Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Why Goodness Cannot be Legislated (but maybe accountability can)

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2009 at 2:49 am

So sitting around the shabbos table, I point out that all the gold in the world would only fill up two Olympic sized swimming pools, and that gold has no utility, beyond its obvious use. Nobody was stunned by this observation. The fact that gold was beautiful guaranteed its status, it didn’t have to be useful. I was flabbergasted by this–maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of jewelry, but nobody gets how weird it is that gold became a standard for currency?

The only thing inevitable about the current economic crisis is that once everyone was given enough rope, they would surely hang themselves–and take us along with them. When the Maestro Greenspan gave his feeble excuses before Congress, he expressed his surprise that the institutions did not act in their own interest and police themselves. He expected them to be rational. In Peter L. Bernstein’s The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession, he points out that Gold is an element that is virtually without utility. It is useless, but it is rare and it does catch the eye. It is gold’s scarcity coupled with it’s allure that gives it iconic stature, its lack of utility is of no consequence. Ok. It’s visceral–we like shiny baubles, especially if everyone can’t have them.

This is what people value, and institutions are basically groups of people, led by the most ambitious and ruthless, but not necessarily the most reflective–maybe he should have taken an undergraduate psychology course to enlighten him. I thought everyone knew that economics was a behavioral science. In the words of Ben Zoma,

איזהו גבור הכובש את יצרו–אבות ד:א
(Who is considered mighty? One who conquers his visceral inclinations Pirkei Avot 4:1)

How have the mighty fallen?

  1. Gold was also highly valued by ancient cultures because:

    1) Unlike all other elements or compounds, it does not oxidize:

    2) Its yellow color was suggestive of the sun;

    3) Its high ductility gave it physical properties unlike those of any other material.

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