Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Special Anniversary and My Pending Recovery

It's not everyday that you get to have a conversation or two with the retired Professor Israel Kirzner (-- that's Rabbi Kirzner to me anyways!) on the subject of Austrian economics and its syntheses with the Torah's ethical codes.Prof. Israel Kirzner

For the benefit of the handful of readers who don't know my religious background, and haven't picked it up from here, I'm an orthodox Jew. (No, that's not the same thing as Hasidic.) I unfortunately do not have the benefit of a college education, and so the process of my notions being challenged from multitudes of sources was limited to the ideas I was exposed to in the books I have read and the websites which I visit.

Over the last couple of years though, I've been examining and re-examining the ethical principles by which I desire to lead my life. Under the circumstances of being brought up in a orthodox Jewish home, and attending yeshivas both near home and abroad for the most part of my life, I have been instilled with a plethora of Jewish ideas and values.

Naturally then, I've long considered myself a conservative/republican, and usually falling lockstep with the other Jewish "group-think" wherever the arguments of a social issue were drawn.

But about two years ago the mind barriers started dropping, as I began to question the rhetoric I thought was gospel. Maybe it was in the voucher issue, as this is a very sensitive one to orthodox Jews to whom public schooling their children is the equivalent sending them to Auschwitz (some might say it's even worse than a death camp since a public school education will destroy the individual's "Olam Haba", literally his "world to come", but I digress.) It was within the voucher issue I encountered voices who argued that even if we are responsible to educate our children (and pay the taxes which goes toward education), why does that require the actual bricks-and-mortar approach of building public schools? Instead, they argue, the government could more easily just give monetary support towards the basic education of children wherever they choose to attend.

It was about then when I stumbled upon the magnum opus of one Allisa Rosenbaum, better known by her adopted name, Ayn Rand. And it wasn't before long that I read most her other books and essays, and became familiar with the Objectivist philosophy and in a less minor way the economic theory which was compatible with her ethical system.

The question then became, how do I synthesize the worldview espoused by what I liked about Objectivism with my existing religious beliefs? That issue and Rand's irrational (ha ha!) hatred of Immanuel Kant on a personal level led me to do research on her, her philosophy, the institute, its offshoots, and what their critics had to say about all of them.

It was a few months later when I came across an amusing and interesting article on Slashdot titled "The Monetary Economics of Thurston Howell III" which later directed my attention to the Ludwig Von Mises website. I don't recall the topic of the other daily articles I perused, but I remember being fairly impressed and immediately sensed a familiarity, as though I was on ideological turf I could call home.

It's been exactly one year since I've read that article, and metamorphosed into an anarchocapitalist, one who despises the use of force and coercion, and it's foremost monopolist, the state. Over the year I have learned plenty about Austrian economics and its corresponding libertarian ethics which made me look yet another time into my actions, ideals and notions, and those of others around me in society.

But of course in the end, some nagging questions remain -- how do I fit what I understand about libertarian ethics and Austrian economics into what I know from the Torah? And so I started writing a list of questions to have sorted out such as: "What is the Torah's perspective on the natural state of man?" as I have been grappling with Hobbes's, Locke's and Rousseu's arguments (Hobbes's interpretation of the biblical account of the original sin is not consistent with my understanding of the Torah)

I had a decent list of questions, now who to turn to? It's discouraging, but I feel as though everyone around me are domesticated statists, never to question the status quo.

I was then of luck to learn that Prof./Rabbi Kirzner lives but a short distance from my home. Gathering my courage, I cold-called him at home on Monday and quickly related my concerns. I do admit that he sounded baffled to learn that a Jewish kid who went to the Ivy League of yeshivas would actually be interested in the application of Austrian economics, and not enrolled in some kollel.

Rabbi Kirzner then amicably agreed to have a look at my notes, and perhaps discuss the issues with me afterwards. Later that day I passed his house and delivered my notes as per his instructions.

Today, the anniversary of my introduction to Austrian economics, he gave me a call in the afternoon. We exchanged pleasantries, and again he asked me about my background. He then related that he personally never adopted the rothbardian libertarian ethic, and spoke briefly about his teacher, Von Mises. He said he did enjoy seeing the austriolibertarian ideas being contrasted with the Torah's concepts, but to him it was clear that the Talmud accepted the concept of government, and never questioned that.

I mentioned that the only governmental system explicitly accepted by the Talmud is monarchy, and no where does it give specific support to either a democracy or republic, something which I told him that Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe likes to argue is superior and morally acceptable (disclaimer: I have not read "Democracy: The God that Failed" but I believe this is the gist of his position.)

He then asked me how I rationalize submitting to Jewish law if I hold anarchistic libertarian position. My answer to him was that my understanding of natural law doesn't necessarily interpose with the application of super-natural law; sort of like a pacifist not necessarily objecting to the non-aggression principle.

When we finally ran out of conversational steam, he referred me to two Jewish thinkers who have combined economics and ethics with those of the Torah; one of those individuals is Dr. Meir Tamari (whose books are available on Amazon, but the reviews I read of one of them isn't very encouraging.) I then thanked him for his time and help, and exchanged goodbyes with promises to call if I had any more questions.

Well after all that, I was elated for the remainder of the day and that's why I'm still recovering!


MisterBixby said...

I'm confused... you state that the article on Von Mises was an introduction of sorts to austrian libertarian economics. Didn't you write it? Was there another article that you meant to link?

MisterBixby said...

Please ignore my previous post. I landed on your post by following BK's link in his post and then I walked away for most of the day. By the time I returned, I forgot I wasn't on and you two have similar templates and I got confused...

Sorry. If you liked his Thurston Howell piece, you should read his blog if you don't already. I bet you'd enjoy it and you'd certainly understand it better than I do.

KelseyD said...

Hi there! Wonderful piece. This is very fascinating. I'm actually writing my thesis for my political economics undergrad on the overlaps of Austrian Economics and economics in the Torah. I met Dr./Rabbi Kirzner yesterday and asked him many of the same questions you did, but was met with the same response of him not ever overlapping his studies. You mentioned he gave you two names to pursue your studies - who was the other scholar to which he referred you? Thank you so much, and I hope your journey has continued to grow over the past years!