I normally don’t post twice in a day, but this Wall Street Journal article “inspired” me. Now, I have nothing positive or negative to say about modern day capitalism, unless of course we compare it with the oppressive argrarian societies of history, like feudalism. For me, capitalism is a social tool to decentralize wealth and create incentives. Fine. It has its strengths and weaknesses, and I could probably list many of them, but we are not here for that. We are here because Rabi Aryeh Spero has made a biblical argument for capitalism, and that just doesn’t sit right with me.
His biggest blunder is a common one, to pit capitalism against socialism. It is an unfair dichotomy in the present Western World, and in America. Most Western countries are a messy mix of both public and private sectors, and it is unlikely that such things will change soon. What is really being argued over is the relationship and ratio between the two: How big should the public sector be? And how can the public sector be involved with the private? Great questions, and the arguments need to be placed in concrete contexts, rather than abstract ideas.
While Spero has pointed out some of capitalisms strengths, his use of the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament) takes quite a leap of faith between our cultures.
Because the Hebrew Bible sees us not simply as “workers” and members of the masses but, rather, as individuals, it heralds that characteristic which endows us with individuality: our creativity… At the opening bell, Genesis announces: “Man is created in the image of God”—in other words, like Him, with individuality and creative intelligence.
I’m going to give Spero the benefit of the doubt, since he may get this interpretation from some Rabbinic sources that I’m not aware of. However, I’m still going to express my doubts over his interpretation, not only because of the Wall Street Journal, nor because of his “Caucus for America,” but because I doubt the Bible has much to say on Western individualism or capitalism. One of the defining characteristics of an Individual-Oriented society is the emphasis placed on personal happiness and individual liberty. These themes are severely lacking in the Hebrew Bible. Rather, the Hebrew Bible is more concerned with political independence, critique of corrupt leadership, and social identity. Also, the Hebrew people lived in an agrarian society, thus making a leap to modern economic systems require heavy exegesis–something Spero has not done at all here.
While, I am a Christian and focus on the New Testament, I still hold that even the Hebrew Bible cannot defend Capitalism or Socialism. Rather, all we can really look for are the reasons that both Testaments critique their own agrarian societies. And correct me if I’m wrong, but the strongest critiques are aimed at corrupt elites, who gain at the expense of the weak, the poor, and the marginalized. So whatever economic system one supports, someone claiming the authority of either Testament ought to make sure that all economic systems prevent such exploitation.