There are a variety of statistics that many people point to as deeply disturbing within the American economy. These include the terrifying level of consumer debt, the widening gap between the rich and poor (the disolution of the middle class), and the generational nature of poverty, the gap between property owners and renters and of course, the subprime mortgage crisis.
I understand that some of these might be disputed. A few might appear to be getting better when viewed in the short term. But I think most reasonable people would agree that most of the above are significant problems.
I’ve always been of the opinion that God agrees. What occured to me recently was that he had plans to fight these issues.
In Leviticus 25 (and a few other places, including Jesus description of what he’s doing on Earth) we get a description of the Jubilee Year.
The background to the idea of the Jubilee Year is that every seven years the land in Israel gets a Sabbath, a year of rest. After seven of these sabbath years (in other words, every fifty years) the people of Israel were told to celebrate a Jubilee.
Furthermore, God sets up this relationship between His people and the land itself at the very beginning of the time in the promised land. Land is not an object that can be bought and sold forever. The people of Israel are reminded that they are temporary residents. They can lease thier heriditary lands for durations of time, but they don’t have the right to sell them forever. (Interestingly, this seems to only apply to farm land; most of them do seem to have the right to permanently transfer property within the walled cities.)
Here’s the remarkable thing: every fifty years, all debts are cancelled. Every fifty years, property owners return to their inherited lands. Every fifty years, those Hebrews who sold themselves into slavery are freed.
God calls out those who are succesful to take care of the others between years of jubilee. A profit is not to be made on food sold to the starving. People should buy relatives out of slavery even between years of jubilee.
These facts have all sorts of fascinating implication on Jesus’ life and mission. Maybe I’ll consider these in some other post.
The thing I’m thinking about today is the wisdom of this economic system; how many problems it would avoid. Consider the problems listed above:
#1) The terrifying level of consumer debt… The most surface result of jubilee years would be that consumer debt would be cancelled. Perhaps more importantly, though, the credit industries, aware of the existence of jubilee years, would lose the incentive to set up systems where people pay the interest on fairly small purchases for nearly endless periods of time.
#2) The widening gap between the rich and poor… Several important aspects of this gap would be flattened twice a century.
#3) the generational nature of poverty… With the knowledge that the jubilee approaches, people would not feel trapped by their lives. With the periodic chances to start over, people would feel that they had a real shot.
#4) the gap between owners and renters: In some sense, everybody owns… in a different sense, nobody does.
#5) The subprime mortgage crisis would not be an issue for fairly self-explanatary reasons. Basically, a combination of reasons #1 and #4 listed above.
I am not saying that it’s feasible to simply tack the biblical practice of jubilee years onto our economic system. (Though it’s been suggested that we apply this to debt in the developing world and this is an intruiging idea.) I am saying that God had it figured out.
One of the critical debates between extremes in today’s political divide is around the issue of accountabality and freedom. Conservatives say that we need to hold individuals accountable and free them up to make their own decisions. Progressives (liberals, whatever you want to call them) observe that corporate accountabality (in both senses of the word “corporate”) is a bigger concern and freedom includes freedom of opportunity, freedom from hunger, etc..
God’s solution honors both aspects of this important dynamic.
Individuals are freed to risk and rewarded by risking in such a system. They reap the rewards or consequences of hard work, efficiency, creativity, etc.
Safety nets, though, are created. One person’s sloth, foolishness, etc, does not impact the next several generations to come. The least among us are protected.