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OT Economics

Posted by Chance on August 17, 2006

I keep saying that I will post more on economics, but I have not yet, due to lack of time. I’ve had some long posts recently, but I wanted to examine the system of welfare in the Old Testament and try to apply it to today. However, that involves rereading certain parts of the Old Testament that I just have not had a chance to do.

From what I know right now, it sounds like the Jubilee Law was a way of returning land back to original owners and forgiving debts, and that the Israelites were told to loan to each other at 0 interest. Also, some offerings were taken for the poor.

If we were to model that welfare system today (whether we should or the extent that we should is another issue, I am saying If), the immediate applications I see involve loans and bankruptcy laws. This makes sense. I think out of the welfare that exists, the best kind are loans, simply because someone will spend their money more efficiently if they know they have to pay it back. Also, a loan is less of a handout, as opposed to simply giving money. Loans have a bigger tendency to help people help themselves, and the most obvious application is that of student loans.

I suppose bankruptcy laws that are not too harsh would be another application. However, I don’t think the creditor should have to suffer the consequences due to circumstances surrounding the debtor. So I suppose any costs associated with bankruptcy would be transferred to the taxpayer.

I have not read the part about the offering for the poor yet.

Again, I’m not advocating anything, I am just saying that if we did try model the Mosaic form of welfare, those may be some ways. Since we see such a radical change with how one relates to God from the OT to the NT, some may argue that the Mosaic model may not apply. Michael in a previous post said that we can look at their priorities and base our government off that. I believe we would both agree we should model those priorities on a personal level, but if we should do so on a governmental level is the issue with which I am dealing.

I do want to add that I do believe that giving to others is an essential part of the Christian relationship, and one that is not emphasized enough. The message last Sunday at church was the story of when the sheep are separated from the goats. The sheep are the ones who feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and by doing so to “the least of these” they do so to Jesus. The goats…well, not so much. I know the message convicted me, because I can always do more.


7 Responses to “OT Economics”

  1. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    This shows some good reading and initial reflection. I recommend Ron Sider’s _Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger_ as an initial look at the huge amount of biblical work, Genesis to Revelation, on justice for the poor.

  2. Dan Trabue said

    Sabbath Economics, by Ched Myers is another fun little booklet densely packed with biblical thoughts on Jubilee and economics.

    You can read some of what Myers has to say about such stuff here:


  3. Dan Trabue said

    As to how closely we ought (or not) model our policies after 4000-6000 year old policies from an entirely different setting (nomadic/early agrarian), I’m not sure, either.

    If we ONLY take the general rule of, “We ought to be concerned about the poor and take steps to try to alleviate any unnecessary suffering – especially of society’s weaker, more at-risk groups (children, sick, elderly)” – with the recognition that, with freedom, some folk are going to make bad choices and will suffer bad consequences – where does that leave us?

    As a starting point, I’d think that would leave us in a spot where we could decide to make investments of time and money (as a society – including but not limited to – the gov’t) where it can be shown that bad situations are getting better.

    What I mean by that is, for instance, if prisoner recidivism rates are 50% and, by investing time and money in to offering educational classes and drug rehabilitation assistance, we can reduce that recidivism to 25%, then that makes some amount of common sense.

    If (as is true in that particular example), we end up SAVING money because that reduction means less money going to pay for jails and more money in tax dollars from former convicts, then it also makes good fiscal sense.

    This, I’d argue, is exactly where we’re at right now (with mixed results at demonstrating efficacy of programs), with the note that we’re not always wisely investing our money (by either giving money to programs that DON’T really make sense or by NOT giving money to programs that do).

  4. The Prophet said

    Interesting thoughts. Sadly, I think our country is so far away from the idea of Jubilee that it will take much time to get there.

    Just look at all the Cash Advance places popping up around the country. The goal of many is to get people in debt to you, not to help them get out of debt.

  5. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    Good reflections, Dan. One reason I’m such a huge supporter of the Children’s Defense Fund is that they do their homework. They don’t blindly ask for “welfare” or “domestic social spending,” but argue for specific programs and give data to show that the programs they support WORK.

    Hmm. I wonder if we could convince disgruntled Democrats horrifed at the prospect of Hillary or Reid as nominees (and worried that the principled progressive Russ Feingold is getting no traction) to draft CDF’s Marian Wright Edelman to run. She’s a progressive African-American woman with a law degree from Yale, experience in the civil rights movement, and an intimate knowledge of how Washington works without being beholden to any interest but the interests of children.

    I’d love to live in a society that really put children first!

  6. Dan Trabue said

    I wonder how far a Study-Based Spending Only bill would get?

    In which we only pass expenditures that have a study showing their efficacy and cost effectiveness.

    (I’m not advocating, just wondering…)

    I further wonder what such a policy would do to our military spending? After all, much of what it hopes to “accomplish” is ephemeral and difficult to measure. At least with education and welfare spending, there ARE accountabilities and studies in place already.

    Of course, one can almost always produce studies that will back one’s position.

  7. The Prophet said

    Hey Chance,
    Battle of the Bands is back up.

    Click HERE to vote for either The Fray or Roses Are Red! I’ll check the results next Friday and declare the winner.

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