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“Auschwitz meant that six million Jews were killed, and thrown on the waste--heap of Europe, for what they were considered: money-Jews. Finance capital and the banks, the hard core of the system of imperialism and capitalism, had turned the hatred of men against money and exploitation, and against the Jews.... Anti-Semitism is really a hatred of capitalism.“ - Ulrike Meinhof, left-wing German terrorist of the 1970s

Capitalism and the market economy encourage racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance, while supporting a plurality of diverse lifestyles and customs. Heavily regulated or socialist economies, in contrast, tend to breed intolerance and ethnic persecution. Socialism leads to low or negative rates of economic growth, disputes over resource use, and concentrated political power -- all conditions which encourage conflict rather than cooperation. Ethnic and religious minorities usually do poorly when political coercion is prevalent. Economic collapses -- usually associated with interventionism -- worsen the problem by unleashing the destructive psychological forces of envy and resentment, which feed prejudice and persecution.

While discrimination is present in societies of all kinds, discriminators must pay pecuniary costs for indulging their prejudices in a market setting. Even the prejudiced usually will trade with minorities; bigots attempt to oppress minorities by socializing the costs through government action, but bigots usually are less willing to bear these costs themselves. Repeated commercial interactions also increase the social familiarity of customs or lifestyles that otherwise might be found unusual or alien. Sustained economic growth alleviates political and social tensions by creating more for everybody.

The history of the Jewish people illustrates the relatively favorable position of minorities in a market setting. Hostility toward trade and commerce has often fueled hostility toward Jews, and vice versa. The societies most congenial to commercial life for their time -- Renaissance Italy, the growing capitalist economies of England and the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, and the United States -- typically have shown the most toleration for Jews. Ellis Rivkin, in his neglected masterpiece, The Shaping of Jewish History, wrote:

"Since World War II Jews and Judaism have been liberated in every country and territory where capitalism has been restored to vigorous growth -- and this includes Germany. By contrast, wherever anti-capitalism or pre-capitalism has prevailed the status of Jews and Judaism has either undergone deterioration or is highly precarious. Thus at this very moment the country where developing global capitalism is most advanced, the United States, accords Jews and Judaism a freedom that is known nowhere else in the world and that was never known in the past. It is a freedom that is not matched even in Israel... By contrast, in the Soviet Union, the citadel of anti-capitalism, the Jews are cowed by anti-Semitism, threatened by extinction, and barred from access to their God.

Excerpted from: "The Socialist Roots of Anti-Semitism," by Tyler Cowen
(October 10, 2003)



The Socialist Roots of Anti-Semitism
By Tyler Cowen
October 10, 2003


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