Biblical Solutions to Today’s Problems

Throughout most of the history of civilization, the privileged few owned most of the wealth and the masses served as serfs or slaves. Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution brought some respite: total wealth grew faster than population and a productive middle class became the new power center in democratic lands. But the transition was not pretty. Factory workers labored long hours in hellish conditions. Medieval serfdom was pleasant by comparison. Reformers watched in horror and proposed solutions ranging from state-funded welfare to complete socialism. The latter was worse than capitalism at its most uncaring, combining the brutality of slavery with the inefficiency of bureaucracy. Tens of millions of people starved as a result.

Today we in the developed world live with a mushy mix of capitalism, socialism and welfare. It works after a fashion, with the help of modern technology and wealth accumulated from centuries of capitalism. Yet environmentalists inform us that our modern technology is not sustainable, and gold bugs inform us that our chronic budget deficits are not sustainable. I leave it to the reader to decide whether these warnings are true or overblown.

Instead, let us ponder a more challenging question: can the developing world afford a modern welfare state? How can the poor countries support their poorest while leaving enough capital in the hands of capitalists to grow their respective economies?

More challenging yet, suppose we could rewind the tape of history and demand better treatment for the poor, but we couldn’t introduce modern technology in the process. Could you design a welfare system that would work under poor primitive conditions?

The Creator could and did. He buried a surprisingly sophisticated welfare system in the Old Testament Law amid the slavery, Sabbath years, and ceremonial laws which most Christians consider done away with. The underlying economics are shockingly subtle for a group of primitive shepherd tribes newly escaped from bondage. To my mind this is strong evidence for ancient divine intervention, evidence we can verify by comparing the welfare economics of the Law of Moses with other ancient economic systems…

Or our own. And we might want to for practical reasons unrelated to religion. Criminal gangs rule our poorer neighborhoods. Budget deficits exceed a trillion dollars per year. Demographics deem that our entitlement system will grow ever more expensive in the next few decades. It might take a miracle to get us out of our fiscal mess. And that miracle could prove to be God’s Welfare System.