Matthew at A Fearful Symmetry has an interesting post on the topic built around a long quotation from P. J. O’Rourke:

The Bible might seem an odd place to be doing economic research, especially by someone who goes to church about once a year, and only then because that’s when my wife says the Easter Bunny comes. However, I have been thinking — in socioeconomic terms — about the Tenth Commandment.

The first nine Commandments concern the theological principles and social law: Thou shalt not make graven images, steal, kill, etc. Fair enough. But then there’s the Tenth Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.”

Here are God’s basic rules about how we should live, a very brief list of sacred obligations and solemn moral precepts, and right at the end of it is, “Don’t envy your buddy’s cow.”

What is that doing in there? Why would God, with just ten things to tell Moses, choose, as one of them, jealousy about the livestock next door? And yet, think about how important to the well-being of a community this Commandment is. If you want a donkey, if you want a pot roast, if you want a cleaning lady, don’t bitch about what people across the street have. Go get your own.

The Tenth Commandment sends a message to socialists, to egalitarians, to people obsessed with fairness, to American presidential candidates in the year 2000 — to everyone who believes that wealth should be redistributed. And that message is clear and concise: Go to hell.

Of course, the New Testament would seem to obviate much of this analysis, but it’s still amusing.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mac Swift says:

    The effort to push the ten commandments out of every aspect of our government might explain its socialistic leanings. 🙂

  2. Scott Harris says:

    This gets close to the real question as regards equality. Equality according to whom? Or perhaps equality according to what standard?

    I’ll give you an example:

    I have three children. The first is a natural diplomat, knowing almost instinctively what to say to defuse a tense situation. The second is intellectually brilliant and very diligent. The third has an uncommon ability to make friends, be popular, and is everyone’s “best friend.”

    Each of my children is different and unique. I do not treat them equally as regards their strengths and weaknesses. Nor do they want me to. Each wants to be valued individually for who they are, not according to some static standard.

    So since they are so obviously not equal in regards to character, personality, and talent, how is it they are equal. Answer: They are equal in my regard. Each holds a equal share of my heart, and I hopefully have the wisdom to value their individuality over some arbitrary standard.

    So back to the original question. Equality according to whom?

    The standard used by the founders was equality before God. Equality was defined according to the value of our lives, our liberty, and the right to pursue happiness according to our own personal definition of happiness. These are asserted as divine gifts from “our Creator” that no man can rightfully trespass against.

    There are those who are comfortable with no objective standard by which to judge equality. These are anarchist and extreme libertarians.

    There are those who accept the founders’ premise and value individual liberty as God given, and are comfortable letting God be the judge of that equality. They are ready to accept equality before God as enough even though their observations tell them there are individual variations in talent and riches.

    Then there are those who reject the God standard, but their reason demands some objective standard by which to measure equality. It is these people who set up their own standards of equality, or fairness. They tend to value that standard over the naturally occuring variations in individuals. Hence individuality becomes a threat to the standard. These are the dangerous people. They value their standard over individual liberty, and we must always be on guard against them.

  3. Scott Harris says:


    As for the arbitrary standards that are set up by those who do not value individual liberty, if you ask me how many such standards exist, I have but one question to ask in return.

    How many people reject both God and still desire to maintain equality. Count the people in this group and multiply by 2. This is how many arbitrary standards of equality exist. For each of these people has 2 standards: one by which they kindly judge themselves, and one by which they harshly judge everyone else.

  4. Mac Swift says:

    Scott, this is the very curse of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, is it not? By acquiring that knowledge, we each rely on our own perception of right and wrong, rather than depending on the final authourity of God to enlighten us on all that is good, and all that is truly evil.

  5. Scott Harris says:


    You nailed it on the head.

  6. jen says:

    Thanks, gentlemen, for an insightful series of comments.