January 15, 2009
Jews, money and a classic canard
Shylock, obviously. But the more interesting question is what do these three notorious figures—two fictional and one who lived in a fictional financial world—have in common? Well, if you’re familiar with the uncomfortable stereotypes regarding Jews and money, which means you are not Tommy Thompson, then you know the answer.
I don’t have a lot of experience as the target of anti-Semitism. But this is one canard in which I am well versed: the Jewish miser, the money grubber, the, well, shylock. It’s lesser in virulence only to the blood libel and the Christ-killer accusation. And yet, it is far, far, far more prevalent. The big question is: Why?
First, a brief history lesson:
Jews didn’t choose to become moneylenders and usurers. In Medieval Europe, the financial “industry” was one of the only fields open to them, and that was only because the church prohibited Christians from partaking in such a vile profession, one suited for, in Martin Luther’s words, “a brood of vipers and children of the devil.”
The church eventually dropped its restriction, but the moneylending tradition remained with Jews wherever they landed. I’m not sure why this is; it’s something I’m exploring for a future article. But a reasonable explanation is that money is fungible, property and businesses are not. And when anybody who looks or acts like you is having their assets seized or their community expelled by state governments every few decades, well, you look for ways to CYA.
Look at what billionaire and newspaper villain Sam Zell told The New Yorker when explaining why, as a Jew, he could never earn enough and why he diversifies his investments globally:
“I think that being Jewish means that you’re vulnerable forever. Was there a stronger Jewish community anywhere in the world a more intellectual, more successful than Germany in the late twenties and early thirties, before Hitler? And seven years later they’re building concentration camps! So, do I expect something like that to happen in the United States? Of course not. Do I think it could? Absolutely.“
Which leads us back to the question of why Jews are so overrepresented in the financial industry, as anti-Semites have reminded us to no end these past few months. It turns out the Wharton School and the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where the student body has no shortage of Jewish students, has initiated a lecture series on this very topic, “Jews in Business: Between Myth and Reality.”
This story, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Mainly how Jews ended up being business all-stars and whether there was anything innate in Judaism that gave them this advantage. This is, of course, a difficult subject to tackle.
For deeper study, I strongly recommend Yuri Slezkine’s “The Jewish Century.” I have detailed notes on the book back at the office that I’ll share soon. Books that you might want to refrain from include “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” anything from Kevin MacDonald’s “Culture of Critique” series.