This is just another joke about economists. Suppose you just have found a tenner on the street. You are very excited about this windfall so you feel the urge to tell the next person you meet about your find. Now suppose that this person happens to be an economist. And you say: “I just found a tenner on the street.” What do you think the economist will reply? He or she would probably say: “That’s impossible. If there really was a tenner on the street then someone would have picked it up already.”
“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” is another saying that means more or less the same. Of course there are people who get a lunch for free but in that case someone else has to pay for it, just like someone else has paid for the tenner. According to economics it is impossible to get money for free, and if it is possible then someone will take it as soon as it is there, so there is no money for free for long. But why is this important? If a government makes a law it should not ignore this effect in markets.
Economists call it arbitrage
Assume that gold costs € 50 per gram in France and € 40 per gram in Germany. What will happen? There is money to be made by buying gold in Germany and selling it in France. Hence demand for gold in Germany will go up as will supply in France. According to the law of supply and demand, the price goes up when demand increases and the price goes down when supply increases, so the price in Germany goes up and the price in France goes down until the price is the same in both countries. Economists call this arbitrage
Smuggling is more or less the same. Cigarettes are more expensive in the United Kingdom than in the rest of Europe. There is money to be made by smuggling cigarettes into the United Kingdom and selling them there illegally. The price difference promotes the smuggling. If a government introduces legislation that affects the price of goods and services it should take into account that their measures can illicit smuggling and black markets. The difference between arbitrage and smuggling is that arbitrage is legal.
That’s also why it is so hard to end smuggling. If cocaine costs € 10 per gram in Colombia and € 70 per gram in the United States, there is a lot of money to be made in the trade. That’s why the War on Drugs is a failure and why there is so much violence in South America. It may be better to regulate lesser harmful drugs like canabis in the way it is done with alcohol and cigarettes. The use of harmful drugs could be seen as a medical issue and addicts could be helped rather than left on the streets. It was also a reason to deregulate financial markets. It would be hard to end gold smuggle if there are price differences between countries.
The essence of trade
A tenner is more likely to be found in places where others don’t look. That’s why Wall Street firms hire the brightest minds on the planet to find these places. For instance, Apple stock may be for sale for € 150 in Australia while in Germany the stock is doing € 151. And you must be faster than everyone else once there is a tenner on the street if you want to be the one who picks it up. Hence, Wall Street firms pay huge sums of money to have the fastest computers and networks.
So once a tenner falls out of your pocket, Wall Street has already picked it up long before it hits the street. They may even look inside your pocket and pick the tenner before it falls. So if you try to sell your Apple stock for € 150 and someone else is willing to pay € 151, Wall Street banks with their fast computers and networks snatch away the stock you offer for € 150 and immediately sell it to the other person for € 151.
You can call this theft but it is the essence of trade. The ancient Greeks already knew this. Their god for the traders was also the god for the thieves. Trade sometimes coincides with questionable ethics and the difference between trade and theft is sometimes obscure. But trade is useful. It performs the following functions in society:
Goods are produced in one place and consumed elsewhere so trade bridges distance.
Goods are produced first and consumed later so trade bridges time.
Goods are produced in certain quantities and demanded in other quantities so trade matches volume.
Trade is about information. A successful trader has better or more timely information. For instance, if you know that a product is successful before others know it, you can buy the stock of the corporation making the product before others do and make a profit by buying the stock cheap and selling it at a higher price. Financial markets are riddled with schemes like that. A way to combat theft disguised as trade is to make markets more transparent, which more or less means that everyone can have the same information at the same time, which more or less means that there will never be a tenner on the street just like the economist says.
Tenners can be found on other places too. If the interest rate in one country is lower than in another country, you can make a profit by borrowing money in the first country lending it in the second country. Economists call this a carry trade. You might expect that like the price of gold, interest rates would converge, but that doesn’t always happen because most countries have their own currency. For instance, interest rates in Japan have been near zero for decades while they were higher in the rest of the world, so there was a massive borrowing of Japanese yen. These yen were exchanged into other currencies and lent at higher interest rates.
It is attractive to borrow yen at 1% and lend dollars at 5% and pocket the difference. Normally this difference would not exist for long because the interest rate in yen would rise because of the demand for borrowing in yen. But the Japanese government didn’t allow this to happen. The central bank kept on lending yen at 1% because the Japanese economy was slow and there was no inflation. The Japanese government didn’t like the yen to rise because that would hurt their exports so they allowed it to happen. The carry trade has been very profitable for bankers around the world for nearly two decades. In a sense the Japanese central bank was throwing away massive amounts of money, but not on the street.
Throwing money at the banks
Government and central bank interventions in the markets like setting interest rates have undesired side-effects. Central banks are throwing money around and much of it ends up in the pockets of bankers. Somehow this appears to be necessary. That is because most money is debt created by banks. On this debt interest must be paid. So if you borrow € 100 and the interest rate is 5% you have to return € 105 after a year. But where does the extra € 5 come from? Here are the options:
Someone else is going to borrow € 105 so you can repay you loan.
You are not going to repay your loan (in full).
The government is going to borrow the extra € 5.
The central bank prints the € 5 out of thin air.
Usually these things happen at the same time. If people do not borrow enough, other people can’t repay their loans, banks go bankrupt and a lot of people lose their money, so governments step in and borrow. And if no-one is willig to lend to the government anymore, central banks create money out of thin air. Letting things crash isn’t an option. That could result in an economic depression. And an economic depression is very, very bad.
The prospect of a an economic depression scares the hell out of central bankers. And so they are throwing money at banks to fix any serious shortfall that might occur, usually before it materialises. The extra € 5 has to come from somewhere. So if no-one goes into debt to pay for the interest then the central bank feels obliged to create the € 5 out of nothing. That’s why central banks are called the lenders of last resort. They exist to save the economy from the banks and their scheme of usury and in doing so they save the banks and their scheme of usury. On the bright side, ending usury might solve these problems, perhaps once and for all.
Featured image: A tenner on the street. Free Shutterstock image from Blackday.
Our greatest challenge at present is dealing with the limits of the planet. The second greatest challenge is to provide for an acceptable standard of living for everyone. The third may be reducing differences in income and power. To a large extent these are economic questions. The order is important. For instance, what’s the point of achieving a higher standard of living when our planet is destroyed in the process? And it may be good to reduce differences in income and power but not if everyone ends up poorer.
New technologies can make these goals easier to attain. Information technology and the Internet made it possible for people everywhere around the globe to connect and to work together. This created jobs for millions of people in countries like India and China and it provided them with a better standard of living. Imagine nuclear fusion becoming available and energy becoming really cheap. That could halt climate change and make our lives easier. But we don’t know what kinds of technology there will be in the future.
The challenges we face are of an economic nature so a model of the economy can be helpful. Economics is about deciding for what we use the limited means we have and for whom. The distinction between economics and politics is not always clear because economic choices are often of a political nature. Even when you believe that everything should be left to markets then this is a political opinion.
The economist Kate Raworth came up with a model called doughnut economy. Her model can be used to assess the performance of an economy by the extent to which the needs of people are met without overshooting Earth’s limits.1 Assessing is not the real challenge here. Making it work is. Raworth did some suggestions but this model outlines a comprehensive global solution.
Much of economics is drawn from experience. Often from experience supposed economic laws were formulated. The supposed laws don’t always work so we need imagination too. Experience may be a good guide to predict human behaviour and it can help us to see how far we can make our imagination become reality.
We can’t continue to live like we do. New technologies alone will probably not save us. The changes we need most likely are a shock for most people, except the poorest. On the bright side there is the 20/80 rule. It states that if you set your priorities right, you can achieve 80% of what’s possible with 20% of the effort needed to achieve the 100%. So if we stop the 20% most resource consuming and polluting non-essential activities then we might achieve 80% of what we can possibly achieve. That may be enough so life may still be acceptable in the future.
This plan contains ideas that ignore political borders like combining environmentalism with supply-side economics. This is a comprehensive solution. People may take their pickings based on their political views but you can’t cherry pick and expect it to work. This plan doesn’t include specific proposals like building windmills nor does it dwell on sustainable development goals. It is an economic model only.
This model gives a general outline as to how to deal with the challenges using underlying economic mechanisms. Many issues have to be resolved along the way, for instance mitigating the consequences for those who suffer the most. In short the model is:
The limits of our planet should dictate economics. That is just plain survival. Everything else should be of a secondary nature.
Ending poverty should be the second goal in economic thinking. That is our moral obligation. All other goals come after that.
People organise themselves in different ways. Organisational flexibility is the feature that made humans so successful as a species.
Setting these limits will bring severe dislocations in the economy that have to be addressed in the short term as well in the longer term.
Money is power. Ignoring money and the profit motive won’t produce acceptable outcomes. Still, it may be possible to reduce the power associated with money.
The economy has a short-term bias. An important reason is interest. Negative interest rates can lengthen the time horizon of investment decisions.
Capital represents wealth. Capital can help to make the economy sustainable and to end poverty. Destroying capital usually is not a wise course of action.
It is probably easier to build the required capital via investment than via taxation as most people love to invest but hate to pay taxes.
It may be better not to tax capital but to tax conspicuous consumption of the wealthy instead and to ban harmful activities if that is feasible.
Caring for our planet should be central in economic thinking. In traditional economics the consequences for the planet are delegated to a marginal role. The approach so far has been that products and services can have hidden costs like the usage of scarce resources and pollution. The proposed solution is that bureaucrats calculate these costs and tax harmful products to the point that their price reflects their true cost.
The government is supposed to use the proceeds from these taxes to repair the damage done, which often doesn’t happen. Still these taxes increase the price of harmful products so people can afford fewer of them. That may help but it is a proverbial drop-in-the-bucket. Economic growth is exponential so measures to reduce resource consumption or pollution are overtaken by the growth of production and consumption.
It is hard to calculate the true cost of products and services. Another problem is that green solutions use scarce resources too. To build a windmill energy is needed, which often comes from non-renewable resources like fossil fuels. Subsidising these solutions can be inefficient. A better way out may be setting hard limits on resource consumption and pollution. That could allocate resources more efficiently and set higher rewards on solutions that really contribute to a sustainable future.
