Christian Libertarians

Iowa City friend Jim Tully got me reading Norman Horn’s Can A Christian Be A Libertarian? Of course, his answer is yes, given his bio: Horn is the founder of

The part that concerns me a little about this piece is this paragraph:

Libertarians talk a lot about economics, and rightfully so. Money is central to a healthy economy. Christians are also concerned about money; in fact God talks frequently about money in the Bible. God’s warning against unjust “weights and measures” in Leviticus 19 is a warning not to tamper with the market ecosystem of money and trade. Rep. Paul acknowledges the Bible’s concern for honest money as well in End the Fed : “The Bible is clear that altering the quality of money is an immoral act… It is dishonesty in money that has been a major source of evil throughout history.” If the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, as 1 Timothy 6:10 says, how much more seriously ought we to take how our society views the control over the supply of money? If it is true, as many libertarians contend, that the Federal Reserve is the primary cause of the economic crisis we have today, then the only solution is to restore honest, sound commodity money, free from political machinations and special interests.

His argument here strikes me as terribly strained. Libertarians tend to talk a lot about markets because free exchange is an expression of personal liberty rather than out of some sort of notion about aggregate economic health–save for their fundamental idea that whatever aggregate conditions result from the expression of liberty are preferable–more optimal, more just if you will–than aggregate conditions arranged through institutions or other collective action.

The quotes from the Bible strike me as particularly strained. The quote from Leviticus is not about free markets; it’s about not cheating with misrepresentative weights—-something that is was entirely possible to do before standardized measurement, a Greek innovation. We’ll use King James for aesthetics. Let’s look at the whole bit:

34 [But] the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I [am] the LORD your God.

35 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.

36 Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I [am] the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.

I assume what Horn is talking here is Leviticus 19:35. But the text before and after help contextualize it: you don’t diddle your measures to your own advantage just because your buyer or seller, who may be a stranger to you, has no way to catch you.

A look at Deuteronomy 25:

13 Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small.

14 Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small.

15 [But] thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

16 For all that do such things, [and] all that do unrighteously, [are] an abomination unto the LORD thy God.

I’m pretty sure the writer here didn’t mean that God cares how you store your weights, together in a bag or in your house. The point here is, again, you don’t shortchange.

And, finally, Proverbs

16:11 A just weight and balance [are] the LORD’S: all the weights of the bag [are] his work.

20:10 Divers weights, [and] divers measures, both of them [are] alike abomination to the LORD.

These are very clearly admonitions about not putting your thumb on the scale rather than noninterventionism or healthy economies. Horn has got two ideas muddled together: a) free exchange and b) standard measures, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense as it is written because it tries to use shorthand to attribute to the Bible the basis for (some) libertarians’ objections to fractional reserve banking and fiat currency, both of which get pretty complicated fast.

Then there’s the argument he leaves us with: that the Federal Reserve caused the economic crisis. Without defining what he means, the statement makes little sense except to his choir. For Horn and people who think like him, the economic crisis means sovereign debt—a situation that the Fed has a hand in. But others are likely read “economic crisis” to mean the collapse of the housing bubble, subsequent underwater mortgages, etc. It’s hard to pin the latter on the Fed.