I plucked the latest Economist from my mailbox and thought I’d picked up the Watchtower by mistake. “World on the Edge” read the headline. Sure enough, on the cover was a silhouetted figure peering fearfully over the edge into the chasm below. And the edge was crumbling. Such illustrations have become commonplace in these recent days of financial meltdown.
A week or two ago, news anchor Suzie Gherow asked her economist guest (alas, I forgot his name) if he could come up with a moral to the unfolding crisis. He observed that many peoples worldwide look to the American economic system as a model to admire and emulate. He wondered if they would still do that "when they see how badly we’ve behaved.” As if responding to cue, Vladimir Putin, of all people, recently accused: “Everything happening now in the economic and financial sphere began in the United States. This is not the irresponsibility of specific individuals but the irresponsibility of the system that claims leadership.” I read this in an on-line newspaper. It included comments. Most bloggers agreed with Putin.
At any rate, government leaders are scrambling to come up with innovative solutions, doing things that not long ago would have been unthinkable…..countries assuming their banks’ bad debts, even nationalizing the banks….a partial nationalization here in the U.S, which is close to heresy in the land of free enterprise. One almost thinks of those verses that tell how mountains and hills during the “last days” would melt. The very institutions that seem to us as solid and unshakable as the literal mountains seemed to ancient peoples, are indeed shaking quickly.
In such a climate, it becomes crucial to assign blame. With that in mind, the appropriate committee of Congress (the House Committee on Government Reform) recently grilled Lehman Brothers ex-CEO Dick Fuld. For the most part Mr. Fuld outmaneuvered them. There’s a lot of Congressmen on that committee, and they all had to have their crack at him, so they weren’t allotted too much time apiece. Mr. Fuld succeeded in running out the clock…..repeating questions aloud, questioning premises, answering slowly and deliberately. Plus, there were not a few windbags among those politicians who wasted much of their time formulating their questions….you know, with prefaces and addendums and things, the way politicians like to do. Too, the Reprentatives were so wrapped up in their own questions that they didn't listen to answers of other people's questions. Thus, there was much repetition.
While Mr. Fuld was being interviewed, CNBC reported that a sore Lehman employee had socked him in the kisser some days ago while he was working out at the company gym!….a move he apparently did not outmaneuver.
Depending upon who you listen to, Mr. Fuld conveyed genuine remorse for Lehman’s demise. On the matter of compensation, however, he didn’t budge an inch. Though he made tens of millions of dollars in the very year his company tanked, that was proper remuneration, he insisted. After all, he pointed out, had the company remained solvent, he would have made much more. But this didn’t sit too well with the general public. If I had a dollar for every gripe I’ve heard about “obscene profits” of the big bankers, I, too, would have obscene profits and people could gripe about me.
When the new system at last arrives…..the government from God that the Bible speaks of and that Jehovah’s Witnesses advertise……will there be “obscene profits” in the hands of a very few? If the economic system handed down to ancient Israel is any guide, the answer is no. The Jubilee provision would see to that.
Every 50th year of that ancient agrarian system was the Jubilee year. At that time, each Jew was restored to his or her original allotted land inheritance. Through an interplay of hard work and dumb luck some would have prospered in those 50 years, others would have declined, maybe to the point of becoming impoverished. Land might well have been bought or sold. But not in perpetuity. On that 50th year, all things were set as at the beginning. Thus, while one would be rewarded for one’s work and business acumen, there would never take root a permanent underclass, nor a permanent wealthy class…..a situation characteristic of most societies today.
Some aspects of the cycle repeated every 7th year. Due to debts incurred, a Jew might even sell himself into slavery to one of his more prosperous neighbors. Laws regulated against mistreatment; moreover after seven years at most, the individual was set free, and that with a gift (from the prior owner) to assist him in starting anew. Again, neither a perpetual privileged class nor a locked-in poverty class could ever take root under that God-given arrangement. Even were a man to squander every opportunity he had, the law was such that his children would still live to see equilibrium restored.
Awhile back I ran a post entitled Slavery in the Old Testament, intending to counter those critics who rail against the Bible for acknowledging and regulating slavery, rather than forbidding it. The post clarified the nature of OT slavery and, to my surprise, some commented that such slavery sounded pretty good compared to the plight of the homeless today, or even the working poor. Screecheven broke it down into figures which I will reproduce, confident he won’t mind:
“In the US minimum wage is currently $5.85 an hour. Lets suppose that you work 2 jobs; one FT and one PT. So 12 hours at that pay is $70.20 before taxes. After taxes are withheld, you have $56.87 a day left. You spend $65 (you have a cheap one) at your doctor's office. You get lucky and only spend $4 on the antibiotics that you need. You also are forced to take 3 days off from both jobs while you recover. Total cost is $239.58. That's four and a half days of pay. So if you have rent of $650 monthly, $135 monthly utilities (phone, electricity), $100 monthly food, $50 transportation costs. Now, in the above scenario, you have $200 left over every month. However, if you lose one of your jobs, suddenly you're short almost $200 monthly. What if you have a kid? 2 Jobs may not be an option and then you have to pay for daycare. Then you hear "go back to school." Yet if you have to take remedial classes to catch up, that adds to the expense (grants alone rarely cover everything). I guess the whole point of this rambling is that to overcome poverty in this world takes an astounding amount of sacrifice and will, with no guarantee of success. In fact, you also don't get real medical attention because the medical bills can pile up. I've seen and experienced the difference in medical care that you receive when you can afford to pay the bill vs not. It's actually a worse situation today…”
About a third of all those in Congress are millionaires, with a higher proportion in the Senate. Less than 1% of the general population fall into that category. It doesn’t give confidence that one might get justice from these guys, does it?….how many of them can even imagine how ordinary people live? Yet their wealth is dwarfed by that of the high-profile bankers who have lately been testifying before them….guys like Dick Fuld. A little Jubilee might work wonders today.
Of course, it could never be superimposed upon today’s society, just as Jesus said: one can’t pour new wine into old wineskins. The prevailing system wouldn’t accommodate it, few folks today have dispostions that would tolerate it. But those trained in Bible principles today should be amenable to it or whatever economic system God provides in the new order. There’s no telling to what degree, if any, God’s new system will draw from that ancient Jubilee arrangement. Nonetheless, the arrangement does offer a glimpse into Jehovah’s thinking.