Ending poverty is not always an explicitly stated goal of economics but economics is about making the best use of limited resources. Economic thinking can help to reduce poverty. Capitalism can create wealth efficiently but doesn’t distribute it equally. An important obstacle is interest rates being limited to the downside. Negative interest rates can help to reduce poverty but poor people are often poor for other reasons too, for instance a lack of opportunities or their own behaviour.
The political economy describes how humans organise themselves. Humans are social animals that can cooperate on a large scale in a flexible way. It made humans the dominant species on the planet. There are three major forms of human organisation:
Traditionally humans lived in communities and villages where people help each other. They contributed to their community and expected their community to care for them. Money hardly played a role and trade with the outside world was often barter. People were born into a community and it was difficult to leave. Communities are still important in modern societies but leaving is easier. Many communities are communities of choice that you can join and leave as you like. These are often based on shared interests, for instance a soccer club or a message board on the Internet.2
Governments set the rules in societies and enforce them, often with the consent of the citizens. They provide public services that markets do not provide efficiently or in an acceptable manner. The organising agent is money too, in this case via taxes and government expenditures on public services. Governments can think ahead but they are less flexible. The limits of the planet aren’t flexible either so it may be a task for governments to enforce them.
Dealing with the consequences
The flexibility of the ways in which we humans organise ourselves allows us to set limits on a global scale and let governments, businesses and communities all over the world deal with them and reorganise themselves accordingly. These limits must be set from the top down like a dictate because the size of the planet can’t be changed. Being too flexible on this issue can be a greater mistake than not being flexible enough.
This requires a global authority. If adequate measures are taken, severe dislocations in the economy can be expected. For instance, if recreational air travel is to be ended, that will affect poor countries depending on tourism. The same is true for people working for businesses that use scarce resources produce non-essential goods and services. Millions of people will lose their jobs and their means of existence.
In the short run they have to be helped out with food and money. In the longer term people, communities, businesses and countries must adapt to the new reality. Multinational corporations may have to relocate jobs to areas that have little to offer to international markets. Ideally everyone has a useful role in society and feels secure but the economy requires a flexible labour market.
Money makes the world go round
Humans have social needs and varying motivations but most people are motivated by money, at least to some extent. Even when people are not motivated by money, those who are often determine what happens. That is because money represents power. Reforming the economy based on ideals and moral values will have little effect if money and financial markets are ignored. We need the goods and services money can buy.
People can be motivated by their jobs but most people work to make a living. Money plays an important role in this process. If you are not rewarded for doing your job well that can demoralise you, most notably if others receive the same reward for doing a poor job. A great experiment called the Soviet Union has proven that beyond reasonable doubt. Markets can help to eliminate businesses that are useless or inefficient.
Sadly the amount of money individuals acquire doesn’t always represent their merits for other people and society. The politically connected can enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers. Business owners can exploit labourers and enrich themselves by moving jobs to low wage countries. And criminals can become very rich too.
Rich people can buy the respect and cooperation of others. They can make others do what they want them to do. This comes with social status. People like you when you are rich because they hope to benefit from your spending. Social status also comes from the products you can afford. Differences in power and social status can lead to social instability, most notably when many are poor and the rich didn’t deserve their wealth.
It is easier to finance a great endeavours like making the economy sustainable and ending poverty from investments than from taxation because nobody wants to pay taxes but everybody is happy to invest. People may work hard to build some capital for themselves through savings and investment but they won’t work so hard to pay taxes.
This was the secret of the success of the European empires that conquered the world. England, France, Spain and the Netherlands were much poorer and smaller than China, India or the Ottoman Empire, but they didn’t finance their conquests with taxation, but with investment capita. European conquerors took loans from banks and investors to buy ships, cannons, and to pay soldiers. Profits from the new trade routes and colonies enabled them to repay the loans and build trust so they could receive more credit next time.2
Reducing the power associated with money is possible. For instance, if there is a tax on currency, interest rates can go below zero, and owners of money can’t demand interest when there is a capital surplus and positive interest rates aren’t beneficial to the economy. Redistributing wealth via wealth taxes may reduce differences in wealth and power but it can also lead to capital destruction via higher interest rates.
Capitalists save and invest while ordinary people borrow and spend. Wealth taxes divert money from investment to consumption so interest rates may rise and the effect may be a reduction of capital rather than more tax income. And it is consumption that harms the planet. Wealth taxes can be useful but they aren’t part of the solution. It may be better to reduce the consumption of the wealthy instead as they often consume the most.
This would reduce the privileges attached to wealth as it reduces the options for the wealthy to use their riches. At the same time it allows capital to be allocated via markets so that efficiency considerations apply. Hence, more investment capital may become available and the excess may be transferred to governments, people and businesses via negative interest rates.
In other words, it may be smarter to ‘milk the capital of the rich’ by giving the rich fewer options to spend their wealth than to tax their wealth. In this way their capital may grow to the possible maximum and interest rates go lower to the benefit of everyone.
In the neo-liberal era government spending was constrained by interest payments. The public sector was neglected. The price paid was often poor health care, bad roads or an overstretched police force. Once interest rates are negative, we may enter an era of abundance, and interest payments may be added to government budgets. This is to be expected when resources are diverted away from the consumption of the rich.
I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now.
– Queen, I want it all
These words of Queen express the mindset behind an economic system that encourages people to buy as much stuff as possible. More is preferred to less and now is preferred to tomorrow. If we stop buying stuff, or even when we buy less, businesses go bankrupt, people become unemployed, debts can’t be repaid and money becomes worthless. And so there is a quest for economic growth that’s killing us.
Economics teaches that our needs and wants exceed the available goods and services and that we always want more. This is called scarcity. Economics also teaches us that we want stuff sooner rather than later. This is called time preference. And so we must be encouraged to save for the investments needed to make more stuff by promising us more stuff in the future. And so there must be interest, economics teaches us.
To be fair, economics goes beyond this simple caricature, but the short-term bias caused by the belief in scarcity, time preference and positive interest rates, is still everywhere in economic thinking, and also in our thinking because we are influenced by economics. The existence of negative interest rates signals that the basic assumptions underlying economics may not be correct. People keep on saving without the promise of more stuff in the future. And that is a good sign.
Our way of living has to change in a fundamental way. We need to recycle more, buy second hand stuff and forego frivolous consumption. In the future employment may come from addressing needs in society. For instance, former salespeople may care for the elderly. There is an abundance of capital, and if those who have enough constrain their desires, even more capital can be available to meet the challenges humanity is facing.
To make that happen we need new ideas about wealth and poverty. It may be wiser to see wealth as the amount of time we can to sustain our current standard of living. For instance, someone who owns € 50,000 in assets and needs € 10,000 per year to live off may be wealthier than someone who owns € 100,000 and needs € 50,000 per year. This also applies to humanity. The resources of the planet can be considered as our assets. On the basis of this measure we are becoming poorer by the day.
Interest rates are important here. They affect the time horizon of investment decisions. That is because of discounting. When investment decisions are made, this usually comes down to discounting the future income stream from the investment against the interest rate. Higher interest rates promote shorter time-horizons. This can be illustrated with an example from the Strohalm Foundation:
Suppose that a cheap house will last 33 years and costs € 200,000 to build. The yearly cost of the house will be € 6,060 (€ 200,000 divided by 33). A more expensive house costs € 400,000 but will last a hundred years. It will cost only € 4,000 per year. For € 2,060 per year less, you can build a house that lasts three times as long.
After applying for a mortgage the calculation changes. If the interest rate is 10%, the expensive house will not only cost € 4,000 per year in write-offs, but during the first year there will be an additional interest charge of € 40,000 (10% of € 400,000).
The long-lasting house now costs € 44,000 in the first year. The cheaper house now appears less expensive again. There is a yearly write off of € 6,060 but during the first year there is only € 20,000 in interest charges. Total costs for the first year are only € 26,060. Interest charges make the less durable house cheaper.3
In reality things are not that simple. The building materials of the cheap house might be recycled to build a new house. And technology changes. If cars had been built to last 100 years, most old cars would still be around. This could be a problem as old cars are more polluting and use more fuel. Nevertheless, the example shows that long-term investments can be more attractive when interest rates are lower.
The interest rate is not the cause but the consequence of the time horizons of individual borrowers and lenders in financial markets, which are people, businesses and governments. The economy doesn’t magically become sustainable because interest rates are low. Interest rates are low for a reason. If we don’t buy things we don’t need, interest rates go down. The time horizon of the economy lengthens because our economic time horizon lengthens.
Capital and wealth
The painful reality of what our wealth really is has such dramatic consequences for the economy that it is hard to foresee what a future sustainable society might look like. But capital will still represent wealth in the future. The traditional definition of capital is buildings, machines, technology and knowledge to make the products and services we use. This definition ignores the planet and that is not helping us to survive.
Only if we think of the planet Earth as our main capital and believe that we have to keep that capital in tact and that we have to sustain ourselves from the interest of this capital then economics can help us to survive. We must reduce our consumption to the point that the planet can regenerate itself. A true capitalist doesn’t consumes his or her capital either. He or she lives of the interest and saves whatever he or she can for the future.
Traditional capital can help with that. For instance, internet and video conferencing allow us to meet other people without travel. If most traffic is to disappear that would greatly reduce resource consumption and pollution but that may only happen if travel is restricted. Knowledge to make artificial meat from plants can reduce the need for fertilisers and pesticides. If we don’t have to feed livestock any more, lower yields in agriculture are acceptable. This can help to make agriculture in harmony with nature.
We may need more traditional capital in order to sustain ourselves within the limits of the planet even though much of our existing capital may prove to be worthless. For instance, if research is done to make artificial meat taste better then people will find it easier to switch. In that case factory farms may become redundant. We may need massive investments in renewable energy and recycling as well as pollution reduction. If we set limits on our resource consumption and pollution then the capital that can make us live within these limits can be profitable.
