Donate

An Economic Lesson from the Biblical Joseph, by Way of Friedrich Hayek

Dec. 15 2017

In this week’s Torah reading, Joseph becomes the second most powerful man in Egypt after successfully interpreting Pharaoh’s dream as a portent of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Tasked with preparing the country for the lean years, Joseph acquires enough surplus grain during the fat ones to feed the people for the duration of the famine. In what happens next, Jonathan Sacks finds an important insight about economics and freedom:

When the people ran out of money during the lean years, Joseph told them to trade their livestock. When this too ran out, he arranged for them to sell their land to Pharaoh with the sole exception of the land belonging to the priests. The Egyptians were now, in essence, Pharaoh’s serfs, paying him a tax of 20 percent of their produce each year [to rent back the land that they had sold].

This nationalization of livestock, labor, and land meant that power was now concentrated in the hands of Pharaoh, and the people themselves reduced to serfdom. Both of these developments would eventually be used against Joseph’s own people, when a new Pharaoh arose and enslaved the Israelites. It cannot be by accident that the Torah twice uses about the Egyptians the same phrase it will later use about the Israelites: avadim l’faro: they have become “Pharaoh’s slaves” (Genesis 47:19, 25). There is already here a hint that too much economic power in the hands of the state leads to what [the great Anglo-Austrian economist] Friedrich Hayek called “the road to serfdom” and the eclipse of liberty.

Read more at Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

More about: Economics, F. A. Hayek, Hebrew Bible, Joseph, Religion & Holidays

Why Cutting U.S. Funding for Palestinian “Refugees” Is the Right Move

Jan. 22 2018

Last week the Trump administration announced that it is withholding some of America’s annual contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the organization tasked with providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. To explain why this decision was correct, Elliott Abrams compares UNRWA with the agency run by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), which provides humanitarian aid to refugees who are not Palestinian:

One of [UNHCR’s] core missions is “ending statelessness.” [By contrast, UNRWA’s] mission appears to be “never ending statelessness.” A phrase such as “ending statelessness” would be anathema and is found nowhere on its website. Since 1950, UNHCR has tried to place refugees in permanent new situations, while since 1950 UNRWA has with its staff of 30,000 “helped” over 5 million Palestinian “refugees” to remain “refugees.” . . . UNRWA has three times as large a staff as UNHCR—but helps far fewer people than the 17 million refugees UNHCR tries to assist. . . .

The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA is not primarily financial. The United States is an enormously generous donor to UNHCR, providing just under 40 percent of its budget. I hope we maintain that level of funding. . . . The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA instead rests on two pillars. The first is that UNRWA’s activities repeatedly give rise to concern that it has too many connections to Hamas and to rejectionist ideology. . . .

But even if those flaws were corrected, this would not solve the second and more fundamental problem with UNRWA—which is that it will perpetuate the Palestinian “refugee” problem forever rather than helping to solve it. . . . [T]hat the sole group of refugees whom the UN keeps enlarging is Palestinian, and that the only way to remedy this under UN definitions would be to eliminate the state of Israel or have 5 million Palestinian “refugees” move there should simply be unacceptable. . . .

Perpetuating and enlarging the Palestinian “refugee” crisis has harmed Israel and it has certainly harmed Palestinians. Keeping their grievances alive may have served anti-Israel political ends, but it has brought peace no closer and it has helped prevent generations of Palestinians from leading normal lives. That archipelago of displaced-persons and refugee camps that once dotted Europe [in the aftermath of World War II] is long gone now, and the descendants of those who tragically lived in those camps now lead productive and fruitful lives in many countries. One can only wish such a fate for Palestinian refugee camps and for Palestinians. More money for UNRWA won’t solve anything.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Israel & Zionism, Palestinians, Refugees, U.S. Foreign policy, UNRWA