Exodus 21:37 states, “If a mean steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it, he shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.” The question is why the penalty for an ox is higher than for a sheep. Rashi, the great 11th century Biblical commentator, gives two reasons: 1) To steal a sheep you have to drive it away, whereas you can carry a sheep, which he argues is easier. 2) The ox provides its owner value as labor—it is not just material. The first explanation makes sense to me—if it’s easier to steal something, the penalty should be greater to provide an incentive not to steal. The second one makes less sense—surely the sheep also provides value as labor, insofar as it grows wool that the shepherd can harvest, just as the ox-driver can harvest what he has grown in the furrows ploughed by the ox. I don’t see the economic distinction here.
Friday, February 8, 2008
Daily wisdom from Daniel Hamermesh
From Economic Thought of the Day-