As capital represents wealth, lower interest rates can increase wealth. That is because investments must at least generate returns equal to the interest rate. If returns are lower then it makes no sense to invest as it would be better to put the money in a bank account. Hence, with lower interest rates more investments are profitable and more capital can exist. It may explain why wealthy countries often have the lowest interest rates.
The requirement of making at least the interest rate in the market has enormous consequences. A corporation that makes a product people like can go bankrupt when potential customers don’t have enough money and the corporation can’t make enough profit. In other words, if an investment in this corporation yields less than the interest rate in the market, it must fail. That’s why corporations don’t make products for poor people. There is no profit in that. Some economists think this is healthy and natural.
In a similar vein a coal fired power plant that returns 6% is considered efficient and useful while a windmill that makes 2% is seen as inefficient and wasteful at an interest rate of 4%. This logic can be suicidal because of climate change. Something is terribly wrong with this. But if investments don’t make the interest rate in the market, no-one would make them voluntarily. Nowadays windmills and solar energy are profitable because the technology has improved and interest rates have fallen.
In a market economy capital exists for profit. Capital can exist for other motives too. A community can make an encyclopedia or a software product freely available on the Internet. A government can build a road or operate a library or a hospital. But history has demonstrated that people are motivated by money and profit and that a market economy is an effective way to build capital. In order to live within the limits of the planet and to end poverty, markets may need more guidance from governments.
With lower interest rates it may be possible to make investments in ending poverty and making societies sustainable profitable so that people will make these investments voluntarily. Perhaps it is better to make a distinction between what should be done, for instance making the economy sustainable and ending poverty, and what can be done, which depends amongst others, on the interest rate. At an interest rate of 0% the windmill could be profitable and fossil fuels can be phased out. That’s why lower interest rates can be beneficial.
Indeed, there are other measures for usefulness than profitability. Perhaps the requirement to make a specific interest rate may not seem particularly useful to humankind but it can help to allocate capital more efficiently. Hence, for the benefit of humankind capital markets must continue to exist and interest rates may need to be as low as possible to generate the investment capital needed for making the economy sustainable and ending poverty.
Governments should guide this process by defining what is legal and what is not. The investment options for capitalists depend on the products and services that are legal. As the number of options are reduced, for instance by banning resource consuming non-essential consumption, the remaining alternatives can become more attractive, most notably when the excess of investment capital drives interest rates lower so that sustainable production processes with low returns become feasible.
If there is a market
Banning harmful products can elicit black markets, most notably when these products are addictive or save you from a lot of trouble or hard work and if you can use them without being noticed. It would be hard to stop the use of alcohol and drugs because people will use these products anyway. It may be easier to limit air travel as it will be difficult to fly a plane without being noticed.
Black markets and fraud are likely to arise if limits are set on the extraction of resources like fossil fuels and basic materials. The price of these resources could rise and it could be lucrative to extract more than is allowed. It might a good idea to look for places where effective control can be established. That may be on the demand side by banning or limiting certain activities or on the supply side by monitoring production.
Distortions in the markets for resources can produce losses or profits. Governments may need to take ownership of resources and compensate the owners. A government can then contract a miner to mine resources based on quota under specific regulations, and the miners can then be paid for extracting the resources. If markets become distorted by forward-looking planning then governments must intervene.
Perhaps different arrangements are possible. When interest rates are negative then future income discounted against the interest rate will have a higher net present value so it can make economic sense to keep resources in the ground.
Global competition drives down prices and it allows developing nations to build their economies too. Free trade can benefit humankind because it allows people and countries to specialise in what they do best so more and better products can be made at lower prices. Regulations aim to increase the quality of products by setting minimum standards. Regulations can favour large scale operations if they require large investments.
If the economy is to become sustainable the energy cost of producing items as well as the cost of transport may change and affect the scale of production. Regulations can stand in the way of scaling down and localising production but in many cases regulations, for instance regulations about food safety, exist for good reason. Investments to make production processes sustainable may be costly and may also favour economies of scale.
Confidence in money and trust in the financial system
Confidence is key in the capitalist economy because credit is based on confidence. The availability of investment capital comes from confidence in financial system and the economy. Actions that erode trust affect the available credit. Bank failures shatter confidence and stop the circulation of money. The Great Depression really took off after banks went bankrupt. The financial crisis of 2008 escalated once Lehman Brothers was allowed to go bankrupt.
To ensure that businesses can prosper credit must be available. A lack of trust in financial markets results in a destruction of capital. It is not a coincidence that economic crises are often preceded by a financial crisis. That’s why governments and central banks stand behind the financial system and support it at all cost. That’s why we seem to be hostage of the financial system. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Interest on money and debts makes the financial system unstable and prone to crisis because incomes fluctuate while interest payments are fixed. And because there is currency at an interest rate of zero, investors can flee to the safety of currency at no cost whenever there is some trouble. But interest rates are poised to go negative. This may be the opportunity to make the financial system more robust by charging a holding fee on currency and banning positive interest rates on money and debts.
Trust in the financial system and debts is reflected in the interest rate. If the interest rate is negative then investors prefer a certain loss to other investment alternatives. That might happen because of confidence in the currency as a store of value, for instance when inflation is non-existent. It is imperative that governments promote confidence in their currencies by limiting their primary deficits to the point that they are paid from the interest received on their debts.
Interest is the price paid for distrust so governments must be reliable and transparent to inspire confidence in financial markets. If a government is not honest to its creditors then the interest paid on its debts can rise. People like entitlements and do not like taxes so citizens may elect politicians who promise more entitlements or lower taxes. The interest rate on government debt can therefore also reflect the confidence of creditors in the citizens of a country.
A robust financial system that inspires confidence can meet the challenges that lie ahead as they will on the one hand require an unprecedented amount of capital in form of knowledge, new products and new ways of producing and distributing them, while on the other hand there will be severe shock and dislocations in the economy that only a robust financial system can withstand.
A holding fee on currency can ensure liquidity in financial markets so that the economy will not fall apart in times of economic stress. The situation in Wörgl demonstrated that even a deep depression can soon end with negative interest rates. The transformation to a sustainable economy requires an unprecedented amount of low yielding capital that may only be made profitable when interest rates are negative.
Investment guidance policies
For markets to do their job properly, capitalists should deploy their capital in the way they see fit within the options that are available. Additional measures may be needed to guide investments into desired directions like developing countries, recycling, and affordable housing. Wealthy individuals should realise they have a moral duty to make their capital contribute positively to society and the well-being of others. And even if the wealthy do not live up to their moral obligations, the laws and the financial system must channel their efforts in the right direction.
Financing the challenges of the future by investors may work better than financing them from taxes. Investors tend to chose the options that generate the most profits. In doing so they may be able to realise these goals more efficiently and generate more investment capital for the purpose. Favouring desired investments, for instance by excluding them from a wealth tax, can be a way to make them more attractive.
Products should cause as little harm as possible to the planet. Nature should be able to regenerate itself and undo the harm done. To make that possible, corporations should be responsible for the lifecycle of their products. Even when they work with contractors, the responsibility should remain with the corporation that markets a product.
During the neoliberal area businesses were often allowed to regulate themselves. This is didn’t work out well as businesses can gain an advantage from evading responsibilities in the form of reduced costs and higher profits. Governments have a responsibility to make and enforce the law. That may not be enough so journalists and activists have a duty to press businesses into sticking to the rules and governments into enforcing them.
This is an economic model meant to identify the economics to make the economy sustainable and to end poverty. There will probably be consequences that aren’t fair and they should be addressed where possible. Capital represents wealth. To make the economy sustainable we need a different view on wealth as it not being the amount of assets you currently have but the time your assets can support your lifestyle.
The planet should be seen as our main capital, not the buildings, machines, technology and knowledge to make the products and services we use. If we use more than nature can replenish, we use more than the interest of our main capital, and we become poorer as a consequence, even when the interest rate on traditional capital is positive.
To make the economy sustainable and to end poverty while maintaining an acceptable standard of living requires an unprecedented amount of traditional capital. The effort can better be financed from investments than taxes. Lower interest rates can make investments in making the economy sustainable and ending poverty more attractive.
Limiting our production and consumption will depress interest rates. Low interest rates require trust in the financial system and currencies. The financial system is based on debt, hence the integrity of debtors. A maximum interest rate of zero can improve the quality of debts. A holding fee on currency can ensure liquidity in financial markets.
Instead of spending on frivolous consumption everyone who can afford it should become a capitalist and invest in his or her own future. That can help to make the economy sustainable and to end poverty. Governments can support this process by legislation that bans harmful products and supports investments in areas that are beneficial.
Featured image: Doughnut economic model. Kate Raworth (2017).
1. Doughnut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. Kate Raworth (2017). Vermont: White River Junction.
2. Political economy. Wikipedia. [link]
3. Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.
For centuries Jews have lived as a minority in the lands of others. Their relationship with the majority has often been problematic. What to do with the Jews? It was a question asked by thinkers and leaders alike. Martin Luther and Karl Marx felt the urge to express their opinion on this matter. Adolf Hitler sought a definitive solution of the issue, which was exterminating them. Jews still are blamed for many things. A few examples:
People who oppose interest and usury often blame the Jews for it as Jews have been money lenders for centuries and many Jews are still working in finance.
Jews have taken a piece of Arab land that is now called Israel. They expelled most of the Arab inhabitants. That’s why a lot of Arabs don’t like Jews.
It is sometimes said that the Jews determine what you hear on the radio and see on television because they control the media.
Perhaps you have read that Jews cause wars and revolutions, often with a little help from the secretive Freemasons and the elusive Illuminati.
Jews have been accused of harvesting organs without consent and being involved in the illegal organ trade.
Some people believe that Jews can’t be trusted because they are more loyal to Israel than the country they live in.
The political corruption in the United States is caused by a poor political system, but the Jews seem to profit from it, so follow the money.
Same goes for poor quality Hollywood movies. The Jews did it.
And Jews can be blamed for a lot of other things too, of course not the ‘good Jews’, only the ‘evil Jews’, but it is hard to tell the difference, so don’t trust them.
