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Capital conditions

Illustration from The Mystery of the Kibbutz


Capital conditions

Money, productivity, and economic understanding

I dislike the term “must reading” when used about anything other than the Bible, but if you are wealthy and creating a foundation, here’s an almost-must: Martin Morse Wooster’s How Great Philanthropists Failed and You Can Succeed at Protecting Your Legacy (Capital Research Center, 2017). Spoiler alert: Neither you nor your money will live forever, and by the third generation your dollars may be used for purposes antithetical to your beliefs, so create term limits.

Ran Abramitzky’s The Mystery of the Kibbutz: Egalitarian Principles in a Capitalist World (Princeton, 2018) shows that the founders of Israel’s collective farms could not keep their legacies intact. It turned out that small-scale communism—people in little communities having no property and sharing everything equally—was no more likely to last for several generations than the failed Russian and Chinese experiments.

Abramitzky doesn’t like that conclusion, but facts are facts: The early 20th-century kibbutz population in what became Israel never accounted for more than 7 percent of the Jewish population there, and now it’s down to 2 percent. Many productive members left, even though they had to relinquish any claim on kibbutz assets, and kibbutzim to survive linked pay to productivity. Even in their heyday, some kibbutz residents were more equal than others: Stellar workers became leaders and assigned poorer workers to miserable jobs.

Ken Wytsma’s The Myth of Equality (IVP, 2017) argues rightly that racism remains, but echoes fashionable rhetoric about privilege and complains about “our idealized white standard of success.” It should be read alongside Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s The Perils of “Privilege”: Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage (St. Martin’s, 2017).

Paul David Tripp’s Redeeming Money (Crossway, 2018) shows how our attitude toward money reveals our deep beliefs, which with God’s grace can change. The State of Church Giving Through 2015 by John and Sylvia Ronsvalle (Empty Tomb, 2017) reveals that church members across denominations gave their churches 3 percent of their income in 1968 and 2 percent in 2015.

Robert Wuthnow’s The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America (Princeton, 2018) presents with sociological evidence the reason despairing rural Americans voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump: It wasn’t just “the economy, stupid,” as Bill Clinton’s staffers used to say, but the sense that America’s liberal rulers made fun of small-town ethical norms such as personal responsibility, frugality, and common sense.


Thomas Weber’s Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi (Basic, 2017) is a well-researched, slow-motion horror narrative of Satan’s assistant from 1918 through 1926. Rick Richman’s Racing Against History: The 1940 Campaign for a Jewish Army to Fight Hitler (Encounter, 2018) tells the little-known story of desperate attempts. Gregg Carlstrom’s How Long Will Israel Survive? (Oxford, 2017) is a view from the left.

Nicholas Stargardt’s The German War (Basic, 2015; paperback 2017) is a scholarly examination of how German citizens viewed World War II, with fascinating detail that reads like the book of Esther: Haman’s family said his attack on Jews would be his downfall, and many Germans saw the bombing of their cities as God’s retribution for the Holocaust they knew was happening.

Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith’s A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle (Basic, 2018) suggests that sportswriters in the 1950s should have been asking how long Mantle would survive, given his injuries and carousing. Bill Nowlin’s Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox (University of Nebraska Press, 2018) shows how a baseball big-spender couldn’t buy a pennant, largely because he was slow in signing African-American players and in firing his drinking buddies.

I reported in September that the Acton Institute had published three volumes of Abraham Kuyper’s works. Conflict of interest watch: I don’t like to mention that organization because I’m a senior fellow there, but I need to mention three more excellent volumes now published—On the Church, On Islam, and Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King (Vol. 2). —M.O.