01 Oct 2017

The Year of Jubilee and Human Capital

Religious 4 Comments

My study partner and I are going over Leviticus 25 and we are reading Matthew Henry’s (full) commentary. In the year of Jubilee (which happens every 7 cycles of 7 years, so scholars say it is either every 49 or 50 years), all property returns to the family. In other words, no matter how foolishly you conduct your financial affairs, if you’re a child of Israel you can’t permanently alienate your birthright.

There’s obviously a ton of spiritual significance to that (and how it relates to the gospel message of salvation), but check out this commentary from Henry:

By this means it was provided, [1.] That their genealogies should be carefully preserved, which would be of use for clearing our Saviour’s pedigree. [2.] That the distinction of tribes should be kept up; for, though a man might purchase lands in another tribe, yet he could not retain them longer than till the year of jubilee, and then they would revert of course. [3.] That none should grow exorbitantly rich, by laying house to house, and field to field (Isa. 5:8), but should rather apply themselves to the cultivating of what they had than the enlarging of their possessions. The wisdom of the Roman commonwealth sometimes provided that no man should be master of above 500 acres.

Now a secular libertarian would bristle at the above; it sounds too much like Piketty. But my point is this: Given what would actually happen to the Jewish people in the coming centuries, could one argue that this institution of the Jubilee prepared them by making the most industrious Jewish people develop their human capital “intensively,” rather than acquiring large tracts of land as other nations would?

Does this institution help explain why the Jewish people seem remarkably resilient in the face of periodic diasporas?

4 Responses to “The Year of Jubilee and Human Capital”

  1. Matt M says:

    “Now a secular libertarian would bristle at the above; it sounds too much like Piketty.”

    Well, we don’t dislike Piketty for purely ideological reasons. The argument is that such policies discourage savings and investment, which are the only real drivers of economic growth and prosperity.

    That’s basically the same thing that’s going on here. You’re arguing that actually, the Jews didn’t forego investment in lieu of consumption, but rather, they invested in “human capital” rather than in assets and land. Except “human capital” is a perishable resource. Once you’re dead, it’s gone, and you can’t pass it on to your children. So it doesn’t seem like the best asset to invest in, if you will…

    Perhaps the argument is “If you’re a people who is regularly going to be oppressed and have people beat you up and steal all your stuff anyway then you might as well invest in your skills (which can’t be stolen), which I guess is true. But maybe if they invested in more hard assets they would have been able to resist being pushed around in the first place?

    • Darien says:

      Setting divine intervention to the side, no investment in hard assets was going to enable tiny Israel to “resist being pushed around” by the Assyrian juggernaut.

      • Matt M says:

        Maybe with a different set of policies and values, they would have been the juggernaut.

  2. Harold says:

    So are you saying that interventions in the market are OK if they are actually inspired by one who knows everything rather than one who thinks they know everything?

    There is a bigger picture, it’s not all the economy.

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