This is a difficult history. Closer inspection reveals that things aren’t always what they seem. There allegedly has been a long Christian tradition of intolerance towards Jews. Only Christians were even more intolerant towards all other religions, including other versions of Christianity. Only Jews were tolerated, first because the Pope said so, and later because Jews proved to be useful for trade, tax collecting and money lending, which were activities Christians found to be morally reprehensible and didn’t like to do themselves. In fact, Christians have been exceptionally tolerant towards the Jews.
Muslims were even more tolerant. Apart from Jews they also tolerated Christians. Despite that, Christianity and Islam were amongst the most intolerant religions that ever existed. That proved to be crucial for their success. Apparently the owner of this universe didn’t provide us with ample proof of Her existence so convincing people by argument wasn’t an option. The Jews didn’t get that. They preferred to keep exclusive rights to the all-powerful creator of this universe and didn’t try to forcefully convert others.
The plight of the Jews was not much unlike that of other minorities that didn’t adapt and integrate into society. Being beaten up from time to time is the least you can expect from peasants if you are not like them. And it was often worse than that.
Between 1200 BC and 900 BC a few small nation states emerged in an area that is now covered by Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Among them were Israel and Judah. These small states appeared because Egyptian power in the area was waning. It took a few centuries before new strong powers emerged and these small states were overrun. Israel fell into the hands of the Assyrians in 720 BC. Judah was destroyed in 587 BC by the Babylonians who had taken over the Assyrian Empire.1
These small kingdoms came with a national deity to provide them with protection. Their kings may have adopted a deity to promote a sense of a nation in order to assert their authority. Yahweh was the national deity of Judah and probably also of Israel. Originally, the worship of Yahweh may not have differed much from the worship of other national deities like for instance Chemosh the god of Moab.1
After Israel and Judah had ceased to exist, their inhabitants faced an identity crisis. Their uprisings were defeated. A lot of Jews were taken into exile in Babylonia. Jewish priests then began to write down the Torah (Old Testament) to define a sense of nation around their national deity Yahweh without the need for a king or a territory. In this way the Jews became a people without the need for a land.1 Their promised land Israel or Zion remained a central pillar in their religion nonetheless.
Around 450 BC many Jews who lived in exile were allowed to return. From 164 BC there was an independent Jewish state for 100 years until the Romans conquered it. At the time of Jesus tensions were growing between the Jews and their Roman overlords. These tensions led to several uprisings between 66 AD and 136 AD. During these revolts the Jewish temple was destroyed. Over time the majority of the inhabitants of the area became Christians and later Muslims. Jews remained in scattered communities around the Mediterranean.
In ancient societies knowledge and education were reserved for the elite. The Jews introduced mass education for the people. The Torah became the pillar of their national education system. Divine knowledge, rules, and regulations were open to the public. The value of education became strongly embedded in Jewish culture.1
Nations came and went but the Jews still exist, so becoming people without the need for a land turned out to be a successful long-term survival strategy. The Jewish people are around for more than 2,500 years, while being without a homeland for nearly 2,000 years. Their religion became the basis for Christianity and Islam. As a consequence Christianity and Islam both see Judaism as a legitimate religion. Christians and Muslims allowed Jews to live in their lands, albeit as secondary citizens.2
Living together wasn’t easy. For instance, Christians blamed the Jews for killing Jesus. The Jewish high priests had accused Jesus of blasphemy as he claimed to be the Son of God. According to the Gospel the Jewish high priests and a Jewish mob demanded the crucifixion of Jesus. Also according to the Gospel, which means ‘good news’ by the way, the blood of Jesus may be on the hands of the Jews forever:
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!’3
It is written in the Gospel that Jesus’ crucifixion happened according to the plan of God as Jesus’ sacrifice allegedly was meant to take away all the sin from the world. This makes God responsible for what happened to Jesus. Whether or not Jesus died on the cross is a matter of debate as the Quran claims that his crucifixion was a ruse.
In the Middle Ages rumours spread from time to time that Jews abducted little Christian boys for their secret rituals. This is commonly known as the blood libel. So if a boy disappeared, it was often time to kill some Jews. There was no basis for these beliefs but little did people know about the Jewish religion and its practices.2 Medieval people could freak out quite easily because they lacked proper education. And so witches were burnt on the stake whenever the harvests were poor.
Many people disliked Jews or even hated them. Jews were often involved in trade and finance. These activities were often seen as reprehensible as trade and finance often coincide with questionable ethics. Some languages still reflect this. The English language has the term Jewish stock take, referring to a shopkeeper destroying his or her own shop in a self-lit fire in order to claim insurance. The Dutch language has the word ‘jodenbod’, which means Jew’s bid, to indicate a bid below the market price which people in a desperate position may be forced to accept.
After the French Revolution of 1789, Jews in Western Europe received citizenship, but in Eastern Europe, and most notably in Russia, they faced persecution and pogroms, which are violent riots that included robbery, destruction of property and sometimes killings. Around 1870 the first Jewish settlers entered Palestine. In 1896 Theodor Herzl published The Jewish State in which he claimed that the solution to The Jewish Question was a Jewish state. This marked the beginning of modern Zionism.
In 1873 the Vienna stock market crashed. The event was followed by the long recession of the late nineteenth century that lasted until 1896. It was the first global economic crisis. Economic growth was lower than previously. Anti-Semitism was on the rise in German speaking areas and France as Jewish bankers and industrialists were blamed for the situation. It was also the time when Silvio Gesell was a businessman. He experienced the poor economic conditions first-hand. It made him investigate the underlying causes.
In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the only Jewish member of the French general staff, was convicted of spying for Germany. He was rehabilitated a decade later after vigorous protests. During World War I many Jews fought for their nation states, but after the war a myth emerged in Germany, suggesting that the war was lost because of leftists, republicans and a Jewish conspiracy, which is rather ironic as the Jews had been inclined to support Germany in its fight against Russia.
In an effort to gain Jewish support for Britain during World War I, the British offered Palestine to the Jews. The Arabs already living in Palestine had no say in this, which soon led to tensions and violence. After a revolt of the Arabs between 1936 and 1939 the British restricted Jewish immigration. In 1946 Zionists started a guerrilla war against the British while large numbers of Jews were entering Palestine. Many of them were Holocaust survivors.
The Holocaust is a major trauma in the collective memory of the Jews. Nearly six million Jews were killed during World War II, most of them systematically exterminated in concentration camps and mass executions. The Holocaust vindicated the Zionists who believed that Jews can only be safe if they have a country of their own.
In 1947 the United Nations planned to divide Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs. The Arabs didn’t agree and tried to expel the Jews. The war that followed was lost by the Arabs. Many Arab Palestinians were expelled from their homes and Israel was founded. The Arabs tried to reconquer Palestine but failed due to superior Israeli intelligence and military tactics, support from European countries and the United States for Israel, and a bit of miracle.
Over time the Arab nations lost interest in attacking Israel and Israel started colonising Palestinian land. The Palestinians resisted. There have been numerous terror attacks on the Israeli military and civilians. This made Israel seal off the border with Palestine. In recent years rocket attacks from the Gaza strip were sometimes answered with Israeli incursions that killed thousands of Palestinians. Major obstacles to peace currently are the unwillingness of militant groups like Hamas to make a final peace settlement in which Israel is recognised as well as the desire of Israel to colonise Palestinian land.
Conspiracy theories range from crazy rumours to well-documented allegations. Despite being such a small people the Jews have had an enormous impact on world history. This fuels speculation. Before going into the conspiracy theories, it might be a good idea to come up with a few general explanations for the remarkable successes of the Jews:
The Jews invented mass education twenty-five centuries ago (it took twenty-four centuries before Western Europe followed suit) because the Jews came to believe that they all had to read their scriptures to discuss them in an intelligent manner.
In the past Jews were often pushed into occupations like trade and finance, which are activities that can make you rich without a lot of toil.
For centuries Jews have lived under marginal and uncertain conditions which required resourcefulness that may have become part of Jewish culture.
There might be a script running all that happens in this universe, and the Jews may be God’s chosen people after all, even though that was not always a blessing for the Jews themselves.
The conspiracy theories have done tremendous harm as they helped to make the Holocaust possible. It may nevertheless be better to view them more objectively as theories that could be reviewed against the evidence. That may require taking some emotional distance as the truth is not always pleasant.
Somehow Israel has the unconditional support of the United States. Senators and members of Congress who don’t agree face the powerful Israel Lobby, which often means that the lobby will fund the campaign of his or her opponent, so that he or she may not be re-elected. There is a joke that goes like this. Why doesn’t Israel become a state of the United States? Well, if Israel does, the country will have only two Senators. Jews have a lot of power in the United States and there is a book that claims that there is a secret Jewish plan to gain world domination.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a hoax made up by the Russian secret service around the year 1900. It subsequently became a guidebook for blaming Jews for everything. The Protocols claim that Jews form a secret cult that is conspiring to gain world dominance. Adolf Hitler believed it and so did many others like the auto maker Henry Ford. Somehow the work became a bit prophetic. That’s the irony of history, or perhaps the plan of God.
The main themes of the Protocols and related conspiracy theories are Jewish control of world finance, Jewish organisation of radical movements and Jewish manipulations of diplomacy to cause wars in which white Christians are killed. There are racist, political and religious aspects to these claims. It is sometimes argued that anti-Semites use so-called whistle words, which means that they secretly mean ‘evil Jews’ even when they don’t say that. That may sometimes be true, but once you depart from taking statements at face value, the argument soon becomes messy.
For instance, Mearsheimer and Walt investigated the power of the Israel Lobby. They claimed that if you criticise Israel in the United States you will be branded an anti-Semite, which means that you are a racist Jew-hater. Major newspapers subsequently published editorials calling their research anti-Semitic. Their book might be criticised for ignoring the pro-Israel viewpoint but that was not the aim of their research. AIPAC is the most prominent organisation in the Israel Lobby. Mearsheimer and Walt concluded:
AIPAC’s success is due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it. AIPAC makes sure that its friends get strong financial support from the myriad pro-Israel PACs. Those seen as hostile to Israel, on the other hand, can be sure that AIPAC will direct campaign contributions to their political opponents. The bottom line is that AIPAC, which is a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress. Open debate about U.S. policy towards Israel does not occur there.4
Several powerful lobbies operate in the United States, some of them represent ethnic and foreign national interests, but few attract so much attention as the Israel Lobby. So why is the Israel Lobby so powerful, visible and aggressive? There are some possible answers:
Unlike other foreign interests, the Israel Lobby has tremendous popular and financial support. Anti-Semitism led to the Holocaust, so the Israel Lobby can more easily claim the moral high ground than any other lobby.
