With the return of self-described socialists to the American political scene, some have taken to reaching for Scripture to justify their political preferences. Scott Shay, while rejecting their readings of the Bible, explains that its prescriptions can’t easily be pigeonholed into modern categories:
The Bible . . . favors partial economic redistribution and legal regulations on the economy. . . . Unlike any other sacred text of its time, the Bible commands Israelites, who were overwhelmingly farmers, to set aside part of their harvest to be gathered by the poor, and to pay compulsory taxes, which were then redistributed to support the less fortunate. If a farmer did not follow these biblical laws, his crops were not kosher for buying or eating.
Further, the Bible required that farmers leave their land fallow every seventh year and allow anyone to harvest from it. [It also] required the release in the sabbatical year of Jews who had sold themselves into slavery to pay debts. But in a most astonishing directive to prohibit income inequality, the Bible instituted the return of all purchased properties to their original families every 50th year (the jubilee), so that everyone would have a more or less equal share. This provision applied to the king as well.
However, . . . the Bible [simultaneously] advocates a free market. The jubilee was not only a law of economic redistribution. It is more fundamentally a law against monopoly. Indeed, the jubilee ensured that Israelites would remain independent farmers, privately owning the means of production. Within this framework, farmers, like the patriarchs [of Genesis], took business initiatives, entered into contracts, and had no qualms about making money. In some cases, for example, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and some talmudic rabbis accumulated [considerable] wealth.
Perhaps most importantly, writes Shay, the Bible cautions that government leaders
are always susceptible of corruption, as recent socialist economies, such as Venezuela’s, have tragically shown. Even the wise King Solomon became corrupted by too much wealth and power. And sadly, today’s leaders are no King Solomons.