Arnold Kling  

Thou Shalt Be Leftist

Economics of Free Parking... Eternal Temptation...

Is that the 11th Commandment? My latest essay wonders if Jews have a Moses Complex

Not every misfortune that occurs in society is a replay of Pharaoh's enslavement of the Jews. The Exodus narrative can always be tried on, but it does not often fit properly. Usually, problems are more complex and systemic than a simple oppressor/oppressed narrative can describe. Sometimes, the best solution is to increase, rather than to diminish, personal responsibility. Often, government programs can exacerbate problems, with no built-in correction mechanism.

Update: Dartmouth's Meir Kohn passes along an article by Yosef Yitzhak Lifshitz arguing that Judaism does not require socialist egalitarianism.

While such a scholarly viewpoint may be valuable, it is my view that folk beliefs take on a life of their own, apart from scholarly beliefs. I would say that the Moses Complex afflicts even secular Jews (as well as non-Jews), somewhat independently of how scholars interpret Judaism.

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CATEGORIES: Economics and Culture

COMMENTS (10 to date)
Karl Smith writes:


I think you have to be aware of where you are in the social landscape.

Libertarian ideals are not strongest among educated people because more educated people support the free market. Its because fewer educated people support gay-bashing.

Said another way, uneducated people are largely divded between mainstream conservatives and populists. Libertarian doesn't get in there because being socially liberal is not even a consideration.

This is why I think we as libertarians have to be careful not to bash our liberal democrat friends too much. They are our personal friends but they are also the enemy of our larger more powerful enemy, the social conservative movement.

Mitch Oliver writes:

I find it interesting that following the Exodus, no monarch is established over Israel. Speaking from a Christian perspective, I would argue that God recognized the folly of entrusting absolute power in any one man. In 1 Samuel 8, vs 10-18 we see Samuel describing what a king would do to Israel.

Perhaps left-leaning Jews and Christians should be reminded of this.

N. writes:

It seems to me that most of the people I talk to who favor wide-scale government intervention hold a deeply rooted belief that every transaction in the marketplace is 100% zero sum (always a winner and a loser). It follows from that assumption that there can be no other relationship, without a higher power stepping in, than that of oppressor and oppressed.

I also find, that when pushed, these people express the sentiment (which is deeply heartfelt) that it is better for all of us to be equally oppressed than for some of us to win and others of us to lose. It might even more accurately be that all should lose if the alternative is that everyone win differing amounts.

I don't know what to say about that. I find no way to argue someone out of that position. I also find that there are many, many people around me (I live in New York City) who base who they are on this kind of "sour grapes" economics.

AJ writes:

Here's the equivalent issue in WASP's:

Plato vs. Aristotle. There is a huge amount of worship of Plato's view of society and life among liberals.

AJ writes:

BTW, this is one of Arnold's best essays. I've submitted it to my wife/religious editor of Dallas Morning News for reprint.

R.J. Lehmann writes:

Here's the real puzzle. Given all we know that about the cultural background of the Jewish people and the predominance of leftist beliefs, why is it that almost all libertarians of note over the past 100 years have come out of that self-same culture? Rand, Rothbard, Nozick, the Friedmans, von Mises, Szasz, Walter Block, Gary Becker, Israel Kirzner, Randy Barnett, Sheldon Richman, Richard Epstein, Nathaniel Branden, and, of course, Dr. Kling, just to bat off a few names off the top of my head. It would be difficult to come up with a similarly sized list of well-known libertarian gentiles.

There are libertarian/conservative ideas that fit into a "let my people go" frame. We can start with school choice and competition in health care.

James writes:


I think your question confuses two issues. There are lots of Jewish people in economics, despite the small number of Jews in the world. I have no idea why.

Among both the Jews and the gentiles in econ, only a small minority take price theory seriously when it comes to policy analysis. The reasons for this are plain as day; if price theory is true, many cherished plans for government intervention will never work.

Carl Shulman writes:

American Jews have higher IQs and education levels, which are correlated with a better understanding of economics. Likewise, high-IQ people tend to seek out systematic ideologies, and libertarianism is right up there with utilitarianism in terms of systematization.

On the social conservative side, Jews share the distaste for religion, cosmopolitanism, and control of sex (abortion, homosexuality, etc) with other intellectuals, but this is exacerbated by religious differences: it is harder for a secular Jew to identify with Christian fundamentalists as coalition partners than it is for an atheist from a Christian family. Also, social conservatism on immmigration is blocked by the sense of being an ethnic minority and an obsession with the refusal of immigrants from Nazi Germany.

P.S. (I speak as a 'Member of the Tribe')

Different River writes:

It's not entirely on-point, but Normal Podhoretz once wrote an article in a similar vein in which he said that American Jews act politically as if Moses had come dome from Mt. Sinai with only two commandments -- gay rights, and abortion on demand.

To Karl Smith: I'd just like to point out that there are some -- in fact, many -- people with libertarian beliefs who are also social conservatives. For example, I hold the highly libertarian belief that it's not proper for the government to force my 8-year-old to go to a public school and hear how she ought to use a condom as soon as possible.

In fact, among people I know (arguably not a random sample), it's the social conservatives who are most likely to support limited government. In an era in which most of the government institutions (not elected officials, but institutions like public schools and bureaucratic agencies) are dominated by social liberals, this should not surprise anyone.

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