Jews don’t feel secure because of the Holocaust and because Israel is founded on land that has been taken from the Arabs. Criticism on Israel and Zionism provokes the fear that the legitimacy of the Jewish state is at stake.
Israel is ignoring international law by colonising Palestinian land. The unconditional support of the United States helps Israel to do that. Keeping this support may require suppressing dissent.
The Israel lobby is the most powerful in the United States but it has significant influence in some other countries as well. Powerful lobbies undermine democracies, most notably when they suppress dissent, which is something most lobbies don’t do.
The Jew as usurer is a well-known theme. The Roman Catholic Church forbade Christians to charge interest to fellow Christians. During the Middle Ages Jews were excluded from a wide range of professions and were pushed into activities that were considered reprehensible. One of them was money lending. The Torah allowed Jews to charge interest to Christians. Interest is one of the least understood economic mechanisms in modern times. It can destroy people, nations and even entire civilisations. The ancient Israelites knew this and believed that interest works like the slow poison of a serpent:
Usury does not all at once destroy a man or nation with, as it were, a bloody gulp. Rather, it slowly, sometimes nearly imperceptibly, subverts the victim’s constitution until he cannot prevent the fatal consequences even though he knows what is coming.5
In the Middle Ages interest rates were high, sometimes as much as 20% to 30% annually, so the insidious nature of interest was more visible than it is nowadays. And Jews were often blamed because they were the money lenders. The persecutions of Jews were profitable for their debtors. For instance, in 1290 king Edward I expelled the Jews from England, confiscated their assets, and defaulted on the loans he had received from them.
With the advent of modern banking things changed. In the 16th century short-term interest rates dropped to around 10% per year because financial markets became more developed and efficient. Because interest rates went down, and because of the Protestant reformation, religious objections against charging interest waned. As Christians were allowed to charge interest on fellow Christians the Jewish role in money lending was reduced but it remained significant. Interest became an essential part of the capitalist economy and Western culture became ignorant about problematic nature of interest.
Jews still play a prominent role in the financial sector in the United States. Several Jews have served as chairmen of the Fed, including Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen. The apparent parasitic nature of the financial sector and the bailouts feed the conspiracy theory of Jewish usury. Real wages in the United States have hardly risen for decades but the US financial sector comprised only 10% of total non-farm business profits in 1947 but grew to 50% by 2010. Among those who profited were many Jews. While many ordinary people in the United States are struggling to make ends meet, the top 1% is doing very well. Many of them are Jews too.
Some anti-Zionists claim that Zionism equals Nazism. The idea that Jews are God’s chosen people is somewhat similar to the Nazi claim of Germans being superior people. The Nazi ideology held that Germany had the right to reclaim its lost territories. Zionists intend to reclaim the lost territories of the Jews. Zionism stresses that Jews should return to Israel while Nazism stresses that ethnicity is based on descent and homeland.
These are all common themes in nationalism, even the superiority thinking, so the parallels are not very telling. And there is at least one difference Zionism and Nazism. Even though Israel committed war crimes like most parties do in armed conflicts, Zionists did not exterminate the Palestinians or any other people so far. The situation in Israel and Palestine can be compared with apartheid in South Africa.
Some Zionists claim that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism. If the anti-Semitism is about denying Jews the right to their own state in Israel then this is reasonable as this implies expelling millions of people. But if the anti-Zionism applies to opposing the colonisation of Palestinian land in violation of international law there is no reasonable ground for such a claim. It isn’t always clear what is meant.
Arab anti-Zionism is sometimes called Islamic anti-Semitism. Before Jews migrated into Palestine there was no Islamic anti-Semitism. After Israel was founded, Jews were expelled from several Arab countries. Many Arabs and Muslims believe that Jews have the right to a state but not on land they consider their own. That is not anti-Semitism.
Islamic anti-Semitism emerged when Arab anti-Zionists took over existing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. There are tensions between Arabs and Jews living in Europe and Jews are harassed. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is often blamed for that. Only Jews living in Europe aren’t part of that conflict. They do not occupy land Arabs claim so this can be called anti-Semitism. But colonists on the West Bank are harassing Palestinians and destroying their property too. As Arabs are Semites too this can be called Jewish anti-Semitism.
If denying the Jews a homeland is reprehensible then the same is true for denying the Palestinians their own state and colonising their land. If international law still has any meaning then a peace settlement would be based on the 1967 borders. Preferably relocations are minimised, meaning that Jews can live in the Palestinian state while Palestinians can live in the Jewish state. That is possible once there is a climate of mutual respect and friendship. Sadly, hatred takes at least a generation to subside so a pragmatic solution may need to be found to bridge that period.
Control of the media and opinion
In 2012 six major corporations own 90% of the mainstream media in the United States. Most of large media corporations in the United States have Jewish CEOs and owners. Journalists are often Jewish too. Philip Weiss noted from his 30 years of experience in journalism that Jews made up the majority of the important positions in the publications he worked for. Weiss contends that this may have implications for the way the news is covered, most notably if it pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Jews feel a pressure to support Israel or at least not to betray Israel.6
On the other hand J.J. Goldberg wrote in The Forward that, although Jews do hold many prominent positions in the US media, they do not make a high priority of Jewish concerns and that Jewish Americans generally perceive the media as anti-Israel.7 That suggests that with fewer Jews in journalism not much will change about the reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the United States.
And what about the Jews dominating Hollywood? Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times mocked the efforts of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which is another part of the Israel Lobby, to misinform the American public:
I have never been so upset by a poll in my life. Only 22% of Americans now believe “the movie and television industries are pretty much run by Jews,” down from nearly 50% in 1965. The Anti-Defamation League, which released the poll results last month, sees in these numbers a victory against stereotyping. Actually, it just shows how dumb America has gotten. Jews totally run Hollywood.8
The Internet is more difficult to control. Anti-Semitic as well as anti-Zionist messages can be found on many message boards. Efforts are made to counter that with pro-Israel messages on social media using students on Israeli university campuses.9 It is part of a general and continuous public relations effort called Hasbara that some call propaganda.
In October 2007 about 300 academics issued a statement calling for academic freedom from political pressure, in particular from groups portraying themselves as defenders of Israel. In 2009, after sociology professor William Robinson sent an email to students comparing the Israeli occupation of Gaza with the Nazi-controlled Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, the ADL started a campaign to discipline him for violating the faculty code of conduct.
Linguistics professor Noam Chomsky said during an interview that the ADL had compiled a 150-page dossier on him, apparently to find information it could use against him. Chomsky told that an ADL insider sent him the file. It included conversations, correspondence and other materials.10 Chomsky said that it read like an FBI file. He further noted that:
It’s hard to nail this down in a court of law, but it’s clear they essentially have spies in classrooms who take notes and send them to the ADL and other organisations. The groups then compile dossiers they can use to condemn, attack or remove faculty members. They’re like J. Edgar Hoover’s files. It’s kind of gutter stuff.10
Causing wars and revolutions
The French revolutionaries decided that Catholics, Protestants and Jews all became full members of society. In 1797 and 1798 a French Jesuit and a Scottish physicist published two remarkably similar books. Both claimed that secret societies were undermining the social order and had started the French Revolution. Both pointed at the Freemasons and the Illuminati as the main culprits. Jews were also seen as conspirators. Much of contemporary conspiracy thinking still centres around Illuminati, Freemasons and Jews.
A more recent allegation is that Jews were behind the Russian Communist Revolution of 1917. The idea was introduced by the anti-communist forces during the Russian Civil War that followed the revolution in an effort to make use of existing anti-Semitic sentiments. The allegation was taken over the Nazis in Germany. There was a high number of Jewish Communist party leaders during the revolution. The anti-Semitism in the Russian Empire may have prompted Jews to join radical political movements.
That doesn’t explain why many Jews joined radical movements in other countries too. Milton Friedman tried to shed some light on this issue. He found that a significant part of the revolutionary anti-capitalist literature has been written by Jews and that Communist parties in many countries were run and manned to a disproportionate extent by Jews.11
Friedman didn’t believe that Jews are seeking world domination. He gave two reasons as to why Jews have been attracted to radical movements. First, the left provided the Jews with equal citizenship while the Christian right did not. Second, the stereotype that Jews are profiteers and usurers may have persuaded them to show themselves and the anti-Semites that they are not selfish and heartless, but public-spirited and idealistic.11
A group of Marxists called the Frankfurt School felt that social change using Hegel’s dialectic is possible if you are critical of your research and check how theories work out in practice. This may be correct but doing experiments with people involves serious moral issues. Social experiments can harm the fabric of society. Marxists tend to be hostile to religion and have aimed to overthrow the existing capitalist social order. After it turned out that their economic experiment wasn’t successful, Marxists switched to trying to liberate suppressed groups.
The Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory alleges that the Frankfurt School aims to undermine Western civilisation using civil rights movements, feminism, Islam, spreading LGTB propaganda, and pop-music, causing a breakdown of traditional Christian family values. The traditional values that are under attack often disdain the people that the Marxists aim to liberate. Several prominent people from the Frankfurt School were Jews so Jews are sometimes blamed for Cultural Marxism too.
Some of the recent wars in the Middle East can be attributed, at least to some extent, to the neoconservatives. Their ideology can be seen as a practical implication of The Clash of Civilisations of Samuel Huntington. Huntington stated that Western nations will lose predominance if they fail to recognise the irreconcilable nature of cultural tensions. Huntington believed that Islam is a fundamental problem for the West.12
Leo Strauss was the founder of American neoconservatism. He proposed a restoration of the vital ideas underpinning Western civilisation such as classical Greek philosophy and the Judeo-Christian heritage and he promoted faith in the moral purpose of the West. Huntington was more cynical about the moral purpose of the West as he wrote:
The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion […] but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.12
Both Huntington and Strauss were Jews while the neoconservatives are a predominantly Jewish movement. Neoconservatives advocate the promotion of democracy and the American national interest in international affairs, often by military force.
