The Jews and Capitalism: A Love-Hate Enigma

By Block, Walter | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

The Jews and Capitalism: A Love-Hate Enigma


Block, Walter, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


This paper attempts to understand why the Jews, who have benefited so much from capitalism, nevertheless in the main adopt political postures that reject capitalism in favor of its polar opposite, socialism and government intervention into the economy. The author discusses various theories that have been proposed to explain why this group of people, whose socio-economic status might be expected to incline them in the direction of the Republican political party in the U.S., instead vote in overwhelming numbers for Democrat party candidates.

Key Words: Jews; Christians; capitalism; socialism; intellectuals; immigration; political bias.

I Introduction

There is no doubt that at least in some sense, there is a love-hate relationship between Jews and Capitalism.

On the one hand, there is a strong tradition of support for socialism, communism, labor unionism, feminism, and affirmative action within the Jewish community. Names such as Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Sigmund Freud, Rosa Luxemburg, Bernard Sanders, Laurence Tribe, Paul Wellstone, Alan Dershowitz, and Russell Feingold spring to mind - but only as the veritable tip of an iceberg which flows deep.

As well, according to the political aphorism, "Jews have the income of Presbyterians, and yet vote like Puerto Ricans." Jews have a strong tradition of casting ballots for the Democratic Party2 and have long taken a supportive interest in groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is also solidly in the corner of this political party.3

On the other hand, there can he little doubt that capitalism has been very good to Jews. Many members of this faith have prospered as businessmen. This would tend to incline most people in such a situation in the direction of support for the marketplace.

Nor can it be denied that several of their numbers have taken on high profile roles in defense of this system. Examples include Gary Becker, Walter Block, Nathaniel Brandon, Aaron Director, Richard Epstein,' Milton Friedman, David Friedman, Rose Friedman, David Gordon, Friedrich Hayck, Steve Horwitz, Israel Kirzner, Benjamin Klein, Dan Klein, Peter Klein, Michael Levin, Ludwig von Mises, Larry Moss, Robert Nozick, Larry Parks, Leonard Piekoff, Richard Posner, Ayn Rand, George Reisman, Murray N. Rothbard, Bernard Seigan, Dan Seligman, and Julian Simon4.

Nevertheless, despite such exceptions, the overwhelming preponderance of opinion within this community lies in the direction of government interventionism and dirigisme economies'. What accounts for this rather exceptionable behavior? Various theories have been put forth in an attempt to explain this phenomenon. The present paper is devoted to discussing and evaluating several of them.6

Before embarking on this task, however, we do well to remark on the fact that ordinarily in most analyses of group or individual behavior the analyst does not go too far wrong in relying upon the doctrine of quo bono? That is, most human action can be explained in terms of self-interest. But the Jews, it would appear, offer evidence of being a counter-example to this general rule.

Support for affirmative action and gun control on the part of the Jewish community are particularly difficult to understand in this regard. When a plan of coerced racial preferences in education is implemented, it benefits groups such as blacks and Hispanics. But who are the people who lose out when such people are chosen? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Jews are over-represented in this category7. As for guns, who has not heard of the Warsaw uprising, and of the repression these people experienced under Nazi rule? Surely, if the Jews of Germany, Poland and other eastern European countries had been heavily armed in the late 1930s, their fate would have likely been less horrific.8 And this is to say nothing of attacks suffered by Hasidim in neighborhoods such as Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York. …

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