Joseph, Secretary of Agriculture
is excerpted from One
Is a Crowd. Robert LeFevre also gave a lecture on the biblical
Joseph: "First Secretary of Agriculture" (available
in MP3 in Mises Media).
before Freud, a fellow named Joseph got himself a reputation as
an interpreter of dreams. So, when all the PhD's of Egypt failed
him, Pharaoh sent for this wizard and put to him the puzzler that
had come out of his subconscious mind one night something
about seven lean kine and seven fat ones.
note on this Joseph is in order. Even as a lad he had shown himself
endowed of special gifts, winning preferment in his father's eyes
over a parcel of brothers. This aroused the envy and resentment
of the fraternity who probably considered Joseph a violation
of the principle that all men are created equal and they
contrived to restore parity in mediocrity by getting him out of
circulation. By devious circumstances he was landed into the service
of Potiphar, a bigwig of Egypt, which was a long way from home.
One so clever
could not be denied. He rose rapidly to head foremanship of Potiphar's
estate. At this point, his career was almost cut short by the perfidy
of a woman; that is to say, Potiphar's wife (probably a homely one
who was "misunderstood" by her spouse) tried to seduce
said Joseph, was repulsed, and, like a scorned female, framed her
jilter. Potiphar dumped Joseph into jail.
It was here
that Joseph came into his own. Among his fellow inmates were two
who were bothered with dream problems. Joseph applied himself to
these riddles and untwisted them with uncanny exactitude. This was
remembered by one of the prisoners who, on his release, hired out
to the Pharaoh household, and, when he heard that his master was
deep in subconscious troubles, he recommended the diviner of the
That is how
Joseph came to be called to the palace. Realizing that an unpresentable
psychiatrist is without prestige, he slicked himself up, even shaved
off the insignia of his tribe, and offered his services to the troubled
administration. Quickly he came up with the answer. There was nothing
to it. The dream, he said, indicated clearly that Egypt was about
to experience the well-known business cycle, sometimes called "boom
and bust." How did he know? The knowledge came to him by divine
revelation, he said, which was far more reliable than the wisdom
of the Harvard school of economics.
At this point,
and while Pharaoh was flabbergasted into speechlessness by the positiveness
of his prediction, Joseph showed his true mettle. He threw in a
plan. True, he said, the seven years' boom was sure to come upon
the realm, but the bust was not so inevitable; Jehovah could be
cheated out of it by the simple device of laying up a reserve during
the years of plenty. To execute that job, Pharaoh would have to
dig up a capable secretary of agriculture. The plan and the secretaryship
had nothing to do with the riddle he had been called in to unravel,
but Joseph tossed it off anyway, and was about to bow himself out.
to Pharaoh, however, that a mind that had all the answers ought
not to languish in Potiphar's jail. So, on the very spot
confirmation by the Senate was quite unnecessary in those days
he appointed the surprised Joseph to be his secretary of agriculture.
There being no Constitution to swear by, and no Bible to kiss, Pharaoh
made the appointment stick by putting his own signet ring on Joseph's
hand and a solid gold chain around his neck. For lack of an automobile,
an official chariot was assigned to the new dignitary. No doubt,
though the chronicle does not record it, Joseph must have had a
big office to work from, with a lot of assistants and secretaries,
for mention is made of many overseers.
Joseph had no need to interpret dreams; he was an administrator,
with a plan to carry out. Since the economy was completely agricultural,
his position made him the real boss of the country, the top commissar.
The first thing he did was to pass laws; without them no plan can
work. And the first law on his agenda was, quite naturally, a tax
law. One-fifth of all that these profligate farmers should produce,
during the years of plenty, must be taken from them and put under
lock and key. It is reported that this 20 percent income tax yielded
quite an amount; the grain piled up "as sand of the sea"
and undoubtedly there was a shortage of bins, barns, and elevators,
for "it was without number."
In due time,
as per prophecy, the depression came. It is not certain whether
this calamity was caused by overproduction or underconsumption,
and at that time the learned professors had not yet discovered the
sun-spot theory or even the velocity theory of money. The magicians
of that day were without benefit of postgraduate courses in economics.
The tale, as we get it, refers to a "famine" but we are
not informed whether the shortage was due to drought, pestilence,
or other unforeseeable accident or, perhaps to the constant
sapping of the economy by seven years of heavy taxation. From what
follows in the story, it is quite possible that the dream planner
might have anticipated the consequence of his taxing scheme: the
abject subservience of the Egyptian proletariat.
At any rate,
hunger was upon the land of Pharaoh. And the people came to the
secretary of agriculture and begged him to return the grain he had
taken from them. Did he shell out? Of course he did, and at a price.
He took their money, and when they had no more money he took their
cattle. "And Joseph gave them bread in exchange for their horses,
and for their flocks, and for their herds, and for their asses:
and he fed them bread in exchange for all."
the rest of the article
Chodorov (18871966), one of the great libertarians of the
Old Right, was the founder of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists
and author of such books as The
Income Tax: Root of All Evil. Here he is on "Taxation
Is Robbery." And here
is Rothbard's obituary of Chodorov.
Best of Frank Chodorov