The Jewish connection, combined with the neoconservatives being preoccupied with the Middle East and Islam, gave rise to the suspicion that the wars they promoted were for the benefit of Israel. In the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Jewish neoconservatives were accused of dual loyalty. The controversy continues because of the neoconservative stance towards Iran, Israel’s main adversary. The response of the Israel Lobby was to accuse people who raised these issues of anti-Semitism.
Blood Libel 2.0
In 2009 the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet ran an article about Israeli organ harvesting with the sensationalist headline ‘Our sons are plundered of their organs’. The allegations bore some similarity to the blood libel. Dead Palestinian children had been returned to their families by the Israeli army with organs missing.13 In the 1990s skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from deceased Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners had been taken without permission.14
Organ trafficking is widespread. China, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Brazil, the Philippines, Moldavia, and Romania are among the world’s leading providers of trafficked organs. In China organs have been harvested from political prisoners. Trafficked organs are either sold domestically or exported to be transplanted into patients from the US, Europe, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and especially Israel.15 Israel faces a shortage of organ donors because Jewish religious law requires the body to be intact in burial.16
But organ trade isn’t murder. It can save lives. For poor people the choice may come down to selling a child or selling an organ. Not allowing organ sales may make their situation even more miserable. Stealing organs from the dead is reprehensible because the deceased nor the family have given permission. These practises may have existed in Israel on a wider scale even though they probably have ended by now. It is at least telling that a stolen heart may have been used in Israel’s first successful heart transplant.17
The allegiance of Jews has been a theme in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. As is the case with every minority, there is always the question of allegiance. Most minorities don’t have a lot of influence so their allegiance isn’t a big issue, but Jews have a lot of power in the United States. In his book By Way of Deception Victor Ostrovsky, a former operative for the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, claimed that the Mossad recruits helpers among the Jews outside Israel for its operations.18
One of the most well-known helpers was Jonathan Pollard. He sold a large number of classified US documents to Israel. He also sold documents to South Africa and attempted to sell documents to Pakistan. Many highly sensitive documents stolen by Pollard have been handed over to the Soviet Union, putting the lives of US intelligence assets at risk. A few other cases of Israeli espionage in the United States attracted publicity, such as the arrest of former AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman.
A New York housewife spotted five Israelis filming the attacks on the World Trade Center from a rooftop. She noted that they were already there just after the first strike had hit the Twin Towers. The Israelis were dancing and appeared to be full of joy as the World Trade Center burned and crumbled. They were arrested with $4700 in cash, foreign passports and a pair of box cutters of the type used by the hijackers. Two of them were Mossad agents. The FBI believed they were spying on Islamic extremist networks.19
The FBI interrogated them for weeks and concluded that there was no evidence of them having foreknowledge of the attacks. But the Israelis were uncooperative so it wasn’t possible to extract a lot of information out of them. Later some of these men discussed the events on an Israeli talk show. One of them said: “We come from a country that experiences terror daily. Our purpose was to document the event.” It suggests that the Mossad knew what was going to happen and that Israel didn’t inform the United States because Israel could benefit from the attacks.19
Control of the United States government
A Christian desire for returning the Jews to the Holy Land has promoted the Zionist cause. Some Christians believe that the gathering of the Jews in Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus. This is a reason for a strong support for Israel amongst Evangelical Christians. Republican candidates need their support. Jews often support Democratic candidates so that Democrats pay good attention to their Jewish voters. In this way strong support for Israel in both political parties is ensured.
The United States political system is corrupt by design. To get an office, politicians need a lot of money for their campaigns. In this way corporations and wealthy individuals can buy influence. Wealthy Jews generously donate to political campaigns. In 2006, 60% of the Democratic Party’s fundraising and 25% of that for the Republican Party’s fundraising came from Jewish-funded Political Action Committees.
Several Jews found their way into influential positions in the United States government. In 1994 the Israeli paper Ma´ariv wrote that the Clinton Administration allowed more Jews in sensitive positions than any government before. The article noted that the Jews in Clinton’s government were not a design, but that their achievements had brought them there. Jewish power in the Democratic government was huge but there were also Jews heading for top positions in the Republican Party, for example Paul Wolfowitz.20
Wolfowitz was one of the neoconservatives, a political movement whose ideology played a significant role in American policies after 11 September 2001. In 2000 he was one of the supporters of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) which promoted the removal of Saddam Hussein. After 11 September 2001, the PNAC pushed for an attack on Iraq. The security of Israel played a role in the considerations of the neoconservatives but there is little evidence that the Iraq war was principally fought for Israel.
Mearsheimer and Walt wrote that pro-Israel figures have established a commanding presence at the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and that these think tanks are all decidedly pro-Israel.4
In most cases the US supports the position of Israel but there are a few instances in which the US government did not. The Eisenhower administration forced Israel to withdraw from the Sinai after the Suez Crisis. The administration of Bush sr. delayed support to Israel because of the settlements issue. The Israeli government and the Obama administration differed on the settlements issue and how to deal with Iran. In those cases the Israel Lobby organised resistance in Congress and the Senate.
The irony of history or God’s peculiar sense of humour
Perhaps the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are worth reading after all, just to see how the most bizarre conspiracy theories can appear convincing if you look at the evidence. If the protocols had been for real the situation in the United States today may not have been very different. There is no grand conspiracy of Jews aiming for world domination. But what difference does it make? This is the irony of history and perhaps God’s peculiar sense of humour. And so Manny Friedman came to write in the Times Of Israel:
We have, for example, AIPAC, which was essentially constructed just to drive agenda in Washington DC. And it succeeds admirably. And we brag about it. Again, it’s just what we do. But the funny part is when any anti-Semite or anti-Israel person starts to spout stuff like, “The Jews control the media!” and “The Jews control Washington!” Suddenly we’re up in arms. We create huge campaigns to take these people down. We do what we can to put them out of work.21
So perhaps the Israel Lobby has taken some advice from the protocols:
And let’s not forget AIPAC, every anti-Semite’s favourite punching bag. We’re talking an organisation that’s practically the equivalent of the Elders of Zion. I’ll never forget when I was involved in Israeli advocacy in college and being at one of the many AIPAC conventions. A man literally stood in front of us and told us that their whole goal was to only work with top-50 school graduate students because they would eventually be the people making changes in the government.21
Then Friedman draws the following remarkable conclusion:
The truth is, the anti-Semites got it right. We Jews have something planted in each one of us that makes us completely different from every group in the world. We’re talking about a group of people that just got put in death camps, endured pogroms, their whole families decimated. And then they came to America, the one place that ever really let them have as much power as they wanted, and suddenly they’re taking over. Please don’t tell me that any other group in the world has ever done that. Only the Jews. And we’ve done it before. That’s why the Jews were enslaved in Egypt. We were too successful. Go look at the Torah — it’s right there. And we did it in Germany too.21
This is the personal opinion of a Jewish writer, but there is little doubt that he made his comments in good spirit with regard to his fellow Jews. And he doesn’t appear to be a fool. An important clue with regard to the secret of the success of the Jews can be found in his conclusion. Jews always lived at the margin and had to be resourceful to survive. These skills may have become part of Jewish culture so that Jews came out on top once they could operate without restrictions. It suggests that if these restrictions remain lifted, measures are taken to end usury (interest) and political corruption, and Jews fully integrate into the societies they live in, the issue could disappear over time.
Now let’s get back to the joke. What if Israel becomes a state of the United States? It might solve a lot of issues. The allegiance of Jews living in the United States would be to the United States. Israel can make peace with the Palestinians and give up land without fearing for its survival as the United States will defend it. Most Americans are willing to support Israel unconditionally so why not? And Israel will have only two senators from then on. It may never come to that but it can be a useful idea to entertain, perhaps for a limited period of time until peaceful conditions in the Middle East have prevailed. And that may be sooner than most people expect.
Featured image: Blame Jews For Everything For Dummies. Found on Reuvera.hubpages.com. [copyright info]
1. The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose and Political Future. Jacob L. Wright (2014). Coursera.org. [transcript]
2. Practising Tolerance in a Religious Society: The Church and the Jews in Italy. Bernard Dov Cooperman (2014). Coursera.org. [transcript]
3. Matthew 27:24-25
4. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt (2006). London Review of Books.
5. Usury, Destroyer of Nations. S.C. Mooney (1988). Theopolis.
6. Do Jews Dominate in American Media? And So What If We Do? Philip Weiss (2008). Mondoweiss.net. [link]
7. Jewish power: inside the American Jewish establishment. Goldberg J.J. (1997). Basic Books. pp. 280–281.
8. Who runs Hollywood? C’mon. Joel Stein (2008). Los Angeles Times. [link]
9. Israel to pay students to defend it online. USA Today (2013). [link]
10. Israel lobby descends on UC-Santa Barbara. Committee To Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB. [link]
11. Capitalism and the Jews. Miltion Friedman (1988). Foundation For Economic Education. [link]
12. The Clash of Civilizations. Samuel P. Huntington (1996). Simon & Schuster.
13. “Our sons are plundered of their organs”. Donald Boström (2009). Aftonbladet. [link]
14. Israel harvested organs without permission, officials say. Kevin Flower and Guy Azriel (2009). CNN. [link]
15. Organ trafficking: a fast-expanding black market. Janes Defence & Security Intelligence (2008).
16. A mitzvah called organ donation. Efrat Shapira-Rosenberg (2007). Ynetnews. [link]
17. 40 Years After Israel’s First Transplant, Donor’s Family Says His Heart Was Stolen. Dana Weiler-Polak (2008). Haaretz. [link]
18. By Way of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer. Victor Ostrovsky (1990). St. Martin’s Press.
19. Five Israelis were seen filming as jet liners ploughed into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. The Scotland Herald (2003). [link]
20. The Jews Who Run Clinton’s Court. Avinoam Bar-Yosef (1994). Maariv.
21. Jews DO control the media. Manny Friedman (2012). Times of Israel. [link]
Democracies are often called liberal democracies. So what is a liberal democracy and why might it be the best way of government? There are no easy answers to these questions nor is there agreement on these matters. Liberalism emphasises the value of individuals while democracy is rule by majority. These two principles can be at odds.
