Then he invited everyone to speak, as long as they eschewed politics and anything opposed to Judaism. So I stood up and said the following:
Well, the rabbi told us to avoid politics, but he didn't say anything about economics. So in a few minutes, he'll be kicking me out of the house and amending his rules for the future.
What he said about the half-shekel being equal for all, reminds me of something my favorite economist, Murray Rothbard, said. Rothbard said that the beauty of a flat tax is that it is equal for everyone, and must be set for all - including the rich - at whatever rate the poor are able to pay. [Making Economic Sense, chapter 62 ("Mrs. Thatcher's Poll Tax" and chapter 63 ("Exit the Iron Lady"), at http://mises.org/econsense/econsense.asp] But for the record, I am not advocating anything politically; I am just speaking value-free economics.
Anyway, speaking of Rothbard, I am reminded of something I heard in a lecture given by his wife, JoAnn Rothbard. ["The Good Life of Murray N. Rothbard" at http://mises.org/media/2824/] Rothbard was an atheist, but his wife was religious, but Rothbard was not militantly atheist, so he didn't mind. But a certain famous, very militantly atheist [viz. Ayn Rand] told Rothbard that he had better divorce his wife and marry a more 'rational' wife. Anyway, this same famous atheist accused Rothbard of plagiarizing her, when in fact the ideas that Rothbard had allegedly stolen from her, were in fact commonplaces. Well, Rothbard sent his friend Ralph Raico to the library to find some references to these same ideas that predated her, just to prove the ideas weren't hers at all, and to make it fun, Raico went out of his way to make sure all the references he found were by Catholic theologians, just to poke fun at her, the militant atheist.
But it is obvious that her behavior was not the ideal way to regard ideas and their propagation. She was engaging in what economists call 'rent-seeking', in which one seeks to acquire unjust and undeserved profit off the work of others. This Purim, we read in the book of Esther that 'Esther told the king in Mordechai's name', and Pirkei Avot quotes this and say that anyone who cites another, brings the redemption. But why is this so? Rabbi Joseph Telushkin explains that there are two reasons for anyone to say anything: either he wants to look smart and get honor, or else he wants to improve the world with knowledge. If the former, then he will not cite his sources, but if the latter, he will. In such a world, where people spread knowledge not for personal glory but instead to improve mankind's condition - and therefore, they do cite their sources - then, Rabbi Telushkin says, we are well on our way to the redemption. This famous militant atheist, she was using knowledge to rent-seek, and not for the proper purpose which we learn in the book of Esther.