Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yom Kipur, Antitrust and the Use of Economic Analysis in Religion

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

Today is Yom Kipur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism.  It is a day that we Jews think of atonement and repentance for the sins that we have committed both knowingly and unknowingly.   To focus on this solemn day, Jews fast from sundown to sundown.  Jews around the world will attend services today, even if it is the only time this year that they will attend services.  Invariably, the Rabbi will give a sermon.  Sometimes this sermon may touch on issues of repentance.  In other cases it may concern the threats that Jews around the world face - existential threats of violence such as Iran's president threat to wipe Israel off the map or instances of anti-Semitism or other forms of intolerance in the local community.  In other cases, the sermon will focus on tikun olam, a Hebrew term that refers to "repairing the world" through our actions.  The kabalists suggest that when God created the world, it was unstable and resulted in imperfection.  Through our good deeds and through following God's commandments, we can help to repair the world. 

Jews around the world have taken tikun olam to heart and historically we have been at the forefront of social movements far disproportionate to our small numbers.  So what does this have to do with antitrust?  I would suggest that antitrust at its most fundamental level is about making life better for consumers.  In its own way, it seeks to repair the world from the abuse of monopoly power and other anti-competitive actions.  I think about this in part because as someone teaching a law and economics course semester, I think back to one of the founders of the law and economics movement - Henry Manne.  One of Manne's many great accomplishments was to introduce law and economics to a wider audience of law professors and practitioners.  It seems to me, based on years of hearing sermons from various Rabbis, that the Rabbinate in general could use some law and economics training.  Most sermons lack any semblance of understanding of economics, particularly those that address issues of tikun olam.  I would love for Manne to come out of his Florida retirement to conduct law and economics workshops for clergy.  Law and economics training could help Rabbis to understand how economic incentives work and how these incentives help to shape law and policy and vice versa.  Overall, law and economics training would improve the quality of the sermons just as law and economics training has improved the analysis of judges, lawyers and politicians.  Certainly, Jews are no strangers to economics, as 38 percent of all Nobel prize winners in the field are Jewish.  If we in the antitrust community think that understanding economics is important, shouldn't we want a Rabbinate that is better informed about economic analysis?

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Hope you had an easy fast.

Your rabbi doesn't know about economics? Sounds like you need to try a new synagogue!

Here's a rabbi who knows a heck of a lot about economics:

Aaron Levine is both a practicing rabbi and chair of YU's economics department. Next time you're near his synagogue in Brooklyn, stop by to hear him preach!

Posted by: Keith Sharfman | Sep 22, 2007 6:07:01 PM

Interesting blog. I have heard Rabbi Dr. Levine speak in shul, though interestingly I do not remember any of the sermons discussing or even touching on economic concepts. Prof. Elzinga actually told me to contact him to discuss the economic underpinnings of how halacha treats property issues.

Am curious, Dan. What fundamental flow do you find that Rabbis most make in their sermons?

Posted by: Jay Levine | Sep 25, 2007 4:07:40 PM

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