Liberal democracies have elections between multiple political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life, an open society, a market economy with private property, the protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for everyone.1
Liberals believe that individuals and social groups have conflicts of interest. The social order must deal with these conflicts and resolve them in a peaceful manner. To achieve such a feat, all parties must be reasonable and there should be a balance of powers. No party should be able to force its will upon others.2 It is an important reason why liberals stress the importance of individual rights.
Democracy means that government decisions require the consent of the majority of the citizens. In most cases the citizens elect a parliament that does the decision making for them. Sometimes citizens can vote for individual proposals in referendums. In reality many democratic countries aren’t fully democratic because not all government decisions are supported by a majority of the citizens.
Liberal democracy is based on a social contract, which is an agreement amongst the members of society to cooperate for mutual benefits. For instance, labourers may accept capitalism if they get a share of prosperity. That deal turned out to be more attractive than state ownership of the means of production.
Liberalism has two principles that can be at odds, namely non-interference with people’s lives and realising everyone’s potential. In this vein there are two branches of liberalism:
Economic liberalism promotes freedom of the markets as well as free trade and claims that the state should be of minimal size and not interfere with people’s lives.
Social liberalism claims that the state should help to realise the potential of people by promoting their freedom to make choices, which includes ending poverty.
Each liberal democracy more or less embraces these values. Liberal democracies come with a market economy and respect for the rights of individual citizens. Governments interfere with the lives of people and try to promote their happiness and to realise their potential. The conflicting nature of both principles makes liberal democracies differ with regard to freedom of markets and government interference.
In the United States liberalism has a different meaning. There it is another word for social liberalism or democratic socialism. In Europe the definition of liberalism is broader and this is also the definition used here. In the 17th century liberal ideas began to emerge in what is called the European Enlightenment. Around the year 1700 the philosopher John Locke came up with the following basic principles for a liberal state:
a social contract in which citizens accept the authority of the state in exchange for the protection of their rights and property and maintaining the social order;
consent of the governed, which means that state power is only justified when the people agree;
separation of church and state, which means that the state doesn’t favour a specific religion and does not require a religious justification.3
Is it the best form of government?
Liberal democracy is part of the European cultural heritage. Proponents claim that it is the best form of government. These universalist claims are sometimes contested on the ground that they are a form of western cultural imperialism. Another argument is that there is no guarantee that liberal democracy leads to better decisions. From a religious perspective people argue that our Creator may prefer a different kind of social order and government, possibly even a theocracy.
The argument in favour of the universalist claims is that liberal democracy emerged out of a historical process that took centuries in which rational arguments played a decisive role. The European Enlightenment challenged existing practices in government on the basis of reason. Ideas that emerged out of the European Enlightenment were tried out in different ways and refined further. Europeans also invested heavily in educating their citizens. This produced a culture of reason and compromise as well as a massive body of practical experience and best practises.
There is also no guarantee that other forms of government lead to better decisions. In an open society better information can be available so well-educated citizens in a culture of reason and compromise may make better decisions. There are a few democracies that live up to these expectations so it can work out that way. And we may not be able to determine what kind of order God desires. If our Creator is all-powerful then the emergence and spread of liberal democracy may not be a mere coincidence. It may be God’s plan.
One of the biggest problems facing liberal democracy is high expectations. Liberal democracy itself does not guarantee a reliable government that is both efficient and effective nor does it ensure a flourishing economy. This has led to disappointments. A failed and corrupt government can’t simply be turned into a success by allowing elections. Liberal democracy works best with a well-educated population in a culture of reason and compromise that doesn’t allow for corruption and abuse of power.
On the moral front there are a few issues too. Liberal democracy promises equal treatment for all people. In reality people aren’t treated equal nor do they have equal opportunities. There is discrimination based on ethnicity, gender or sexual preferences. And poor people have fewer opportunities than rich people. Still, the goal of equal treatment and equal opportunities can be something to strive for. It may be better to aim for such these and fail from time to than not having them at all.
If liberalism promotes tolerance then how to deal to intolerant people? Should their intolerance be tolerated? If people do not accept liberal values, should they be educated or should these values be imposed? And are free markets the best way of organising the economy or is government involvement advised? If the economy is served by stability, should dissent that causes instability be suppressed? An excessive or unnecessary use of force can undermine the foundation of liberal democracy because liberal democracy is based on reason and convincing people with arguments.
Liberalism emerged in Europe during the sixteenth century. At the time Europe was ravaged by devastating religious wars. After several decades of warfare Europeans grew tired of the conflict and began to tolerate religious differences. Some catholic countries accepted protestant minorities while many protestant countries accepted catholic minorities. Germany was almost equally divided. At the time Germany consisted of small states that had either protestant or catholic rulers.
This religious tolerance was at first more or less an uneasy truce. No party had been able to gain the upper hand. Religious minorities at first didn’t receive equal rights. They were only tolerated. Over time the case for religious tolerance became more widely accepted. It was based on two major arguments.
The argument of ignorance which states that only God knows who is on the right path and who is doomed so humans shouldn’t judge others.
The argument of perversity which states that cruelty is at odds with Christian values and that religious persecution strengthens the resolve of the persecuted.1
The concept of tolerance expanded into a general concern for the rights of individual citizens. In the 17th century liberal ideas were spreading. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England limited the power of the king. The rights of individuals were written down in the Bill of Rights. Parliament became the most powerful political institution based on the principle of consent of the governed. The 1776 Declaration of Independence of the United States was based on liberal principles too. It states that all men are created equal and have certain unalienable rights like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.2
The founding fathers of the United States were also early liberals. The United States Constitution reflects this view. The aim of the United States Constitution is, amongst others, to safeguard the rights of individuals against the state. A large group of Americans believe that individual rights should prevail against democratically elected governments. The widespread support for gun ownership in the United States comes from a distrust of the state as a protector of life, liberty and possessions.
Democracy had not been a seriously considered since classical antiquity. It was believed that democracies are inherently unstable and chaotic due to the changing whims of the people.1 The violence during the French Revolution supported these views. It began as a popular uprising incited by liberal ideas but it soon turned into chaos and bloodshed. Order was restored by a despot ruler named Napoleon Bonaparte who did much to spread liberal reforms throughout Europe by ending the feudal system, emancipating religious minorities and imposing a liberal code of law. The spread of liberal ideas proved to be lasting and democracy was to follow a century later.
The Industrial Revolution started a period of accelerated and constant change that was disastrous for many who found themselves on the losing side. The ruling class changed. Nobility was replaced by a new elite of business people. The position of craftsmen was undermined by factories. And workers in factories laboured under miserable conditions for low wages. There were three major ways of confronting these changes:
Conservatives tried to hold on the old order of community, religion and nobility.
Socialists tried to overturn the elite of business people by giving power to workers.
Liberals tried to manage the change, thereby implicitly supporting the order in which business people were the ruling class.
Liberalism often coincides with the interests of business people. These people had possessions and some were rich. They feared that the poor might vote for handing over their possessions to the poor. Socialism became the embodiment of this fear. Liberals were at first inclined to limit the right to vote to people who pay taxes because this excluded poor people from voting. When the threat of socialism became subdued and socialists were willing to compromise, liberals came to accept democracy based on the principle of one person one vote.
In the 19th century European countries held vast colonial empires. These colonies were kept for profit. It was generally believed that the people in these colonies had to be educated before they would be able to govern themselves. The colonial era helped to modernise these countries and most Europeans at the time believed that the oppression and the economic exploitation were justified on these grounds. There were only a few dissenters, for instance the Dutch writer Multatuli.
Liberal democracy faced a few major crises like World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. World War I demonstrated that liberal democracy and free trade weren’t a guarantee for peace and stability. The Great Depression once again challenged liberal democracy as the Soviet Union remained unaffected while Nazi Germany was able to recover and achieve full employment while other countries were still struggling. And during World War II Nazi Germany overran most democratic countries in Europe.
After World War II the European colonies became independent. The Soviet Union came to dominate Eastern Europe and China became a communist country. The United States became the protector of liberal democracy but also a number of dictatorships. This era is called the Cold War and it lasted until the Soviet Union dismantled itself after allowing the peoples of Eastern Europe to make their own choices. Major challengers of liberal democracy nowadays are the one-party system in China and political Islam.
The citizens of Hong Kong and Taiwan don’t like to loose their freedoms. Chinese too probably prefer freedom if they have a choice. And the Islamic State has shown Muslims all around the globe that political Islam can easily turn into a reign of terror. The foundations of liberal democracy may be strong, but a collapse of the global economy may turn be a more serious threat to liberal democracy than the alternatives. Reason can easily disappear once people become angry.
Reasons for success and limitations
The success of liberal democracy is not a historical necessity. Liberal democracy might never have been invented or dictatorships could have gained the upper hand. That didn’t happen. Communist and fascist dictatorships came and went. Perhaps liberal democracy is a temporary phenomenon but we can’t know that now. Only the future can tell. There are a number of causes that might explain the strength of liberal democracy.
Liberal democracy is based on the consent of the governed so it is has the consent of the governed by default while other forms of government do not.
Science greatly contributes to the success of states and science is best served with an open debate that liberal democracy provides.
The economy greatly contributes to the success of states and the economy is best served with individual rights that liberal democracy provides.
A despot ruler or a ruling party in a one-party system might have the consent of its subjects, but if not, only force remains for the ruler or the party to maintain power. Liberal democracies usually resolve such issues peacefully through elections, making liberal democracy more stable by default. Intellectual freedom is helpful to science while economic freedom is helpful for the economy, so liberal democracy can be a potent force. Only when leadership is required, liberal democracy might not always be adequate.
