Libertarianism, Current Events

Is Britain’s Chief Orthodox Rabbi a Bleeding Heart Libertarian?

It sure sounds that way.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks first came to my attention when he was quoted by Deirdre McCloskey in The Bourgois Virtues.  Sacks once wrote:  “It is through exchange that difference becomes a blessing, not a curse.”  I still think that is one of the most beautiful expressions of basic economics that I’ve ever read.  It takes me several lectures to get across what he did in one sentence!

But it turns out he really does know his economics.  Check out this video of him explaining the Law of Comparative Advantage (what Mises generalized into the “Law of Association”) and how it enables each of us to contribute to the benefit of others through the market, then how exchange is the basis for peace, cooperation, and tolerance.  It is, again, expressed with great beauty.

In the last minute, he turns to argue for what seems like a basic income guarantee.  Add it all up, and I think we have ourselves a bleeding heart libertarian!  The Chief Rabbi is most definitely near the top of my “I’d love to have dinner with him” list.


  • Rajiv Shah
    • Al Bundy

      from an Amazon review of the lecture:

      “Beginning from the thesis that the Fatal Conceit’s essential premise is that for the free market or extended order to emerge, a certain kind of morality needed to emerge also. [Dr. Sacks] develops his argument through a scholarly exegesis before utimately arriving at a conclusion that the free market has gone too far such that in effect it has become it’s own morality and morals/ethics have been subordinated…

      In his rejoinder, Dr. Sacks takes the opportunity to clarify his position. He argues that he is not against markets, per se, but that he is against the extension of markets into all aspects of life. He fears that such extension will result in social disaster and makes the case that markets and the free society can only succeed within a strong moral framework.”

  • ThaomasH

    Understanding and appreciation of markets plus beleif in the need for redistribution sounds like modern liberalism to me. (OK, we do to know from the video where he stands on regulation/tax/subsidies to deal with externalities, but we don’t know that about BHLs either.)

    • martinbrock

      I agree, but some of the traditions that Sacks cites, like the Jubilee (year of release and cancellation of debts), are not redistribution. Bankruptcy is not redistribution. It is a formal recognition that a speculative investor has lost his investment.

      When Sacks states that some people get very while many get very poor “in the market economy”, he describes a “market economy” that libertarians should reject. When a few get very rich while many get poor, look for markets hampered by statutory rent seeking.

  • fcmoulton

    If the reports I read from the UK are correct and unless he has not changed his views then I do not see how Sacks could be called a Libertarian of any type since he appears to support the government giving special privileges to one group (heterosexuals) and denying them to another group (homosexuals) via marriage laws.

    • martinbrock

      Sacks sees the virtues of markets clearly, but he is blind to vices of Judaism.

      • In other words get government out of the marriage business, which satisfies traditionalists who are concerned about changing the definition of marriage.

  • Rick

    I thought the rabbi’s mentioning of David Ricardo at the very beginning of the video was more significant, which could mean he’s also a geo-liberatarian, as well as a Bleeding Heart Libertarian.

    Also, it goes without saying, but Henry George was significantly influenced by Ricardo and his law of rent, which is important from a legal standpoint because Georgism affected the 1895 Pollock decision, which ultimately led to ratification of the 16th Amendment, and the right of the federal government to tax a landlord’s rental income without causing an unconstitutional direct tax on land.

  • Fallon

    There is no libertarian case for state guaranteed income. It may still qualify as a classical liberal stance. But, come on, surely there is a distinction.

  • Sean II

    I also have pedantic objections to this video, which ignore the spirit in which it was posted. To ensure the maximum possible agreement with my comment, I will not specify what those objections are, but merely invite each one of you to imagine that your own nit-picks and hair-splits are the same as mine.

    Furthermore, I recommend that Sacks be classified not as a bleeding-heart libertarian but as a(n)_______. Here again, you are encouraged to fill in the blank with any label your prefer, while remaining privately convinced that I prefer the very same.

    Other that that, great post!

  • I always thought you were a Hayekian anarchist, Professor. If that’s the case, then how can you sit there and write approvingly of a basic income? Or am I horribly, horribly mistaken?

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  • manwithoutqualities

    Is this the very same Sacks who has been promoting a highly derivative communitarianism for about 20 years? Is this the man who so crudely placed the “blame” for “consumerist” culture at the doorstep of Steve Jobs?