Everyone needs a Rabbi

No matter which religious faith you maintain, or even if you don’t have one, everyone needs a Rabbi (“teacher” in Hebrew). I’m proud to say Daniel Lapin is my Rabbi, especially after listening to his radio show on Sundays from 1-4 pm PDT (KSFO 560 AM), and certainly after reading his latest book, Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002; 362 pgs; $16.95). Rabbi Lapin is the Founder and Director of Toward Tradition.

This is an incredibly important work, offering a learned, cogent, entertaining, and exceptionally well-written moral defense of capitalism. That’s no small feat, since capitalism works better in practice than it sounds in theory. Socialism, on the other hand, fails everywhere it is tried, but at least Utopia is a palpable model to tout, especially to youngsters full of revolutionary zeal. No one marches in the streets wearing Milton Friedman T-shirts and chanting for capitalism.

Even the man credited with explaning the modern capitalist economy, Adam Smith, didn’t have anything nice to say about businessman, writing: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriments and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” The great Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter—who coined the lyrical phrase “perennial gales of creative destruction”—thought capitalism would ultimately fail and be replaced by state socialism. And these are capitalism’s friends!

Fortunately, the moral case has been made far more eloquently in recent times. Economists such as Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell, George Gilder, among many others, have made a spiritual and ethical defense of free markets. Theologians such as Michael Novak, Father Richard John Neuhaus, and even the late Pope John Paul II have concluded the capitalist system is the best system for creating wealth, raising people out of misery, and serving others. In fact, Gilder’s May 1997 speech to the Vatican, “The Soul of Silicon,” is simply one of the best validations I have ever read for the morality of capitalism.

Free markets are nothing short of amazing. Our ancestors roamed in tribes, incredibly suspicious of strangers, seeing them as a threat who wanted to steal their property or cause them harm. Today, you can walk outside of your New York hotel room at 3am, wonder into a bagel shop and have a complete stranger serve you food, all with absolutely no recognition of any threat, or the incredible coordination required by millions of others to get the food and drink of your choice to that particular location. We give it no more thought than an infant consuming its mother’s milk.

This spontaneous order is guided by a pricing system, guided by Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. Wyoming cattle ranchers may not have much use for New Yorkers, but they get up every day and work their ranches with the result that any resident of Gotham can get a first-rate cut of beef for dinner. It doesn’t matter what religion, color, race, creed or sex either party is, as their actions are coordinated through the neutral order of prices. There is no better lesson of how this works than the essay by Leonard E. Read, I, Pencil, written in 1947.

Lapin sincerely hopes you want to make more money, since “If you are living on a park bench, panhandling passerby and feeling quite content with your life, you are unlikely to be motivated to do anything for me.” Using economist Walter Williams’ analogy that dollars in one’s pocket represent “certificates of performance,” Lapin reminds us these certificates certify you have pleased someone else.

There is so much wisdom in this book, it is impossible for me to do it justice in a review. It is one of the best books I’ve read on this topic in years, establishing Lapin as a serious contributor along with Gilder, Novak, Hayek, and the other writers mentioned above (and in my book reviews available here).

What I particularly loved about this book is Lapin’s discussion of ancient Hebrew parables, words, and Judaic teachings. As one who teaches ethics (with my colleague Dan Morris), I am always interested in ways to articulate how Judeo-Christian principles guide our laws, morals, and ethical conduct, even in business. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious, agnostic, or an atheist, you simply cannot discuss the morality and ethics of capitalism without mentioning the wisdom contained in religious teachings.

Lapin’s Fifth Commandment, Lead Consistently and Constantly, is worth the price of admission. With so much written on leadership these days, it’s nice to see some clear-headed thinking on this topic. Lapin points out the Hebrew language doesn’t even have a word for “leader,” and if there’s no word in Hebrew for unchangeable characteristics—such as human behavior and motivations—that’s a sign it’s probably not needed.

His Tenth Commandment, Never Retire, is a contrarian’s view of the salutary effects of the “golden years.” You’ll have to read the book to see why.

The book is centered on his Ten Commandments for Making Money, which I will list in order to entice you to purchase the book and study it in greater depth:

  1. Believe in the Dignity and Morality of Business
  2. Extend the Network of Your Connectedness to Many People
  3. Get to Know Yourself
  4. Do Not Pursue Perfection
  5. Lead Consistently and Constantly
  6. Constantly Change the Changeable, While Steadfastly Clinging to the Unchangeable
  7. Learn to Foretell the Future
  8. Know Your Money
  9. Act Rich: Give Away 10 Percent of Your After-Tax Income
  10. Never Retire

This book now has the exalted position in both my mind and bookshelf—next to the writers listed above—as one of the best defenses of capitalism and wealth ever written. Well done, Rabbi Lapin.

I’m proud to have you as my Rabbi (and I’m not even Jewish).

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