A Sunrise Picture of Economics

When speaking of Mashiach and the Redemption, Maimonides does not mention an apocalypse, but a gradual process of growth and change. This revolution-by-evolution is perhaps nowhere more evident than in world economics.

Remember the coming of photocopy machines? Credit cards? Automated bank tellers? Data banks? Satellite Communications? Faxes? Each advance, if it was noticed at all, went by with a small sigh of "Oh, this is more convenient, isn't it?"

And then: A tourist checks into a hotel in Moscow. He pays with an American credit card, verified by direct line to an office in Belgium which shares a computer link to his bank in the States.

Moments later, a Japanese businessman representing a combined venture with an American company checks in. His credit check goes in the other direction, to Japan and across the Pacific. In less than five minutes, without the slightest departure from routine, two financial transactions span the globe.

Business as usual.

Suddenly, a single-world economy is in sight. The technology is here. International finance has already transcended the single-nation economies of the past. Take a look at the Ford Escort, a car being produced in the U.S., Britain, and Germany. Its component parts are made in Spain, Italy, Japan, and Brazil. And in Italy, a new resort complex is being built by South Korean workers with American management personnel.

Is there a deeper message behind these changes in the world's economic fabric? Why can't we see in the interlocking of national economies a backdrop for the environment of affluence, unity and peace that will characterize the Era of Redemption?

Because things are not perfect, economic might is still being abused to subjugate or to reward, and the industrialized nations are still learning the hard way that unless every one wins, every one loses. But the change is happening.

The creation of a unified global society is already within our conceptual grasp and, indeed, is already operating in a far more encompassing manner than we realize. Consciously or unconsciously, our personal and business lives have become dependent on international economic systems which less than 30 years ago would have been considered mere pipe dreams.

But most of us are far too busy hacking our way through the financial forest of day-to-day life to think much about the larger picture. If we think about Mashiach in economic terms at all, it is in a much more limited way...

About a week after the wedding, Yaakov Chayim began to speak with his new son-in-law about where to invest his dowry. The father-in-law offered advice, but the son-in-law was adamant. "I'm investing with Moshe David. He's promised me a high return; he's trustworthy. This is an opportunity I can't afford to miss."

Some months passed. Suddenly, the shtetl received a shock. Moshe David had gone bankrupt!

Unable to control himself, Yaakov Chayim rushed to his son-in-law's home.

"I'm glad you came," the son-in-law greeted him. "Now, I'd like to hear your investment advice."

"Investment advice?!" Yaakov Chayim said, his mouth agape. "What do you have to invest now?"

"My dowry," his son-in-law answered with a smile. "To get my money back from Moshe David before the investment was due, I had to sacrifice the interest, but the principal is still intact. Now, I have to reinvest it."

"How did you get your money back from Moshe David?" asked Yaakov Chayim incredulously. "He's bankrupt."

"Two weeks ago, I sensed something was going wrong, and I began to press him for my money. Five days ago, he gave me everything."

"But how did you know? How were you able to assess his financial status?"

"Believe me, I know nothing about finance," laughed the young man. "But I was standing next to him in shul and I heard him praying for Mashiach with great fervor. That was enough for me!"

The Prophets1 speak of the Era of Redemption as a time when "the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes he who sows the seed." To quote Maimonides:2 "Good things will flow in abundance, and delights will be as freely available as dust."

Already today, such limitless bounty is a real possibility.

Let's take a look at the following figures in the United States. At the turn of the century, one third of all Americans worked on farms. They were able to feed America's population and produce raw materials for industry, but there was little left for export. Today, the American population has grown tremendously, and only 3% work on farms. Nevertheless, this 3% produce enough food, not only for the entire population, but to export throughout the world.

And in manufacturing: Many countries have developed an industrial framework that provides the average man with comforts and conveniences previously enjoyed by only the most wealthy and pampered. More and more nations are reaching the point where in all areas -- agriculture, health, industry, communications and travel -- technology has provided standards of living undreamt of by previous generations. And with minimum wages and industrial efficiency doubling ever more rapidly, the effects of these breakthroughs is being felt in even the poorest nations.

Today the challenge in the industrialized and post-industrialized countries is not how to produce wealth but how to encourage its production by the rest of the world, and how to distribute it more justly in the meantime. Can we create a global society that provides its members with peace and security rather than violence and fear? What kind of education will create both the knowhow to keep us moving forward and the spiritual maturity to keep us moving in the right direction?

Let's go back to Maimonides: Before telling us that in the Era of the Redemption, "Good things will flow in abundance, and delights will be as freely available as dust," he tells us:3

The Sages and prophets did not yearn for the Messianic era to... rule over the nations, or to be exalted by them, nor in order to eat, drink, and enjoy happiness. Their aspiration was to be free [to involve themselves in the study of] the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress and disturb them so that they would be worthy of [a portion in] the World to Come.

Prosperity can only serve as a means; it must never become an end unto itself. A million is a one followed by six zeros. To treat this concept homiletically, without the One, the zeros are zeros, of no worth whatsoever. Comfort and wealth are beneficial to man only if they allow a life of wisdom, governed by spiritual values.4

Significantly, the ideals espoused by Maimonides are fast becoming principles that require practical application. The nature of our economy is minimizing the amount of human input required. To cite only one factor: The use of robots and sophisticated computers is being deliberately restrained because of their influence on the labor market. Should these restraints be withdrawn, even conservative estimates speak of a reduction of our work force by one third. Some people speak of 75% unemployment.

What will people do with their time? A person who anticipates the Redemption, and for whom Mashiach is a reality, knows that this time should be used to grow in understanding and awareness. The way to wisdom is a journey without end.

World prosperity will also change our interpersonal relationships. At present, people feel wealth to be scarce, and security rare. Naturally, this causes them to rationalize selfishness in the present so as to be sure of comfort in the future, to "look out for number one," and grab "their share of the pie." Needless to say, this breeds jealousy and lack of trust. It leads to corporate fraud and the attraction of "get-rich-quick" schemes. On a more basic level, it causes the violence and crime that plague our cities.

But what if the pie is big enough for everyone?

It is. It always has been; it's man that has been too small. This will be revealed in the Era of Redemption. Maimonides alludes to such a change in his words: "delights will be as freely available as dust."

Man will become conscious of the abundance of material blessings, and will no longer be obsessed by them. Since they will be freely available to all, people will partake of them whenever they desire, but without today's grappling for wealth and power. As Maimonides says:5 "In that Era, there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition. Mankind will know hidden matters, and will attain an understanding of their Creator to the full extent of the human potential."


1. Amos 9:13.

2. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:5.

3. Op. cit.:4.

4. See the chapter entitled "The Blossoming of Knowledge" which highlights the need for an interrelation between knowledge and spiritual values.

5. Loc. cit.

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