Monday, December 22, 2008

Economic Emergencies & "Socialism" in the Bible -- The Example of Joseph

On balance, I prefer smaller to bigger government. Nonetheless, I'm often surprised by the number of other politically conservative Christians who think that big government is somehow un- or anti-Biblical.

Do they forget the example of godly Joseph and the drought in Egypt?

Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream that Egypt would have seven good years, then face seven bad years. Pharaoh then placed Joseph in charge of the entire kingdom -- today I think we'd call Joseph Pharaoh's economic "czar," or something similar.

So what did Joseph do? He taxed every body's grain during the seven fat years. Then he sold the grain back to everyone during the bad years. As the bad years continued, everyone in Egypt ran out of money. So Joseph then traded food for their land and, "thus the land became Pharaoh's" (Gn 47.20).

So, note here that Joseph basically socialized the means of production in Egypt. He then used his control over the means of production to reorganize the social and economic life of the country, ordering everybody out of the country-side and into the cities ("As for the people, he removed them to the cities from one end of Egypt's border to the other," Gn 47.21).

Let me stress that I'm completely good with this not being normative for modern societies, and that there is a typological aspect to OT history. Further, given the experience later in Egypt's history, I think there's an important prudential question about the ultimate consequences of what Joseph implemented.

Nonetheless, we also have one of God's saints leading an entire nation into what is essentially (if anachronistically) a form of socialism.


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