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Christian Economics in One Lesson, II: 4, The Rights of Labor

Written by Gary North on April 23, 2016

And, behold, I [Solomon] purpose to build an house unto the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD spake unto David my father, saying, Thy son, whom I will set upon thy throne in thy room, he shall build an house unto my name. Now therefore command thou that they hew me cedar trees out of Lebanon; and my servants shall be with thy servants: and unto thee will I give hire for thy servants according to all that thou shalt appoint: for thou knowest that there is not among us any that can skill to hew timber like unto the Sidonians . . . So Hiram gave Solomon cedar trees and fir trees according to all his desire. And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand measures of wheat for food to his household, and twenty measures of pure oil; thus gave Solomon to Hiram year by year (I Kings 5:5-6, 10-11).

Solomon had decided that in order to make the temple more aesthetically glorious. He needed cedars which grew outside the Promised Land. How was he going to obtain them?

One possible way was by military conquest. As the head of the Israelite State, he could have assembled horsemen, chariots, and other implements of war and marched into Lebanon. He might have been able to defeat the king of Lebanon on the battlefield, assessing cedars and workmen as a form of tribute.

This would not have been a cost-free operation. It would have cost in military equipment, dead and injured soldiers, and all the expenses associated with occupying a foreign nation. It also would have cost Israel long-term ill will on the part of Lebanon. Revenge is a powerful motivation in the relations between nations.

Solomon did not use military force to persuade the king of Lebanon to supply him with what he wanted. He used the social institution of voluntary exchange. He went to Hiram, the king of Lebanon, who employed many workers, and suggested a bargain. Hiram would supply trees and workers, and Solomon would supply grain. Lebanon had trees and skilled workers; Israel had food. Hiram had more use for the food than he did for the trees and workers. The opposite was true of Solomon. So, a mutually beneficial exchange became possible. Hiram’s laborers supplied a scarce economic resource: finished wood for the temple. Solomon supplied a scarce economic resource: harvested grain delivered to Hiram.

Assessing an Asset’s Value

Solomon openly admitted to Hiram what he knew that Hiram knew: “Thou knowest that there is not among us any that can skill to hew timber like unto the Sidonians.” The Sidonians had an acknowledged advantage: they could deliver a unique finished product to consumers. These skilled, specialized laborers had to be paid for their efforts. What pay would they receive? That was a matter for negotiation to determine: between the two kings, and then (in a free society) between the king and his laborers.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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