Liberalism has no higher moral value than the individual, which is peculiar because the individual human is an insignificant part of this universe. And individualism may be at odds with human nature as humans are social animals. Humans are not atomic beings that choose to cooperate for mutual benefit like liberalism supposes. Human cooperation is based on moral codes that are enforced.
It is the success in cooperation that makes a society win out. Liberalism gives a framework for living together in peace as long as all major parties are reasonable and willing to compromise. This makes larger scale cooperation possible and that can make a society successful. For instance, the United States integrated people from different cultural backgrounds, which contributed to the success of the United States as a nation.
It is said that history is written by the victors. Strength may be the reason why liberal democracy prevailed. Liberal philosophers have tried to provide a moral justification for liberal democracy or they may have opposed it or they may have tried to improve it. Liberal democracy emerged out of thought and action, experiment and failure, and it was a process that took centuries. Philosophers like Locke contributed to its success as they set out the goals people could strife for.
Apart from individualism, liberal societies lack a higher purpose. From a scientific viewpoint there is no higher purpose to this universe. The moral codes humans live by are not more than an agreement. Only when this universe is created for a purpose there is a reason for our existence. But moral individualism can be dangerous. The challenges humanity is currently facing, most notably living within the limits of this planet, most likely requires making individuals subject to a higher causes like the survival of humanity and caring for the planet.
1. Liberal democracy. Wikipedia.
2. Liberalism: The Life of an Idea. Edmund Fawcett (2015). Princeton University Press.
3. History of liberalism. Wikipedia.
Understanding Jesus of Nazareth and Christianity requires understanding the time and place in which Jesus lived and Christianity emerged. But that may not be enough. Christianity is more enigmatic than Judaism and Islam. Jesus may have believed he was the Son of God and that he had eternal life. Muhammad and the Jewish prophets did not view themselves in this way. This universe could be a virtual reality created by an advanced humanoid civilisation. Therefore, we might exist for entertainment an it may not be an accident that the religions of the God of Abraham came to dominate the planet.
Jesus seemed to have believed that he had a special relationship with God that no other prophet ever had. He may have thought that he had eternal life and a bond with God from the beginning of Creation until the End Of Times. Jesus may have had his reasons for these remarkable beliefs for 2,000 years later he turned out to be the founder of a religion with 2.2 billion followers. Also 1.8 billion Muslims believe he will return. It is an enigma that remains to be explained, unless you assume that Jesus was delusional and that the spread of Christianity and Islam were just historical accidents.
Apart from an historical account, a plausible explanation for Jesus’ beliefs may be needed to understand Jesus as well as the spread of Christianity and Islam. The earliest extant sources of Christianity were written decades after the alleged death of Jesus. Early Christians depended on oral traditions and writings that do no longer exist. Oral recounting is notoriously inaccurate and there is evidence of redactions in the New Testament. And so scholars agree on very little about Jesus of Nazareth, except that he really existed and preached for a few years around 25 AD.
In search of the Jesus of history
The German scholar Hermann Samuel Reimarus realised there is a difference between what Jesus did and preached and what his followers came to believe about him. Around 1760 AD Reimarus was the first to investigate the historical Jesus. He claimed that Jesus could only be understood in the context of first-century Judaism and that Jesus was a typical Jewish apocalyptic prophet of his time.1 For instance, in Matthew Jesus claimed that he didn’t come to abolish the Jewish laws or the prophets:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.2
This statement from Jesus clearly differs from the teachings of Christianity. There are several other discrepancies. This raised questions for scholars to work on in the centuries that followed. They were in search of the historical Jesus and tried to deal with questions like who was Jesus and how can his teachings and the beliefs of early Christians be explained in the context of first-century Judaism?
Reimarus was influenced by the Deists who believed there is a Creator and that there should be a rational explanation for religion. The Creator has defined the laws of nature and therefore has no need for the supernatural. The Deists also claimed that the universal religion of the future should emerge from rational explanation rather than revelation. Revelation is without evidence and can never be credible to everyone.
Jesus and the early Christians were influenced by Jewish traditions like the Pharisees and the Sadducees but also by Greek culture and philosophy. Other religions already had concepts like virgin birth and sons of god. Scholars nowadays surmise that Christianity took over those concepts but it remains an mystery why Jesus seemed to have believed that he was God’s immortal son and why he was called the Bridegroom.
It also remains a mystery why Jesus was so respectful of women. Jewish culture in the first century was decidedly patriarchal. Some Jewish writers of Jesus’ time, such as Philo, taught that women should never leave the home except to go to the synagogue.3 Jesus spoke to women in public.4 He was also compassionate for women and respected their dignity, even when they were sinful.5 In doing so Jesus ignored traditional Jewish law. Plausible explanations for his conduct have yet to be found.
The missing link
The missing link in the research of the scholars is God. Science doesn’t assume anything about God and for good reason. But if this universe is created by an advanced humanoid civilisation for entertainment then leaving God out of the picture would be a serious flaw while researching the origin of religions. Perhaps God is a real person from this advanced civilisation who can use avatars to appear like an ordinary human to us.
Including God in the explanation can solve a few mysteries. Mary Magdalene may have been an avatar of God. She may have made Jesus believe that she was the reincarnation of Eve and he was the reincarnation of Adam. She may have told Jesus that Eve was not made out of Adam’s rib but that Adam was born as the first son of Eve. Jesus was son of God because Adam was and because he was Adam’s reincarnation. In this way Eve is Mother of all the living and Christians are born of God.
Who was Mary Magdalene?
Mary Magdalene has become a bit of a cult figure as there is a lot of mystery surrounding her. She may have been the most important person in Jesus’ life.
This is an explanation that doesn’t require revelation. The technology to make virtual realities and the romantic desires of women in combination with the available evidence in the scriptures can make it appear plausible. There is evidence suggesting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, even though it is never explicitly stated that he was.
The identity of God
The Gospels state that Jesus had a personal and intimate relationship with God. Scholars agree that the Gospels have been edited.
According to the Jewish scriptures God ordered Abraham to grant the wishes of his wife Sarah. Hence, Sarah may have been an avatar of God. Even though historical evidence for their existence is lacking, several Jewish prophets may have been married to God.
Sarah, mother of the Jews
The will of God coincided with the wishes of Sarah several times. God summoned Hagar to return to her mistress Sarah and God told Abraham to send Hagar away when Sarah wanted this.
Paul of Tarsus turned Christianity from an obscure Jewish sect into a religion with a universal appeal. He modified Christianity so that it was not only meant for the Jews, but for everyone. To that aim he made several compromises, for instance that gentiles didn’t have to follow all the rules of the Jewish religion. This allowed Christianity to spread more easily but it made Paul a controversial figure with Jewish Christians. Over time the gentile Christians began to outnumber the Jews so that Paul’s views won out.
Paul and his followers may have tried to resolve the conflicts between existing fractions of Christians with a unifying theology. On the one hand they brought Christianity more in line with the Jewish theology by making God male and invisible. This might have prompted him to make Jesus the Bridegroom of the Church instead of the Bridegroom of God. By referring to the Jewish concept of God being married to Israel, and replacing Israel by the Church, Jesus may have become deified in this new theology. Jesus being married to God may also explain why Christians believe that God is love.
God is love
There is an explanation why Christians believe that God is love. Only, there may be something very troubling about this love.
Paul may have turned Jesus into a god who sacrificed himself for his bride who in a sense was also his mother as he was believed to be the reincarnation of Adam and Mary Magdalene was believed to be the reincarnation of the Mother Goddess Eve.
Mother Goddess Eve
According to the Bible Eve was called ‘mother of all the living’ by Adam before they had any children. It is also odd that Eve was made out of the rib of Adam. Eve may have ben a Mother Goddess and Adam may have been Her son.
Paul came from Tarsus where the mother goddess Cybele was worshipped. Her husband was also her son, a shepherd named Attis. Attis castrated himself as a sacrifice to her. Attis’ self-mutilation, death and resurrection represent the fruits of the earth which die in winter only to rise again in the spring. The parallels between Attis and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, may have inspired Paul to apply an Attis-like imagery to Jesus.
At the time the gospels were written most first-hand witnesses were gone and different stories were circulating. It may therefore have been possible for the Church Fathers to destroy or modify texts that didn’t fit in the new narrative. The Gospels do not suggest that the Bride Of Christ was the Church. It may not have been Paul who brought his up. Ephesians, the letter in which this idea is introduced, appears to have been written a decade after Paul’s death by one of his followers. The modifications in the gospels were probably done in several stages over several decades.
Gospel of John
The Gospel of John differs from the other gospels. For instance, it contains the phrase ‘born of God’, suggesting that God could be a Mother. Is is also the gospel in which Jesus calls his mother ‘woman’. That makes sense if the word ‘mother’ was reserved for God. This gospel also contains a few references to a Beloved Disciple. And the gospel suggests that there had been rumours that the Beloved Disciple was immortal.
Born of God
The phrase ‘born of God’ can be found in the Gospels and the letters of the Church Fathers. It is now believed to have a spiritual meaning but the origin may have been quite different. The God of Christianity could be a woman.
The Gospel of John is believed to have been written around 100 AD but it contains some historical accuracies not found in the other gospels that contradict this late date. Therefore this gospel might have been based on an earlier source written by a first-hand witness.1 Scholars believe the Gospel of John has been redacted three times.
Perhaps the role of Mary Magdalene has been changed from God into the Beloved Disciple in the first redaction. In a subsequent redaction the evidence of Mary Magdalene being the Beloved Disciple may have been removed. And a third redaction may have been needed to tie up some loose ends. The Gospel of John may have been part of an early distinct tradition in Christianity in which God was a Mother.
Featured image: Jesus and Minas Coptic icon dating from 6th or 7th century. Clio20 (Anonymous). Wikimedia Commons.
1. Jesus Christ: The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith. J.R. Porter (1999). Duncan Baird Publishers
2. Matthew 5:17-18 [link]
3. Jesus’ Extraordinary Treatment of Women. Franciscan Media. [link]
4. Luke 7:11-17 [link]
5. Luke 7:36-50 [link], John 8:3-11 [link]