Despite the Claims of Anti-Semites, Financiers Play a Useful and Productive Role in Society

April 3 2023

From the early Middle Ages until the present day, Jews have been associated with banking and financing—often because they played an outsized role in this economic sector. The best-known explanation blames the Christian prohibition on usury, but more recent research has pointed to the advantages and necessities of being a diasporic people, the requirements of Jewish religious life, Jewish involvement in trade during the transition to cash-based economies, and Gentile governments’ prohibitions on Jews engaging in other areas of economic activity. Whatever the causes, the result was the intertwining of anti-Semitism with the belief—rooted in both classical sources and certain readings of the Hebrew Bible itself—that finance and moneylending are intrinsically corrupt.

Drawing on such sources as Theodor Dreiser’s 1912 novel The Financier and Aristotle’s observation that usury is justly “the most hated” of occupations, James E. Hartley examines this attitude toward economics and exposes its intellectual poverty:

Underneath [contemporary] discussion about wealth distribution is an often-unstated belief that high levels of wealth were not earned in an appropriate manner. One avenue of this discontent is the latent belief that merchant activity is immoral, violating the principle that goods should always sell for their “just price.” The belief that a good has an inherently just price has vanished, but the implications of that belief still linger a bit.

Dreiser paints a bleak picture of finance. Yet, on closer inspection, it is hard to see what is so particularly immoral about bankers. For one thing, other professions can lead to riches, too: why does a rich banker’s wealth seem more inappropriately acquired than a rich computer programmer’s, for example?

Furthermore, everyone benefits from banking and finance. Some people want to save and others want to borrow, and the financier comes along to help the savers and borrowers find each other. There are enormous cost advantages to their work. Suppose you want to buy a house and need to borrow a few hundred thousand dollars. To whom would you go? Your friends or your family? If you asked complete strangers, would they lend to you? At the very moment you realize you would never be able to buy a house, a friendly financier comes along and lends you funds borrowed from people you have never seen. The same thing happens for a business that wants to expand its operations or someone who wants to go to college or buy a car. Financiers seem so useful. So why such hatred for the ones that are successful?

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Anti-Semitism, Aristotle, Economics, Finance, Jewish history


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship