In God We Trust - Hebrew Bible and the Fiduciary Rule
The thread of Partnership Economics weaves through the ancient texts of the Hebrew Bible. For our readers who may want to get on with contemporary economics without much regard for biblical texts, it is important to recognize that Judeo-Christian influences have played a major part in shaping our world, so they can also be influences for reshaping it, including
economically. Also, these texts and the traditions around them have stood the test of millennia, so at the very least it is worth considering how such durable wisdom could be helpful economically.
At the center of the Torah, Leviticus 17–26 is known as the “Holiness Code.” This is an extended series of laws from God (YHWH) about holiness—how God’s people are to live. Leviticus 19:1–2 makes the theme plain:
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”
This code of conduct, formalized into governing law for the Hebrew people, has theological grounding—the policies for the people flow from their perception of the nature of God. If such a divine basis for human policy-setting strikes you as foreign—a practice that could only belong to a long time ago in a land far, far away—remember that the Declaration of Independence also uses a divine basis for human policy-setting.
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
This charter code, eventually formalized into governing law, has theological grounding—the desired nature of government among people flows from the perception of the nature of “their Creator.” The “self-evident” theological truths of how “all men are created” and “endowed by their Creator” lead to the just nature of government among people, as well as to the right of the people to change the government when it becomes destructive. The Declaration goes on to provide a detailed list of examples of the failings of the government of Great Britain, giving very specific meaning to broad terms like just and destructive.
In fact, every code of conduct, every policy, has some grounding convictions (truths that are considered self-evident). Whether or not those convictions are explicitly theological, they involve one’s sense of the nature of reality, what the world as a whole is like. No policy emerges from a vacuum; principles, ethics, and laws develop from the grounding convictions
of worldviews. Better to acknowledge those grounding convictions and how they inform policies—as Leviticus and the Declaration of Independence do—than to operate in ignorance of underlying convictions.
Like just and destructive, holy is a broad term. What exactly does it mean to be “holy” in light of God’s holiness? Just as the Declaration of Independence gives specific meaning to its key but broad terms through examples, Leviticus chapters 17–26 provide many concrete, specific examples of holiness. Chapter 19 in particular has clear examples of an economic nature
that point to the principle we call Partnership Economics.
Leviticus 19:9–10 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
Don’t take every last scrap for yourself without regard for others—don’t “maximize” your own value at the expense of others. Instead of creating hardship for the poor and the stranger/foreigner by excessive self-seeking, those with resources are to cultivate them well and to consider others. Use excess resources to partner with others, particularly the poor and the stranger.
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Leviticus 19:11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.
Pretty straightforward. However, easy to understand does not mean easy to do. Not dealing falsely has the benefit of being far-reaching but the disadvantage of being unpopular. As one unfortunate example, consider the tortured history of the Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule, which in essence seeks to require retirement advisors to act in the best interest of their
clients—to act in good faith toward the very people they advise.
The rule was proposed in October 2010, faced numerous challenges, by 2018 was affirmed by the Tenth Circuit Court, only to be vacated two days later by the Fifth Circuit Court. As of this writing, an updated version of the rule was thankfully in effect, but implementation remains challenging. Contrary to the resistance to a fiduciary standard, partnership follows Leviticus and means not dealing falsely but instead dealing in good faith—faithfully seeking benefit for those entrusting you to do exactly that on their behalf.
Next week's post will continue exploring economic aspects of Leviticus's holiness, including class warfare. We look forward to you joining us there as well, and please consider sharing this post with those interested in a better capitalism. Thanks!
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