2015-09-17 – The Jewish New Year that was celebrated this week ended the biblical sabbatical year, which is called shmita. We are now beginning a new seven year cycle: six years of business as usual followed by another sabbatical year, which will begin in the fall of 2021 (the Jewish year 5782—we just began the year 5776).
If you’ve never heard of the shmita year, let me tell you about it. The book of Exodus commands (25:10): “For six years you are to sow your land and to gather in its produce, but in the seventh, you are to let it go.” Later passages add the requirement that pending loans are to be released in the shmita year. As with anything in Jewish law, the details are complicated.
What interests me about shmita is that it appears to be, for capital, what the Sabbath is for labor: a time to give it a rest.
This may be a stretch, but it is an interesting stretch. The Bible had no idea what the modern capitalist world would become. The shmita restrictions apply only to land and loans. But if you think about it, land and loans were the main types of capital in premodern times.
Now, it is obvious why labor needs a rest. We get tired and we need to be refreshed and rejuvenated. But why does capital need a rest?
Because greed can be exhausting. And the pursuit of wealth can blind a person to many human needs.
We see it every day. Billionaires with more than they could possibly ever spend strive for more and more and more. Millionaires do the same. Can you imagine what would happen if greed took a break?
Once every seven years?
You’d see trickle-down economics for the first time ever!
Give it a thought. We’ve got six years before the next sabbatical year rolls around. It’s another one of those biblical things that we conveniently ignore.