Thursday, November 13, 2008

Spreading the Wealth Around

Count off seven sabbaths of years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan... In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property. If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. (NIV)
I know that this cryptic passage from the book of Leviticus is not in force for non-Jews, nor for the church of Jesus Christ; nonetheless, I find it interesting in that it reveals, at least to some degree, how God looks upon the redistribution of wealth in an earthly economy. That should be interesting to any American, given that our economy is supposedly one under God (at least that's what we say on our currency!). Redistribution, the pariah of free-market capitalists everywhere, seems to be looked upon with favor, even ordered, by God. Every 50 years, God wants the scale set back to zero, the land redistributed, so that inequities in society don't become so entrenched as to produce a slave class, perpetually indentured and beholden to the rich.

And all the Republicans said, "What?!"

I've heard it said that a severe financial crisis crops up once or twice a century in the West. Hmmm, every 50 years is God's metric for resetting the playing field--do you wonder if there's any correlation? I think there may well be. One statistic that would be germane is the concentration of wealth, the measure of the "rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer." The old adage, "it takes money to make money," is true and describes the mechanism though which wealth is concentrated. Could it be that once wealth concentration reaches a critical point amongst his people, God wants it shaken up?

Some politicians have long cited the concentration of wealth and the need for redistribution as a justification for increasing the size and spending of government; however, increasing spending among the poor doesn't make them wealthier, it only increases their share of consumption. That may not be a bad thing, but it doesn't shift the economic balance of power which is more correlated to wealth. If government actually wants to effect wealth distribution, the place to start would be reforming the Social Security system along the lines George Bush suggested just a few years ago. Making the government wealthier in no way makes the poor wealthier, it just shifts their indenturer from the rich to the government while keeping their slavery just as perpetual.

Over the last couple of months much of the wealth of the rich has evaporated into thin air. That kind of thing hasn't occurred since the Great Depression--not exactly 50 years, but close enough for government work. The poor are not likely to be statistically poorer as result of this economic downturn (we'll have to see what unemployment ends up doing), but the rich sure will be. Could the Great Depression II, which we seem to be in the beginning throes of, be God's redistribution plan? It wouldn't be the first time God took things into his own hands and spread the wealth around:

The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy... The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah. (NIV)


Kit said...

This republican says what?! Yes!!! I've learned lessons the hard way regarding spending choices and have been working years, literally, to get out of debt. Wouldn't it be nice, having once learned the lesson, to be able to start clean again, with an end in sight? The liberals I know feel that most people simply don't have the smarts to take care of themselves and need to have government take care of them and their money, which said liberals are quite happy to do.

SLW said...

Yes, in "caring for the poor" the liberal solution, more often than not, is just kicking whoever they view as oppressing the poor out of their seat and putting government in it instead. Either view is dismissive and oprressive to the poor. How about just keeping the playing field level, so the powerful don't get to use their position unfairly?

Anonymous said...

Your prophesy is on target. Just look at the news today.
Times awastin.

SLW said...

Hello Jareld, and welcome to the Sound.

Anything I said in this post wasn't prophecy, just biblical application, but thank you for seeing veracity in the analysis.

Anonymous said...

I do like the Jubilee system; it's not only a reset button, but a planned one, so people know that they don't get something forever. The Levitical system also limits the control you have over "what's yours", so you have the exclusive right to benefit; from the crops of the land, but not the right to trash it. You need to look after your slaves animals and land, because you will be responsible to God for them.
It's also cool because it almost allows true meritocracy, because previous benefits keep getting wiped out, but it's nicer than inheritance tax because it keeps the ability to improve your land for your kids.
Now the big trouble I find with this system is that you have to work out every 50 years who "should" own what, which it seems could be tricky if one family has loads of kids, etc. It seems like some form of modern redistribution would be required to balance this out (more boys than girls etc), but it may also act as a form of population control, as you can't just buy more land for your family if you know you're just going to have to give it back.
Another tricky thing is transport! If we shuffle the whole world every 50 years, who exactly runs the planes to get us to our ancestral homes?
Thirdly, what does it do to long term investment? Although come to think of it, no-one thinks that far ahead anyway!

It's a pretty interesting social system, and I wouldn't be surprised if it avoided some automatic 60 year cycle of economic collapse, by cutting it off before the poor people stop being able to buy stuff the rich people make, or however these inequality corrections are supposed to work.

I'd be interested to hear why you think Bush's old idea was a good one, I don't know much about it.

SLW said...

Hello Josh W, welcome to the Sound.

Interesting note: there is no biblical nor extra-biblical record that Israel ever observed even one Jubilee! I wonder how many problems could have been avoided or delayed had they obeyed God's command concerning it. Maybe some of the difficulties you noted in enacting it today would have been present then as well, and overwhelmed whatever faith they may have had to obey.

George Bush proposed revamping the SS system so that the citizens would have been the owners of their accumulating retirement accounts rather than the government. The wealth thus developed would have been the individuals rather than the state's. We all know what the state has been doing with that wealth, and it sure hasn't been accumulating it!

Anonymous said...

Interesting, it reminds me of the government Child Trust Funds in the UK, with gov money and your own money in saving schemes.
The trouble, like with the trust funds, is that they wreck the people around right now, because although in the future trust fund type structures could pay for everyone's university fees, we don't have the money because we are giving it to students now! It seems like if we'd realised this before the baby-boomers got wrinkly there would have been time to set it up ready for them.
But then, I have also heard that it is only now that we have the organising ability for one account each, if we'd tried it then the banks would have exploded!

But I'm not so keen on privatised measures for stuff like health insurance; I think it's nicer if you can just ignore this stuff and get on with your life. I reckon that's one of the luxuries of an industrialised state! But that might be off topic (in the UK it's all the same thing; NI contribution, but I think it's different where you are).

SLW said...

Josh W,
The pay as you go systems tend to be Ponzi schemes, at least the US SS system is. Prior "investors" are paid from funds coming in from current "investors" with the balance being spent by the scheme's makers. Adequate capital to meet future obligations is not reserved or maintained, and eventually, the numbers catch up and the scheme crashes. If the system was sound, the present value of future benefits, actuarily adjusted, would be set aside (invested) to adequately fund the system. If private insurers did what Uncle Sam does in managing SS, fraud charges would pursued and someone would go to jail.

My experience with government and insurance makes me particularly reticent to trust politicians with my life rather than myself. So for me, even if those decisions are bothersome, I trust myself to make them for me more than I do the government.