about criteria for such an appointment, the future president specifically indicated he wanted a judge with a “heart” for the poor and downtrodden, and who would concentrate on their specific interests and needs—in other words, precisely the sort of jurist prohibited by Leviticus.

Allowing justice to be twisted by emotions of sympathy for the unfortunate is no less corrupting than bending toward the rich and powerful out of a sense of awe or admiration, or in hopes of personal advancement. In both cases, feelings block the scrupulous application of rules of logic and fairness. In both cases, Jewish tradition suggests that the judge (or any other government official) has been, in effect, bribed.

On this point, leaders of the liberal Jewish establishment would no doubt object to the whole line of scripture-based reasoning, making the point that the Hebrew word for justice – “tzedek” – is directly related to the colloquial term for charity – “tzedaka.” This linguistic point has allowed many generations of Jewish fundraisers to make the pitch that for us, charitable giving isn’t a matter of special kindness or generosity, but an obligation of simple justice. As the Book of Deuteronomy (16:20) famously and resonantly declares: “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue.”

Actually, the better translation for this celebrated phrase (“Tzedek, tzedek teerdof” in Hebrew) would be “Righteousness, righteousness you should pursue.” When the book of Leviticus bans bias toward the poor as a “perversion of justice” the word used isn’t “tzedek” (best rendered as “righteousness”) but rather “Mishpat” (best rendered as “law” or “judgment”). Righteousness constitutes a personal goal for each individual – and very much includes charitable giving, and acts of loving-kindness for the impoverished and powerless. “Law” (or “judgment”) on the other hand describes an expression of organized society or governmental authority, which should treat all society’s members, rich and poor alike, in a non-prejudicial and neutral manner.

This distinction between personal obligations and official policy brings important implications for current controversies. As individuals, we should never try to look on Bill Gates and a homeless beggar as equally deserving of our sympathy or generosity. At the same time, twisting the law or administrative policy to favor the beggar in a dispute with Bill Gates would require the same abandonment of impartiality as privileging the Software Sultan over the pauper.

Does this mean that a system of progressive taxation constitutes the blurring of justice and charity that the Bible decries? The answer is almost certainly yes, and helps explain why so many conservatives yearn for a system of flat taxes or consumption taxes to replace the current nightmare of the IRS. This doesn’t mean that Mr. Gates would ever pay the same tax bill as our imaginary homeless gent--- if they both paid 10%, Mr. Microsoft would still pay vastly more in precisely the same ratio that he earned vastly more. But a system under which top earners get slammed with a 39.6% rate (as they will if Obama lets Bush tax cuts lapse, as promised) and struggling householders pay nothing, but actually get checks from the government totaling thousands of dollars (through the Earned Income Tax Credit and other scams), very clearly represents a society organized to favor the poor in a way that violates unbiased justice.

At a time when the outspoken religious left wants to claim scriptural sanction for its redistributionist schemes, when President Obama searches for a judge who will follow her compassionate heart rather than the Constitution, it’s appropriate to recall the timeless and necessary Biblical separation between public justice and private compassion.




"Torture" lawyers not likely to be charged: “Bush administration lawyers who approved harsh interrogation techniques of terror suspects should not face criminal charges, Justice Department investigators say in a draft report that recommends two of the three attorneys face possible professional sanctions. The recommendations come after an Obama administration decision last month to make public legal memos authorizing the use of harsh interrogation methods but not to prosecute CIA interrogators who followed advice outlined in the memos.”

DHS: “Lexicon” source a “maverick office”: “The Department of Homeland Security is reining in a ‘maverick’ division of the agency following criticism of a report it issued that details domestic ‘extremists’ ranging from anti-tax movements to pro-environment groups, a DHS official told FOX News on Tuesday. The report, released in March and recalled within hours, was on top of a controversial document the same office produced last month that said U.S. veterans were ripe for recruitment by terrorist groups. The quickly withdrawn report, titled the ‘Domestic Extremism Lexicon,’ comes from the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the same unit that produced the report on right-wing extremists recruiting vets. The document, first uncovered by The Washington Times, uses a broad brush to define terms used when analyzing dozens of supposedly extremist ideologies inside the United States.”

Obama is exactly wrong: "In the Austrian view, depressions come about because expansion of bank credit results in malinvestments. Because these need to be liquidated, the government should follow a "do nothing" policy that allows the market to return to normal conditions. When this policy was followed, recovery from depression took no more than a few years, in the 1873 depression, in contrast to the total failure to recover during the New Deal. The results were even better in the 1920–1921 depression, when both Wilson and Harding slashed government spending: "the 1920–1921 depression was so short-lived that most Americans today are unaware of its existence."

Can Obama be called an economic fascist? : “It is dangerous in this day and age to use the word ‘fascism’ lightly. Liberals sling around the term ‘fascism’ without regard to its meaning — for the left, ‘fascism’ applies to everything from religious social perspectives to conservative tax cut prescriptions. But economic fascism has a precise, defined meaning. And Barack Obama’s economic policy fulfills that meaning in every conceivable way.”

Overeducated redneck: “I’m generally certain that I’m considerably more intelligent, educated, and informed than those calling me ignorant (and for that matter, they are almost certainly racists whether they realize it or not; and I am definitely not; but that’s another post entirely); but that doesn’t address the point I want to make here. To these people, redneck is an insult. So is ‘cowboy’ for that matter, or really anything to do with rural America or ‘country.’ This is of course another form of class warfare, and identity politics. By calling me a redneck, they believe they are dismissing me, my ideas, my opinions, and the facts I present; as not credible, irrelevant, or below them. Well … to me, call me a redneck, and that’s a compliment. They didn’t intend it that way, but it is.”


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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