Category: Economics

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Part 3: Halakhic Labor Laws

In part 3 of his Economics and Social Justice series, Rabbi Yuter addresses the topic of Jewish Labor Laws from a holistic perspective, balancing the rights and obligations of both the employer and the employee.

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law – Halakhic Labor Laws Sources (PDF)

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law – Halakhic Labor Laws

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Part 1: Free Market Ethics in Torah

Rabbi Josh Yuter begins his special lecture series on Economics and Social Justice in Judaism with an introduction to methodology and a demonstration of a free market ethos existing within the Rabbinic legal tradition. Audio and sources included.

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Part 1 – Free Market Ethics Sources (PDF)

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law- Free Market Ethics in Judaism

Who’s Selfish Now?

One of the more common critiques of Capitalism is that due to its focus on self-interested incentives that it promotes a selfish society. While there are those who object to this classification, but consider that Ayn Rand herself authored a book titled “The Virtue of Selfishness which would understandably cause some confusion. However, the irony is that in order to compete with “market forces” you actually need to put a greater focus on the “other” in order to sell your product or goods. As I hope to explain, in order to succeed in a capitalistic economy, one must have a greater appreciation for the needs of other people.

A Fair And Balanced Approach To Jewish Social Justice

A few months ago I wrote a short article for the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals’ new journal Conversations. The purpose of this journal is to promote communal dialogue on various issues facing the Jewish community. Unlike the Edah/Meorot journals, the journal is supposed to be more accessible than academic and so I was given two editorial conditions:1. keep it short and 2. no footnotes.

As longtime blog readers know, that last condition was a tough one to overcome.

At any rate, I’m posting my article “A Fair And Balanced Approach To Jewish Social Justice” and I plan on revisiting the motivations for the article at some later point.

Fun With Parsonage

I’m still looking for a place to live on the Lower East Side. The rents have really gotten out of control with the economy and many others are trying to sell. To top it off, the co-ops have fees ranging from $1,000-$1,500 just for the right to rent in that building. In fact were it not for parsonage, I’d never be able to even consider living down there.
What’s parsonage you may ask? The term originally referred to a rectory or dwelling of the priest on the premises of a church. These days it’s more associated with a tax benefit given to clergy members where housing expenses are paid with pre-tax dollars (simplified definition). Quoth the IRS:

A minister who is furnished a parsonage may exclude from income the fair rental value of the parsonage, including utilities. However, the amount excluded cannot be more than the reasonable pay for the minister’s services.

The catch is that clergy are also considered “self-employed” which means we get nailed double when it comes to social security, paying both the employee and employer side of things. However, there is one interesting loophole:

The fair rental value of a parsonage or the housing allowance is excludable from income only for income tax purposes. No exclusion applies for self-employment tax purposes. For Social Security purposes, a duly ordained, licensed or commissioned minister is self-employed…However, you can request an exemption from self-employment tax, if you are conscientiously opposed to public insurance for religious reasons.

Even if a Rabbi were to go Milton Friedman in lomdus on the IRS, I’d have to guess that most Rabbis do in fact participate in social security.
Still I’d love to hear from any Rabbi who has in fact used this exemption – and the arguments they’ve used.

Discrediting Subprime “Victims”

We recently mocked big business for outsmarting themselves in the subprime crisis, but it seems that there’s plenty of criticism to go around. Take for example, this powerful New York Times article of the subprime crisis’ impact on communities. To be sure, people are living scared and are understandably nervous about losing their homes and even treading financial water. And we can even grant that lenders have and still do engage in predatory lending practices, including student loans.
But just as we must hold big businesses accountable for their unethical practices, we must also examine the motivations of the affected individuals involved as well. Specifically, while big businesses are motivated by profit, many “victims” sought to maximize consumption with minimum immediate and therefore minimum visible cost. For example, the article reports that one person facing foreclosure, “bought her Bronx home for $535,000 with no cash down.” For many people, myself included, $535,000 is a great deal of money. To “purchase” a house for that amount entirely on credit demonstrates not just a lack of financial acumen, but the immature mentality of expectation and entitlement i.e. that desires ought to be satisfied immediately.
Worse is that people aren’t even learning from their mistakes. The article continues:

In some cases they cannot even work up the money to furnish their homes. Few customers have visited Boston Road Furniture, despite a handwritten come-on taped to the window that promises anyone can ?Get Up to $3,000 Instantly No Job No Credit Check.?

The proprietor adds:

?We need a government loan,? he said. ?This country is falling apart. We need customers. We need some help. So many ?For Sale? signs in this neighborhood. People just have to leave their homes and run.? [emphasis added]

The communal mentality is firmly entrenched in credit as a normal way of operation. True credit and financial liquidity are an essential part of economic systems, but here we have the epitome of short term financial thinking. Immediate interests are always satisfied, while the inevitable costs are simply ignored and disregarded – out of sight, out of mind.
Big businesses did take a hit for their own corporate greed to the tune of several billion dollars, and deservedly so. But while there are no doubt actual victims of the subprime crisis, there are also affected individuals who are now facing the consequences of their own materialism.
I refer all others to SNL’a helpful advice.

State Of The Unions

After weeks of posturing and threatening the Transit Worker’s Union (TWU) finally went on strike, thereby disabling New York’s public transportation system. Personally I’m not really affected by the strike. My inability to find an apartment has, for once, worked out to my advantage since my commute requires New Jersey Transit as opposed to the subway.
However, like most New Yorkers, I am thoroughly annoyed at the TWU.

Ain’t Gonna Shop On Saturday

Fark links to this BBC article about Bank Leumi developing a credit card which will not work on Shabbat.
First, I’m curious how would this apply to people traveling overseas or for Internet purchases? Does it go by Shabbat in Israel or where the purchase was made?
On a more serious note, I have no idea what the point of this is. The Orthodox don’t shop on Shabbat – or at least shouldn’t.1 Secular Jews (or clever Orthodox) will either use a different card – either from Bank Leumi or someplace else or just use cash or cheque. Certainly if the bank forces all clients to use the restrictive card, they would only increase the animosity towards the Orthodox.
Provided that the bank doesn’t force people to use the cards, this plan seems fairly innocuous. If it makes you happy, go for it – certainly no issurim are being violated by having it. However, I’m troubled by this quote: “Reports also say it may not work on any day in shops which do not honour the Sabbath.”
I have no idea how they would manage to do this from a technical perspective. The only thing I can think of is that “certain authorities” would create a blacklist and send that in to Bank Leumi. I can’t even begin to enumerate the problems with such a system (think corruption, fights over authority, payoffs, blackmailing, etc.)

1. Perhaps it’s like the content cell phones and the Orthodox can’t be trusted to be shomer Shabbat on their own such that they need external techinical restrictions to keep them on the proper path.