A friend of mine posted (at https://www.facebook.com/groups/164893083528659/301368179881148/) a link to the Jerusalem Post's "What does the Torah say about social justice?" (http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Opinion/Article.aspx?id=235398), by Barry Leff of Rabbis for Human Rights, advocating obedience to the Talmud's economic regulations. This is the reply I wrote there on Facebook, and also on the Jerusalem Post's own website:
We read, "Would the rabbis of the Talmud be out on the streets – and in the tents – with the protesters? Or would they be defending the government and the status quo?" This is a false dilemma. You don't have to be either a socialist (protestor) or a fascist (defender of the status quo - fascism/corporatism means governmental regulation of the economy, in which private ownership is nominally maintained while the government controls the actual use of that property). You can be a capitalist (laissez-faire, in which the government does not regulate or intervene at all).
We further read, "It is well known that the Talmud favors a strong 'safety net' for taking care of the poor." It also favors bloodletting and incantations to demons. We do not appeal to outdated Talmudic medicine or superstitution or science, says Maimonides, so why should we appeal to outdated economics? I don't get it. The same people who reject the Talmud's advocacy of bloodletting and astrology, suddenly consider it the apogee of economic science. I prefer the view of Maimondes (Rambam) and Rabbi Avraham ben ha-Rambam (son of Maimonides); Maimonides, regarding the Talmud's reliance on, and belief in, astrology, in his letter to Marseilles/Montpelier (http://www.scribd.com/doc/27122444/Moses-Maimonides-Letter-on-Astrology): "What we have said about this from the beginning is that the entire position of the stargazers is regarded as a falsehood by all men of science [madda]. I know that you may search and find sayings of some individual sages in the Talmud and Midrashoth whose words appear to maintain that at the moment of a man's birth the stars will cause such and such to happen to him. Do not regard this as a difficulty, for it is not fitting for a man to abandon the prevailing law and raise once again the counterarguments and replies [that preceded its enactment]. Similarly it is not proper to abandon matters of reason that have already been verified by proofs, shake loose of them, and depend upon the words of a single one of the sages from whom possibly the matter was hidden. Or there may be an allusion in those words; or they may have been said with a view to the times and the business before him. (You surely know how many of the verses of the Holy Law are not to be taken literally. Since it is known through proofs of reason that it is impossible for the thing to be literally so, [Onqelos] the Translator rendered it in a form that reason can abide.) A man should never cast his reason behind him, for the eyes are set in front, not in back." And his son, about aggadah (Talmudic homiletics), in the introduction to the Ein Yaakov (http://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=Ein_Yaakov%2FIntroduction): "According to this preamble, then, we are not in duty bound to defend the opinions of the sages of the Talmud, concerning medicine, physics and astrology, as right in every respect simply because we know the sages to be great men with a full knowledge of all things regarding the Torah, in its various details. Although it is true that in so far as knowledge of our Torah is concerned, we must believe the sages arrived at the highest stage of knowledge, as it is said (Deut. 17, 11) In accordance with the instructions which they may instruct thee, etc., still it is not necessarily so concerning any other branch of knowledge."
Then, "The rabbis of the Talmud understand this verse as telling us that prices should be fair. A seller cannot charge more than one-sixth (15 percent) more than the market price. If he does, the sale is considered illegal and can be voided." The Talmud guarantees that poor people will starve. Prices are a signal of supply and demand, and when prices are high, it indicates that demand exceeds supply, and this encourages entrepreneurs to enter the market and satisfy that demand. When you impose price ceilings, you thwart this signal, and you falsely convey the message to entrepreneurs that demand is lower and supply is higher than they really are; by reducing their profit margin, you remove the incentive for entrepreneurs to enter that market. Thus, price ceilings also cause shortages; just look at the Soviet Union. See Walter Block, "Jewish Economics in the Light of Maimonides", http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/block_jewish-economics-maimonedes-1990.pdf.
Furthermore, it is absurd to say, "A seller cannot charge more than one-sixth (15 percent) more than the market price.", because whatever the seller charges ipso fact *is* the market price! You are essentially telling the seller that he cannot charge more than 1/6 of what he himself charges. It's absurdly recursive; see again Block.
It also makes no sense to say, "...the maximum profit should be 15%." In a free-market, the rate of profit *is* the interest rate; profit and interest are the same. So to mandate 15% profit when the interest rate is higher than that, is to steal from the producer, and to mandate 15% profit when the interest rate is lower than that, is to steal from the consumer. Either way, to arbitrarily fix the rate of profit independently of the rate of interest is to rob *someone*.
This is again absurd: "As the great 18th-century economist Adam Smith said, 'People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.' The rabbis recognized this problem, and ruled that prices for staples, like wine and oil, should be fixed by an official superintendent of prices. Only for luxury goods, like spices, should prices be solely set by the market." What the author of this article has just said, is this: entrepreneurs and producers will meet together to conspire to defraud consumers by way of seeking government protection (Smith), so the solution is to have government stop this (Talmud)! The government is the one who provides the cartelization that the conspiratorial producers want, so the solution is to empower the government? Sheesh, let's just ask Hamas to stop terrorism and ask the Vatican to promote Maimonidean monotheism while we're at it! Also, as Block notes, price-fixing of essentials and laissez-faire for luxuries perversely assures that essentials will be in short supply while luxuries will be in ample supply; the Talmud is ensuring that people die of starvation well-adorned in jewels.
The Talmud was "opposed to middlemen", we are informed. Again, the Talmud ensures that we starve. Without middlemen, who will transport goods for us? If you live on one side of the country and the food is grown on the other, then the middlemen do the valuable service of transporting the goods for you, so that you do not have to travel yourself. If they did not do a valuable service, then you would not pay them! If middlemen made goods more expensive than necessary, without benefit, then you would eschew the middleman and buy direct! The fact that you buy from the middleman willingly, shows that you benefit from him more than if he did not exist, because *any* time *any* economic transaction occurs, it shows (according to Condillac) that this transaction was superior to its own absence, and that this transaction entailed mutual benefit, because without mutual benefit, it would not occur in the first place. And let us quote John Witherspoon, "An Essay on Money":
Economic regulations, "so far as they are executed, they have the most powerful tendency to prevent, instead of promoting, full and reasonable markets.
"As an example of our own skill in that branch, a law was past in Pennsylvania in time of the [Revolutionary W]ar [in America] precisely upon that principle. It ordained that in all imported articles there should be but one step between the importer and consumer, and therefore that none but those who bought from the ship should be allowed to sell again. I cite this instance by memory, but am certain that such was the spirit of the law.
"The makers of it considered that every hand through which a commodity passed must have a profit upon it, which would therefore greatly augment the cost to the consumer at last. But could any thing in the world be more absurd? How could a family at one hundred miles distance from the seaport be supplied with what they wanted? In opposition to this principle it may be safely affirmed, that the more merchants the cheaper the goods, and that no carriage is so cheap, nor any distribution so equal of so plentiful as that which is made by those who have an interest in it, and expect a profit from it."
The author of this article works to ensure we all suffer from poverty.
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